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A lot of my memories are very physical in nature. I remember a lot more of what happened in the abuse via sensations/ emotions/ just knowing than I do via visual memories.

One of the memories that I have been struggling with lately is the sensation of wishing for my father to do good feeling things to me. Needless to say, this has brought up intense feelings of shame, horror, disgust, and self loathing. It took me a few weeks, but I finally managed to talk about it in session with Mama Bear last week and she brought up several good points that I will talk about in a bit, but she missed the most obvious one: I knew that the abuse could feel just bad or a mixture of good and bad, so when I knew that something was going to happen, I would hope that it would be something that mixed the good and bad sensations.

There were things that my father would do that were pleasurable for my body, sometimes very much so. Bodies, including children’s bodies, are set up to have defined physical responses when they are stimulated in particular ways at certain locations. Even some young children can be stimulated to orgasm some of the time. It isn’t a case of anything being wrong with the child, it is a case of the child’s body being used against her.

It is extremely confusing to experience physical and/or emotional pain in combination with sexual pleasure. In some ways it adds another layer of pain to what is happening. At the same time, for me, having some pleasure was easier for me than not only just feeling negative physical sensations, but also experiencing the loneliness of feeling like an object that was being used and thrown aside. If he cared enough to make me feel good, then in my mind that meant that he cared about me and he remembered that I was there and I was a person who felt things.

Being sexually abused is extremely objectifying and dehumanizing. It was more so with my grandfather who set out to make me feel like a ‘thing’, but even with my father, who had different goals, it was the case. After all, my father could not have really been looking at me and fully seen me, his daughter, in all of my individuality and personhood. If he had, he could never have done what he did. He had to have seen me as an object for him to use to deal with his demons. I could never have articulated this at the time, but I certainly sensed it.

However, there was no way that I could have understand the complexities of the situation that I was in as a child or even early teen. All I knew was that I was in an impossibly painful situation. My mind had to deal with what I had been dealt the best that it could; it seems that part of the way that I dealt- some of the time, at least- was by feeling like I wanted to be with him and feel pleasure. As Mama Bear pointed out, I had very little physical contact or even concentrated attention from my father other than through the abuse. I yearned for his love. Given that set up, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some parts of me value that interaction with him. When he intensely paid attention to me and did things that made me feel good, I felt closer to him than at any other time. But other parts of me loathed what was happening and are furious at me for trusting him and want to tear my skin off for physically feeling anything.

So I am left with these strongly conflicting feelings that I need to accept were all valid. It would be so much easier if I could only remember hating and rejecting the abuse by my father, but that wasn’t my reality. It was with my grandfather- there wasn’t the slightest bit of connection with him, because he was purely a monster with me. My father was much more confusing for me to deal with. He hurt me, physically and emotionally, but he could also make me feel loved and physical pleasure. I didn’t want what was going on and wanted for it to stop, but if it was going to happen, I wanted for it to happen in the “good” way. Worst of all, though, he threatened my relationship with my mother. This was something that I couldn’t tell her, because I was so convinced that she would pick him over me. Actually, I am convinced that I tried to tell her that something was wrong. I wouldn’t have said just what was wrong, but even crying after school every day for months at a time I only got sympathy, not her trying to find out what was so terribly wrong.

I couldn’t get her understanding and support for the terrible bind that I was in back then. I had no one to help me deal with the adaptations that I had to make in order to survive the situation as intact as possible. As Mama Bear keeps on reminding me, things in the now are very different. I have external support, but, even more importantly, I now have the internal resources to start to give myself what I so desperately needed then. Today, I need to set aside my repulsion for what I did and look at it with compassion as ‘what I had to do’. I did what I had to do. I would never have chosen to have sexual interactions with my father, if I hadn’t been forced into the situation. I simply found the ways to deal with it that made it all as tolerable for me as possible. Sometimes these options weren’t open to me and what I experienced was purely awful. Comparing the two, I am glad that I had something available that was able to soften the edge of the abuse, some of the time.

It swirls through my mind: it doesn’t matter what I did to get through what happened. I didn’t hurt anyone, after all, I just tried to find the molds to put myself into that would make me someone who could survive an untenable situation as well as possible.

——-

I felt stronger while I was writing this, but now I am feeling more vulnerable. This more compassionate understanding of myself is all too tenuous. We will see whether I can tolerate leaving this post up or whether the shame and fear of being judged wins out.

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Fractured Self 2 Artist: Randall Cook

Fractured Self 2
Artist: Randall Cook

I am struggling with acceptance these days.

I remember back when I started to acknowledge and deal with my parts again over 2 years ago; Mama Bear and I went through a rocky stage because I was treating my parts as if they were completely separate “others.” They felt so “other” and while I vaguely knew that they were all parts of me, at the same time I needed to keep them as separate from me as possible.

I would get so mad at her when she would talk about them as “memory states,” because they are far more than just memories. But it is true that most of them are organized around trauma memories and most of what I need to deal with for the parts is related to what happened when I was young. What is going on now might be triggering responses, but my feelings and reactions are not really to what is happening in 2014 most of the time. The sense of “otherness” is so compelling, though. I physically feel different, I sound different, I think differently, I see the world and my place in it differently, my relationships with others are different, and generally I feel like a child, often a small one. This is the mind’s way of dealing with experiences that were too overwhelming to integrate at the time, after all. They had to be “other.” It’s no wonder to me that so many people with DID are convinced that they have other people inside of them, but Mama Bear was determined that I not fall into that trap and she repeated reminded me that even if they didn’t feel like it, they were parts of me.

Eventually, I had a breakthrough when I realized that I was trying to go back and rescue these child parts from the abuse, as if they were separate children and the abuse was something that I could change now. I could have thrown myself against that wall for the next 100 years and I would only have failed over and over. These parts are not children that I need to rescue, they are parts of me that I need to help understand that they are no longer living in the 70s. There is no rescuing from the abuse. That needed to happen 35 years or more ago. The abuse actually is over and done with and I have not been in a situation where I have been at any risk for over 25 years. But so much of me doesn’t understand that the nightmare that keeps on getting run through my head is all in the past and doesn’t have anything to do with now.

So, for the last couple of years, I have been working on showing to myself that things are different now. It’s a slow process, but it is working, bit by bit. And the more of me that understands that I live in 2014 and am safe now, even if I feel scared and overwhelmed when I remember things, the better that I can do all of the work that I need to do.

I’ve been kind of proud of myself for making progress. Then, this past weekend, it hit me smack in the face that I have been fooling myself. I’m not accepting these parts the way that I had been thinking. What I’m really doing is saying, “OK, I have these parts of me that had these experiences. But they had the experiences. The experiences don’t belong to me at all. Those terrible things happened to those parts over there. Yes, it’s awful, but it’s that part that was raped. It’s that part that felt tortured. Not me. Never me. Never, ever me.”

I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it. I don’t know if I’m capable of really accepting that the child or pre-teen in the memories was me. Experiencing the memories from the inside, rather than from the outside is horrible. I don’t know if I am brave enough to deal with that level of terror for any more than a second at a time.

Frankly, my mind just freezes at this point. I don’t know what to do.

Mama Bear keeps on telling me that I can bring the parts to me, so I can soothe myself now, the way that I should have been soothed and comforted at the time of the abuse. The concept makes sense, but at the same time, I just panic at the thought of accepting that this is me (I can call it a “part”, but really it’s me), and then bringing it in close to more of me, to feel safe. I would rather go to the part in the memory and get stuck there for a bit, but then be able to leave the part and the memory behind (“it doesn’t really belong to me.”) That approach isn’t working though, not only does it put me through the wringer, but it doesn’t actually help the traumatized parts and they are starting to scream at me to help them.

I feel as though I should have some positive, hopeful ending, but really, I’m struggling with this. I don’t know how I am going to solve it. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to hit a dead end here, though. Either I’ll figure out a way to do what I’m trying to do, or I’ll figure a way around it, I always do. I often want to give up, however giving up isn’t an acceptable option for me. I will admit, though, that right now I am feeling pretty tired and discouraged.

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Radiant Circles Artist: Libby Lehman

Radiant Circles
Artist: Libby Lehman

I am going to use this to try to figure something out for myself and hope that it will make some sort of sense to someone else.

I am at a point in my therapy where things can be quite intense for a period and I simply have to do my best to cope, but I’ve also developed more of an ability to observe what is going on for me. What may be even more important, I am also learning to not make immediate judgments about what I observe, but rather to take it as something useful to understand about myself and how I work. Really, what would make the way a brain works be bad unless it results in real harm? At the same time, there isn’t necessarily a “good” way for it to work either. It just is. So that is my goal, no judgments on whether my brain is doing something “bad” or not, despite the fact that I seem to have soaked into my pores the idea that everything that is individual about me is “bad.”

Over the least several months, as internal communication has increased, I have become increasingly adept at 1) recognizing when I am in a dissociative state and 2) identifying which part is involved. This is good, because I am no longer going along in this dissociated fog, clueless about what is going on with me (at least most of the time I am not.) I am able to deliberately communicate with my parts and often keep things from escalating to an overwhelming point. Good news, right? But it’s also frightening that the parts are becoming more clear to me. Is my paying attention to these parts reinforcing them and making them stronger? Or am I simply bringing into focus what has always been there at this level? How would I even tell the difference?

But are these the really important questions?  If I step back and think, I realize that my goal over these last several months hasn’t been to change the parts one way or another, it has been to decrease my distress levels and increase my functionality.  What I do know is that the symptoms have become more manageable most of the time and they weren’t getting any better when I was ignoring how much I function in parts. I had no control over anything going on in my mind and was constantly being triggered, whether I realized it or not. The way that I was functioning then was making me ill. Things were really chaotic for awhile and I have since learned that Mama Bear was tearing her hair out trying to figure out how help me get out of the pit that I had fallen into, because I was headed in an alarming direction.

So, thinking about it, I can see that I had to establish the internal communication, so I could start to get a handle on what was going on inside. I had to get to a point where I wasn’t so afraid to “see” and “hear” my parts, because otherwise I would never be able to figure out what I needed in order to start to feel safe. If in doing so, I have reinforced the parts, then so be it. That is a far better side effect than psychosis which could have been an option the way that I had been going.

I can let go of the worry that I have done something “bad” here and just accept that I acted in the way that would most improve my life and the lives of my husband and daughter. There is nothing at all bad about that.

I can be at peace with myself. I haven’t made myself “worse” by paying so much attention to my parts. I have done the best that I can and I am in a better place now.

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For decades, I have been focused on trying to figure out what the “truth” is about what happened to me. I have sought out a concrete truth that I could rely on to be something firm and unshifting. I think that I keep on looking for a truth that I can show my mother and be certain that she would agree with.

The only truths that will satisfy that criteria are that my extended family system is extremely distressed and the family stories show and extraordinary amount of severe disfunction and abuse over the generations. These conclusions come directly from things that my mother has told me or we have discussed.

Getting to the point where I could simply and unequivocally acknowledge that my family is one that abuse could thrive in was a big deal for me. Accepting the reality of my parts and the effects that the abuse had on me was another big step. Coming to grips with the fact that my insides clearly tell me that my father sexually abused me was yet another step forward.

Through all of this, though, I keep on censoring myself. This applies both to what I allow myself to know and what I then am willing to share. I will think to myself, “I don’t really know that” and turn my mind away from looking at what some part of me is saying. I think, “but I have no proof” when I consider telling Mama Bear about a memory. But unless something unforeseeable happens, I won’t ever have outside proof. All I will ever have is what is inside my head.

These last couple of days, it is as if I have decided inside, “No more hiding from the full truth. I know much more than I am allowing myself to remember. I am sick and tired of being alone with this crap. I know that I am here, now. I can deal with knowing what happened. I just can’t deal with secrets any longer. I feel as though I am going to suffocate on the secrets.”

I think that I need to accept that I will be dealing with what happened from the different viewpoints of the different parts. They might not always agree. They might sometimes be exaggerated or distorted and that is OK. I need to know what all of my parts need to tell me and I need to share with Mama Bear what they tell me. I won’t know for sure What Happened, but I can develop an understanding of what I believe happened and have the self compassion to accept that I am human and the best that I can do is to develop an understanding.

So, I have started writing in my journal, with the intention of being open to the parts of my story that I don’t yet understand. I know that Mama Bear would ask, “Do you need to know everything?” She is a stickler for making sure that I don’t overwhelm myself with the past. The answer is that I don’t need to know everything, but parts of me have been crying out to share their parts of the story for years. I think that I may most need to share the things that I previously most needed to keep hidden.

Most of the things that I am writing about are not new to me. I am either getting details to flesh out the story and help me understand it or admitting to myself something that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. Allowing myself to put it all down in one place, with the determination to be as honest as possible, allows me to start to see how eventually the barriers might one days come down between the parts.

In the interest of being real and honest, I will admit that I am a bit in shock at the moment. In one of my moments of honesty tonight, I was thinking about how so many of the things that I used to attribute to my grandfather turn out to have happened with my father. I never see my grandfather’s face in the memories, but I do have a strong sense of his body in the abuse memories that I am sure happened with him. And I suddenly knew that the horrible type of abuse that I have been referring to lately didn’t just happen with my grandfather, it happened with my father, too. He didn’t do it in a way that felt as bad, but he did it too.

I just want to swear that there is so much of a burden to work through. But it affects me even when I pretend that it isn’t there. At least now I can take it in and talk with Mama Bear about is after her break. It’s better for me to stop trying to block what my brain is trying to show me and it will be best for me to take these pieces in to Mama Bear as they come up, rather than trying to hide them in the corner, behind the door.

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