Archive for May, 2014

I won’t do anything to harm myself. I feel too much responsibility for how taking my life would affect those I love, particularly my daughter. Generally I am grateful for those ties, but at other times I wish that my ending all of this struggle wouldn’t impact anyone else.

Yes, there are things about my life that are very good, even wonderful, but so often I find myself wondering, “Is anything worth suffering through what happened to me? How long will it take for me to escape the memories of it now? How long will it take for me to work past feeling trapped by what happened?”

I struggle over the question of whether I would have been better off if I had never been born. There are things that I love about life, but there has been so much that has been inexpressibly painful.

Sometimes I wish that my grandfather had just killed me like I thought that he wanted to. Maybe there would have been some sort of afterlife that was a relief, maybe it would have just been oblivion, but it would have to have been better than what was happening to me.

I don’t understand why I feel this desire for it to all be over so intensely right now. In so many ways, things have been so much better lately, but it’s like I am drowning in a sense that he will always be able to hurt me in anyway that he wants. That all I was good for was for my body to be used by my father and grandfather and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

I know that I felt more hope and self power several days ago, so I’m just going to go on faith that this will pass.

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Reflections, Burano, Italy, var. 2   Barbara Schneider

Reflections, Burano, Italy, var. 2
Barbara Schneider

Over the last few days, I have been dealing with one of my most traumatic memories. It isn’t the first time that I have gone through this memory (I think that it’s the third round), but I have far more detail now than I have had before. The first time through it, I mostly just got the physical sensations and some general information and emotions. The second time through, I got the emotions full force and the beginning of an understanding of just how much stress this put on my mind. This time, I have more visual information than I know what to do with and the full psychological experience.

I swear that this came close to destroying my mind when it happened. I can remember being split in two, so one of me could stare outside and be out in the garden, where it was safe, while the other was inside, watching what my grandfather did. There were reasons why it would have been even worse for me to not watch at all, but what happened went on and on and my mind could only take so much. So when it reached a point where the pressure was intolerable, there was a wrench, and then there was a new part to take on the task of watching. I don’t know how many times this happened, but I do know that I have represented this set of parts as being a larger one with about 10 tiny ones trailing off of it.

I think that my grandfather did this type of abuse at other times and I fervently hope that what seems to go together as one memory actually is a set of several different times put together. I don’t want for all of the things to have happened to me at the same time, particularly when I was so young. But it all seems to go together as one memory. I very, very clearly have an age sense in this memory. I was four. The type of person who could do something like this to a four year old would have to be beyond cruel.

This wasn’t something that he did on the spur of the moment or a matter of him getting carried away after starting with something else. This required purposeful, creative planning on his part. I don’t know if he deliberately designed how I experienced it to be as intolerable as possible, but I suspect that he did: everything that happened was at a level of “to much”, and frequently (I am guessing every minute or two or three) he would change what and how it was “too much.”

Today, I managed to say enough for Mama Bear to start to get an idea of what he did to me (although not the full magnitude of it). I remember looking up at her and I must have had a bewildered expression on my face, because she responded, “Don’t even bother to try. There is no understanding.”

And there just isn’t. Essentially, sexually torturing a four year old isn’t something that the average person is ever going to be able to understand. Not even come close to understanding. In fact, it’s the sort of thing that a person’s mind automatically wants to reject as being completely and utterly impossible, because it should be completely and utterly impossible.

I have been angry and contemptuous towards all of those people who just can’t believe that sexual abuse happens. Especially those who refuse to believe that it happens in their community and that abusers don’t have a capital A emblazoned on their forehead, so they just might be friends with one. I’m still angry, but I think that I have a bit more understanding as to why these people can’t believe. A world where fathers rape daughters and grandfathers torture them is a scary world to live in. In fact, if you let it be, it’s a down right terrifying world to live in. I get how a person’s mind can want to refuse to believe that such terrible things happen. Mine wants to refuse to believe that they happened. But I don’t get the luxury of pretending that these things only happen in horror movies, I have to accept that they happen in real life. That they happened in my life. If I don’t, then I get to re-experience them over and over in flashbacks. I don’t want to remember things happening that so violate our most basic social codes. I can’t help but feel certain that people would think that I am crazy for saying that they happened, if people only knew.

But I don’t think that anyone really finds safety in this world by ignoring the nasty truths; they just create the illusion of safety.

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Sierra Water Merle Axelrad

Sierra Water
Merle Axelrad

(Disclaimer: I mostly wrote this and the preceeding post to to have a record for myself of what the process was like, but I decided to post it, in case someone happened to look for information on drawing a system map or the struggles of revealing your parts. Anyways, it is written less with an eye towards presentation and more to satisfy my personal needs and may not be of much interest.)

In Drawing a System Map, I wrote about my process of drawing the map and deciding to show the map to Mama Bear.

This morning, I panicked. I started to imagine how Mama Bear might respond, I felt sick to my stomach at the idea of exposing myself so much, I really wanted to cancel the appointment all together (which I simply do not do), and in general I felt like a frightened child. But I managed to talk myself into bringing the map into the office, so I would have the option of showing it, if I decided that I wanted to, even though I expected not to, at that point.

I was about a minute late and Mama Bear was already seated, so she got a good look at me as I settled.

“You are looking…” she paused, “agitated. Is it because of what you brought in?”

I took a deep breath, nodded, and said, “I both want to show you and am frightened to.”

“What are you afraid would happen if you show me?”

“I figured that out right before I came here. I am afraid that if I really reveal myself to you, you will say, ‘That’s too much.’ And then you would push me out the door.”

“You know where that comes from, don’t you?”


“And it makes sense when you are so afraid of how your own mother will respond. After all, who am I? Yes, I say that I care very much about you, yes, I keep on showing up and acting in ways that are caring, but if you can’t trust your mother, how do you know that you can trust me?”

I just sat there and stared at her. I couldn’t believe that she had just voiced my fears and I didn’t know how to react.

“How are you responding to what I just said?”

And then there is a big blank that I wasn’t even aware was there until I started to write this out. The next thing that I remember is being partially curled up on the arm of the love seat, like I often am, but my position was different. Rather than being curled up into the back of the love seat, hiding, I was doubled over, because I felt the need to protect myself, but my body was perched on the edge, as if I was reaching out towards Mama Bear. I have no idea what I said, but I know that my body was trying to communicate, “I want to be connected.” I was stressed, I was self protective, but my response was not, ‘go away, I don’t trust you’, instead it was, ‘I need you. I need to connect. I want to be close to you.’

I then found it possible to start to talk about what the process of drawing the map had been like for me and some of what I had learned from it. I shared with her how surprised I had been that the process had been so helpful to me and we talked about my being better able to tolerate seeing myself.

After over 40 minutes of processing what it meant to me to reveal myself, my fears of what might happen if I did, and what my hopes are for showing her more of myself, I finally felt ready to show her the system map. In fact, I could feel that some of me felt excited and eager to show it to her. I sat there and hesitated, because I knew that showing it that late in the session was a significant risk, if it turned out to be triggering. On the other hand, I was at a fragile point and if I didn’t show her the map in that session, it might be several weeks or even a couple of months before I felt able to bring it back. (To clarify, Mama Bear is one of the few therapists who does full 60 minute sessions, minus a couple of minute bathroom break. What I didn’t know at the time, but was I grateful to discover was that there was no client after me today.)

So I looked her and said, “I know the time, but I want to show you want I drew and I’m afraid that I won’t bring it back for awhile, if I don’t do it now. I know that we can’t really go into it, but can I just show it to you.”

“Of course you can. Do you want for me to move over there, or do you want to come over here?”

I pulled a chair over to her chair, in hopes that it would help prevent me from going into one of the parts. I sat down with the drawing pad on my lap, looked at her and said, “It really is safe to show this to you, right? Nothing bad is going to happen.”

“Yes, it is safe. I am not going to reject you. You know, I may actually recognize a lot of what I see there, since I have been observing you for some time.”

I smiled at her and said, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you did!”

“C., I am interested in what you have drawn and I want to see it, but I do not have to see it now, if it is not the right time for you to show it. It is up to you. Do you understand? I want to see it, but the timing is completely up to you.”

I looked at her, taking that in and nodded. Then I repeated to myself, “It is safe to show this,” took a deep breath and started to open the pad. But when I caught a glimpse of what I had drawn, I closed it again, took another deep breath, focused inward and reminded myself that I was in a safe place and I could be brave and share myself and fully opened the pad.

Mama Bear was clearly interested in and thinking about what she saw, but the only comment that she made at first was, “There are a lot of parts here.” I had already talked about how it wasn’t complete and I know about other parts that aren’t on the map. I think that she had been a bit surprised by the number (13 or 14, including the central me); I know that I had been a bit dismayed to actually see that many shapes drawn out, but I also know that I experience each of these parts differently, so what is, is.

She asked me a couple of questions and I started to tell her about some of the shapes, what parts they corresponded to, what the forms of the shapes meant, and how one of the smallest shapes that is snuggled up against the central me probably is a shape that is larger than that size would account for, but I think that most her is hiding behind the shape that represents “me.” I felt comfortable talking about the map with her! I wasn’t triggered into a part and I didn’t feel threatened in any way.

I could have gone on talking for some time, but we were nearing the end of the session, so she asked me a couple of questions. First she asked, “How are you experiencing me as we talk about and look at this?” I thought about it a bit and said, “You feel calm, but interested to me.” “That’s a pretty accurate description of how I feel.” Then the question that she asks at the end of every session, “What was it like for you to share this with me, today?” I felt inward for a response, “I feel a bit nervous about it, but over all I feel good.”

“Do you have that good feeling in your body?” I nodded my head. “Can you describe to me were you feel it and how it feels?”

“It’s over my whole front of my torso and it feels like a warmth/energy of hope and freedom.”

“Warmth, hope, and freedom. That’s wonderful.” She paused for a moment, then said, “Is there anything else that you want to say or do as we near the end of the session?”

I looked at her and reached out my hands and she took my hands in hers and we just sat there, looking at each other, being with each other for a minute or two, until I felt obligated to get up and move to my seat. She put my tea together, handed it to me, and sat down across from me. “So much for not doing the most intense work in the last 10 minutes of the session, huh?”

I smiled at her. “That’s one of the good things about being experienced; you develop a sense of when you can break the rules.”

“When you said that you were willing to show me what you drew, there was no way that I was sending you out of here without letting you show it. It was too important

She took a deep breath, as if savoring the moment. “This feels precious to me. I don’t really want to end it, but… Is there something that we need to do, or do we just need to take a breath, give each other a hug, and say, ‘See you next week’?”

I ruefully looked at her, “I think that is what we need to do.”

So we hugged and I walked out the door by myself, but not feeling alone in the slightest. I had allowed more of me to be seen and understood than ever before and that sharing had been welcomed and cherished. It felt as though the door to a prison that I had lived in my whole life had been cast open and now it was up to me to figure out what to do with that freedom.

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Map Quilt Lucinda Carlstrom

Map Quilt
Lucinda Carlstrom

(Disclaimer: I mostly wrote this and the following post to to have a record for myself of what the process was like, but I decided to post it, in case someone happened to look for information on drawing a system map or the struggles of revealing your parts. Anyways, it is written less with an eye towards presentation and more to satisfy my personal needs and may not be of much interest.)

As I have said, I am trying to develop better communication with my parts. At this point, communication tends to be pretty rudimentary, unless I am in a part or on those occasions when my insides with just give me some chunk of information. About 6 or 8 weeks ago, I felt like I was being told that a part of me wanted to sit down with a big piece of paper and some markers and draw. I had been feeling pretty miserable and was looking for anything that might help me feel better, so I gathered markers and a piece of paper and sat down on the floor.

Many years ago, I used to do a lot of art as a part of my therapeutic process. I probably have over 50 drawings using oil paint sticks in portfolios. I found the art to be a very effective way to allow the inner me to express myself, although I always worried that “I” might be influencing what I was drawing too much. I think I tried to do a bit of therapeutic art a couple of times over the last few years, but I kept on jumping in and taking control, as soon as I started to draw anything. I simply was too frightened to see what my insides would produce, so I put the idea to the side.

When I sat down on the floor with those art supplies, it was the first time in at least a dozen years that I had been able to not interfere when a part started to draw. It’s a weird feeling to draw without knowing what you are drawing, but if I just let the drawing happened, I knew that the shapes and the lines were right when they were and if they needed to be modified when they started to go wrong. It kind of felt like being able to scratch an itch that you could only reach in a particular way. When you got it just right, it worked and otherwise, it didn’t. I drew for a few minutes, looked at what I was drawing, started to think about it, and panicked. It looked to me like I had a partially completed system map. “What the H__!” I simply did not think of myself as having the sort of system that was solid enough to have a map- my system has largely been a hidden mystery to me, even as I have been slowly accepting it. But I knew what that drawing looked like and I decided that I should put my queasiness to the side and see if I could step out of control, not think about what was happening, and let the part in question finish the drawing.

It didn’t take long to finish, because I didn’t have to think about anything. “I” made no decisions, those were all made at an internal level and there seemed to be a clear idea of what needed to be drawn where, how the lines connected the shapes, and even how solid or incomplete the lines were.

I remember looking at the drawing, knowing that it was a system map, and being certain that the central, large shape was the “everyday I.” Everything else was a mystery to me at that point, though.

When I started the project, I discovered that I only have a few sharpies in different colors, which just wasn’t enough variety to satisfy the part that did the drawing. I looked at my daughter’s art supplies and absolutely could not use her supplies for this purpose. Sometime over the next few days, I went out and got a box of good quality markers, with intense colors, so I could finish things up.

This time, there seemed to be a bit more consideration of the drawing before I proceeded and I felt more involved in the process. “I” wasn’t making any decisions about colors or designs, but it was like I was being told what and how to color things. It felt as though I could be involved a bit and still allow my insides to make the decisions. I was learning how to stay out of the way. ­čÖé

And while I colored the shapes in, I started to understand what I had drawn just a bit. I realized which parts two of the shapes represented and how those two parts are basically joined back to back. I was surprised to see those parts there, because I haven’t thought of them being at all central over the last few months and my sense is that the system map shows most of the parts that are most important in my work right now. I’m still confused about how they might be involved, but I am also aware that the themes of death and feeling like a wraith might still be important ones for me. For the most part, I still didn’t understand which parts the different shapes represented, though.

Slowly, over the next few weeks, I figured out more of the parts. I still felt frightened by the map, so I wasn’t inclined to sit around, staring at it, trying to figure out which part went with which shape. Instead, I wouldn’t be thinking about the map at all, but all of a sudden, I knew that the part that I was thinking about belonged to a particular shape on the map. I found that my expanding understanding of what I had drawn helped me to feel more comfortable with the parts and what I had drawn helped to give me insight into some of my parts.

The size, shape, placement, color, and method of connection of one shape helped to changed the way that I had been thinking about a part to point of view that helped me to extricate myself from therapeutic quicksand. I had forgotten to look for how that part would have helped me when I was a child and been solely focused on how it was making my life more difficult in the now. This part holds the strongest denial of the abuse (may even be the lynch pin for the denial all together) and it was damaging me every time it was evoked. But once I accepted the survival role that the part had played when I was a child, realized that trying to convince it to believe was not a fight that I could win, and did my best to side step that part as much as possible, the power of that part faded.

I brought the drawing in once, 3 or 4 weeks ago, but there was another issue that was more pressing. It was just as well that I waited, because over the last few weeks, I have finally developed a sense for who all but one of the parts is (and there is another that I am not fully confident of.) I have also started to develop an understanding of why they are in specific locations on the paper, and what their relative locations to each other mean. I am starting to believe that there is very little there that does not have specific meaning.

A few days ago, I started to consider bringing in the map again and yesterday, I clearly knew that I needed to bring it in and share it with Mama Bear. I had some thoughts about the whole thing and wrote to her about what I wanted to do, so I knew that we would at least talk about it, if I decided not to bring the map itself in.

Continued in Daring to Share Myself

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Ocean Mosaic Artist Unknown

Ocean Mosaic
Artist Unknown

“Remember that there is nothing that you can tell me about the past that will change how I see you.”

Those are powerful words.

Nothing? Really? Yes, really, she tells me.

Mama Bear is out of town for a week to attend her son’s graduation from college and help him move. Today was my normal therapy day, though, and my mind wasn’t going to stay quiet, so it did some very intense thinking about some very difficult topics. One of which was something that was very, very difficult indeed. For weeks my mind has been stepping around admitting to itself something about how I experienced things with my father that I can cognitively understand is not my fault, but in all other ways feels devastating to me. As I sat there, struggling with it, I realized that this is something that I am going to have to talk with Mama Bear about, because it will keep on haunting me until I do so. This aspect of my experience intersects with so many of the problems that I am having that I simply cannot keep on ignoring it.

So, I sent an e-mail to Mama Bear, starting with: “I keep on running from this in my mind and it isn’t leaving me alone, so I’m going to try sending it to you. I so don’t want to admit to this. I can’t say how much I don’t want to admit to it, but as much as I hate it, I’m going to have to talk about it, sooner or later. At least I will have stated that this is behind some of what I keep on experiencing.” And then I told her.

I know that she isn’t accessing her e-mail frequently while she is gone and in the subject headline I stated that it wasn’t urgent and she should wait to read the e-mail until she got home. I didn’t want to interrupt her break with something so heavy duty, but I knew that if I waited to send it until Monday, I would chicken out and not send the e-mail. It might take months for me to work around to finally talking about this and I think that I will do better if I talk about it in the next week or two.

However, I also realized that the younger parts of me felt vulnerable and needed just a bit of assurance that Mama Bear is still there. Before she left, we had talked and she told me to text her if I needed just a bit of contact and she would get back to me when she was able to. I could tell that at the moment I was only feeling uncomfortable, but without reassurance, it could easily turn into outright distress. I spent too much of the last week bouncing from one part to another and Mama Bear had made it very clear to me that she wanted for me to contact her, rather than risk going back to that place. So I sent her a text, “Hi. Sorry to interrupt, but reaching out for a hand hold.”

A bit later she responded saying, “Hello, C. At lunch with the graduate. Will give a ring a bit later. I am very much here. You are a capable, kind adult!” Just that response was immensely reassuring to me and I told her that she didn’t need to call me. However, she still did so when she was alone, walking from point A to point B. My heart was touched by the kindness of her making that call and spending 20 minutes talking to me when I wasn’t in an extreme crisis but I did find just talking to her to be grounding and reassuring.

Her giving me that time and attention out of her free choice meant a great deal to me. I could feel my heart softening and opening a bit more to be able to trust her just a bit more than I have been able to.

So when I received the e-mail that stated, “there is nothing that you can tell me about the past that will change how I see you,” the response from the part of me that admitted such a shameful thing to her was one of hope. “Nothing? Really?” In the past that would have meant, “I don’t believe you! It isn’t possible!” Today it meant, “I want to believe you. I need to believe you. Tell me again and I will believe you, because I know that I can trust you and you won’t hurt and lie to me.”

Mama Bear has consistently been kind and caring to me. Dare I say it? Really, she has been loving. It hasn’t always been pleasant for me- she has told me things that she believed I needed to hear, but she knew would be upsetting to me- however she did it as gently as possible and it was a loving act. Her willingness to be loving and real with me when it was uncomfortable showed me that her love was real, not pretense to be cast aside when it was no longer easy.

All of this time and energy on her part to provide a figure who was worthy of earning my trust and just as much time and energy on my part to push past my fears over and over until I could finally reach the point where I can say, “Nothing? Really?”, feel as though a blanket of safety has been pulled around me, and want to cry in relief.

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