Archive for November, 2019

Note: This was written last November and is largely unedited. It felt too vulnerable to post at the time, however I’m posting it now because I think that it might be useful to someone out there.

I’ve been thinking about writing this for some time- some of the things that I wish someone could have told me earlier in my journey. Maybe I could have heard them, maybe I couldn’t, but I will share what I have learned in hopes that I might make someone else’s journey a little easier.

I have struggled for years about whether to believe the things that parts of my mind tell me happened. I know from listening to and reading about the struggles of others who deal with dissociation related to abuse that many others share the same conflicts.  
Over time, I have come to understand that the internal strife between the parts that say that I could never have abused and those that insist that I was is a reflection of the essential nature of my dissociation. At its most basic level, it was a sanity saving way for my mind to manage that which I could not have otherwise tolerated living through. I simply could not have lived life as the girl who had such terrible things happen to her. Instead I split into the “me” who had a “normal” life and the “me” who endured having my body and soul violated. I then further adapted by even more splits as I needed to manage other aspects of what I found unendurable. 

I am slowly coming to accept that I likely won’t ever have these two sides of me in complete agreement. I have external clues that line up with the abuse actually having happened (signs of damage to my body, a childhood friend who suspected abuse, stories that my mother tell me about my childhood that make more sense if I was being abused), but I don’t have any real confirmation. I have no siblings who might support my perceptions and I am too afraid of the repercussions if I come straight out and accuse my father. Based on other, lesser, experiences of dealing with him when he was in the wrong, I expect that he would only deny the abuse and my mother is so loyal to him that I can’t see her doing anything other than supporting him. Frankly, it’s possible that my reluctance to confront my parents also has to do with resistance of the me who needs to believe that it couldn’t have happened. While in some ways it would be a relief to have the questions settled once and for all, at the same time it would bring up so much grief, rage, and loss that some of me fears that I would drown in it.  

So I am left to try to find someway to live with both the belief that the abuse happened and also the belief that it didn’t, simultaneously. I very much want to find a way to have peace between the two sides, but I’ve come to see that this much agreement is most likely not going to be possible. Instead, my peace will come from accepting that I still need to believe that my dad didn’t abuse me and at the same time not negating the experiences of those parts of me who remember things happening. When I push away the parts of me who say that the abuse happened for too long, then I start to experience intrusive memories. On the other hand, when I push myself too hard to take in and live with what happened, I start to feel overwhelmed with distress. The denial gives me the distance I need in order to go through my life in a fairly normal manner. 
One key to my personal balance with this struggle has been to learn to stop worrying about whether specific memories actually happened and to instead respond to the parts of me who hold memories, “Yes, I understand that the memories of these emotions and sensations have a valid basis. My relationship with my father went very, very wrong. I have cut off contact with him and I am no longer so powerless that I have to accept being hurt the way that I did as my father’s dependent. My life is different now and I need to not spend time in the memories of what happened. I don’t have to “prove” to myself or anyone else that I was abused.”

When I notice myself starting to go too much to the “It’s impossible that my dad could have done those things” side, then I need to remind myself of how I have gone through the “he abused me/he couldn’t have abused me” cycle dozens of times. When I remember details of the abuse, it all seems so vivid and undeniable. I am not crazy- I am in touch with reality and the memories are not hallucinations; this simply is the way that my mind works because it was trained to do from a young age, so I could remain functional. Besides when I stand back and dispassionately look at all of the evidence of my behavior, the dysfunctionality of multiple generations of my family, the fact that my cousin told me that her father (my dad’s brother) sexually abused her, and other factors, nothing else makes sense but that I really was abused. 

Juggling the two sides is not easy, but it is far easier on me than letting them war with each other.  

So what am I trying to say to those who are just beginning to struggle with these same conflicts? Obviously I, a stranger, don’t have a clue about what did or didn’t happen to you. In the end, you will have to find your own answers. However just because there is a war inside of you about whether to believe the terrible things that parts of your mind are telling you were your experience, that doesn’t mean that those parts are wrong. If your mind has resorted to defending itself by dissociation, then likely it has felt like “not knowing” what happened was essential to your survival for a long time. You aren’t “crazy” for sometimes completely believing one way and then the next day or even 5 minutes later believing just as strongly the opposite. That is the way that dissociation works. In general, the more that you can get the different parts to communicate, the more peace you will experience in the long run. But, at the same time, the reality is that sometimes the dissociative barriers serve functions that will always be needed in order for you to function at your best. Yes, it is possible to both believe and not believe at the same time. 

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