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Archive for July, 2014

A small celebration

Today we closed on a house. We are home owners again and I can finally put down roots again! It’s small, but it’s a sweet house and in a nice neighborhood. I think that this will be very good for my family.

We moved out of the last house that we owned in 2003, so it has been a long journey to get to this point.

My daughter has already picked out the color for her bedroom and I am looking forward to doing all of those things that will make the house our home. One of the first tasks will be creating mosaic house numbers.

Sigh of contentment… I get to unleash my creativity!

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For decades, I have been focused on trying to figure out what the “truth” is about what happened to me. I have sought out a concrete truth that I could rely on to be something firm and unshifting. I think that I keep on looking for a truth that I can show my mother and be certain that she would agree with.

The only truths that will satisfy that criteria are that my extended family system is extremely distressed and the family stories show and extraordinary amount of severe disfunction and abuse over the generations. These conclusions come directly from things that my mother has told me or we have discussed.

Getting to the point where I could simply and unequivocally acknowledge that my family is one that abuse could thrive in was a big deal for me. Accepting the reality of my parts and the effects that the abuse had on me was another big step. Coming to grips with the fact that my insides clearly tell me that my father sexually abused me was yet another step forward.

Through all of this, though, I keep on censoring myself. This applies both to what I allow myself to know and what I then am willing to share. I will think to myself, “I don’t really know that” and turn my mind away from looking at what some part of me is saying. I think, “but I have no proof” when I consider telling Mama Bear about a memory. But unless something unforeseeable happens, I won’t ever have outside proof. All I will ever have is what is inside my head.

These last couple of days, it is as if I have decided inside, “No more hiding from the full truth. I know much more than I am allowing myself to remember. I am sick and tired of being alone with this crap. I know that I am here, now. I can deal with knowing what happened. I just can’t deal with secrets any longer. I feel as though I am going to suffocate on the secrets.”

I think that I need to accept that I will be dealing with what happened from the different viewpoints of the different parts. They might not always agree. They might sometimes be exaggerated or distorted and that is OK. I need to know what all of my parts need to tell me and I need to share with Mama Bear what they tell me. I won’t know for sure What Happened, but I can develop an understanding of what I believe happened and have the self compassion to accept that I am human and the best that I can do is to develop an understanding.

So, I have started writing in my journal, with the intention of being open to the parts of my story that I don’t yet understand. I know that Mama Bear would ask, “Do you need to know everything?” She is a stickler for making sure that I don’t overwhelm myself with the past. The answer is that I don’t need to know everything, but parts of me have been crying out to share their parts of the story for years. I think that I may most need to share the things that I previously most needed to keep hidden.

Most of the things that I am writing about are not new to me. I am either getting details to flesh out the story and help me understand it or admitting to myself something that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. Allowing myself to put it all down in one place, with the determination to be as honest as possible, allows me to start to see how eventually the barriers might one days come down between the parts.

In the interest of being real and honest, I will admit that I am a bit in shock at the moment. In one of my moments of honesty tonight, I was thinking about how so many of the things that I used to attribute to my grandfather turn out to have happened with my father. I never see my grandfather’s face in the memories, but I do have a strong sense of his body in the abuse memories that I am sure happened with him. And I suddenly knew that the horrible type of abuse that I have been referring to lately didn’t just happen with my grandfather, it happened with my father, too. He didn’t do it in a way that felt as bad, but he did it too.

I just want to swear that there is so much of a burden to work through. But it affects me even when I pretend that it isn’t there. At least now I can take it in and talk with Mama Bear about is after her break. It’s better for me to stop trying to block what my brain is trying to show me and it will be best for me to take these pieces in to Mama Bear as they come up, rather than trying to hide them in the corner, behind the door.

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Set Fire to the Rain Artist: Nik Helbig

Set Fire to the Rain
Artist: Nik Helbig

I can tangibly feel a young part of me right now; it’s like she is sitting there, connected to my solar plexus. I can feel her need for assurance and love, but I also feel her needs for other things that I just can’t identify. I don’t know what to do or to “say” to help her.

“But I’m OK.” That’s who this part is. She is the one who would be “OK” right after the abuse. She could get right up and somehow act “normally” because she was “OK.” She didn’t feel any of the pain or physical residue of the abuse; someone else did. She could laugh, even while other parts of me inside were screaming. She had to laugh, to act like nothing ever happened.

I had to laugh. I had to laugh at jokes that I didn’t understand and made me feel bad. I had to want to be there in that house because I had to “love” my grandfather.

I had to act like everything was OK. I didn’t want to. But someone had to. Then. I don’t have to anymore.

But then, someone had to be able to get up and walk out of that room.

Because the part of me that took the abuse couldn’t. That part of me could only curl up in a ball and cry. That part of me wanted to wash and wash until there was nothing left. That part of me was desperate and couldn’t have said anything to anyone because she knew that she had to stay silent. That part of me thought that she would rather have been dead than feel it happen to me again.

That abuse will never happen again. I promise. I promise. It just won’t. It is over. It is done with. I am safe from it now and from now on I will be safe from it. I can’t guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen, but I can promise that that particular abuse won’t happen again.

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Kentucky Dogwood Natalie Sewell

Kentucky Dogwood
Natalie Sewell

Last week, I talked with Mama Bear about one of the memories that has ranked highest on my “impossible to tell” list. Actually, when it first came back again about a year ago (from my journals, I see that it first, first came out years ago, but I had forgotten it), I was so shocked, horrified, mortified, and repulsed that it was one of the two or three things that I had to call her about immediately after the memory came out and struggle through telling her what the type of abuse was, just because I felt so crazy with what I was remembering. At that time she gently helped me to say what I needed to, reassured me that the type of abuse that I was talking about wasn’t unheard of and that it wasn’t my fault, and did her best to help me find as much comfort and grounding as possible. Within a day or two, I wrote an e-mail to her with a few of the details, asking her to “hold” them for me, and then hadn’t mentioned it since then. I certainly never said anything about it to her person.

There are three types of memories with my grandfather that I consider the worst. The first I talked about with her earlier this summer and I see that one as being the most intensely overwhelming type of abuse for me. The abuse that I am talking about now left me feeling subhuman and was the most demeaning and disgusting. The last type was the most terrifying. Around the time that I talked about the first type of abuse, I almost talked about this abuse as well, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.

One of the perils of hiding things that I have discovered is that all of those things that I don’t deal with can pile up against each other and suddenly I may find myself in a place where I need to deal with Z, but I have been hiding from W, X, and Y, which need to be dealt with before I can hope to deal with Z. That happened last week. I realized that I have Z issue that is affecting my relationship with my husband, but that is related to Y way of experiencing myself and touch, which is linked into X memories with my father. That particular abuse by my father was especially toxic because it became linked to W abuse by my grandfather. To even be able to start to address this in therapy, I was going to have to go all the way back and start to deal with these memories with my grandfather and then work my way through everything else that I have been hiding from Mama Bear.

It was a fight to even start to get anything out about it because I was so overpowered by my feelings of shame, revulsion, and the deep expectation that she would withdraw in horror. I asked her to move a chair to sit next to me and hold my hand, so I could feel that tangible physical support and connection, while I flailed around inside, struggling against everything that was trying to keep me silent.

“This is so hard to talk about. I am so ashamed and disgusted by it.”

“You do know that it isn’t really yours to be ashamed about, don’t you? He is the one who is responsible for what happened.”

“Yes, I understand that. I really do. But inside I just don’t feel that way. I just know that it seems like what happened makes me believe that I have to be as horrible and disgusting as I felt while it was happening.”

There was another long pause as I struggled some more and then she said, “You really want to tell me about this, don’t you?”

“Yes, I am so damn tired of being alone with it. I don’t want to be alone with it anymore. I have been for too long already!” I paused and then pushed out, “Do you remember when I told you about W?”

Mama bear took a slow breath and gently said, “Yes, I do.”

I then just doubled over with my face on our hands and sobbed while shaking. I let myself feel held by her calm and caring presence as the young part of me who has carried this burden all of these years could finally let go of clenching it close to her in hiding. It was safe for me to let out all of the feelings of disgust, confusion, terror, and the certainty that if anyone knew what had happened, they would never be willing to touch me again. Shaking the whole time, I went back and forth between crying and talking.

“It just felt so disgusting while it was happening. It still makes me feel disgusting and dirty!” I don’t remember what she said in response, but I do know that those feelings have eased a bit now.

“It was just too much! How could anyone do something that cruel to a child?” I looked at her, feeling bewildered.

“We don’t know what happened to him to make him that way, but it seems that he might have been a sadist.”

I stared at her, “You think?!?”

“Remember, you haven’t told me as much about what happened as you think that you have! But from what you have said, yes, I do think that it is safe to say that he was a sadist.”

I cried again, because it was such a relief to hear it said out loud. I have long been convinced that he enjoyed being “inventive” with all of the ways that he could hurt, humiliate, and terrify me, but I wasn’t sure that anyone would ever believe me that he got pleasure out of hurting me. There is something that is damaging in a particular way when you experience someone else getting a kick out of finding different ways to reach inside and harm you. For me it was particularly dehumanizing, because it made me feel like some perverse toy that was only there for his pleasure.

But now, while I still wasn’t able to talk about all of the details of the experiences and how I felt, I was able to talk about some of them and I was able to experience my feelings while someone compassionately listened to me and held me both literally and figuratively. It was safe to be human. It was safe to feel. It was safe to share the real me and what I have experienced.

I looked at Mama Bear, “Deep inside, I absolutely expected for you to withdraw in disgust and horror.”

“Do you feel me withdrawing?”

“No.”

“What do you see on my face?”

“Concern. Caring.”

“No disgust?”

“No.”

“Good, I feel no disgust what-so-ever for you, C. And I feel no need to withdraw from you.”

Often, after such an intense session, I experience some sort of repercussions, but I didn’t that day. Instead, my experience was that the child part that had shared still felt safe and my protector parts hadn’t been aroused. That would come, but for that day, I just felt relief at finally being able to talk about what happened and cry while holding the hands of someone whom I know loves me. I needed to be held while I told my mother what happened over 40 years ago, but I was convinced that she would withdraw in disgust. I can’t change what happened then, but at least now I can finally tell.

Note: I struggled over whether or not to state in general what the abuse was related to, because while it was unusual, it is not unheard of. It also isn’t talked about, though. And not being able to talk about it only helps to give the abuse power but it keeps all of us who have lived through it in isolation, thinking that no one else experienced the same depravity. I am not at the point where I can name it, though. Simply talking about it at all is the best that I can do for now. Maybe someday. Maybe even before very long I will be able to write and say what it was, because it really isn’t my shame. It was my body that was involved, but my grandfather was in control. And while I don’t want to trigger people, I also think that it needs to be OK to say, “There are some really sick people out there who do these things to children. It sounds too awful to be true, but it really does happen.”

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Artist: Grace Wever Path to the Light

Artist: Grace Wever
Path to the Light

I recently discovered that I have told Mama Bear far less about the abuse than I think that I have. I have talked around what happened and hinted at it, but not given her many details. In some ways, that is OK; we have talked about how I can heal without going into the details. Unfortunately, it can also cause some pretty significant problems, though.

A couple of weeks ago, Mama Bear and I had a significant disruption because of misunderstandings caused by my thinking that I had been more clear to her than I actually had. She does the good therapist thing (actually it’s healthy communication, period) and doesn’t make assumptions based on what I hint at, however, in my mind, I have told her that I remember X happening. What I have been doing is referring to a lot of fuzzy “memory-type things” (my phrase) with my father (and maybe hinting broadly at what happened) and my struggles with believing myself, and so in her mind the whole story was vague and anything but clear. In my mind, I had been telling her about the types of memories, if not the details, and while I am experiencing a lot of conflict and somethings a fuzzy, what is clear, is clear.

When she came back from her trip a few weeks ago, after receiving my e-mails about the memories that I was dealing with, she asked me what I actually remembered about the abuse with my dad. In her mind, she was just trying to get a clearer picture of what was clear to me, if anything, and she wasn’t asking about specific abuse memories. She has no doubt that I was badly abused; whether I remember specifics or not only matters in terms of how treatment needs to proceed. In my mind, she was questioning whether I actually remembered anything and was asking me to prove that I did. That was not a session that went at all well. I felt attacked, bewildered, betrayed, like I had lost the person I could talk about the abuse with, angry, and more. My trust in her was severely shaken. I did not believe that she had hurt me on purpose, but what I experienced in the session and over the several days after the session was painful and frightening, so she had in effect hurt me. I took all of the anger that I felt towards her and aimed it squarely at myself, because I couldn’t tolerate being angry with her when things already felt so unstable. I was an exceedingly mixed up person who couldn’t fully get out of child states for most of the week between the disaster session and when I saw her next. Even now, there are parts of me that are wary about trusting her, now that I have experienced how badly things can go, without her trying to harm me. She made a mistake. She, herself, said that she had very poor timing and that she messed up how she asked me the question, even though it was something that she did need to clarify with me, because the lack of information was getting in the way of her helping me. However, the one thing that I gained was the certainty that something bad could happen between the two of us and while it might mess me up for awhile, I could eventually pull myself back together. If she fails me again, I can survive it. Unfortunately, the only way for me to really be certain of that was to experience it.

This experience got me thinking about how much I have kept from her, even after all of this time. I understand some of the reasons why I hide things, but I think that they are old reasons and don’t have much to do with today. I had a loving mother, but I believed that I had to keep things from her. There were lots of reasons why I believed that it wasn’t safe to tell her, both because of external threats and because I didn’t think that she could handle knowing; the end result was that I was trained to hide what happened, even from someone who was caring. I have heard other people say that if you don’t feel like you can tell your therapist anything, then there is something wrong with the relationship with the therapist (with the implication that the therapist needs to do more to enable your feeling able to share), but with Mama Bear, she has done everything possible to create a safe place to share. The problem is that I have to fight against very early survival training and then decades of following the same rules.

So I am trying to push myself to hide less. I need to act judiciously, so I don’t overwhelm myself, but I think that the very act of hiding/ not being able to speak about what happened gives it more power than it otherwise would have. I need to take that power for myself, so I can free the parts of me that still feel bound to the abuse memories.

Yesterday, I told her about a part that I have come to understand and be able to work with since the beginning of the year, but I had been afraid to tell her about because I was afraid that she would tell me that I was doing something wrong or that this part couldn’t exist the way that I was experiencing it. I had not felt confident enough in myself and my ability to support this part to say, “This is what is going on. Period. If your theories don’t work with it, then too bad.” But I pushed past that fear yesterday and discovered that 1) it was vitally important for me to openly bring this part into a session and work with it, 2) Mama Bear is interested in my experience first and then uses the theories to help inform how she organizes treatment (I knew this, but needed to be reminded of it), and 3) the way that I experience this part actually fits well with the theory after all.

Huh, I pushed past the fear that has bound me up to now, I shared with Mama Bear, and not only did nothing bad come of it, but good came out of it. Maybe I don’t have to hide as much as I have in the past. I’m starting to feel as though maybe I have the freedom to move a bit and not worry so much about making a single false step. I think that it’s safe enough to take some chances. I’m strong enough to deal with things going wrong, even if I may react badly at first. No one here is judging me. There is no “test” to make sure that I get things just right. Once again, I remember that it’s safe to be “me”, as I slowly discover who all of me is.

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