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Archive for January, 2015

Drained

I have been so tired lately, even when I have gotten enough sleep. It’s as if there is nothing left over after I deal with what is going on internally and the bare basics of what to be done for my family. The house is a disaster and has been for almost two months. My daughter is bored, because ever since Winter Break, I have crashed for a nap soon after I pick her up after school. And that often is after I take a nap in the morning. I feel guilty, but I am running on empty.

I saw my psychiatrist today (who has experience working with dissociative disorders) and we spent some time talking about how I have been experiencing increased parts activity internally and trying to get a handle on the emergence of external parts activity. (By that I mean I’m experiencing parts being in control of my actions.) This is new for me and frankly rather freaky. It’s also somewhat alarming, because I’m not in control of the process and yesterday I found myself with a very underage part increasingly taking control, while I was driving. I begged for another 4 blocks to get home and did get us home safely, but it was a close call.

We talking about how I am managing, but I am feeling like I am in it to over my eyebrows and I feel like I have nothing left to do anything that isn’t absolutely necessary right then. I asked if a recent med change might be causing decreased energy levels and she was very sympathetic, but clear that my problem simply is that my brain is running at capacity trying to manage all of the parts, figure out internal communication, come up with some way to manage the parts starting to emerge into the world, after hiding away for so long, and deal with over the top intense emotions and memories.

She did hold out hope, though. As the communication improves, eventually I will either start to integrate parts and the load will decrease that way or I will find that parts can take on some tasks and the load can be shared. Honestly, I’m intimidated by the thought of the second option. It’s hard for me to imagine what that would be like, since my parts have always been ‘behind’ me (other than in sessions) up until now. I never thought that I would have to deal with them emerging into the world, but it’s starting to happen, so I really don’t know what will happen.

One benefit to my talk with the psychiatrist is that I stopped feeling so guilty about ‘getting so little done’. If I have nothing left, I have nothing left. Period. No feeling like I ‘should’ be doing more. As Dr. L said, first priority is safety. (No three year old driving the car.) Next is taking care of basic needs and for right now, that means dealing with what is going on internally for me. The house can wait. The house has to wait. I continue giving my daughter what I can, as often as I can, and even though it isn’t nearly what either of us would want and I am sure that I will hear about it 10 years from now, for now the reality is that it’s the best that I can do. My husband loses out the most, I’m afraid, but at least I can be mindful about the situation and try to do more hugs or sit next to him on the couch more often. If I stop beating myself up over not doing enough, then I can pay attention to doing the little things that are possible.

I do hope that I make it through this drained dry stage soon, though. This is the most extreme that it’s ever been for me. I need to have a bit of energy left over to get back to being able to do some more of that living again.

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Trigger warning- references to teen sexual abuse and a part’s way of dealing with such

So, I have been having a very hard time over the last several weeks. I have been dealing with difficult material in regards to my father in addition to some anniversary effects related to my grandfather. What I haven’t mentioned so far is that my dog has developed untreatable cancer. She has a 6 inch tumor in her right lung that has metastasized to multiple organs. It is a very aggressive form of cancer and she doesn’t have long to live. There is an immense amount of grief over this impending loss in our household.

Therapy has been difficult. I have been encountering resistance from some parts to going to therapy. I hear wails of, “I don’t wanna go!” when I need to get up and get dressed so I can go to my sessions. As a result, I have started to be one or two minutes late regularly, sometimes even three or four minutes late, when in the past I have always been there when the previous client leaves her office. In addition, parts have been throwing up barriers more often, making it harder for Mama Bear and me to connect.

Last weekend, I wrote something which I sent by email to Mama Bear. It got to the core of what I am most ashamed of about my experiences with my father. I won’t go into all of the details, but if I can trust my mind, my dad continued to have sex with me until I was 15. At that point I was completely aware of how horribly wrong it was, but I also felt that I had no choice in the matter. I also was at a point developmentally when I was at an age where my body was more ready to feel sexual feelings and I normally would have been dealing with sexual thoughts and urges. A part of me seems to have developed to deal with the impossible stresses of everything that I was dealing with in regards to my dad in combination with the biochemical developmental stresses. For her, my father wasn’t my father, my father was ‘Him’. She didn’t think about what was going on, she just felt the sensations, because none of the rest of me could tolerate the terrible tension between the mental agony and the physical pleasure when my dad had sex with me at that age. It wasn’t always pleasurable, but he could make it very much so.

It has taken me years and years to get to the point where I can begin to look at this part and what her role was. From ‘my’ broader, more experienced, more compassionate point of view, I can start to see how such a part would have developed and how her presence would have helped to hold the rest of me together. Even with her there, bleeding off some of the strain, things could be almost unbearable. At the same time, though, my mind wants to reject the very possibility of her existence and say that it just seems like something out of a sick fantasy.

Once I told Mama Bear about this part by email, I fell apart even more. I remember that I called her over the weekend because “there is a part that you haven’t met in person yet who needs to know that you will listen to her.” My sleep deteriorated to an even worse state than it had been before. I felt like I was wandering around in a dissociative fog with a constant underlying layer of terror.

I got to my session 5 minutes late that Tuesday, which is later than I have ever been, unless I am in another appointment that is running late or something. The reason that I was so late was because I had been dealing with a swirl of parts that desperately did not want to go to the session. I walked into the session still partially in that dissociative swirl. A corner of me noticed that something seemed to be kind of off with Mama Bear, but the rest of me was caught in that swirl and ready to talk with her about the sleep issues which where making me feel pretty desperate.

The session was kind of odd. We made some progress, but I never felt fully there the entire session and that corner of me felt that something was off with Mama Bear the entire time, even though that part was far enough back that I couldn’t have articulated the concern at that time.

That evening, though, I became more and more certain that something was terribly wrong between me and Mama Bear. I was sure that she was angry with me about something. Then I realized that I was certain that I had either completely disgusted her with what I had emailed to her or that she had decided that what I had said was so unbelievable that she was going to turn her back on me. I was sorry that I had trusted her with what I had written and certain that I had messed up our relationship. I felt terribly alone and started to think that I wouldn’t even be able to ever see her again. Writing this out now, I can see how far fetched these fears were. For one thing, after I sent her that email, when I spoke to her on the phone, she reassured my parts that she would talk to absolutely any parts that wanted to talk to her, no matter what they had to say. She knew what she was freely committing to. Even if she did not believe that things happen exactly that way, she has said before that confusion in parts isn’t a reason to reject them, it’s another reason to help them.

However, on Tuesday evening, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was too caught up in my fear of abandonment. I was thinking clearly enough to recognize that my thinking was distorted, though. I realized that I could either check out with her whether there really was a problem or I could let myself become more and more miserable and certain that things were over with Mama Bear.

I did the right thing, I sent her an email, although it was late enough that it didn’t reach her until the next morning, right before she left for work.

“I wrote a whole long email that was mostly about other things which I’m not sure whether to send or not.

I also asked a question in a much more sophisticated way than I’m going to now. Am I on trouble? I feel in trouble. Something feels wrong with you and did in the session. Some part, I guess a protector just wants to hide myself away from you because I’m afraid that I’m being rejected.

And I’m sorry that I’m so much trouble, that I can’t just be quietly cooperative and easy to deal with.”

Her response was:

I just got this and can not respond further right now other than to say no; you are not in trouble with me. I think that is what you were asking. You may be upset with me for redirecting the discussion when you were unable to speak. You are not sleeping well and there are other ways to help you, other than to go deep into all the parts.

Her response helped. At least I had her assurance that nothing was terribly wrong, but I still had the feeling that something was off.

A bit later, she texted me:

C, this may be an opportunity to ask adult/present self whether I was being hurtful.. If not, bring some reassurance to the child.

To which I replied:

Hi. No you weren’t unkind. But something felt off the whole session. Can believe it was from….. My disorientation from dealing with so much inner turmoil from the get go.

And her final reply:

OK, we will discuss more. For now, use your adult/present self to help yourself calm. And, yes, much going on for you. Come as much…..on time as possible so that we have as much time as possible.

Aha. There had been something. She had been bothered to some extent by my being late. Mystery solved. Normally I would feel ashamed for “getting in trouble” about something like this, but this time I was able to look at it and see it as a normal, everyday problem. It was a relief to have it be something that I could relatively easily do something about. After all, I agree with her that we need every minute of each session. Ideally, the sessions would be 15-30 minutes longer.

I had indeed correctly sensed that something was off, but I was so primed by the huge shame topic that I was ready to attribute any relational issues with Mama Bear to what I had shared with her. The reality was that what I had shared had not created any problems between us from her side, but it certainly had created problems from my side. While the rupture between us had been a perception that pretty much was all in my head, it still had been painful and left me feeling less secure in my relationship with her.

I could either stay where I was and wait until the next session to try to get things on sounder footing again, or I could take a chance and share some of the thoughts that I had previously written out and see where that took me. I have the luxury of having met Mama Bear over 20 years ago and while the work that we have done over the last 3 years is far deeper than anything we ever did the previous times we worked together, I have seen time and again that she has my best interests at heart, despite whatever my parts might fear. I decided to take the risk.

For some reason, Mama Bear decided to write back more than she normally does. We used to get into trouble with my misinterpreting her email responses, so she decided that it would be best to keep any meaty responses to our sessions. This time she responded to each point that I made though and her genuine affection for me and wish more my well being came through clearly. Somehow, that response just eased all of the worries that my parts had left. What I had told her really hadn’t changed the way that she felt about me. My fear was that I was going to be left all alone with my shame, but the reality is that I am not at all alone.

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Trigger warning: There are references to rape and talk about how my sexualized traumatized parts function.

I struggle with sleep and have for many years. Really, I have struggled with it periodically for as long as I can remember. The last three years have been particularly bad, with it getting worse and worse over the last year. At this point, I am just plain exhausted.

Because of my severe sleep issues, doctors have had me on an antidepressant with the side effect of drowsiness (Trazadone) for years. Most of the time, this will allow me to get to sleep to start with, but first I have to force myself to get into bed, which sounds like it should be simple, but isn’t really. And then there is the little matter of staying asleep once I fall asleep. It simply doesn’t happen these days. And then there is the matter of the dreams…

I used to feel really badly about needing a sleep aid and I kept on taking myself off of it, thinking that I would just grit my teeth through the transition and surely my body would eventually get tired enough that it would give up and sleep on its own. I spent multiple vacations going around in a sleep deprived, cranky haze, attempting this, but I never stopped waking at the slightest sound or movement in my room, especially during that falling asleep phase. Eventually I conceded that the PTSD startle reflexes were just too strong and it wasn’t a matter of ‘learning to sleep on my own’; I was simply too easily stimulated into a startle reflex while I was falling asleep. There is a place for sleep aids, because long term sleep deprivation is harmful physically and psychologically. Everyday psychological stability is hard to maintain while sleep deprived, but heavy duty psychotherapy with parts can become all but impossible when I am too sleep deprived.

Getting into bed is where I seem to be having the greatest difficulty these days. It has taken me a very long time to come to the point where I can start to look honestly at what is contributing to this problem. In the past, I have tried to say, “X is the problem” and then just leave it at that. For instance, “I am afraid to go to bed.” Yes, there is fear, but what is the fear about? How do I address it? Is it current day fear, or is it fear based on the past?

For whatever reason, I simply was not looking at how much of my difficulty with getting into bed was parts driven, even though I should know by now that when I have an intractable, long term problem, I should take a look at whether parts are involved in some way, because they almost always are. Over the last several days, I have come to recognize that not only are parts driving this problem, but there are multiple parts involved.

There is the part who is afraid to get into bed because she is afraid that she will wake up with someone on top of her, assaulting her. I think that this has been an underlying fear all of these years that I never allowed myself to acknowledge. Some time in the last couple of weeks, the memories that this fear is based on have started to rise to the surface in bits and pieces. Last night, I had a bit of a breakthrough, though. The part who has this fear realized that my husband knows to not even touch me when I am asleep. He would never, ever do what she is afraid might happen. She realized that not only is she safe from my husband, but if she should come awake to someone assaulting her, it’s OK now for her to fight as hard as she can to protect herself. She doesn’t have to allow herself to be raped in her own bed now. I am not in the ’80s, I am in 2015 and it is safe for me to protect myself now.

Then there is the part that is just angry at me and doesn’t think that I deserve to be taken care of. It’s so incredibly angry at me for having a body. If I didn’t have a body, then I wouldn’t have been hurt. It’s all my body’s fault. There is so, so much rage and a desire to destroy. A desperate wish that my body could be made to go away. An even more desperate desire to go back in time and obliterate my body, so it couldn’t have felt anything. She feels panicked at the thought that I should be compassionate towards my body, because she just wants to reject my body because it feels so dangerous.

Something else is going on that is similar, but not quite the same: the belief that I am not worthy of being taken care of. There is a sense that I am so worthless that I am not worth the effort of overcoming all of the pressures to keep me out of bed. I am not worthy of being protected and comforted so that I can sleep. I just have to learn how to deal with it.

I also have the parts that are afraid to get into bed when my husband is in bed and still awake. He has problems with insomnia, so it can take quite a long time for him to get to sleep. These are parts that are afraid that he might make any sort of sexual advances at all. They know that he won’t attack me, but it is like they are programmed to go into action as soon as he touches me with any sexual interest. These parts aren’t always this active, but at the moment they are right there at the surface. In the rules that they exist by, there are two of them, because it was too big of a job for one; this way they can take turns. They have to do whatever they sense that the man that they are with wants and they have to act like they want it. I can’t quite tell if one of them actually holds being able to somewhat want what is happening and the other holds not wanting it or if both of them go back and forth, but I believe that the truth is that they really don’t want sex. They are too young for it. Closeness, yes, but absolutely nothing that makes them feel sexual feelings. Those times when I have had sex with my husband over the last year or two, when I have been able to recognize the presence of these parts, I have just wanted to hide my face and cry during the act. If he would sense that something was off and ask me if I was ok, I used to be able to get away with telling him that I was ok and just avoid looking at him. Eventually I realized that I couldn’t keep on doing that to myself, so one day when I wasn’t in one of those parts, I told him that if I won’t meet his eye, then there is a problem, no matter what I say. Fortunately, he wants to help me stay safe and he has no interest in having sex with traumatized parts, not even cooperative ones. The man now makes sure to look into my eyes, unless the lights are out (which is the next thing that I need to tackle.)

There may be more going on than just these four things, but it think that they are the four strongest forces at work right now: a fear of waking up to being assaulted, a self punishing aspect, a feeling not deserving help, and a fear of sexual advances. I guess that it’s more than enough. My feeling is that if I can deal with them enough to get myself to a place where I feel safe enough to go to bed without a fight, then the problems with the dreams and waking up also will ease. It will have to help. Anyways, just getting into bed is the first step.

Sleep. It’s such a basic need. I wish that is was simple to satisfy that need once you have been traumatized, especially once you have been woken up out of your sleep to be traumatized. I have to fix this problem, though, or at least make it better. I can’t go on this way.

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“The memories… The memories that came back of what happened…” My words failed me and I just looked at Mama Bear and shuddered.

We were talking about what had happened the previous evening when I had been hit by memories of being abused by my grandfather during Christmas break when I was 10. My daughter is 10 now. That was the age when I was sent to live with my mom’s mom and also spend a significant amount of time with my dad’s parents for 2 1/2 months, while my mother joined my father in Asia. If I remember correctly, I spent that Christmas break living with my dad’s parents, since my grandfather was on disability and home, but my mom’s mom had to work during the break. It seems that my daughter turning 10 had created a significant sort of anniversary effect and underneath everything else going on over her Winter break this year, I was dealing with this trauma, in addition to the traumas with my dad that I knew that I was talking about. No wonder I was barely functional at times during the previous 2 or 3 weeks.

Mama Bear looked at me compassionately, but there seemed to be a trace of ‘here we go again’ in her voice. “So what did you do to help remind yourself that you were in 2015 and safe in your home?” It was our normal routine- go through and figure out what I could have done to help myself get through the experience and not get stuck in it. It’s frustrating for both of us to have to it over and over, but it does work. I’m slowly learning how to have responses that help myself deal better with the memories, rather than my original patterns which would take me deeper into the memories.

And all of that work had paid off this time, I didn’t have the problems that she thought that I had had. I shook my head, “No, you don’t understand. I didn’t get stuck in the memories. They were miserable, but I was mostly outside of them. I did ok with that. The problem is dealing with the memories themselves. How can they be? How can anyone treat a child like that? How can they be possible? They make me feel like I must be crazy.”

She sighed a bit. “Crazy? Back to crazy again? Please spare yourself that!” I just looked at her. “C., there are some things that you are clear happened, some things that you think probably happened, and other things that you just aren’t sure about. So this memory falls in the not sure about category and that is OK, but we are sure that what happened with your grandfather was extremely traumatic. That is what is most important here, not being sure whether what you remembered “really” happened. And certainly not feeling crazy because you were highly traumatized. Don’t do that to yourself.”

She looked at me with concern, obviously hoping to forestall my starting down the path of doubting whether I could trust anything that my mind told me. It’s a path that I have been down all too many times.

She continued, “Besides, what happened had to have been wildly confusing to you. You probably didn’t understand what was going on.”

I thought back to the memory, groaned, and nodded my head emphatically. I know that I didn’t understand what was happening. I have only been able to piece together what I think happened, using my adult knowledge along with my traumatic memories as a 10 year old. I could be misinterpreting exactly what happened, but Mama Bear was right, I was positive that what happened was one of the most traumatic experiences that I ever had, whether what I thought had happened actually was what had happened or not.

In that session, eventually, I was able to go on and provide caring and comfort to the young me who had endured this traumatic experience. In doing so, I could feel that young part begin to relax and come into the safer here and now.

Over the next day or two, other bits of memories came into my mind, all bizarre, all of the type that tend to make me doubt whether I can trust my mind, all of them starting to make me feel as though I must be “crazy.” I would think back on what Mama Bear had said, though, and how I knew in my gut that I wasn’t crazy. Yes, there was a twisted mind behind these memories, but that mind wasn’t mine, it was my grandfather’s. I can choose to not worry about understanding exactly what happened in these memories and accept that the emotional content is accurate, even if the circumstances were so confusing that I could be remembering them incorrectly. What matters most in those cases is that I accept the memories of how it felt and help to pull those parts of me out of the nightmares that they have been stuck in for decades. There are some memories that I am more clear about that I will need to process directly, but for a large part, he left me with an overwhelming burden of terrorized parts that simply need to be cared for in the way that I have been learning to do lately.

I can do that. I can set aside the escape of calling myself “crazy” and take up the task of saving these parts who had no one to save them all of those years ago.

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Trigger warning! I am far more graphic about the abuse in this post than I normally am. Please read with care.

The following is an email that I wrote to Mama Bear the day after the the session in Learning to Nurture Parts. The 6 year old part that I talk about is the very, very needy one that I worked with in that session.

I wouldn’t normally post this, but I am so freaking tired of being quiet about what happened. That quiet is why children keep on being abused. No one wants to believe that the ever likable, respectable military officer is sexually using his daughter in such a way. Such things only happen to “those other people”, right? Well, no!!! Dammit!!! These things can happen in any neighborhood, any social group. And perpetrators can be just like my father. They can have an astonishingly good facade. Much of the time, my parents wished that they had my parents.

Pieces have come together over the last day, many of which I had seen before but didn’t know where they belonged. They belong to the part from yesterday who is 6 and very, very hurt.

There was a period when my dad would abuse me when he was angry. It seems like there had been no abuse for awhile (I know that we were apart for a couple of months, but this feels longer) and it also seems that when it started again, there was no memory of it and I was completely bewildered on top of everything else. At least, that is the way that this part feels.

Because he was angry, it was like he wanted to hurt me. He did. One of my distinctions between him and my grandfather is that my grandfather generally used things and my father generally used parts of his body. But what I remember now is that during this period, when he was angry, he would use things. I kept on seeing items from my toy box. The physical memory that came with it was of something being used too hard and going in too far and hurting in the way that I couldn’t let myself feel. The only thing that I can call what happened is rape. He didn’t use his penis, but that is what the experience was.

No wonder this part is in such need of extra special tender care in order to even begin to show herself.

How the hell did I survive so much trauma? I know. Dissociation. But still, I’m just experiencing parts of what I lived through and the intensity of those bits is unbelievable. I get to escape it to a safe now, but I could only part way escape in my mind then. The now me is going in and out of feeling so much anger at my father for putting a 6 year old girl through a rape type experience. Six. Using toys. I keep on seeing the arms and legs taken off my doll and I remember figuring out how to put them back on. I hope that I was just taking them off because I needed to express something and that’s why I’m seeing them now. Not that he was using them.

At least I can hold that child part in a safe place now, no matter what she tells me. And even though remembering things last night was hard, I didn’t get stuck then and there.

I’m angry. We’ve talked about how I don’t need to remember everything. Thank goodness, or I think that I might be dealing with memories for the rest of my life. My mind does seem to need to deal with the major things, though. Even that is a lot. A hell of a lot. I’ll make it through it, but this is a pretty sucky hand to have been dealt.

I continue to be in shock as to what is sinking in deeper and deeper. This all really happened. My father raped me. He raped me with things. He raped me with his penis. He raped me with his tongue. It is beyond horrible. It defines intolerable. I understand now why the dissociation was so complete and it has taken so long to get to this point.

It is so difficult to allow myself to feel what it was like to be the girl who was trapped and knew that these things would happen over and over. I believed that I had no possibility of escape, whatsoever. I am so angry that I was the one who had to deal with whatever caused my father to hurt me so much.

More than anything, I wish that I could go back in time, take my mother by the shoulders and shake her hard, yelling, “Look at what your husband is doing to your daughter! Really look!!! And deal with it, damn it! You are the adult here, don’t leave your child to deal with it alone!”

I’m past wishing that the situation could have magically disappeared and everything had been as good as my family pretended. Now I just wish that I had my mother’s help dealing with the ugly reality. I needed her help to stop him and I really needed for her to hold and love me and help me heal.

Thinking about my father is so confusing. Part of it is because as bad as he was, my grandfather was worse as an abuser, so I am always thinking, “at least he wasn’t as bad as his father.” But considering that means that I am comparing my father to a sadist, that still leaves lots of room for awful behavior. Part of it is because I still have that image of the “perfect family” in the back of my mind, even though I know that it was a mirage. Part of it is that I have young parts that want to be able to love him. Part of it is because I also saw that ever so charming man who is everyone’s friend and ever so helpful. The man who helps his next door neighbor dig fence holes on his 70th birthday. The man who gives a car to a neighbor who needs one. How can this man be the same one who raped his daughter?

But I’m starting to accept that my father really did have a very dark side. That his continuing to abuse me, even when it hurt me, wasn’t just selfish, it was cruel. I have been telling myself, “But he didn’t intend to hurt me. My grandfather intended to hurt me, so this was better.” How much better was it, really? As Mama Bear pointed out to me, “He didn’t try to protect [me] from himself.”. He is the one who hurt me; no one else made those choices for him. Logically, I can see that the conclusion that he was cruel is the obvious one, but I’m not yet at the point where I can include that in my definition of my. It’s coming, though. He is a different cruel from my grandfather. More cruel by default and because his desires matter more than the welfare of others than cruel by goal.

I keep on coming back to the most important fact here, though. He raped me as a child. What he and my grandfather put me through could have destroyed me. I can feel that when I get close to some of the memories- I remember what it felt like to have my mind so close to shattering. Thank goodness I have what Mama Bear calls a ‘talent for dissociating’ because I believe that it and a certain base provided by my mother are what allowed me to survive.

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I started to write this post awhile back and wasn’t able to finish it at the time. It is about an issue that many of us struggle with, however, so I think that it is worth finishing as best I can and putting out there. Hopefully doing so will also help to embed the lessons into my own mind, as well!

A couple of weeks ago, I sent Mama Bear a distress signal by email, letting her know that I was having problems and things felt “really strange” for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask for any help until 10:30pm (over 3 hours into the crisis) which turned out to be after she picked up her last email of the night; fortunately, I had an appointment scheduled for the next day. She responded as soon as she got the email the next morning, but at that point I was only a bit over an hour away from my appointment, and had things contained enough to be able to wait to see her.

“I got your e-mail from last night, but didn’t see it until this morning,” she explained as we settled.

“I knew that would likely happen, given how late I sent it.”

“It sounds like you were really distressed and confused. Can you describe to me what happened? Don’t worry about trying to explain it, just describe it.”

I paused because the whole experience was so confusing that it was hard to think about even describing it. “Things were pretty ok during the day. I had a couple of surges of anxiety, but then I was able to breathe and it passed. But in the evening, something came up so strongly that I couldn’t even stay fully present while I was playing a game with my family. I’ve never before had something draw me away from that sort of family interaction before. They always keep me present, so whatever it was was powerful. Afterwards, I felt young, very frightened,, like I was in a dark place, and I couldn’t breathe. Then later, after that, it felt like there were so many parts present that I couldn’t even finish a thought before another part started another thought, I was bouncing between them so much. It was just so very, very confusing that I couldn’t make sense of anything but that something was very wrong.”

“And that was when you sent the e-mail to me?”

“Yes, but I really wanted to contact you earlier when I felt like I was in the dark place. But I just couldn’t.”

She looked at me sadly; this has been a longstanding problem of mine: when I am most in distress, I am least able to contact her for help.

Mama Bear asked me, “Sitting here, can you imagine yourself contacting me next time and asking for help?”

I looked at her blankly, struggling to think through the complicated mess that had been in my head the night before, remembering how impossible it had felt to come up with a way to describe what was going on and explain to her why I needed to talk to her.

She could see that I was not having success and tried another track. “Not so much, huh? Think about what you might say in a voice mail or text that would let me know that you needed for me to call you.”

When she suggested that approach, the obvious occurred to me, “I guess that I could say the same thing that I normally say. I’m having a hard time and I think that it would help to speak to you.”

“That definitely would work,” she agreed.

I thought back to the previous night, sitting there, huddled into the corner, feeling so young and overwhelmed by the idea of trying to find words to communicate with her. I could only think of one word that I could use.

“The problem was that I just couldn’t find words at all. The only thing that I could think of to say was ‘help’.” I looked at her feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

Her response was unexpectedly matter fact and calm. “That certainly would have gotten the needed message through to me. It would have done the job, C. What kept you from texting or calling and saying ‘help’?”

I looked at her, appalled at the idea. “It would have been completely melodramatic! I couldn’t do that!!!”

“I don’t really agree with you about it being melodramatic. But even if it was, what would the problem be with that?”

Fear coursed through me and I dove underneath the blanket spread over my lap, rapidly falling into a terrified child state. Immediately, Mama Bear said gently, but firmly, “C, you need to sit up and come back here. You are not in danger. I need for you to be able to tell me what is frightening the child so much.” Because she interrupted the process as soon as it started, I was able to pull most of the way out of it. If she had not, I likely would have spent a large portion of the session in a terrified state, struggling to verbalize anything.

I sat up, taking several deep breaths, feeling the air going in and out of my body, looking into her eyes, trying to ground in the here and now. As I came back, she said, “Good. That’s better. It looks like you are at least partially here now.”

I smiled shakily. “Yes. Partially. I went down really fast that time, didn’t i?”

“You sure did. You, my dear, really have a talent for dissociation. It saved you when you were young, but we do need to get it under control. It’s under better control than it was because you wouldn’t have been able to bring yourself out so easily a few months ago. But not getting triggered into it in the first place would be best of all. Are you ready to go back to what we were talking about?”

I took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”

“Remember that we are here, in my office and that it is a safe place for you.” She glanced at her notes and asked again, “What would be the problem with being a little melodramatic? I don’t think that I have ever seen you truly melodramatic, by the way.”

I could feel the fear again, but I reminded myself that I really was in a place where no one would hurt me for talking. It didn’t stop me from shaking with fear, but at least it helped to me be able to stay in the room.

“I… I’m not sure…” I let myself connect to the feelings of fear. “It would be asking for too much attention. No, it would draw too much attention.” I grew even more afraid. “It’s like I have to be as quiet and still as possible. I can’t call out for help because it’s too dangerous!!!” By this point, I was crying and starting to curl up in a ball again, but I still was enough present to realize, “I’m remembering what it was like for me back then, aren’t I? It wasn’t safe for me to call out to my mother for help. I thought that I had to stay quiet, no matter what happened.”

She gently said, “Yes, this comes from what happened. We don’t know if your father said something to keep you quiet or if you were just controlled by your fear of what would happen if your mother knew about the abuse. Whatever it was, it made you too afraid to call out for help when you were being abused, no matter how much you wanted to. Just like you wanted to contact me last night, but couldn’t bring yourself to.”

I thought about what she said and then whispered in a young voice, “I don’t have to stay quiet anymore?”

“Not only do you not have to, I want for you to not be so quiet.” Her voice and face were so sincere that I knew for sure that she meant what she said.

“It’s ok for me to ask for help?”

“C, it isn’t just ok, it is very important that you learn that you can safely ask for help.”

I took in what what she said, trying to “hear” it all the way inside, which is where the confusion really is. The adult me understands all of these things, but the child parts, many of them are still very stuck in the ways of thinking that they learned when I was young.

Mama Bear seemed to come to a decision and said, “I’ll tell you what. If all that you can do is to text me or leave a voice mail saying “Help”, do that. I promise not to assume that you are about to fall off a cliff, but I will get back to you as soon as I can, at least to set up a time when we can talk. I want to know that you will contact me if you need me. Do you think that you can do that?”

I thought about what she said. A large part of me was hugely relieved at the thought of knowing that I could have this easy short hand way of communicating with her that I was in distress and I wouldn’t have to worry about how she would interpret it. We already had the meaning established. At the same time, the parts of me that see asking for help during those times to be a dangerous act were fearful at the thought. But I realized that finally understanding why contacting her at those times felt so dangerous could enable me to push past the paralyzingly fear that these parts carry. It’s safer now for me to be in touch with someone who cares about me and help ground me back into my present day than for me to struggle along on my own, remaining immersed in the trauma memories. The only way for the parts to learn that there is safety in calling out for help now is to do so and to receive the help that I need, breaking the script of remaining isolated with the abuse. Mama Bear has shown herself to be trustworthy over and over. I could trust her part in this experiment, I just had to push myself to do my own part.

I met her eyes and said, “Yes, I think that I can. If I know that you know how to hear my saying ‘help’, then I think that I can contact you with that, even if I can’t do anything else. I can’t guarantee it, because so often asking for help feels impossible, but I think that I could do that.”

She gave me a relieved smile, “Good. I can only ask you to try. Up until now the answer has always been ‘maybe’ every time I have tried to convince you to contact me in this sort of situation. This at least sounds like it might be possible.”

I haven’t needed to use the ‘code word’ yet, so I’m not sure how it will go. I did, however, contact her at a point when I might not have in the past. I had spent a day and a half unsuccessfully trying to ground in the present and I texted her, asking to talk, even though it was New Years Eve Day and she was on vacation. She had no problem with my talking with her because she understood just why I was having such a hard time and she wasn’t at all surprised that I needed the extra contact. I needed to be able to say things that I can’t yet say to anyone else and know that they would be heard and accepted. I needed to not cry alone for a bit, because I have spent too much of my life alone with what happened. Most of all, I needed to feel cared for by someone who knows the full story and understands why I am in such shock and pain.

I’m learning. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have called at all until I had reached the barely functional state because of emotional overwhelm. In regards to the incident that I had emailed about, that probably would have been hidden away inside and never talked about at all. When it comes to changing ways of thinking and being that multiple buried parts believe threaten my existence, I can be a very slow learner. But I am learning.

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Something very, very important happened in my session a couple of days ago, but much of it was wordless, so I am not sure about how well I will be able to describe it.

First of all, I am very body oriented. I am aware of the sensations of movement, my place in space, what is in and out of balance in my body- all things that made me a good dancer when I was younger. I also tend to be very aware of changes in body sensations and states and many of my memories are physical memories of the abuse or the way my body felt after. This combination makes me very susceptible to having current sensations trigger flashbacks or just leave me confused over time and place orientation. I also tend to carry an immense amount of tension in my back and shoulders- my husband and daughter joke about how I have bones in odd places in my back, because the knots can be that tight. It has become obvious to me that there is some link between that muscle tension and memories, at the very least emotional memories.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon something that gave me both physical relief and mental/emotional relief. I wanted to be sure to tell Mama Bear about it, because I knew that it might be useful in session, as well.

“I’m not sure what led me to doing this, but I figured out something really helpful at home and I thought that it might be useful here, as well,” I told her at the beginning of the session.

“Helpful always is good,” and she gave me her full attention as she settled with her coffee.

“I have become aware that what happened with my father just filled me with trauma. It’s like a physical sensation of completely being filled with something. I reached a point a couple days ago when my back was so painful with what I was holding in it and my body just felt overwhelmed by that trauma and I felt like I had to do something. I have a glider rocker and matching ottoman and I found myself folded over in the chair, with my head on my arms on the ottoman, just letting everything go as much as possible. Relaxing all of those muscles as deeply as possible, more and more with each breath. It was kind of like same way that I release in restorative yoga. And then I just imagined all of that trauma draining and draining out of me.”

“How did it feel?” She asked with interest- she’s always interested in these little experiments that I come up with, taking what I have learned and trying to put it all together in a way that is even more helpful to me.

I thought back to the experience and was pleased to realize that as I described it, I once again could feel some of the positive effects in my body. ” I felt like I was able to relax more and more as I pictured the trauma draining out of me; I felt more peaceful and comfortable. Also, when I started out, I felt a burning in my mind; the sense of trauma was so intense. That was gone by the time I was finished.”

She had been taking notes as I had been describing things to her and she looked up then, slightly concerned, “Burning? Some place in particular on your head?”

I shook my head, a little frustrated, because this was a time when words couldn’t really describe the experience. “No, not that type of burning. In my mind. I can’t really describe it.”

She shook it off, “It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that this was helpful for you.”

“Yes, very!”

She smiled at me, “I’m glad. Body work very often is important in trauma work. You intuitively figured out how to do something that worked well for you, which is wonderful. The key was that you didn’t just do the body part alone, but you also used effective imagery. I’m impressed. ” In fact, Mama Bear has tried to incorporate body work into our work together in small ways and generally encounters a great deal of resistance from my parts. If this is a sign that I might be able to start incorporating parts work with some aspects of being in the body safely, that would be a very good thing. It’s a commonality among my parts: they don’t want to have a body because bodies get hurt. They are perfectly happy for me to have the body. The reality, though, is that it is safe to be in my body these days and I need for these parts of me to learn this truth, so I am not carrying around an underlying fear of being present in my body.

All that I said to Mama Bear, though, was, “I’m just glad that it’s giving me some relief, because I really needed it!” I was feeling ready to move on.

Mama Bear is good at sensing when I am ready to move into the meat of the session and she asked me, “What do you want to talk about, C.?”

I paused, trying to figure out what to say, because the previous night’s plans for the session no longer felt right to me. “I have an idea, but I’m not sure how to talk about it, so I guess that I will start by talking about talking about it.” I reached for the super thick fleece blanket on the arm of her love seat that has Native American designs with bears on it and spread it over me. That blanket is my main comfort and grounding tool when I do serious work in her office.

Mama Bear smiled at me because it took us a long time to figure out that circling in to a topic like this often works best for me, when I have trouble starting. “Talking about talking about something always is a good place to start!”

“I’ve just become increasingly aware that I need to get out of the way and let my parts say what they need to say. I don’t need to worry about whether what comes out makes sense.”

“Yes! You don’t need to worry about figuring it out before you say it.” This has been a major problem of mine and kept me from talking about many things for months, struggling to deal with them on my own, when I would have been much better off just sharing and trying to figure the issue/ memory out by talking out loud to her, receiving her support and comfort.

“Yes, there’s that, but also it may just not make sense. I need for things not making sense to be OK and for me to be able to accept that even if something doesn’t make sense, but a part needs to say it, then it still needs to be said.”

She nodded her head, “Yes. It is very possible that there may be some things that never make sense. With some, you may choose to not try to make sense of them, with others it just might not be possible to understand what happened.”

“I also need to be able to say something that one part believes and then later say something completely contradictory that another part believes.”

“Of course! Part of that is dealing with the parts that needed to hold conflicting beliefs or feelings apart, but part of that is just being human. We all have these contradictory aspects to ourselves and struggle with them. Show me someone who is completely consistent and I’ll show you someone who is lying through their teeth!”

I smiled at her being so emphatic. Mama Bear rarely misses a chance to point out to me a way in which my experience is closer to “normal” than I seem to think that it is.

I paused and struggled over what to say next. “I’m not sure what to say. I thought that I needed to let a part express some of the anger that has been so intense, but I’m not sure that the anger is anywhere near to feel right now.” I really was confused because over the previous week or two, any time that I had opened myself to the anger at all, it had come rushing up, but that afternoon it was hiding instead.

“I’m not surprised to hear that you wanted to talk about the anger that the parts hold. We certainly aren’t done talking about it and you did bring up some intense anger in your email last week. But if it isn’t there, don’t go digging. Go with what is there, OK?” She caught my eyes and I looked in hers for a moment and nodded my head.

Mama Bear knows me well and knows that my trying to force myself to do the work that I think that I should do only leads to frustration and a wasted session. When I do the work that my system needs and is ready to do at that moment, that is when the most productive work happens.

I knew that i needed to do something important, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I felt kind of lost, bewildered, but in a buffered way. I slowly became aware that a large part of my confusion stemmed from the fact that I was connecting to a young part who just felt bewildered that my father had done such horrible things to her. There was no anger to be found at all.

Mama Bear could see that I was experiencing something and asked gently, “What is going on, C? Please try to stay at least half in your adult self.” So often at this point in a session, I dive straight into a traumatized child state and we then have to spend time pulling me out enough so that I can effectively work with that part, rather than just being in that part.

I looked up at her. “I’m feeling very protective of my child parts.”

“How do you feel protective?”

It seemed like an odd question to me. Protective means protective! Was she trying to point out that these were internal child parts and they weren’t really in danger? I’m not even sure what answer I managed to put together for her because I was more focused on my internal experience of growing that awareness of wanting to keep this particular child part from harm and surrounding her in a circle of protection.

Mama Bear persisted in her questioning, “What do you mean by protection?”

I must have flashed a “back off” look at her as I struggled to remain in touch with my internal process and figure out exactly what she was asking.

She then asked, “Are you feeling attacked?”

I was both relieved that she saw what was happening and was addressing it and upset at being faced with a question that I always found difficult to answer. If I felt like I was being attacked, that meant that I was criticizing her. She had no problem with my taking issue with what she was doing, but I had real problems with it, particularly when I am already struggling with something else! However, I knew that I needed to stop the line of questioning and I found a compromise and said, “I’m not sure why, but I am feeling defensive.”

To my relief, she accepted the answer and started to go more with where I was. “OK, whatever the reason, that is the way that you feel. Maybe the questions are too intellectual right now and you are in a feeling place.”

A light bulb went off in my head, “Yes, this part that I am working with, there are no words and trying to find words for what is going on just isn’t working.”

“But you are feeling a need to protect her.” I nodded my head with my eyes closed, in touch with my internal state. Mama Bear continued, “It hasn’t always been this way, has it? How does it feel to want to protect her now?”

I sighed and curled up on my side, going more deeply into the connection with the child self. I could feel myself just surrounding this child with what she needed and her drinking it in as if she had been dying of thirst. I tried to explain to Mama Bear, “She needs this so much. It’s like I’m giving to her what she needed at that time and she just didn’t get. It’s absolutely what I need to be doing.”

“It just feels right? She really needed this, didn’t she?”

I nodded my head and went a bit deeper into the state.

“Can you feel this in your body?”

I nodded yes.

“Where in your body can you feel it?”

I paused struggling to find words.

She went on, “Don’t worry about saying it out loud, just pay attention to how it feels in your body.”

I let the awareness of the warmth and easing of tension across my back grow. It was as if I had had a burden taken off me that had strappedme into a tight, contorted shape and now I could start to move and breath more freely.

Fortunately, Mama Bear can generally tell when I am doing important internal work and she will sit quietly with me, being a supporting presence. She did so this time as I went more and more deeply into the state. I have been able to comfort parts before, but I have never been able to so deeply nurture a part before. I found myself not only experiencing what was happening from the child state, but also remaining connected to the adult and being able to intentionally adjust to what I sensed that child needed. I don’t know how long I lay there in silence, just drinking in the sense of love, understanding, warmth, compassion, protection, acceptance, and nurturing.

Something occurred to me and I opened my eyes to look at Mama Bear, who also was leaning over to the side a bit, mirroring me. “This is what I needed to get from my mother when I was a child.”

She nodded her head sadly, “Yes, it was. How does it feel to be able to give this child part what she needs now?”

I struggled to figure it out, but I was too connected to the child part to figure out how I felt about the experience, so I answered from that part’s point of view. “It’s something that I desperately needed then, but the parts of me that experienced the abuse couldn’t get it. Those parts of me really, really need it now. They have been waiting for a very long time. I have to give it to them. “

I closed my eyes again and went back inside and continued to bath this child part in what she needed. I could not tell which part I was working with. I had no sense of her story. I knew that she didn’t feel really, really young, despite the lack of words, but was all that I knew about her age. There were no strong emotions there, but I began to sense that they were buried deep, deep inside of her. Most of my child parts are swimming in emotions, but at the surface this one just felt sort of bewildered, kind of sad, and lonely. I also knew that she belongs to my father’s ‘side of the system’, not my grandfather’s. Despite the lack of specific information, I could feel how incredibly needy she is and I was able to begin to fill that need.

I began to speak from the child place. This child began to ask the same questions that it seems that all of the child parts need to ask individually.

“I’m not alone anymore, am I?”

“No, you are not.”

“I don’t have to wait for my Mommy any more?” (This actually is a new one.)

“No. You have yourself and other people here with you to help you.”

“I can protect myself now?”

“Yes, you can. How much do you believe that, though?”

I paused and thought a moment, “Mostly.”

I began to feel an all too familiar sensation and I opened my eyes and looked at Mama Bear, saying with a touch of anger, “No one should ever be forced to do something that is so yucky for them.”

Of course she knew what type of thing I was thinking about and it didn’t matter which specific act I was struggling with at the moment. She nodded her head deliberately and said, “Absolutely. No one. Never. That is such a basic fact, but you haven’t been quite so certain about it before now, have you? It’s taken awhile for you to be able to get here, but you sound certain about it right now.”

I took a deep breath and considered how I felt. The child part had spoken, but I agreed with her and I could feel that more and more of me is learning this very truth. “Yes.”

She repeated what I had said. “No one should ever be forced to do something so yucky. That’s something that we all should know.” She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “Unless you’re talking about something like Brussels Sprouts. But sometimes they can actually be good!”

I laughed and joined in, “Especially roasted with bacon, which is the way that I learned to like them.”

She started to go on about growing up eating over cooked canned and frozen veggies when I gave her an impatient look, so she stopped. She could see that she had accomplished her goal of pulling me away from the memory that I might have gone into at a point too close to the end of the session, but I wasn’t willing to give up the conversation yet.

“I really shouldn’t have been forced to do any of that stuff.” I paused a bit and then continued, “I’ve learned one of the functions of my 3 year old part. Most of the rest of me was very confused about whether my body belonged to my dad, but she knew that it didn’t.”

Mama Bear had a delighted smile on her face when she realized what I had said. “Really?! She was able to keep ahold of the fact that your body was yours? That’s wonderful!”

“It had to be kept small and hidden and protected, but it was her job to make sure that some of me always knew that I belonged to me. And it makes sense. You know that 3 year old developmental stage when they realize that they are separate and they can say “no”? This has that quality to it.”

She shook her head in wonder. “That does make sense.” She looked at me and smiled. “I can see that part peeking out at me now, with a little smile.”

I laughed a bit, “Well, yes. You see, I’m kind of proud that I somehow managed to protect such an important bit of me though everything that happened.”

“You should be proud. It was quite an achievement. One that that probably helped you quite a bit.”

My laughter vanished as I thought about my increasing understanding of just how badly I had been abused and the lengths that my mind had to go to in order to survive the damage.

I looked Mama Bear directly in the eye. “Things were really bad for me when I was young, weren’t they.?”

Her voice was sad, “Yes.”

I once again “pulled myself” around the part that I had been working with and “held” her as tenderly as I could for a few moments. Mama Bear could tell what I had been doing by the way that I looked and as I emerged from the experience again, she asked me gently, “Can you share how your caring for this part has felt to this part?”

“She still doesn’t feel all that much that I can tell, but she is starting to feel safe enough to be here. And she felt safe enough to speak a bit. And she no longer feels so very, very alone. She was completely alone before.”

She smiled at me warmly, “This is good. Remember how it felt to be able to give this tenderness and deep nurturing to yourself. I am so happy to see you learning how to give it to yourself! All of you deserves that care.”

So many other parts of me also need to be nurtured and loved, so they can heal more fully. What I learned in my session is that not only can I give my parts what they need, but I can even take care of the most seriously damaged parts. Maybe I can even chance getting that close to one of the parts that is in terrible pain and see if I can help to ease some of the pain.

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