Archive for May, 2015

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Art: communication

Some of my portraits seem particularly satisfying to me. This is one of them, so I decided to show it to you. 

Ah, maybe part of the reason is because I close my eyes when I try to communicate with my parts inside. That also would explain why I actually want for her to be surrounded by butterflies. I plan on doing a refined version of this piece, including many more butterflies, in fact. 

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Like many others, I had a rough Mother’s Day weekend. I felt so weighed down by immense amounts of grief. Coming after the intensity of last week’s therapy work, I just felt done in. 

Yesterday morning, I read the post of a fellow blogger about self care and crisis management. One of the main points was that it is important to give your brain a break from being in a crisis management state as often as possible.  Mama Bear has gone over the neurology of this fact umpteen times with me and I know that it’s important, but I still have trouble actually doing the self care. 

Well, something in the way that this blogger wrote got through to me. Maybe it was just knowing that she struggles with the same impulses to find self care threatening at times and the urge to believe that remaining constantly on high alert will some how keep me safer than just being reasonably alert for danger. 

Anyways, after school, my daughter was invited on a play date. I intended to go to a grocery store to pick up a few items and then straight home, but while I waited for a light to change, so I could turn right, I felt the urge to go straight instead and go for a walk in the woods. It was hot, I felt exhausted and down, and I really didn’t want to make the effort, but I thought about the blog post and I knew that a walk in the woods was just what my body and nervous system needed.  So, I bargained with myself; I would just do the loop that is about 1.5 miles long. 

These woods are lovely. They have been protected for awhile, so there are plenty of 100 year old trees in there. It’s been hot the last week, so many of the wild flowers are now done, but if I paid attention to my environment, I could still find the odd trillium, patches of violets, and others that I don’t know the names for. Pay attention to my environment…  Ah, yes, mindfulness…

So I started to really look at all of the different colors of green. The greens of the newly emerging leaves in the sun and in the shade, on the different species of trees. The dark greens of the hemlocks. The light green growing tips. The vivid emerald green of the moss on the rocks in the river.  I then paid attention to the different sounds around me. The different species of birds singing their various songs. The breeze rustling the leaves. The crunching sounds of my foot steps. The soul soothing music of the river running over rocks.  The chatter of undergraduates going to a swimming hole further up the trail. Then I noticed the feeling of the sun on my skin. It was annoyingly hot and I was grateful for my sunhat. The shade under the trees was refreshing and cool. When I walked close to the river, the side of me closer to the river could feel the cool coming off the water.  The gentle breezes kissed the back of my neck, and I could feel the tight muscles of my back start to loosen just a bit as I relaxed into the environment. 

When I reached a spot the was most of the way to my turn around point, I went a bit off the path to stop and look at the waterfall there, across the river from me. It’s a wonderful waterfall for most of the year. During the winter, it becomes a sparking ice sculpture. During the spring melt off, it handles torrents of water. During the summer, it remains an oasis of of mosses and trickling fountains. In the fall, it is set off by the glorious foliage that surrounds it.  

 There is a bit of a “beach” in that spot, and it is a favorite place for families to wade and even swim when the water is deeper.  When I was there, yesterday, the light was just perfect and the waterfall was particularly beautiful. The mosses seemed extra vibrant and velvety. The water was coming down at the perfect rate to be “waterfally” and trickly fountain like. I stood there, mesmerized for a few minutes, just soaking it in. 

Then I heard a voice from inside, “I want to go swimming.”  

My sensible self answered, “But I don’t have a swimsuit.” 

“I can go swimming in my clothes.”

“But I don’t have a towel or anything to change into.”

“I can wring things out as best as possible and go straight home.”

“But I’ll get the car seat wet.”

“I can sit on one of the reusable shopping bags.”

I thought for a bit more and realized that I tend to either be in  Mom mode or dealing with my internal trauma. Here I was, wanting to do something spontaneous, fun, and just the tiniest bit outrageous for once. What was I waiting for!?!  This is the side of me that I need to strengthen because it will help to make my life more fun. “Go for it!”  I stopped worrying about what I ‘should’ do and listened to what I wanted to do. 


 During my swim, all felt well with my world, for that moment, in that place. The water was refreshingly cool and I felt as though my soul was smiling. 

As I walked back to the car, I realized that the sense of oppression that I had felt over the last week and a half had lifted.  I didn’t know how long it would last for, but my mind was out of crisis mode and I felt better able to deal with the realities of my day. 

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 Self Expressive Portrait. April 2015

(Much of this is adapted from an email sent to Mama Bear.)

I have been slowly coming to an understanding of how I perceived myself to be in my family while I was growing up.  As with so many things, not all of me felt that way and I definitely didn’t feel it all of the time, but there still is a deep wound that makes it feel like it hurts to breathe.

 I got the strong message that I didn’t exist for myself; I existed for the needs of other people. With my dad, there was the abuse stuff, but there also was a pervasive message running through the everyday with him that probably was every bit as damaging. I knew that I was supposed to have certain reactions to him. I had to be admiring when he did certain things. He always had to be the smartest. If he was pulling a trick on me, I couldn’t “see” it coming, even if I actually saw it coming. He always needed to do things better than me, know more than me, be superior in every way to me. I always needed to “read” him to know how I was supposed to act in order to give him what he wanted. I couldn’t just react. 

It felt like he was trying to possess and control my mind and soul. I know that sounds really strong, but I can’t think of any way else to put it. I wasn’t even allowed to see that I felt that way.  For many, many years, I would pretend to be ignorant about something that someone told me and was always confused as to why. It comes back to my interactions with my dad. 

I have spent decades trying to unlearn patterns of interacting that I couldn’t understand. When I put them in the context of how I needed to act on an everyday basis with my dad, though, they make a lot more sense. 

It’s like I wasn’t able to know, never mind feel or show my own true reactions. I was taught so well to adjust myself to be what would satisfy his needs.  I’m guessing that he doesn’t even realize that he did this. The thing is that it felt so invasive, persistently being given the message that I couldn’t have my own reactions, but I had to have the ones that he wanted. Something that I know happened often was that he would do something “funny” that I didn’t find funny at all, but rather hurtful, but I still had to act like it was funny. I’m sure that this sounds small, but I’m talking about having this type of interaction over and over and over, every day, and never having the interactions that celebrated who I was.  Parts of me are crying that it was like he found another way to force himself inside of me. And he could do it all of the time, in front of anyone. It brings up such scared feelings with the young parts. I remember it making me feel suffocated, trapped, and angry as a teen.  

I am sure that this would have been totally and utterly crazy making for anyone, even without anything that would be normally labeled as abuse.  But adding the abuse on top of it…  Talk about a recreation of the dynamics at work with the sexual abuse. Being used for his gratification. Not mattering or being seen for me.  Being forced to act like things he did were ok, even made me “feel good” when at least some of me just wanted to tear my skin off so I didn’t have to feel his touch. Having to submit to his control. Dealing with invasive ness in such primary things, control over my body, control over my mind and emotions. 

Wow, I had identified some of this, but not a lot of it. The thing is that I remember interactions going back as far as I can  supporting this. I can’t remember my dad ever making me feel good about being me. Proud about achievements, yes, but proud of being the unique individual that I am, no. Quite the opposite. Anything that he didn’t understand or approve of was a target of “kidding” that I was supposed to find funny. 

This weekend, I realized that my mom wasn’t blameless when it comes to needing for me to be someone for her own sake. She needed to be loved. She needed to be seen as a good mother.  She needed for me to not stress her too much.  Beyond all of that, she did try to appreciate who I was and encourage me to do things that I liked, etc.  But there definitely was an undercurrent of her needing me to be someone in particular, not just myself.  

I am trying to figure out this ties together with other things…  It didn’t feel safe to be solid or real for so many reasons, but I also craved solidity. Needing to understand what happened with him. Feeling so helpless that he could do something that felt so bad to me right in front of people and no one saw anything wrong.

  There is a thought that is completely and utterly melodramatic and I keep on trying to censor it, but it keeps on coming back, so I think that it’s important enough that I’m just going to say it… It’s like my biggest nightmare was that he would rape me in front of people and they would just stand around and let it happen; to some part of me this dynamic with him felt like that. 

Ok, having actually “said” it, I can see that most of the time that the dynamic was annoying, shaming, angering, confusing, all not good, but not horrible. But I have a sense that sometimes there was a sense of violence and subjugation to it and that is what prompted the previous statement. I can’t remember the situation, but I can remember that sense of feeling trapped and psychically forced to my knees.  

So, today I started to talk with Mama Bear about all of this. It all wraps around in ways that are completely confusing in my mind, although at least I can start to see why that confusion is there. 

This is part of the reason that there is so much confusion over what abuse physically happened and what didn’t. There were interactions with him that weren’t sexually abusive, but still elicited the same feelings of violation and coercion because of the history of sexual abuse. Essentially, I was taught to experience interactions that felt invasive that way, not on purpose, just as a result of repetition.  

Unfortunately, it all works together in a massively confusing way that leaves me feeling off balance right now.  Dealing with these memories and feelings, I can easily believe that my mind may have filled in some blanks with some memories that didn’t physically happen, but that put a story that made sense to the emotions.  It may be that some of what I seemed to remember didn’t happen physically with my father, although, as I said to Mama Bear today, “Whatever did or didn’t happen physically, those emotions are very real.  I know how I felt, even if I’m not 100% clear on what made me feel that way.”  As much as I hate to admit it, there definitely was a physical component to what happened. I’m very clear that it was there when I was young, but my brain won’t let me really look at whether it was there when I was older or not. 

Today, in my session, I suddenly found myself huddled underneath the blanket, wailing, “I don’t want to know what happened!!!!”  Mama Bear asked, “is that the wish of the child you or the adult you?”  I thought for a moment and then said, “Both!  The child me doesn’t want to know because it’s so scary. The adult me is worried about being triggered and there is just so much heart ache involved.”

That’s the thing, remembering my daddy doing things that a daddy shouldn’t ever do to his daughter brings up the memory of such fear and just being purely overwhelmed by intense emotion that I couldn’t begin to process. At the same time, in the now, it brings up such overwhelming feelings of loss and heartache. I’m not quite sure how I can feel so much loss over something that I never had, but I do.  There’s anger in there, too. So much anger, even over just not being allowed to think my own thoughts and feel my own feelings. 

God, what a mess. What an exhausting, overwhelming mess.   But at least I feel like I am slowly making some bit of sense out of it. I don’t need to fully understand it all, just enough of it so that I can make peace with it and live with it. We’ll see what that takes. 

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