Archive for November, 2015

My psychiatrist is something of a rarity these days. First of all, she still sees patients to do therapy; she doesn’t just dispense meds. Second of all, she has a thorough understanding of dissociation. In fact, she treats clients with DID.  Thirdly, she really listens to how things are going and will adjust meds accordingly. She isn’t bouncing them around all of the time, because that isn’t good for a system, but when I have gone in and said X medication is causing me problems for these reasons, she has worked with me to reduce the dosage or find an alternative. Fifth, she treats me like a partner in my own treatment. Fancy that!?!  All changes are my decision in the end; she makes recommendations, sometimes more strongly than others. She will offer me a choice of meds, listing the benefits and most likely side effects or cautions for each of them. When I needed to reduce a medication and the first method wasn’t working, she accepted my proposal for switching part of the dose from extended to instant release, taking it twice a day, and reducing the medication more slowly and smoothly. In fact, she took it a step further and told me to “play around with it” and figure out what schedule to reduce on and amount to reduce by each time. And sixth, she actually is a caring person. 

I swear, though, that people who regularly work with dissociative clients must have some way of “being” with parts that just brings the parts out. I know that my parts started to peek out at her fairly soon after I started to work with her. At this point, it is a rare session when some part or another doesn’t make an appearance. It’s interesting, though, because the parts seem to have mixed feelings about her.  Many of the young ones have come to like her in a cautious way, but there also is the opinion that she is “too nice, she has to be faking it.”  

Other than my therapist and my husband, I have never known anyone who “sees” the parts and responds to the differently from how she responds to me. Her voice and manner completely changes when she is dealing with a young part. I think that it scares a protector part that she sees the little ones so well and speaks to them and their concerns directly. Her voice and body language change again when she is dealing with the more tween aged ones who try to be more “brave” and start to show some of the anger. 

Today was the first time she dealt with a teen aged part and that part was a combination of shattered and enraged. Or maybe there were two parts going on there; it was confused, since I was trying to keep things as much under control as possible. I remember Dr L. saying something affirming about how my ability to contain the most recent memories is a sign of how much I have strengthened and how much maturity I have gained. For some reason, her statement enraged this teen part. It made the part angry enough to emerge from behind my hands and snap at Dr. L. with pure intensity, “It was terrible.”  To her credit, she didn’t blink an eye, she simply agreed, “Yes, what happened was terrible.”  To my relief, there was no attempt to reframe it or soften it at that moment, she simply agreed. 

I’m finding that I need that simple reflection so much. I need to know that the people that I tell what happened or (as in this case) show the resulting devastation can allow me the space to feel really heard and seen. I need to know that what happened isn’t so scary for them that they need to try to make it go away immediately. I know that there are things that I need to do in order to help create the bridge between then and now, but first I need to feel accepted and safe. I need to know that the person that I am with can tolerate that terribleness and that I won’t scare them away. I need to experience that they can remain calm in the face of my emotional surges and not push me away in attempt to protect themselves. 

Later on, my psychiatrist was able to point out that my present reality is very different from the terrible then reality and I was able to accept her saying that. She had accepted and stuck with me in my “terrible,” albeit very briefly given that the whole thing with the parts had to have taken less than 10 minutes of the 30 minute session (and we started out dealing with shaking, frighten young parts).  

Writing this helps me to understand something a bit better…  My mom, for her own reasons couldn’t handle knowing that something very wrong was going on. She couldn’t handle strong (or even not so strong) “negative” emotion. These things scared her. I had to have seen that fear in her. I had many, many reasons to dissociate the abuse and the feelings, keeping them as far away from my everyday as possible, but my mother’s example that what happened and what I felt was too scary to be tolerated must have had an impact on me. And now I find myself essentially needing to say, “I need for you to show me that you can tolerate being exposed to what my mother taught me was too frightening to tolerate. I need for you to prove that you won’t abandon me like she did, and I need for you to help show me that while what happened was overwhelmingly awful for me then, knowing about it isn’t nearly that awful now.”  I’m closer to what happened than they are, so the knowledge of what happened will have a more intense effect on me, that only makes sense. But I can still take in their examples that it is possible to deal with the horror of what was from a now where I do know calm, safety, and peace, even if not at that moment. 

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I hurt

As you can tell from my posts lately, I am in the middle of dealing with some exceptionally painful material. The sort of material and overwhelming pain that makes me finally comprehend how I could not go about my “normal” life with any awareness of what my father was doing to me and why the dissociation wasn’t only possible, but absolutely necessary for me. 

I’ve spent most of my life dissociating myself from this pain. It would leak through now and then in different ways, but for the most part it was locked away behind a pretty solid wall. I dealt with the abuse by my grandfather, which was it’s own hell, and various other issues that enabled me to get to the point where I could begin to deal with my father’s abuse, so I have dealt with difficult emotions along the way, but somehow this feels “different”. I almost feel as though I am starting at the beginning again in terms of trying to figure out how to manage the overwhelming intensity. 

I feel like there must be a way of managing things that will allow me to hurt less, because this just hurts so much. I know how to push the feelings and memories away, which just puts things on delay and leaves me a spaced out mess in the mean time. That isn’t a solution. I know how to slip into re experiencing then, which is just way, way to painful and intense. Even in session, that is a path that has to be taken very carefully, because it can easily end up being re traumatizing. I can easily fall into being coconsious with parts that are intensely feeling the feelings, but at least aren’t stuck re experiencing abuse. That sort of intensity tends to take over my day to day life, leaving me wanting to curl up in a ball and hide these days. It’s too much for me. 

I have also learned to be “alongside” the parts and emotions. In the past this is what has seemed to be the most useful. I am most able to soothe and comfort the hurt and traumatized me from that place. I don’t tend to be as overwhelmed by the emotions or memories and I am better able to remember and use my present day resources, but internal and external. Lately, though, this has almost seemed to be the most painful place of all to be. Whenever I go there, I start to cry. The feelings are all but overwhelming and I feel intense grief.  What am I doing wrong?

“All but overwhelming.”  Aha. Maybe I’m not doing anything wrong. Maybe there is no escaping this being dreadfully painful. Maybe the best that I can do for myself is to keep the level down to “less than overwhelming” and keep on finding comfort and eventually moments of contentment in what I can. Maybe my job isn’t to escape the pain, but to retain the hope that I will find joy again. I want to escape the pain, but maybe I can’t integrate what needs to be integrated for the whole me that I am working towards without processing that pain. 

I don’t know. All I know for sure right now is that I have to keep on trying, stumbling, falling, picking myself back up and trying some more to keep on moving towards that wholer me. 

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Trigger warning, references to rape

As I said in my last post, my brain has continued to work on all of that difficult material that I stirred up a few days ago. Things seem to be coming together out of the painful chaos that I was first living with, and I feel as though I am emerging from a crippling fog. 

Last night, I wrote an email that I figure that Mama Bear won’t get until she gets home this evening. I didn’t get a session, so she got an email of me trying to work through things.  

Hi Mama Bear,

Just reaching out for a point of contact. Such difficult things came together in my head after our last session. I seem to be learning how to coexist with them, but it has not been easy. 

In many ways, these last few days, my mind kept on just trying to shut down- make me go to sleep during the day and otherwise just zone out. Today I did better at staying present, though. Progress. 

Last night, I was laying in bed earlyish, just feeling horrible. So bleak and hopeless, so much heartache. It felt like nothing would feel good again. Then an inner voice told me to get up and go and take a very hot shower. It would help to release some of the painful tension and give me something tangible and pleasant to experience in the now. It took some prodding, but I did it, and I did feel much better by the end of the shower. I think that just moving and doing something to help myself was important. 

Towards the end of the shower, I found myself breathing in a sense that, yes, terrible things happened, but no matter how horrible they were to experience, I survived them. I am here now. 

At the moment I am staggering because it is so hard to hold this awareness of what happened then in the everyday, but if I was able to survive being raped then and keep on going, I can learn to coexist with the knowledge of what happened.  I couldn’t do it then, but I can do it now. 

One thing that I have become aware of this week is just how much I need the strength that all of these parts of me have. This part of me who had to submit was not at all weak; she was incredibly strong. Maybe even one of my strongest parts. That is something that hadn’t sunk in before- maybe some of my most badly injured parts are also the ones who hold the most strength. After all, my being strong had nothing to do with whether my grandfather and father hurt me. I couldn’t protect myself at first because I was a young child and then because my father still was stronger than me, he had all of the power, and I couldn’t see any way out if my mom didn’t help me. I got hurt because those two men decided to do horrible things to me. And because my mom didn’t help me, but most of all because of their choices. 

I think that is part of what is so mind bending for me, what makes it feel next to impossible to accept. My dad chose to do things over and over to me. It’s impossible to accidentally end up in your daughter’s bedroom, raping her. If you stop in her room at night when she is young to “check on her”, you poke your head in for a look, not sit down on the side of her bed and do things to her. He had to keep on choosing to do the things he did. He had to keep on choosing to take the abuse further and do worse things. 

My mind doesn’t want to believe that anyone could do that to someone else, never mind their daughter. Or, at least it seems that someone who did it should be crazy or appear out of control in some way. My heart protests, “How can it be that someone who seems to be pretty normal most of the time would do something so terrible for so long to someone he supposedly loves?”

I can see how so much of all of this threatened to tear apart my world in regards to my family and any sense of safety in the world in general. I can understand why I get that remembered, terrified, overwhelmed feeling that makes me say that I feel like accepting what happened would destroy my world.  My mother didn’t protect me. My father did things to me that felt like they should have been impossible. But understanding and no longer fighting against my “what was” does not need to shatter my sense of safety now. 

I have enough exposure to the world now that I know that even though there are people who treat other people that way, I have made choices that prevent me from being vulnerable to them on a daily basis. I know that if I have made it this far without being raped by a stranger, then it isn’t something that is going to happen a lot in my life. If I make reasonable safety decisions and continue to live in a safe area, I’m probably going to stay safe. Yes, in this world, some lives are full of risk and retraumatization, but mine isn’t. I sensed that it could be that way when I was younger, but I made sure to make decisions that led me away from that path, didn’t I?

My head has developed this partial understanding (full understanding, not just intellectual), which is both there and not there, that it actually is possible that the memories of my dad raping me could have happened and yet I could still develop a wholeness that is ok. That I could learn to be proud of myself for making it through everything and building a family that I want. That it is possible for me to process the grief, heartache, anger, betrayal, and everything else, so I can live a life that is no longer numb to the awfulness that was and also is not swamped by all of the painful emotions that I couldn’t deal with then. That everything my dad did and made me do really was his fault- he made the choices. I can choose to surround myself with people who won’t make those sorts of choices now. I have that power now. 

– C

Such a painful realization: my father chose to abuse me. But also such a freeing one. It wasn’t anything about me that caused the abuse. If it wasn’t anything about me that caused the abuse, then something about me won’t turn my husband into a monster as well. My rational head has known that he won’t turn into a rapist, but deep inside I have been afraid that something about me would do that to him. 

So, there is forward movement. Even with this chunk that my mind has been so desperate to avoid for over three decades. I am safe enough now to deal with what could only be hidden deep inside back then. 

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Trigger warning- I talk about reactions to a rape memory

I am finding it hard to write right now, but I also think that it is important to share what is going on, both for my sake of not keeping secrets and because I think that it may help others who struggle with similar issues. 

The following is an email that I sent to Mama Bear after our last session. I know that she printed it out to take with her to a training on Complex Trauma and EMDR. She has basically been out of contact all week, although I do know how to reach her, if there was an emergency. I know that she likely would respond very little to what I had written anyways, other than to say something affirming and that she looked forward to talking about it in our next session. We learned the hard way that I tend to read things the wrong way when she responds in detail. 

The context for this is that I have been struggling in different ways with accepting that my dad abused me, particularly that it was so severe and went on until I was a teen. I have reached a phase where I can partially accept it, but my mind still digs its heels in about certain things. 

Hi Mama Bear,

I imagine myself holding that bird that represents my soul. Sometimes the bird feels stronger and is able to fly, but right now, she is sitting, huddled in my protective hands, shaking.

Actually, maybe it’s the me who wants to connect with others, who wants to believe in the good in others, wants to believe in love, but had her heart torn apart by the shock of being so badly used. By having my father and grandfather deliberately do things that were damaging to me. This is the part of me that used to not even be able to bear the pressure of being seen, years ago, it was too painful; like having 3rd degree burns all over my body, not even able to tolerate the faintest stirring of air. 

You asked today something along the line of why I was persisting in bringing up the time in Virginia. For once I was able to hear that as not being a “What’s wrong with you, why can’t you let it go already”, but as a, “What is going on here that is important for you to explore and communicate?” Today, in session, the answer very much had to do with my mother. But that time period is going to keep on coming up because it is linked in my head with several things that I really need to deal with. 

One of which may be memories of my father being angry while he was having sex with me. I did something a few days back that may not have been very wise, but I was up late and not thinking clearly. I was aware of the sense of war within me around what happened in the room in Virginia and I had the idea of trying to get the me that can’t bear to believe to take a look from a distance at what it would be like to know what happened. (I don’t actually remember clearly what it was that I communicated, but it definitely was for things to remain at a distance and the intent was to give a taste of what it would be like to believe, NOT to show any memories.)

So, I put a window into that wall that is between the me that needs to believe that nothing could have happened and the parts of me that believe that they know what happened. I also put shutters and curtains on the window (so nothing could be seen accidentally) and made sure that it was sealed, so that nothing could come through. And I saw my father having sex with me when he was angry. He didn’t hit me, but he hit the bed next to me.

I was shocked to see this. I had seen hints of it before, but nothing so clear. It wasn’t what I had intended at all to bring up when I started the process. 

I then found myself experiencing it from the part that holds the memory. It felt like my head was on one side of the room and my torso was stretched out so my pelvis and what was going on was on the oth side of the room. I don’t remember feeling what he was doing, but it was like I was in shock from feeling like he was doing it as hard and fast as he could. 
I am guessing that it hurt, but I don’t know, but I got that I was just overwhelmed by a sense of violence being done to me and that I was just frozen there. Yes, I’ve experienced bits of other things that have pointed to there being times when things felt violent, but they have just been bits and pieces or the weird memory that seems to be on the way to see the movie, or there was something else about them that has always made them easier to question whether they could be accurate. 

This, however, very clearly was a memory of a rape for me. My dad didn’t just have these bizarre, horrible, arousing sexual encounters with me or those times when I just felt like he was using me as a sexual receptacle during that period of time. Yes, those are actions that I have come to understand were rape because I had no choice and did not want them. I know that these things were also violent in their own ways, but the experiences were so different from feeling like someone is beating you with his penis. Of wanting to melt into a puddle and promise him that you will do anything that he wants, but to please not hurt me. I cry for the me that experienced that level of hurt with my father. 

Wow, I just “got” another piece of why the dissociation had to be so complete and so why the wall is so persistent. I would never have had the courage to stand up for myself in any way if I knew during my every day life what was going on during some nights. I had no choice but to submit to him completely during the worst abuse. There may have been some times when I could use my sideways behavior to help myself, but during the sort of thing that I just described, I could only submit. However, I needed to be someone who wouldn’t only submit. I also needed to be someone who would take care of myself. When I was a teenager, I didn’t have the capacity to be both of those people at the same time. There had to be a wall between them. I had to have both the me who could get me through being raped by my dad and I had to have the me who could look after my interests in every day life and not live in terror of what he might do when I didn’t please him.  The everyday me knew that I would be belittled and my dad would try to make me feel very small for wanting something different from what he wanted, but I knew that I could survive that behavior from him. Learning how to be more of me rather than a projection of the daughter he wanted was worth the cost. But knowing that he might rape me would have been something entirely different.  The crazy thing is that I’m not even sure that he was angry at me in those memories. I just know that he was angry. 

Wow, this is important. I had “understood” before that I needed the different parts, but I have never gotten it before in an experienced sort of way. At least for the moment, I completely get how I had to have the parts that functioned differently and they had to stay only in the circumstances that they worked in. And how I absolutely could not afford a leak into the side of me that handled everyday life. 

It is a completely bizarre feeling to be working mostly from the side of the wall that didn’t experience what happened and doesn’t remember and to need to learn how to take all of the rest of this in. My memories of my time in Virginia are clearer than they are of other periods of my life and there is a stronger sense of “I was there”, so it always has been a huge sticking point for me that there was this “me-ness” from that time that insisted that I wasn’t abused. First by my grandfather and then my father. That me still desperately wants to believe that I couldn’t be someone that those things happen(ed) to. I think that I need to hold that self and reassure it that while it all was not possible for me to handle knowing then and it has been too scary for me to know since then, the source of the scariness is done. It’s just echoes now. Being scared of it just helps to keep me frightened and hurting. It helps to keep me convinced that I should be scared. 

There was good reason for me to be scared of knowing what happened for a long time. Most of those reasons no longer exist. I do need to be cautious about what and how much I let in at a time. My brain has been trained to react to all of this in a certain way and I need to practice self care. 

So interesting how juxtaposing that moment of recognition in today’s session that it was remarkable that I was able to take care of myself well enough to not go on that trip but instead do something that would nourish and strengthen me with tonight’s recognition of how utterly I had to submit when my father raped me is finally allowing me to begin to accept that the everyday me could have not known about the abuse. (Kudos if you can parse that long sentence!)

And it gives me some insight into how my mom might have “not known”, if she was dissociating all of the evidence that something was wrong. I need to allow for there being huge parts of me that will never find it excusable. The only excuse that I could find acceptable is that she had some good reason to believe that a confrontation would result in more harm for me. My adult can understand that she could have been overwhelmed by her own sense of powerlessness or fears for herself at some deep level that she has never recognized. However, while I feel guilty about naming it, I think that it is inexcusable to not dig deep and find what you need to help your child. Probably forgivable, but not excusable. It was her responsibility as a mother to make sure that I was safe from being raped. Not just from some random creep, but from the oh, so, charming one in the house. 

When you asked me if my mother and I were the same during the session, inside I was saying, “But I don’t want to be stronger than my mom”. Not meaning that I want to be less strong, but that I want for her to be more strong, so she is at least as strong as me. But it doesn’t really matter what I want, does it? She is how she is. She was how she was. 

– C

So now all of this is swirling around in my head. I feel like I am trying to find some way to live with it all. It has been disorienting and smotheringly difficult much of the time. Bringing all of this out when I would have to go for a week between sessions was not ideal, particularly because Mama Bear does not have phone coverage where she is. But at least I am surviving. 

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