“Wouldn’t you?”

Note: I started to write this about a month ago, right after Mama Bear got back from her workshops. 

It turns out that Mama Bear was so thrown by her workshops that she thought that she read that whole first email but actually never made it to the meat of what I wrote. As we started to talk yesterday, it quickly became obvious to her that she had missed something and she pulled out her print out of the email and read it then and there. 

It was interesting watching her read this time. Normally I have a very hard time watching her read and hearing her respond as she reads (as a result, she has learned to not respond out loud to the hardest content while reading, but to wait until after she is done and can give me her full attention), but this time I felt relatively ok with it. I watched her grow very angry as I described the rape memories; she said and did nothing overt, but I could see it in her look and her body language. I felt a small, quiet sense of relief that I could share what happened with someone who believed me and who had no problem with being angry. I didn’t really notice it at the time, but it obviously had an impact on me later. 

She did look up at me and affirm, “I think that you are right. You simply couldn’t afford to remember the abuse during your daily life.”   I just nodded, took that in, and let her go back to reading. 

Yes, you do have to be careful about how much you let in at a time.”  I knew that she was going to respond to that one!  What sometimes make me squirm just gave me a twinge yesterday because she was simply repeating in a caring way what I, myself, had said. 

Interesting…  So as you better understand how your dissociation worked, it helps you to see how your mother’s dissociation could have helped her to avoid seeing what was happening?” I quietly agreed, but knew that this topic wasn’t what I most needed to talk about, so I didn’t pursue it. 

She took a deep breath and said, “There is a lot here, but before we get started I have a question. Last session, you said that I felt too far away sitting over here and asked me to sit near to you. Does it always feel that way to you?” 

The set up in her office had a love seat with a fairly wide coffee table in front of it and then her large chair facing the love seat from across the coffee table. If we both move to the edge of our seats and lean forward, I can reach her hand, but there always is a sense of her being physically far away that I have to fight against. It makes it harder for me to feel connected to her; I have noticed that I make much better eye contact when I am sitting closer to her. 

Well, yes, but I try to ask you to come and sit over when I really need it.  Most of the time I can tolerate your sitting over there.”

“But why tolerate it when you don’t have to?” she asked as she went to grab the desk chair and bring it over to sit near to me. 

The things inside of me that strain to connect when she is seated further away relaxed as she moved to what is the “right” distance to me. I must have had a look of relief on my face and she smiled at me. 

She continued, “Next, I’ve become increasingly aware of how important it is for me to not let you spiral into a bad spot. It harms you when you do that and I am going to do what I can to keep you from getting hurt in here.” I knew that she was going to come back from the workshops fired up about something. At least this wasn’t something new; in fact it was an old bone of contention that we have been working with for several months. We had even talked about the currently most irritating iteration of it in our last session, because I had become so angry with her about it recently. When I go all still and quiet and go inside, she can’t tell from looking at me on the outside whether I have gotten stuck in a bad spot or if I am working with a part inside and need for her to give me time to work. 

We talk about it and hash it out and I come to the reluctant conclusion that there is no way to handle this that doesn’t have the potential for be to feel intruded upon while trying to work internally. The best that we can do is for me to try to communicate to her when I need time and to try to not be too annoyed if she needs to ask me if I need help. I would prefer that she just wait for me to let her know that I need help, but there is too much of a history of my being unable to communicate with her by the time that I realize that I want for her to help me; she isn’t willing to risk allowing me to get stuck at this point. I can respect that she is using her professional knowledge to alter a pattern that has been destabilizing for me in the past. When she says, “I am not willing to risk your reinforcing the trauma reactions.  Your well being matters too much to me. If that means that you get mad at me, that is a price that I am willing to pay,” I am touched that she feels so strongly about helping to keep me safe. My well being matters more to her than avoiding conflict. Deep inside of me, I feel young parts sit up and take notice that she really is serious about doing what she believes to be important in order to prevent my being harmed. To my surprise, it increases a sense of security with her, rather than stirring up anger or resentment. 

Eventually we moved on to discussing the letter and I don’t remember how we got there, but I remember saying, “I hate that my father raped me.  It was so awful.

She replied with something that was very empathic and caring, but very much a therapist response, which wasn’t what I needed right then. So I looked at her and asked, “Wouldn’t you?

She paused for just a second and then replied quietly, “Yes, I would have.”  Her somber eyes didn’t leave mine until I looked away, overcome by the sense of connection. She gave me the purely human, honest response, rather than the therapist response. In that moment, I needed for her to be human, to really look with me at what a horrible experience I was talking about, to not leave me alone with what had happened by keeping her distance. 

Trauma therapists can’t drop that bit of protective distance too often, or else they would be kept busy taking care of their own reactions, rather than staying with their clients. But this was one time when I needed for her to open up for just a moment to what it would mean to be raped by a father. I needed for her to understand in more than just a cognitive manner how abhorrent the experience had been for me. I happen to know that she was not sexually abused and that her relationship with her father was a generally good one, so I felt safe pushing her in this manner. I knew that it wouldn’t trigger something harmful for her. But, really, in the moment that I asked the question, it just popped out. 

Wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, I would have.”  

Thank you for being willing to go there with me. 


Helpless- trigger warning

Trigger warning: I refer to a memory in a fairly vague way, but it still could be triggering. 

My God, I was helpless. I’m only just starting to realize how helpless. I think that we can’t quite help to look at things from today’s perspective. There is no totally, absolutely helpless for me today. But when I was three, I was completely and utterly helpless. All that I could do was to cope with what my father did to me. Even when I was a teen and I should have not been helpless, I was with him. I had been trained to do what he wanted for more than a decade. He was my father and I was supposed to obey my father. I was completely dependent upon my parents. In short, I was trapped and felt completely helpless,

I have discovered that talking about being helpless is one thing, but remembering experiencing being helpless and knowing that your father could do anything sexually to you that he wanted to is terrifying. Just those little glimpses that I get are almost overwhelming. I can’t bear to allow myself to fully remember what it was like to have his body over mine, know what was about to happen, and feel utterly helpless to stop it.

This is a post that I started to write several months ago, but couldn’t bear to finish. The intensity of the memories of being so utterly helpless was just too much.  Now, about 9 months later, those memories are much more bearable. I needed to own just how helpless I had felt back then so I could continue the process of accepting my story, knowing what my reality had been like. I needed to understand that I didn’t have any choice in the abuse. I had no part in causing it to happen; it was something that was imposed upon me. I had been completely helpless to protect myself because I didn’t have an adult to help me deal with the adult who was the source of the problem. 

Trigger warning: I write frankly about how my father’s abuse has affected my sexuality, although I have not been graphic about either the abuse or my sexual relationship. 

I suddenly find myself beginning to grapple with something that has felt far too scary to look at directly up to now: What does it mean to me that I first learned about sex and sexuality from my father?

My grandfather also sexually abused me, but that was simply about hurting me. Sexual body parts were used and it instilled fears in me of certain things, but I don’t think that he had nearly the sort of effect on my sexual development as my father did. For one thing, I suspect that the abuse with my father was pretty much on going from age 2 or 3 until I was in my teens, except for when he was away from home on deployments. I really don’t know how frequent it was, but it seems to have been somewhere between “all of the time” and “almost never.”  It was frequent enough that it was a part of the base line of my life, but not so frequent that I was always living in a trauma state. 

Up until now, I have tended to view the remembered extremes of my reactions as being incompatible, but I’m suddenly starting to sense how they actually fit together. Parts of the teen me loathed being touched by him; at least one wished that I could tear my skin off in reaction. That intense revulsion was more because he could make me feel pleasure than anything else. I was mortified that he could make me feel things that I didn’t want to feel with him. My body was young and healthy and being flooded by sex hormones, though. It was just responding to the stimuli. For a part of my mind, though, being forced to experience orgasms felt more like torture than pleasure. There was a period of time when I experienced regular flashbacks that were only of unwanted orgasms and they would reduce me to a heap on the floor, wherever I had been standing when the flashback hit. 

At the same time, there is another part who remembers wanting to just sink into the “good feelings.”  The pleasurable sensations during the abuse seem to have been an escape, as well. Or at least they were for a period. Writing now, I realize that this part feels a bit younger than the other. It seems to hold much less anger and to want to be pleasing to my father. Mama Bear has repeatedly said, “If there was anything that made any part of the abuse less than awful for you, then I am glad that your mind could make use of it. Focusing on your natural reactions to being stimulated in certain ways makes perfect sense.”  And it does, but there is more to this part than just that dynamic. I have long had the sense that if I had not been abused, I would be a very sensual person. I can see signs of that in myself during the periods when my sex life with my husband is functioning better. 

There was a period of time when I could dissociate my way through sex, but he has learned how to spot the signs that I am doing so and I’m not even sure that I would be capable of doing so now. Now, either sex simply does not happen at all, because all of the sexual energy has been buried under the trauma responses, we try and I get triggered and we have to stop, or we try, I manage to work my way past the triggers, and I am very enthusiastic about our love making in the end. There is no ho hum in between where I just go through the motions. My body seems to be set up to be very responsive to good sex, which for me means sharing with the man whom I love, who also happens to be a considerate and generous lover who pays close attention to how I am responding. 

After a long period of dealing with a lot of trauma memories, I am finally able to reengage sexually with my husband, much to the relief of both of us. I know that it puts a strain on our relationship when something that can be a source of our bonding strongly with each other instead turns into a source of fear and my pushing him away out of self protection against the fear. I have definitely seen that a healthy sex life is good for us as a couple and good for us individually. He naturally feels better when his wife is able to reach out for him, rather than turning her back towards him. I feel stronger when my past isn’t controlling my present with my husband and when I feel more connected with him. 

What has changed to allow this shift?  Part of it seems pretty counterintuitive to me that it would decrease the trauma response to sex: there is an increased acceptance that having sex with my father really has influenced my sexual responses. I’m not strictly talking about intercourse here, but rather about him doing adult type sexual behaviors with me since I was little. I think that the too early and too potent sexual stimulation affected what feels good to me. I think that it somewhat shaped my sexual tastes and responses, although I am still well within the range of what shows up in most romance novels. 

In the past, I have felt deeply ashamed that my father seems to have had such an influence on me. I wanted to deny it. I wanted to deny that I liked a sexual activity that I thought of as shameful, because I am certain that I grew to like it through him doing it with me repeatedly. I have wanted to deny that I like to have my hands held, although only because I know that it is safe for my husband to hold them and he will let go as soon as I try to free them. I haven’t been able to speak out loud with my husband about the fact that during the height of our passion, I find just a touch of pain to be erotic, but I am grateful that he notices what I respond to. 

I’ve come to understand that many women without an abuse history like these things and many, many women with an abuse history have had their sexual tastes influenced by what they experienced. I can either fight it, or I can accept who I am with compassion. I can be grateful for a husband who responded to my fears that “something is wrong with me” for liking to do a certain sexual activity by saying, “Well, if you get such pleasure out of doing it and I enjoy it, too, I don’t see what can really be so wrong with it. I don’t think that anything is wrong with you.”  

Frankly, all of me is in need of a good deal of compassion from the harsher parts of me for being a sexual creature. It was beyond confusing that I went through the years when my sexuality developed while also being sexually active with my father. For a long while I felt as though something couldn’t be a “true part of me” if it came about as a result of my interactions with my dad. It was imposed upon me, therefore it was false. The reality is that I will never know what my sexuality would have looked like if my dad hadn’t abused me. For all I know, I would have felt bolder and more free to be “kinkier.” Or maybe I would have liked the same exact things?  Or maybe I would have been very conservative sexually. I just don’t know and I cannot know what would have been. What I can do is learn to develop a healthy acceptance of who I am now and move forward into developing a sex life with my husband that is comfortable, exciting, nurturing, and healing for both of us. 

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. 

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.