Archive for February, 2016

My father’s daughter

I’m not sure if I mentioned that my mom sent me an email two or three months ago saying that she was going to retire in February and that she and my dad were going to take a trip in their motor home across country and they wanted to both stop here to visit with us and then to take my daughter on a trip for a couple of weeks. This really precipitated a crisis that I have been dealing with ever since. I know that there is no way that I will let them take Grace anywhere and I quickly realized just how frightened I am by the thought of seeing my father, so on the surface, my response should be a simple “no”. Unfortunately, nothing is simple when it comes to my being able to deal with my parents. 

One of the more painful responses is that it precipitated an intense denial that my father could have sexually abused me. So much of me wants to connect with my mother and it seemed that the only way that I could do that was to see my father the same way that she sees him. Or at least as close to that as I can manage, which definitely does not include an image of him as a child abuser. As a result, I went through many weeks of internal battles. I pushed away Mama Bear for awhile, out of confusion and pain; a lot of that time is a confused fog of pain, confusion, and isolation. 

In the last few weeks there finally has been a real shift. I had to change how I was going about things in order to start this shift, however. Through talking with Mama Bear about it a lot, I came to realize that I eventually have to come up with something that I can live with to say to my mother. I can’t keep on avoiding the issue indefinitely, because they will end up on my doorstep, if I do. 

In our sessions, I would stumble across just how deep seated and intense the fear is of my father, and rationally I knew that if my relationship with my dad hadn’t included fear, I wouldn’t have that intense, visceral fear reaction to him.  I kept on throwing myself against the “I don’t know for sure what happened” wall and Mama Bear kept on responding, “No, we can’t know exactly what happened with certainty, but you have been exhibiting trauma reactions for as long as I have known you. You haven’t even been very comfortable with your dad and years ago you concluded that you really don’t want to have anything to do with him. All we can really do is go with what you know and feel right now.”

Part of the catch for me was that I felt like it would be too hurtful if I didn’t give my mother the contact that she wants.  “You don’t hurt the people you love!”

Mama Bear would counter with, “Yes, but who is going to keep you from being hurt, if you don’t?  You don’t have to take care of your mother, she will take care of herself. She has been all of this time.”  Those words made me stop short and think. “I’ve felt responsible for taking care of my mother, but she has been the one there, taking care of herself.  And when I was little and she couldn’t see that I was being hurt, she was taking care of herself, not me.”

Somehow, though, it felt so incredibly selfish and self centered to create a boundary and say “No” to my parents. I was slowing coming to agree rationally that I had to do it for my sake and the health of my little family, but a large part of me was invested in trying to maintain the status quo, because as painful as this balancing act has been, there hasn’t been an overwhelming disaster, and that part of my mind fears the possibility of utter disaster.

Around this time, Mama Bear recommended that I read a book by Peter Levine called Trauma and Memory (or something very like that.)  She said that she thought that I would find it affirming of my experience dealing with trauma and that it might help ease some of my self doubt. I ordered the book from Amazon and had it two days later. It’s a good book, but there are two short sections in the book that negated everything else that I read and seemed to just set off all of my fears in an explosion of self doubt and confusion. I showed up at my next session incredibly distressed and barely managed to get out to Mama Bear that I had read most of the book and that it fed on all of my fears about confabulation and false memories. I was a complete mess. It turned out that while she has read other books by him, her recommendation of that particular book was based on a summary, so she hadn’t seen the material that had set me off. While I was wildly upset, enough of me was rational to be able to admit that it was likely that I hadn’t processed things clearly, because they were so inflammatory for me and I was making more out of them than the author intended. 

We proceeded to have a long talk about the whole issue and while I don’t remember many details of the conversation, some very important points stood out for me. First, Mama Bear is thoroughly on my side.  At some point when I was wailing, “but what if he didn’t actually do anything sexual to me?  What if it’s all confusion?” she responded, “I would be absolutely fine if you came to me and said, ‘I’m clear that he didn’t sexually abuse me, I was wrong.’  I know how confusing this has been for you. I know how much you have struggled with it. You don’t have to worry that I’m going to think that you pulled one over in me!  I just want whatever is going to be best for you.”

I explained to her, “I’m afraid that my mind might have generated all of this as a reason for me to have a right to want him out of my life.”  

Her response was, “But why would you so desperately want him out of your life, if there was nothing the matter with your relationship?” 

“I don’t know!”

“This is why you need to just stay with what you know right now. You can figure out how you truly feel and what you need right now to take care of yourself. Go with that.”

Somehow, this talk let me feel safe enough to finally give up throwing myself against that wall. It finally sunk in that maybe I just needed to listen to myself about why it is so important for me to protect myself from my dad, taking out any sexual abuse questions. 

Stopping with the “did he abuse me” questions seemed to help my over all arousal levels to subside. Fancy that, stop poking at myself all of the time and I could relax a little!  I found myself incorporating some of the sensory motor information from the Peter Levine book and came up with a calming/grounding technique that works better for me than anything else we had previously tried. I also started to pay closer attention to the feedback that I was getting from my body in session. For instance, in one session, I was talking with Mama Bear about how even though no one else could see my father as acting hurtfully, I still knew how the interactions made me feel, and suddenly I felt this intense visceral sensation. In the past I would have pushed the feeling away, but this time she asked me what was going on and I told her what I was feeling. I also told her that I thought that it was important that I stayed with it, because when I was young, I couldn’t stay with the feelings that my father was hurting me. Now is different, now it is safe for me to accept that he made me feel that way. Now I have at least one person who can hear and understand that my father treated me in ways that made me hurt. At the time, no one saw it because he disguised his hurtful ness as humor. 

Finding something from when I was young that I was forced to deny then, but that I am clear really was a part of my experience and then being able to tolerate being in my body with the memory of it has been a turning point for me. It seems to matter so much less for the now as to what all of the sources of pain with my father were. I don’t have to figure out right now what was sexual. There was a lot about our relationship that was simply painful and it’s safe for me know that and to begin to speak that truth. 

It finally felt safe enough to just tell Mama Bear what it was like to be my father’s daughter…  (To be continued)

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