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Archive for September, 2014

I unexpectedly had some things come together in a very good way over the last couple of days. Even though I have worked with Mama Bear for many years (off and on), this past spring I recently learned from her that I had told her very little of what actually happened. She has held my hand through many a flashback and talked me back to the year that we are currently in, but except for rare exceptions, I had only hinted at what had actually happened. It was so big in my mind that I thought that I had told her, but I hadn’t.

So I started to name specifics. I also started to reveal more to her about how I work inside. At the same time, we have worked a lot on strengthening my connection to the here and now and not getting sucked into the memories, which had made it more tolerable for me to know these things about myself and share them with her. For the most part I have only touched on things, but at least I was no longer hiding the memories inside of me, too afraid to reveal anything to her.

Over the last week, I have come to understand some of the messages that my grandfather got into me and that I have been living by until now. They have kept me trapped, even though I didn’t realize that they were there. By this point I could tell that it was better to not be alone with these rules that were intended to keep me isolated and silent. I shared them and how they affect me with Mama Bear, even though by doing so I was breaking decades worth of rules.

Then a couple of days ago I shared with her an abuse memory that is incredibly unclear, yet I swear that I can remember my reaction to what happened at the time. I can tell that I didn’t understand what he did to me, which probably is why it is so unclear, but I was very, very traumatized by it. I know what the memory “feels” like he did to me from the view point of the life experiences that I have had as an adult, but I don’t know how he could do it. (If I can ever manage to talk about it here, I may have to ask if anyone had any insight as to how that particular abuse would have been done. ) The don’t tell messages with this were over the top. But I decided to write it out and tell her that way, because a part of me needed for Mama Bear to understand what I meant when I said “he really hurt me.”

During the course of the day yesterday, the part of me that was completely panicked about telling noticed that nothing bad at all happened. It was just another day. It felt tolerable to have told at that point.

Then today, I realized that I don’t feel like I am hiding anything related to my Grandfather from Mama Bear. I’m sure that there are things that she doesn’t know but I Don’t Feel Like I’m Hiding Things. He doesn’t control me any longer. It’s safe for me to choose what I want to talk about, when I want to do it, and how much I want to say.

Really and truly, he’s dead and he doesn’t control me any longer. I can start to let go of everything that I needed to belief and do in order to survive back then. I know that I will go back and forth on it, but I’m alive, he isn’t, and I don’t need to live by his rules now.

I felt overwhelmed by this realization and texted to Mama Bear, “I beat the bastard! He couldn’t steal my life from me.”

She responded with, “You safe guarded your life and you have goodness in you and around you.”

I got myself through that nightmare the best that I could, when I really was afraid for my life. Whether it really was in danger or not, I’ll never know, but I certainly understand why a child would conclude that a man like my grandfather might kill her. I do believe that he wanted to kill off the light in me that makes me, me. But i was stronger or smarter than him and managed to protect the essential me. And he couldn’t make me like him. I’m not cruel. I don’t enjoy hurting other people. He couldn’t take me away from me, no matter what he did.

I beat the bastard. I get to have a life.

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Learning new ways of being

“How are you doing?” Mama Bear and I were settling into our seats and she started with a question that I have come to dread because it is so difficult to answer.

“I’m ok. “

She looked at me intently and then said, “Let’s try this again. How are you?”

“I was that convincing, huh?”

“We’ll say that it sounded like it was a standard response to that question, but this wasn’t a standard inquiry. I really want to know. “

I paused and then said, “I’m having a difficult time answering the question because I could respond in very different ways. “

“That’s a valid response, in itself.”

“I almost feel chaotic. I’m not sure what I’m trying to do and I bounce from state to state. “

“A little chaotic right now might not be a bad sign for you. It may mean that the old ways of being are breaking down, which opens up room for newer, more healthy ways. ”

“But it is so confusing and unsettling! I feel like I don’t know which way is up sometimes!”

Over the last few weeks, I have been both increasingly aware of the presence and influence of different parts and I have been uncertain and bewildered by what is influencing me at times.

Sometimes I will be thinking something that seems important however before I can finish the thought, I have shifted into a different state and I am left wondering what it was that I was thinking about so intently moments before. I am used to that happening when I am highly distressed, but I’m not nearly that stressed right now. I think that I simply have so much activity going on inside that it’s like the different parts of me are jostling for “air time.”

Lately, Every session involves something important;many of them are vitally important. They center around safety, trust, relationships, and being able to focus on the here and now rather than being caught up in trauma memories. It really is like everything is up in the air right now, in particular how I see my place in the world and how I am allowed to function in it. There are some periods in therapy when I want to say, “This changes everything. This is one of them.

One of the odd things about it, though, is that I have felt so solemn and serious through this process. Usually profound changes are accompanied by a sense of excitement and happiness. This time, there is the belief that what is changing is for the good, but I am dealing with the remnants of such profound pain and wreckage, that there is a need to be serious and respectful.

And the wreckage is impressive. The damage to my ability to fully trust anyone has almost been irreparable. Last Friday, there was a ray of hope, though, and if I “held myself” just the right way in relation to Mama Bear, I could feel those parts whonever trust relax into trusting Mama Bear.

As I said in wonder to her ”
I can actually feel fully safe experiencing myself in the same room with someone!”

It is like my mind is in overdrive these days, trying to put together what I have recently come to understand and take advantage of the openness to considering different ways of being.

That’s all very good, but it is also exhausting and generally quite confusing. I’m not used to thinking in the ways that I am starting to think. Sometimes I will get part way through something, revert back to the old way of thinking and then vacillate back and forth between the old and the new.

Either that or I will simply start to shut down.

And that is what I am doing now. I will take this as a sign that I need to stop for now and give myself a break. Change of this magnitude is hard work.

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Return of the Sun Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Return of the Sun
Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Ever since some point this spring, I have been struggling in my relationship with Mama Bear. I have had 4, maybe 5 crises with her since this started, which is completely unusual for me. I need for things to feel stable and it always causes me significant distress when I experience a rupture with Mama Bear. So, this has been a very uncomfortable summer from me, and for awhile I felt bewildered and started to worry that something was really wrong. Now that things have calmed down again, I think that my problems with Mama Bear actually were signs that things were going mostly right, rather than signs that there was something terribly wrong.

One of the things that seems to have been going on is that I feel more comfortable with getting upset with her. Dare I say it? I have even been getting mad at her when I think that she mishandled something and I was hurt in the process. In the past, I would have made myself swallow my hurt and anger and proceed as if nothing had gone wrong. This summer, we stumbled our way through my going back and forth between aiming my anger at myself and expressing it to her in bits and pieces. Thankfully, she has the knack of remaining completely non-defensive and even being able to welcome my anger. She would point out that I was taking it out on myself again because that felt safer than being angry with her and then she would gently point out my angry body language, the anger in my voice, the anger in my look, and question me to bring out the anger in my thoughts.

I had crisis after crisis with her, but I also was engaging with her more intensely and intimately. I was “letting her in.” Six months previously, I couldn’t make eye contact for more than a second or two, but now there were times when I would seek out and sustain that contact, so that I did not feel alone with whatever I was struggling with. I felt as though I was sitting in the same room with her almost all of the time, bumping up against her. You are much more likely to feel in conflict with someone if they are right next to you than if they are in the next room.

At some point, Mama Bear pointed out to me that in my family, no one talked about conflict. What was happening with her was my chance to experience talking with her about whatever was upsetting me and working through it in a safe way. As she said, “In your family you used smoke signals at best, but here you get to use words with me. It’s a part of what we do; we talk through an issue and come up with a solution that works for both of us.” As I had to find the courage to talk with her about issues that I didn’t want to broach, I kept on thinking back to this idea. It’s my chance to learn how to work through conflict using words and she will welcome what I bring up.

However, perhaps the most important factor was that I had started to share with Mama Bear some of the ways in which I believe that my dad abused me and memories of some of the worst of the abuse by my grandfather. Deep down inside, I expected that there wouldn’t be anyone in the world who would actually deeply believe me. I believed that anyone that I told would respond in one of two ways 1) they would be overwhelmed and turn away and abandon me or 2) they would say, “It is impossible that your grandfather did X to you. He didn’t torture you. Nothing that bad could have happened; you are exaggerating and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

After this latest crisis, Mama Bear had been talking to me and said something that drove everything else out of my head. She said that it made sense that I had dissociated so extensively and developed so many parts because the situations that I had to deal with as a child were so overwhelming and painful. She then said something about how I had experienced my of my grandfather’s abuse as torture.

I will admit that I stopped listening at that point. I was completely caught up in dealing with the implications of her statement. I had used the word “torture” a couple of times early in the summer, and while Mama Bear had agreed with my use of the word at the time, she had never before used it herself. I was stunned to hear it come out of her mouth so matter of factly. Maybe she really believed when I had told her what my experience was like with my grandfather? Maybe she actually understood just how horrific it was?

I went home and thought a good deal about it all. I thought some more about what I wrote about in “Is it safe to help myself?” Eventually I decided to take a huge chance and talk with Mama Bear about the issues in that post, because this was a dynamic that was keeping me stuck and unable to move forward.

When I talked with her in the next session, she clearly understood what I was saying and further realized how what she was doing in an attempt to help me was instead pushing me to entrench myself in a helpless position. If I hadn’t told her, in spite of my shame, who knows how long we would have remained trapped in the same pattern.

I went on to explain that what had enabled me to feel brave enough to tell her was what she had said in the previous session.

She glanced at her notes, “I don’t remember what I said. Do you remember?”

I sat there, struggling to get the words out.

She reassured me, “It’s OK if you don’t remember. It might just be the over all conversation.”

“Oh, no. I remember exactly what you said.”

That got her attention, because my memory often is so bad from session to session. “Really? What did I say?”

“You acknowledged that I experienced my grandfather’s abuse as torture and I realized that you really believed me. Someone really, really believes me.”

She looked at me gently, “Yes, I believe that you experienced your grandfather’s abuse as torture. I have heard you and I believe you.”

I stared into her eyes for awhile, taking in that she really meant what she was saying, and then I burst out with, “Thank you so much!” and I started to sob from the very center of my being. I curled up in a ball on the love seat and cried and cried. After a moment or two, Mama Bear got up and came over to kneel on the floor by me and hold my hand. Her gentle presence helped me to feel as though I was being held and that it was safe to let out all of the fear and despair that no one would ever believe me.

I looked up at her, “I can’t tell you what a huge relief it is to feel believed about this. I didn’t think that I would ever have anyone really believe me.”

“I am so glad that you can fully take in my support and caring and belief in you.”

I looked at her for while in a bit of a state of shock and then I laid my head down on our hands and just felt contained.

She said to me, “I feel like something awe inspiring has happened here and I am grateful that I was able to share it with you.”

I nodded my head and we sat there together for another moment or two.

This interaction seems to have changed everything between us, from my perspective. It feels safe to deeply trust her again. Deep inside I had previously feared that she would hurt me for telling her the worst that I had to share. I think that I believed that she wouldn’t be able to help herself because everyone had to eventually reject either me or my experience, once I had told/showed them just how bad it was. But she didn’t reject either me or what happened to me. Instead she came closer to me and she helped me to hold and take care of those parts that were so terribly traumatized by my grandfather.

I do hope that the crises of this summer are over, but this was a reminder that just because things feel awful and chaotic, it doesn’t always mean that I am really in trouble. Several times this summer, Mama Bear would take me by the shoulders and look me straight in the eye and say, “We are OK, C. We really are, even though it doesn’t feel like it. We will talk about what is going on and work through it, but things actually are more OK between the two of us than it feels like right now.” I wish that I had been able to believe her at the time, because it turns out that she was right.

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Irenic Glance 2 Artist Randall Cook

Irenic Glance 2
Artist Randall Cook

I’m just a bundle of sunshine these days… A lot of my current work was kick started by a crisis the last time that Mama Bear went out of town. I’m planning on writing about it, as I get more distance and it becomes less painful. The important point for this post is that I reached an intolerable level of pain. I felt completely abandoned and like I had to learn how to deal with everything on my own. I eventually reached the point where I could not think straight and a part kicked in to try to manage the chaos and pain. The way that this part tried to “help” was by controlling what I was thinking about by causing me great emotional distress, so much that I couldn’t think about anything else but what the part was throwing at me. It turned all of the abuse into being my fault and came up with elaborate reasons why this would so. It would go on and on, hammering at me, while I was curled up in a ball, crying. It felt so much rage at me, particularly the traumatized parts of me and it would be like this part would go on a rampage, trying to pulverize the young parts and erase their existence.

And then, perhaps worst of all, this part would start to think about suicide. I want to be very clear that you do not need to worry about whether I will try to kill myself. I won’t. I very, very strongly believe that no matter how much pain I am in, I have an obligation to my daughter to find a way to stick it out, because my killing myself would be so damaging to her. I refuse to pass on the abuse that way. Even if I go through a period of being a completely inadequate mother to my daughter because of what I am dealing with, she is better off with me being around and messed up than my being dead. I also don’t want to cause that sort of pain to my husband and I would like to think that I would hold out for his sake, but I am positive that I will for our daughter’s sake.

However, this time, things were so bad that I wished so much that my daughter and husband were not in my life, so I didn’t have them stopping me. They are the best things about my life and I wanted them gone, so that I could not exist and stop hurting so much. If there had been some way for me to just wipe myself off the face of the planet without harming anyone else, I think that I would have done it that week.

When Mama Bear came back, I just managed to drag myself into her office and she knew from the moment that she saw me that things were bad, even though when she left, we had hoped that this trip would be better than the others have been. Instead it had been far worse. I stumbled through sharing with her what had gone on in my head and straightening out things between the two of us and then I finally did something that I have never done before in the 22 years that I have known her. I talked with her about the suicidal thoughts and feelings that I had experienced. Yes, during those years she has known of other times when I felt suicidal and I have answered her safety questions, but (as far as I can remember) I have never actually been able to talk about what it is like for me. This time, I realized that I needed to not be alone with the pain and despair. I’ve been alone with it too much. From the other things that we had talked about, I had been newly reminded that Mama Bear was not my mother and she wouldn’t run from me because I was in so much pain.

To my surprise, it was a profoundly comforting experience. I was afraid that I would experience judgement or some level of anxiety on her part, but she remained completely calm and accepting of what I was telling her. She showed compassion and an understanding of how my thoughts and feelings were a reflection of the extremity of the pain and isolation that I had experienced. I didn’t really want to die and I certainly didn’t want to kill myself, I was just desperate to escape the pain. I think that she really got it at the point when I shared that even the thought that things could get better wasn’t enough for me this time, I didn’t care what I might be giving up, it just hurt too much to exist.

Talking with her helped a great deal; it didn’t make all of the thoughts and wishes go away, but they mostly went away and I knew that I didn’t need to be alone with them, if they started to get to be bad again. Frankly, it makes me feel safer and more secure to know that I have someone whom I can go to before things get to be that extreme. In fact, she wants for me to come to her well before they get to be that extreme, both because it will save me suffering and because it’s easier for her to help me well before I get to a crisis point.

I’m slowly learning that I don’t have to hide all of the worst parts.

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Irenic Glance Artist Randall Cook

Irenic Glance
Artist Randall Cook

This was written on September 9th, but wasn’t published at the time.

Last night, I figured out that I need to be honest with myself about something.

Bit of background: This is the second round of therapy after a break of about 7 years. I don’t remember very much about how things worked before, but Mama Bear tells me that I did a much better job of “letting the memories pass through me, rather than getting caught up in them.”

It’s been a puzzle as to why so much had been so hard this time around. Thinking tonight about other things, I remembered a point soon after I started therapy again when I started to deal with the memories and some part of me decided that if I protected myself from any of the impact of the memories, then my T wouldn’t believe me. I had to show her just how bad it was, so that she would believe me.

Or maybe it was that I had to show both of us just how bad it was, so that we both understood and believed me.

I don’t fully understand what happened with my father, but I know that parts of me believe that very sexual things happened with him. Maybe I don’t have to understand more than that right now.

However, I am certain that horrible things happened with my grandfather. Even my therapist has used the word “torture” to describe how I experienced the abuse. On a weekly (or more frequent) basis, I seem to keep on remembering more details and come to understand memories that didn’t make sense. I am struck by the thought, “how can one man do so many horrible things to one child? How can it be real?” How can I sometimes I feel like anyone I tell anything to will think that I just keep on making up more and more.

I am so convinced that I won’t be believed, even though Mama Bear has been clear to me that she believes that I was horribly abused, even if it is difficult to be sure about all of details because of my age and the nature of trauma and memory.

I think that I need to admit to her the belief that I can’t protect myself from being hurt by the memories, because if I do, then it will be written off as being not very bad abuse for me or even, “you look ok, so nothing could have happened.”

I need help convincing myself inside that this is a misguided attempt to help me. It’s ok to protect myself from the memories. It’s the right thing to do. If I help myself as much as I can, then I’m not going to lose any help from Mama Bear.

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