Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2015

IMG_2616.JPG

It’s been a long, cold winter, but this morning I hear birds outside my window. Spring must be on its way, right? I think that life has something to tell me, there…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Trigger warning: I need to write about something that is confusing and painful for me. I need to develop a better understanding of how the abuse by my father and grandfather was different and how those differences created different wounds and different needs inside of me. This is likely to be raw and may be quite difficult to read, so please take care. While I have no intention to be super explicit about the abuse, many of the important differences were in what happened. My guess is that the part about my grandfather is more likely to be triggering, so please take special care in that section.

If I had been abused by either my father or his father alone, I would have had plenty to deal with. Any child abuse is a heavy burden to carry, particularly when done by those who should have been most responsible for keeping the child safe. In my case, I experienced heavy duty sexual abuse from both men, but in two very different styles. The difference in styles had a huge effect on how the abuse affected me.

In short, the abuse with my father was much more sexual. I can only think about one type of situation where it was about punishment, not sex. What he was using the sex to get for himself is an open question, although I have some hypotheses.

On the other hand, the abuse with my grandfather was about mental and physical pain, creating feelings of disgust, horror, and helplessness. My perception was that he was trying to destroy whatever made me, me. He used sexual parts, but it wasn’t really about sex at all. In fact, he almost exclusively used my sexual parts, not his. I believe that he was unable to get an erection, because I seem to have a single memory of doing oral sex on a flaccid penis, with him.

These differences really did make for totally different experiences. I think that they have affected my sexuality, ability to trust others, perception of evil in the world, and capacity for intimate emotional relationships in different ways. I know that they both affected my ability to connect with and tolerate my emotions and so both made it difficult for me to experience myself as being fully real in everyday life.

My father grew up in my grandfather’s house and I shudder to think what that would have been like. It had to have been extremely damaging, however he was the least damaged of his siblings and he is able to pull together the appearance of “ok” most of the time, for most people. He is very charming and loves to be the “hero”, so he often does “exceptional” (seeming) things for other people. As a result, many people think that he is just wonderful. What they don’t understand is that what he does has little to do with their needs and a lot to do with his own. He manages to make the situations look like he is giving, when in reality there is no real sacrifice to what he is doing. (For instance, he gave away a car to a neighbor who went off to college. The car that was my 16th birthday present, but I somehow never got possession of it after college. Everyone was wowed by the gift of the car, but it was the fourth car for a household of two and rightfully should have been mine.) He is the one who gains the most by the other person feeling indebted to him, and everyone viewing my father as such a “wonderful” person. But it’s all done with mirrors. He doesn’t really care about the other person, except in some vague way. He doesn’t have a close connection to anyone other than my mother and hasn’t since high school.

I don’t know why he started to sexually abuse me or even when it started. I know that he was doing oral sex on me when I was three and believe that there was some sort of abuse before that. Through these young years, I was confused by what was happening. He did use the abuse under specific circumstances as punishment when I upset my mother and was a “bad girl”, but for the most part I had the belief that he thought that what he was doing should feel good to me. I don’t know if he explicitly said something or I read it into what was happening, but that seems to have been my belief. It was incredibly confusing for me. It kind of felt good, but in a way that almost hurt. And something about it just felt so very wrong. Worst of all, I knew that my mother would be very upset if she knew what was happening. This left me in the bind of wanting and needing to be saved and at the same feeling that I had to protect her.

Even when I got older and he started to rape me, he didn’t seem to be doing it in order to hurt me. Especially as I became a teen, he seemed to need to see me as more of a sexual partner. But I wasn’t a sexual partner. I was his daughter and I had no real choice in what was happening. However it left sex, rape, consent, pain, fear, and pleasure a confused jumble in my mind that I have only begun to try to tease apart. The physical sensations of non violent sex to a teen body, even if that sex was not desired, are very similar to the physical sensations of desired sex to an adult body that has been taught to be afraid of sex. I try to make love with the husband that I want to connect with intimately, but my body is reminded of having to have sex with my father, and it rejects my husband.

And trying to learn how to fully trust on an emotional level when your two primary care takers were not trustworthy does a number on a person. My father’s failings are obvious. My mother loved me and while she provided emotionally to a certain level, I believed that I had to hide the depths of my pain and desperation over the abuse from her. I needed for her to rescue me, more than anything else, and when she never did, at some level, I decided that she had to know and be ok about the abuse. How could she not know that something so huge was going on for me, my child brain thought?

So the abuse by my father created this relational and sexual tangle. There are feelings of fear in there, but they are in balance with other feelings of grief, anger, confusion, wishes that things had been different, desire for connection, pain, and more.

On the other hand, as I said, my grandfather’s goal was to damage me. It wasn’t that there was anything special about me, he just liked hurting people, period. He had a special talent for reducing waitresses to tears. He simply was a cruel man. Unfortunately, I was the convenient victim. I was the only child that he had access to. I had other reasons to try very hard to be cooperative and be a good girl. My parents would dump me at my grandparents’ house for weekends, so that they could have time alone together, which gave him even more access. They then sent me there for a couple of extended stays when I was 7 and 10, giving him access, even after we had moved out of state.

Simply put, my grandfather was a sadist. He thrived on others’ pain. I remember how at one point I said something to Mama Bear about him being a frightening person and her response was, “I’d be scared of him too! And I never actually met him. There are some people who simply are scary because of what they are willing to do.”

There is a lot about the abuse with him that I call “weird.” I think that the weirdness has something to do with his goal of causing damage first and foremost. My motivations for dealing with people aren’t around harming them, so actions that are motivated by that goal are simply not going to make sense to me. It often feels like trying to understand a different type of life form, when I try to wrap my mind around what he did to me.

It felt like he was experimenting on me, trying to see how I would react to different shapes, textures, sizes, temperatures, anything that he could vary. I have this image of him walking around the house and garage, grabbing different things. I don’t know if this is my imagination or a memory, but somehow it always seemed like he had different things to use. It’s remarkable the number of daily objects that you can get at least a portion of inside a child. I can’t say how scary it was for me to not know what he was going to put inside of me next. It kept me on the highest possible level of alert the entire time and that was just too much for my young brain to deal with. I needed more than one part to be able to deal with these sessions and stay sane.

One of the things about the abuse is that he seems to have carefully gauged what he could do and not cause the type of damage that would get him caught. So while some things were physically painful, I think that for the most part they were more terrifying, disgusting, maximized my sense of helplessness, or overwhelmed me by rapidly changing vivid sensations. The calculation behind the abuse makes my blood run cold when I consider it.

And then there was the type of abuse that I found so revolting that when I remembered it, I wanted to throw up. It threw me into such a crisis that I had to call Mama Bear to vaguely tell her what had happened and see if she could still bear to work with me. Of course she was not disgusted by my part in it at all, because she knew that I was a child put into an untenable, overwhelming situation that I had to survive by cooperating and disappearing as much as possible. My grandfather was the revolting creature here, even though his body wasn’t touched. It has taken time, but my reaction now is completely one of compassion. This is one of those situations that was so over the top that I’m not sure what actually happened after a certain point, what he threatened, what combined with the memory of some other time of abuse and actually happened in a less horrific way, or what I simply was afraid might happen. A few new things have come up over the last couple of days, and I so hope for the child that I was that they didn’t really happen, because what I was already pretty sure happened would have caused terrible emotional and psychological suffering already. I want to be able to say, “But this behavior is just too out there, too bizarre, certainly he couldn’t have done it.” Unfortunately, I have learned that I can’t use that criteria to judge the likelihood as to whether something actually happened or not.

Being at the hands of a man like this taught me that everyone wants to hurt me, badly. They act nice when others are around most of the time, but if they can get me alone, then their true colors will show. I was taught to fear that there is real evil lurking in the hearts of people around me. That there is no safety in the world, because there is so much hidden desire to destroy other people. I have had to slowly learn that, yes, there are other people like my grandfather out there, but they are the minority. Yes, all of us have our dark sides, but most people just want to live their lives in peace and are happy for you to do the same. Most people try to control the dark impulses, with varying success, but I can observe people and figure out who those who feel comfortable for me to be around. Those tend to be the people who try to live honestly and learn to be a better person. Real evil does exist and I cannot guarantee that I will never come in contact with it again, but it doesn’t surround me, as I used to believe.

The parts of me that hold the memories of what he did still hold so much terror. And that is after one round of processing for many of the major traumas with him and bringing it all down a notch or two. He had an unbelievable talent for understanding how to manipulate my emotions and senses, to keep me over the edge of what was tolerable. I swear that he was trying to break me down and destroy me, like he did my father and father’s brothers. I’m just lucky that he didn’t have enough access to me to succeed. I don’t think that I could have survived being his child and living under his roof for 18 years. Everyone has a breaking point and I think that my grandfather could have found most any child’s over the first 18 years of their life.

Sometimes it feels as though I got hit every which way between the two men and nothing was missed, but then I read about someone else’s story and I realize that there are an unbelievable number of ways to be inhuman to children. I was spared many things and I am grateful for missing what I did not experience. However, dealing with two such different styles has vastly complicated my healing.

If I had only needed to deal with one, then I wouldn’t have had the other hiding in the background for 20 years, unable to emerge because the two together would have been too much for me to handle. The abuse with my father is what has so complicated my sexual relationship with my husband. It also messed up my attachment with my mother and my ability to form trusting bonds with people. It is incredible painful to work with and has felt like tearing myself apart, so I can put myself back together again in a more functional formations, over and over. But at least I don’t have the pure, constant terror in my work with my father. I know that I had some value to him and he wanted to preserve me.

With my grandfather, I re experience the warring fears that he will kill me and that the only way that I can escape is to die. He kept things at such an intolerable level for me, that when dealing with the memories, I have parts who have asked Mama Bear to kill me, so it will all stop. It makes sense to them, they know that she cares about me, so surely she would want to help the pain stop, and they don’t really understand death. I guess that she had good reason to want to keep me from getting too close to these memories, until I had more internal resources, after that experience. Obviously I did not have the resources to cope with them, and she was concerned about my safety. At the time, I just thought that she was trying to shut me up.

Despite the intensity of the abuse and the depth of the damage, in many ways it seems to be simpler than what resulted from the abuse by my father. The parts who were traumatized by my grandfather feel like they need extra special care because the trauma was so intense, but for the most part it was just trauma. On the other hand, the trauma with my father was far less frighten most of the time, but it was so complicated, that it feels like it reached into all parts of my life. What happened with my grandfather was in many ways more horrific to experience, Mama Bear says that what he did crossed over the line into torture in several cases, but I think that of the two it is the more simple to heal from. I don’t think that it’s an accident that I remembered that my grandfather abused me long, long before I could tolerate acknowledging that my father abused me. I didn’t remember some of the worst abuse that my grandfather did and in fact, some of the abuse memories that I had attributed to him turn out to be memories of things that my father did, not my grandfather. (It’s hard to get a correct identity when your brain won’t let you see the abuser.) However, while I needed to build my strength to deal with the most sadistic of the abuse, at least I could deal with the fact that my grandfather abused me, because it didn’t put all of my significant relationships at risk. With my father, it felt like my entire world would fall apart, if he really had abused me. And while it wouldn’t now, because my current life has little to do with my parents, it certainly would have when I was dependent upon my parents. And my therapy now partially depends upon my dealing with all of the fears that I had then, so that I can separate them from today’s reality. All sorts of complicated, huh?

In a strange way, if I could pick having had only one of the two abuses happen to me, I would pick being abused by my grandfather, even though it was far more extreme. However, compared to the effects of the abuse with my father, it feels relatively straightforward to deal with. It is relatively clean in terms of my knowing that he was a terrible person by the time that I knew him (whoever he might have started out as) and while it is upsetting that my parents left me in his care, my not telling was because of his threats, not because I thought that the abuse put my world at risk. If my father hadn’t been abusing me at the same time, I might have been able to say something to my mother then about my grandfather and the abuse might have been stopped. If my mother wasn’t so invested in not seeing abuse, because it put her own world at risk and brought up her own issues from her childhood, I might have been able to get some support from her as an adult when I started to deal with the abuse.

If, if, if… I’ll never know. What I do know is that I got a double whammy between the two men. I have to deal with what both men left me with. It’s taking time, but I am determined that I will get there.

Read Full Post »

IMG_0072.JPG

Today,I wanted to jump out of a window, but I knew that it was an old voice of an old terror speaking. I cast about for now and today, for the reality of the life that I live and I want, but it seemed to be the insubstantial, not for real time. The terror time was too solid. I reached out for a voice who could help to guide me back, help me find my solidity in the now, help me find compassion for the part of me who remembers terror.

Yesterday’s session was intense. I found some of my intense rage at my father and my outrage that he raped me as a child and that the consequences wreck havoc on areas of my life to this day. All of it is painful to own, yet at the same time it also is a relief to be honest. The hurt me’s and the adult me’s worked together, both to express the pain, grief, and anger and then to find comfort and support, knowing that I had been heard and was not alone.

Today I woke up feeling fairly good, but then I was triggered and some terrible memories came up in regards to my grandfather. It felt as though everything fell apart. All of the communication, cooperation, and comforting skills that I have learned around my father just don’t seem to automatically apply to the parts that hold the abuse experiences with my grandfather.

Memories of some of the most intolerable experiences with my grandfather came up and I was completely overwhelmed. I began to have extremely strong urges to jump out the window, or begin to bash my head as hard as possible against the wall, or break a glass and begin to slash my arms with it. I have only very rarely done any self injury (and never serious self injury), but when I have, it has been related to my grandfather’s abuse. That awareness coupled with the strength of the urges made me wary of these impulses.

I kept on trying to ground and orient myself to the here and now. What was the texture of my pants, under my fingers? What did the light look like coming into the room? What did my chair feel like under me? It did little to no good. I could look out of my eyes and see the here and now, I could reach out my hand and touch it, but it still seem ephemeral in contrast to the intensity of the feelings of terror, abject helplessness, and vulnerability from knowing that I am at the mercy of a man who enjoys hurting me in disgusting ways. And at that moment, even though the abuse happened over 3 decades ago and he has been dead for more than 25 years, I could not shift that present tense perception into the proper past tense.

The panicked parts driven urges to do things that would harm myself did not ease at all and I was afraid to move from where I was sitting, because I wasn’t sure who would be in control when I got up. I realized that it was close to Mama Bear’s lunch hour and I considered trying to contact her. The “I need to do this on my own!” voices started up immediately, but I realized that I could either try to contact her or I could go curl up in a ball in bed, hope to fall asleep and reset before I needed to pick my daughter up in a couple of hours. “She deserves a peaceful lunch!” the voices went, but I knew which option Mama Bear would vote for.

I did manage to wait until about 10 minutes into her lunch, so she could have a bit of a break after her last client, but then I sent a text: Hi. Was doing ok until suddenly not. Can’t get myself present oriented. Panic stricken parts that want to self destruct. Grandfather. I couldn’t quite manage to get myself to explicitly ask her to call, but I knew that with that message she would at least ask if I needed to talk.

She called a few minutes later and started in on helping me to present orient myself. Where am I? My art studio/ sitting room. What do I see? My cat in the other rocking chair. We talked about how he doesn’t only have extra toes, but he has proto- paws, with all of the claws and mini toes. Once I was more now oriented, she reminded me that I had been experiencing memories of the frantic need to escape that I had experienced with my grandfather. The urges had nothing to do with the here and now. I was already clear on that fact, but it still was nice to hear her say it.

We talked a bit more and she asked if I was ok with ending the conversation there. I slowly said, “Yes…” “Are you telling me the truth?” “Well I’m ok with it, but parts inside are frightened.” “Ah… Can you ask what would help them to feel more safe?”

I felt inside and then knew what was needed. “All of the work done over the last few months around the parts wreathed to my father is missing with these parts. They don’t have the same safety and ability to be comforted. I don’t want to dive into dealing with lots of issues around what happened with him right now, but I do think that I need to work with them to set up some of that same safety connection.”

“You don’t have any of it with these parts? ”

“No. At least not in the same way that is so helpful to the other parts. These parts really need it, too. They need to know that they are not alone and can be heard, even if they need to wait to fully tell their story.”

“That really is essential to you, isn’t it? Not being alone and being heard”

“Yes!”

“Ok, this all makes sense to me. Shall we work on this when we meet on Friday? Is that ok?”

I felt an internal sigh of relief. “Yes, that would be good.”

These parts of me were terrorized by my grandfather. I’m at the point of increasingly taking in what that meant emotionally. I had somewhat grasped it intellectually, after all, I know what many, if not all of the acts were. But I simply didn’t grasp the emotional depth of what happened with him. I have struggled with suicidal feelings after dealing with intense material for a period of time around him, but I don’t remember ever going from being just fine to feeling such intense urges that clearly weren’t mine to do things to escape the memories that couple have seriously injured me or put my life at risk.

I wish that I could keep myself from falling into that pit in the first place, but it happens so automatically and quickly that I can’t stop it with my grandfather, yet. I have come to the point where I can at least keep one foot out of the pit with my father, so I know that it possible, it just takes time and effort to get there.

If I’m going to fall into the pit, then I wish that I could get myself out again, but I have come to see that when the terror is above a certain level, I freeze and can’t effectively help myself. The best that I can do is to reach out for help, create support and connections! and slowly start to learn that I am safe no matter how terrified I am in the memories. But I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I need someone else there, providing a new voice, with new messages, to help me teach the old voices that they can be safe now. They don’t have to do anything drastic to escape. They don’t have to struggle all on their own. Life is different today.

Read Full Post »

“This part of me feels so alone.” I was telling Mama Bear about what I had learned about my 10 year old part over the previous few days.

That alone tells me a lot about her, but can you tell me more about feeling alone,” she encouraged me.

“I can feel how desperately I needed for someone to hold me safe then and let me be hysterical all over them and work out what had happened to me.”

“Yes…”

“But that is what I needed then. It isn’t going to work for me now. What happens now is that I remember needing that and I experiencing wanting it, but if I did that now, I would just get stuck in the hysteria, rather than working it out. My brain has been stuck in the trauma for too long.”

She smiled supportively, “Go on. You are on to something important there.”

“What I need now is to establish safety first for this part to work from and then from that safety to slowly work through the trauma piece by piece.”

Mama Bear beamed at me and said excitedly, “You do see how that works now, don’t you!?!” Mama Bear has only been trying to convince me to do the trauma work this way for years and for some reason I have continued to rush into each part’s trauma and take it head on, rather than making therapy and life easier for all of me and establishing safety for the part first. “So what can you do to help this part feel safer?”

“Well, she needs more than just me. I’m not enough for her alone. I tried out with her what I did for the younger parts and it just didn’t do the trick. She needs to know that another person is there for her, supporting her, willing to listen to her. Someone she can rely on.” I looked pointedly at her and continued, “You’re the person who fills that role for me. I need to build you, as well as me, into that sense of safety for this part.”

Mama Bear looked thoughtful for a bit. “Ok. It sounds like you are talking about both a physical and an emotional component where I am involved.”

“This part needs to talk about what happens, but she really needs to know that you won’t leave if she starts to talk.”

“Has she seen me leave when other parts talked about what happened to them.”

I paused, struggling, and began to cry quietly. “I know that you didn’t mean to leave because of what I told you about before you left this last time.” (I told Mama Bear about something very traumatic that my father did from an early age and that had a huge influence how I function in relationships towards the end of that session.)

You mean when my father died?”

I nodded my head.

She sighed and looked sad. “Yes, I was conflicted about leaving you for so long then. I knew that it was a bad time for me to leave you.”

I started to protest that I hadn’t wanted for her to feel badly, but I stopped and listened to what she had to say, as she continued. “I understand how that timing would make this part afraid that I will leave if she starts to talk about what happened. She has very difficult things to tell. But I need for her to listen to me. You have not felt safe to tell these secrets for too long. You have been alone with them for too long. It is safe to tell now. I will listen. I have no plan to leave and whatever you tell me will not cause me to leave. It is time for you to learn that it is safe to talk. I may need to ask you to slow down or to hold something until the next time, but that will only be to help all of you continue to function OK. I need to help all of you be ok while you tell me whatever you need to tell me. And if something happens and I need to leave again for a bit, it will not be because of anything that you have told me. It won’t be because I want to leave you. And wherever I go, I will carry you in my heart and you will carry me in your heart. In that way, you won’t truly be alone.” This last part was said in such a heart felt and intense way that I could tell that not only did she mean it, but it was important to her that I knew that she meant it. I felt myself slowly nodding my head and knew that inside I had gotten it as well.

“Did some of that make sense to you?” (Sometimes when a child part is present and she speaks for a long time, she loses me fairly quickly.) I nodded my head again and she smiled. “Good.”

She looked at the time and said, “We have 15 minutes left of the session. I don’t want a repeat of last session. I want for you to leave as an adult, not a child dressed in drag. How do you want to use this time? Do you want for me to make you your tea and we can talk about here and now things?”

I paused because I knew that was what she would prefer to do. The last session seemed to end OK, but I did leave in a child state, even though both of us thought that I was in my adult state until I walked down the stairs. Unfortunately, I had paid the price the rest of the day.

Now, however, I had the strong sense that there was something important that I still needed to do in this session and I knew exactly what it was. “I would like for you to come and sit near to me for three or four minutes, so I can bolster my internalized version of you with the presence of the real you. That way, I can work on building the safety for the 10 year old part when I am not here.”

She nodded her head as I was talking, indicating that she understood what I what I wanted to do. As she stood up, she asked, “Do you need for me to do anything or do you just need for me to be there?”

“I need for you to just be here, but I need for you to sit here, next to me, not in that chair!” She had brought over the chair that she usually sat in when I wanted for her to be close, but this time I needed for her to physically be right there, immediately next to me.

She smiled at me and came to sit next to me, as I folded myself into her. I don’t know how someone 5’11” manages to comfortably cuddle against and put her head on the chest of someone 5′ 2″, but it has worked those few times that I have allowed myself to really relax against her.

A young voice asked her, stumbling over the words, “is it ok for me to use you like this?”

She knew what I was asking though, “Of course it is!”

“Is it ok for me to pretend that you are there for me when you aren’t there?”

She gently said, “Yes, that is what we do. We all need to keep the people we care about close to us that way.”

I sighed, content, and settled in against her to listen to her heart beat. She was really there, solid. I could hold on to her.

I said, leaning into her more, “This is safe. No, it’s more that my life is safe now. It’s just that I need to find things that are loudly enough safe that the part can hear them and come up from where the loud memories are and see that things are safe now.”

“Yes.”

I concentrated again on taking in her presence and trying to connect that to the 10 year old part. There was hardly any connection at all, but there was a bit. “I can feel her standing mostly in the abuse place, but I can also feel her standing here, just a bit, starting to take it in.”

I went quiet again and a bit later, I felt Mama Bear shift just a bit. I said wryly, “I know, I need to sit up.”

Her voice held amusement and understanding, “Yes, you do in a moment. How do you feel about sitting up and my getting up?”

I replied honestly, “I don’t want to let go. I want to stay here. It feels good. Of course I don’t want to give up something that feels so good.”

“I can understand that.”

I sighed, “it feels so good to be held by someone who cares.”

“There is nothing better.”

“I am so glad that I can actually let you close now. It took me long enough to learn how to not be so scared of it, but it feels so good now.”

I paused and then sat up and looked at her. “I can always come back here, can’t I? You will hold me close again, won’t you?” I looked at her in wonder, “I didn’t understand that!”

She looked back at me, “And I didn’t realize that you didn’t understand it until right before you said it.” She shook her head, “Sometimes I forget how much you have to learn about relationships.”

She gave me a hug and stood up to move back to her normal seat and we then finished off the session talking about my daughter.

This session shows so many of the changes that I have experienced over the last couple of months. I was able to put aside my worries about saying “the right thing” and just be honest with her. My trust in Mama Bear has grown, allowing me to let her into vulnerable and tender places inside of me that recently had thick walls up. Parts are talking with and listening to her. They believe that she means what she says, even if they disagree with her. It feels safe for me to disagree. The changes go on and on. The next couple of months promises to have some very painful work dealing with terrible material, but I am excited to see where that work will bring me to.

Read Full Post »

Trigger warning: I need to write about some my worst experiences with my father, so this post is full of triggers. It does not contain graphic details of physical acts, but it does talk about rape and the details of the emotional effects. Please be aware of what is safe for you to read.

I am struggling to learn how to support and being to safety some of the parts that were most traumatized by my father. Two of these hold experiences of being raped and the third is younger and seems to remember a time when he tried to have sex with me, but I was too small and he stopped.

I also have been struggling with accepting that the rapes really did happen. What I sense of them is so mind-blowingly overwhelming that it makes me feel as though it would have been impossible to survive that level of abuse over a period of years. I don’t mean that it would have killed me physically, but it seems as though it would have destroyed what makes me essentially me. What makes me human, empathic, capable of loving. When I told Mama Bear this in our last session, her first response was that it was the dissociation that allowed me to survive, which probably is indeed true, but it wasn’t enough of an answer. Then she thought about it more seriously and agreed that my experience was a lot to survive. She paused for a moment and then said, “I don’t know if I could have survived it.” But then she went on to point out that humans have an amazing capability to survive extreme situations. “Think about slavery. Think about the Holocaust. Many did not survive, but some did survive with their humanity intact.”

What I went through was no where as extreme as slavery or the Holocaust, but when I thought about it afterwards, I realized that she hadn’t chosen those examples at random. There are many facets of what I went through that are similar, but thankfully on a much smaller scale. I felt that my body belonged to my father and I was in the frightening situation where it seemed that he could do anything to it that he wanted to, whenever he wanted. No one would stop him. No one would help me. The way that my grandfather did things, it felt like he was constantly experimenting on me, using my body to see what reactions he would get when he changed the variables. I also experienced what was happening as him wanting to destroy me and there were times when I was afraid for my life. Seen from that point of view, it makes even more sense why my abuse story can seem so unreal to me. It involves elements that a child would not be capable of fully taking in and processing as being real. I lived it, but I couldn’t fully live it, both because I had to dissociate what happened and because I wasn’t intellectually and emotionally developed enough to process the dynamics of what was happening.

Writing it all out sounds like the process of coming to that understanding was mostly intellectual, but it wasn’t at the time. It was instinctual and emotional, as I was waking up from a nap. Immediately after that, I first experienced the memory of my father trying to have sex with me, and then since then I have been dealing with these three parts pretty much around the clock.

Previously, what happened in age range of the attempted rape was just a blank. I have a bit more information about the year after, but none about this year. I get a very strong message that I was 8. It makes me want to cry, thinking about being 8 and having this happen. My guess is that he tried and then decided that I was too small for him to have sex with, without doing real damage, so he stopped. Frankly, the memory is hazy, although it seemed sharper in the flashback. I remember laying there, afterwards, curled up in a ball, feeling like a part of me died. It seemed like the world became a darker, more silent place after that. Even with other people, I was alone. I know that there was a period of time at either 8 or 9 when I stopped speaking for a few months. I wonder if this is when that happened. This part isn’t as frightened as others, maybe because it was a one time thing, but she is devastated. Quiet, alone, and devastated. The way that this part feels matches with what I remember about feeling when I lived in this house, except I don’t remember feeling that devastated. I also don’t remember ever feeling really happy unless we were away from the house and doing something that I really loved.

Then there is the part that is most in need right now. She has been largely hysterical over the last few days; for awhile she was screaming, “No! No! No!” on and on. It is with her that I get the strongest, “Oh, my God. He really did rape me. This really did happen” realization. She is slowly calming, because I have been doing here and now exercises and pointing out how I am in a safe time and place for the last couple of days. Interestingly, writing all of this out seems to have calmed that part even more.

This part insists that she is 10, but I know that I lived in the house that these memories belong to between the last few months of age 10, though 12. This is when he started to rape me. Ten. Ten. My daughter is ten. I can’t imagine her dealing with being raped, especially not having to deal with it all alone, without any help.

The memories of the rapes themselves are weirdly focused. They took place on the floor of the back room of the house and I remember looking to my right side, focusing on the rug on the floor, clutching at it, and looking at the leg of the piece of furniture that the TV was set on. I was completely separate from the rest of my body, it was just my eyes and my hand. I wouldn’t hear the sounds that he was making, feel what was happening to the rest of my body, smell anything. It would have been too much. I couldn’t avoid seeing his motion out of the corner of my eye and that alone was almost too much. I have gotten very brief snatches how it felt emotionally to the part of me that was really experiencing what was happening. All I can say is that it was horrible beyond words for me. My body was being invaded in the most intimate way possible by my father. Words simply fail me when I try to express what that meant to me. I know that it sounds horrible, but I you haven’t experienced it, let me assure you that it is even worse than it sounds. It’s one of those sources of isolation, knowing that no matter how much someone cares and wants to understand, they can’t fully understand unless they have experienced it. Even Mama Bear. As experienced and empathic as she is, she will never fully understand how horrible this was then and now is for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that most people do not know first hand what it is like to be raped by their father. I am grateful for those who are able to put aside their revulsion at the very idea and use their empathy to try to come as close to my experience as they can. And I value those who love and support me, even though they never come close to understanding what it was like because their experiences don’t take them close, and even though they sometimes think that they do understand. It’s just that I was completely alone with the abuse when it happened and other than a few people that I know via blogs, I’m alone with fully understanding it now; that current day aloneness sometimes reverberates with being so alone as a child.

And then there is the teen part. Or really there is a collection of teen parts. This is the most chaotic and confused area. I was going though physical changes and I think that my body started to respond differently to him during this time. I remember sitting in the shower, crying, but I think that some of the time I didn’t even know what I was crying about. The dissociation was so effective that it cut off my everyday self from the abused self, with little to no exchange between the two.

What I access now is such a confusing array of emotions and thoughts from that time. Why is he having sex with me instead of my mother? Rage. Fear that it is all my fault. That it is something about my body that makes him act this way. Confusion over pleasure and pain together. Desperately wanting to escape, but believing that there is no escape. He is in control and always will be able to do whatever he wants. Knowing that he can hurt me badly. Knowing that he can make me feel extreme pleasure. Wondering how my mother cannot know what is going on? Tired. Resigned. Depressed. Always, always, always trying to look normal for everyone outside.

So, I have these three segments of me, from three different times, all with real needs, all waiving their hands, going, “I need to be heard and believed,” all profoundly traumatized in their own ways. What do I do? I have decided that my first step simply has to be helping each of them find safety. I did it with my youngest parts and then they could finally talk about the worst traumas without getting stuck in them. If I don’t do it with these parts first, then I am going to go around for at least a day or two after each session, with echoes of the parts’ trauma bouncing around in my head. It’s much better for all of me, if I help each part find safety first. That is my plan for the session tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure what it will look/feel like for each of the parts, but that doesn’t matter, as long as it is something that I can help that part reconnect to when she starts to relive the trauma.

Actually, now that I think about it, writing here has helped me to identify what the most in need part probably needs in order to feel safe. All of my parts felt extremely alone with the abuse, but I seem to be experiencing that most keenly with the 10 year old part right now. She is the part that clung to Mama Bear on Tuesday and desperately didn’t want to leave her office at the end of the session. She is the part that needed for me to call Mama Bear that evening, because she felt so crushingly alone with my understanding that I really was raped. She is the part with whom I strongly get the sense that if she had only had someone to hold her and work out all of those hysterical, horrible feelings at the time, things would be so much better. She doesn’t just need me, she needs someone else, as well, to help hold her in all of her trauma, at least until she has worked a good portion of it out. That can easily happen in session, but that’s only for two hours a week. Mama Bear is available via email, text, or phone, but I try to not over use those options, especially phone, which is what is most effective for my parts. I think that she and I need to work together to establish a safe, nurturing place for this part that involves both my internalized version of Mama Bear and me. My sense is that this can work.

This is hard work. Some of the hardest that I have done. But as painful and overwhelming as it is, I can also tell that this is the work that I need to do in order to feel more whole. These experiences forced me to dissociate large chunks of myself. I won’t ever be able to integrate dissociated aspects of my sexuality until I am able to deal with the rapes and all of the responses that they evoked in me. I don’t think that I will be able to figure out what I want to do with myself, who it want to be when I grow up, until I have better worked through learning to feel safe fully being. I’m afraid of what it might mean, but I’m also tired of a half life of mostly existing. I want to learn how to fully live.

Read Full Post »

Friday was the first time that I had seen Mama Bear in a bit over two weeks. She has been out of town doing a vigil over her dying father and then arranging his funeral during that time.

Mama Bear was amazing about doing what she could to help me feel as connected as possible, while at the same time not over stretching herself and leaving herself the time and space to deal with her and her family’s grief process. She sent me a text every couple of days, touching base with me. She received e-mails and glanced at them to make sure that there wasn’t anything urgent that she needed to know. She watched for me to say something about feeling angry and then responded saying, “Tell all of you that I am an adult and I understand how you can feel angry at me and I am not angry back.” She spoke with the psychiatrist that I see for meds and arranged for me to be able to do a session with her (this psychiatrist actually does therapy with DID clients and I know her, so she was a good choice.). In short, she did far, far more for me than most therapists would have under those circumstances because she understood just how bad the timing was for me and the impact that it would have on me.

I, from my present day, centered, adult self fully understood and appreciated what she had done and what she was going through. On the other hand, the young parts inside mostly understood that when they needed for her to be there, in person, to help process the intense emotions and memories that I am dealing with right now, she wasn’t there. I needed her and she wasn’t there the way that I needed for her to be.

So, yesterday when I came into her office and she got up to give me a big hug, I was a little unsure at first about what I was feeling. The hug was very welcome; it was a quick way for my youngest parts to connect with her again. But what were those other feelings inside of me?

We sat down and I asked how she was, both in terms of her father and her health (she had been very sick) and she answered briefly, but honestly. It was a moment of warmth and genuine human connection, one of the reasons that I am glad that she is not a blank slate type of therapist. Then she firmly turned the session forwards me, ” Enough of me… How does it feel to be back here again?”

I paused, searching for words, “Familiar is what comes to mind.” In retrospect, I should have included comfortable, safe, and welcoming.

She smiled at me and said, “I know you, too.” I could feel that she was speaking to all of me and it felt as though every single part of me was being welcomed to be there.

I started to feel some potent mixture of sadness, grief, loss, yearning, and loneliness well up inside of me which I knew belonged to my young parts, but then some other part tried to stifle those feelings and not let them out. It felt like the feelings were being sat upon, both hidden and trapped. Mama Bear could see that something was going on and she asked me, “What are you feeling?”

I took a deep breath, trying to help ground myself as I struggled internally with the feelings. The desire to let out these intense feelings was so strong, but the other part was so insistent that they were a waste of time and that I should go on to something more useful. Oddly, I felt like I had no ability to make a judgement in the matter. I took a few more breaths, hoping that things would resolve one way or the other, but they did not.

The whole time this went on, I sat there with tears leaking out of my eyes, not really crying, which uses more of my body, but just having the tears running down my cheeks, because they couldn’t be kept inside. Mama Bear gently observed, “There is so much emotion, isn’t there? Such deep, deep feelings.”

I had been staring at something in her office and looked at her when she said that. I felt like I had been given permission to talk and said, “Some parts of me feel so sad, but another part wants to say, ‘Just get over it! It’s done now! Move on!'”

“Oh, so it isn’t ok to feel sad about something that happened and that was hard for you?”

With those words, the intense feelings of the young parts surged up, I clenched Mama Bear’s soft blanket, curled up and started to sob. A young part looked up at her and started to speak, “I missed you so much!”

She smiled gently at me and replied, “I thought about you a lot, too.”

“I felt like I had been left all alone.”

She paused for a second, “Well, there is an element of truth to that in the here and now. I did leave. And it was hard on you. That is why it was so important to me that I found some support for you and didn’t leave you all alone.”

We talked a bit about the ways in which my seeing the psychiatrist did and didn’t help.

Somewhere during this, a realization came together in my brain: “I just figured out something. When I was young, it wasn’t safe for me to protest something that I didn’t like. That is why I had so much trouble telling you that I felt sad. But now it is safe for me to say, ‘I don’t like this.’ Nothing bad will happen to me if I protest something that is hurting me now. “

Mama Bear gave me a delighted smile. “I am so happy to hear you say that. Yes! This is so important for you to understand. It is safe for you to say that you don’t like something now.”

I felt things shifting inside of me, parts of me considering what it meant for it to be safe to say, ‘I don’t like this.’ I looked back up at her, stunned and speechless. Such a basic thing and I hadn’t even quite realized that it wasn’t safe, it simply wasn’t something that I did not do.

Mama Bear asked me, “How does it feel to you to take this in? That you can say that you don’t like something?”

I continued to look at her, breathing, trying to take it all in and let the changes settle into me. I couldn’t find words for how it felt and she must have seen that in my face, because she said, “I suddenly feel like I can breathe more freely. Do you feel that way too?” (We have talked before about how sudden changes in her physical or emotional state often clue her in to what is going on for me, so her saying that made sense to me.)

I nodded my head slowly and took a deep breath, “Yes… Definitely.” I closed my eyes and continued to take slow, deep breaths, pulling into myself more and more of the sense that it safe for me to be honest when something feels bad to me. I opened my eyes again and looked at her, “You know that I am not trying to make you feel bad when I tell you that your being away was hard on me, don’t you?”

At first she was confused, but then she understood what I meant. “Yes, I do. You are just telling me how you really felt. I see no intent to make me feel guilty there. You are just being honest. I am an adult and you can be honest with me. I can set myself aside enough for that, so I don’t get hurt. I know that you do the same thing with your daughter, at the very least. “

I looked at her, nodding my head, when it hit me: “I really can be a real person, can’t i? I don’t have to pretend to be a ‘good girl’ all of the time! I can say, ‘No! I don’t like that!’ I can be real.”

“Yes, you can be real! Real is a very good way to be.

I sat there, breathing, taking in a feeling of solidness and energy that I am usually missing.

After a few moments, Mama Bear continued, “Most of the time when people talk about being a ‘good girl’ they mean not upsetting other people. Never upsetting other people is pretty impossible. I certainly don’t know how to not upset people! You’re working with the wrong therapist if that’s what you want to be better at doing.”

I laughed, “No, I think that’s why I am working with the right therapist!”

I should have learned that it’s safe to say, “I don’t like this” when I was in preschool, but instead I was deliberately taught the opposite. Over the years I have learned to protest things and say no to some types of things, but I can see now that it never felt ‘right’ or safe. I just made myself do it because I figured out that it needed to be done and didn’t even consider that it could feel safe to protest.

Even though it’s only been a couple of days, figuring out that it is safe to be honest about what feels good and what feels bad with even just my closest handful of people is already beginning to change the way that the world feels to me. It’s such a basic, basic need, the need to be able to know, to own, and to share when something is hurting you and that you need for it to stop. But when you are a child who is being abused regularly in ways that overwhelm your ability to cope, you can’t even know what has happened to you, never mind owning it or sharing it with someone else. Protesting the abuse and trying to stop it is way to dangerous. And, in my case, I was punished if I upset my mother, so the pressure to always be a Good Girl was intense.

Now is different, though. My father is far away and I will not let him near me or my family, so he cannot harm us. The people I spend my life with now are safe and loving. I have resources and strengths that I couldn’t even dream of as a child. Now it is safe for me to be authentic. I just need to keep on learning to live into that authenticity and experience it as being safe. Telling Mama Bear on Friday, “it was really hard on me when you were gone. Even though most of me understood what was going on, parts of me felt abandoned, lost, and bewildered” was a very important step.

Read Full Post »