Posts Tagged ‘attachment’


Today,I wanted to jump out of a window, but I knew that it was an old voice of an old terror speaking. I cast about for now and today, for the reality of the life that I live and I want, but it seemed to be the insubstantial, not for real time. The terror time was too solid. I reached out for a voice who could help to guide me back, help me find my solidity in the now, help me find compassion for the part of me who remembers terror.

Yesterday’s session was intense. I found some of my intense rage at my father and my outrage that he raped me as a child and that the consequences wreck havoc on areas of my life to this day. All of it is painful to own, yet at the same time it also is a relief to be honest. The hurt me’s and the adult me’s worked together, both to express the pain, grief, and anger and then to find comfort and support, knowing that I had been heard and was not alone.

Today I woke up feeling fairly good, but then I was triggered and some terrible memories came up in regards to my grandfather. It felt as though everything fell apart. All of the communication, cooperation, and comforting skills that I have learned around my father just don’t seem to automatically apply to the parts that hold the abuse experiences with my grandfather.

Memories of some of the most intolerable experiences with my grandfather came up and I was completely overwhelmed. I began to have extremely strong urges to jump out the window, or begin to bash my head as hard as possible against the wall, or break a glass and begin to slash my arms with it. I have only very rarely done any self injury (and never serious self injury), but when I have, it has been related to my grandfather’s abuse. That awareness coupled with the strength of the urges made me wary of these impulses.

I kept on trying to ground and orient myself to the here and now. What was the texture of my pants, under my fingers? What did the light look like coming into the room? What did my chair feel like under me? It did little to no good. I could look out of my eyes and see the here and now, I could reach out my hand and touch it, but it still seem ephemeral in contrast to the intensity of the feelings of terror, abject helplessness, and vulnerability from knowing that I am at the mercy of a man who enjoys hurting me in disgusting ways. And at that moment, even though the abuse happened over 3 decades ago and he has been dead for more than 25 years, I could not shift that present tense perception into the proper past tense.

The panicked parts driven urges to do things that would harm myself did not ease at all and I was afraid to move from where I was sitting, because I wasn’t sure who would be in control when I got up. I realized that it was close to Mama Bear’s lunch hour and I considered trying to contact her. The “I need to do this on my own!” voices started up immediately, but I realized that I could either try to contact her or I could go curl up in a ball in bed, hope to fall asleep and reset before I needed to pick my daughter up in a couple of hours. “She deserves a peaceful lunch!” the voices went, but I knew which option Mama Bear would vote for.

I did manage to wait until about 10 minutes into her lunch, so she could have a bit of a break after her last client, but then I sent a text: Hi. Was doing ok until suddenly not. Can’t get myself present oriented. Panic stricken parts that want to self destruct. Grandfather. I couldn’t quite manage to get myself to explicitly ask her to call, but I knew that with that message she would at least ask if I needed to talk.

She called a few minutes later and started in on helping me to present orient myself. Where am I? My art studio/ sitting room. What do I see? My cat in the other rocking chair. We talked about how he doesn’t only have extra toes, but he has proto- paws, with all of the claws and mini toes. Once I was more now oriented, she reminded me that I had been experiencing memories of the frantic need to escape that I had experienced with my grandfather. The urges had nothing to do with the here and now. I was already clear on that fact, but it still was nice to hear her say it.

We talked a bit more and she asked if I was ok with ending the conversation there. I slowly said, “Yes…” “Are you telling me the truth?” “Well I’m ok with it, but parts inside are frightened.” “Ah… Can you ask what would help them to feel more safe?”

I felt inside and then knew what was needed. “All of the work done over the last few months around the parts wreathed to my father is missing with these parts. They don’t have the same safety and ability to be comforted. I don’t want to dive into dealing with lots of issues around what happened with him right now, but I do think that I need to work with them to set up some of that same safety connection.”

“You don’t have any of it with these parts? ”

“No. At least not in the same way that is so helpful to the other parts. These parts really need it, too. They need to know that they are not alone and can be heard, even if they need to wait to fully tell their story.”

“That really is essential to you, isn’t it? Not being alone and being heard”


“Ok, this all makes sense to me. Shall we work on this when we meet on Friday? Is that ok?”

I felt an internal sigh of relief. “Yes, that would be good.”

These parts of me were terrorized by my grandfather. I’m at the point of increasingly taking in what that meant emotionally. I had somewhat grasped it intellectually, after all, I know what many, if not all of the acts were. But I simply didn’t grasp the emotional depth of what happened with him. I have struggled with suicidal feelings after dealing with intense material for a period of time around him, but I don’t remember ever going from being just fine to feeling such intense urges that clearly weren’t mine to do things to escape the memories that couple have seriously injured me or put my life at risk.

I wish that I could keep myself from falling into that pit in the first place, but it happens so automatically and quickly that I can’t stop it with my grandfather, yet. I have come to the point where I can at least keep one foot out of the pit with my father, so I know that it possible, it just takes time and effort to get there.

If I’m going to fall into the pit, then I wish that I could get myself out again, but I have come to see that when the terror is above a certain level, I freeze and can’t effectively help myself. The best that I can do is to reach out for help, create support and connections! and slowly start to learn that I am safe no matter how terrified I am in the memories. But I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I need someone else there, providing a new voice, with new messages, to help me teach the old voices that they can be safe now. They don’t have to do anything drastic to escape. They don’t have to struggle all on their own. Life is different today.

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Kentucky Dogwood Natalie Sewell

Kentucky Dogwood
Natalie Sewell

Last week, I talked with Mama Bear about one of the memories that has ranked highest on my “impossible to tell” list. Actually, when it first came back again about a year ago (from my journals, I see that it first, first came out years ago, but I had forgotten it), I was so shocked, horrified, mortified, and repulsed that it was one of the two or three things that I had to call her about immediately after the memory came out and struggle through telling her what the type of abuse was, just because I felt so crazy with what I was remembering. At that time she gently helped me to say what I needed to, reassured me that the type of abuse that I was talking about wasn’t unheard of and that it wasn’t my fault, and did her best to help me find as much comfort and grounding as possible. Within a day or two, I wrote an e-mail to her with a few of the details, asking her to “hold” them for me, and then hadn’t mentioned it since then. I certainly never said anything about it to her person.

There are three types of memories with my grandfather that I consider the worst. The first I talked about with her earlier this summer and I see that one as being the most intensely overwhelming type of abuse for me. The abuse that I am talking about now left me feeling subhuman and was the most demeaning and disgusting. The last type was the most terrifying. Around the time that I talked about the first type of abuse, I almost talked about this abuse as well, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.

One of the perils of hiding things that I have discovered is that all of those things that I don’t deal with can pile up against each other and suddenly I may find myself in a place where I need to deal with Z, but I have been hiding from W, X, and Y, which need to be dealt with before I can hope to deal with Z. That happened last week. I realized that I have Z issue that is affecting my relationship with my husband, but that is related to Y way of experiencing myself and touch, which is linked into X memories with my father. That particular abuse by my father was especially toxic because it became linked to W abuse by my grandfather. To even be able to start to address this in therapy, I was going to have to go all the way back and start to deal with these memories with my grandfather and then work my way through everything else that I have been hiding from Mama Bear.

It was a fight to even start to get anything out about it because I was so overpowered by my feelings of shame, revulsion, and the deep expectation that she would withdraw in horror. I asked her to move a chair to sit next to me and hold my hand, so I could feel that tangible physical support and connection, while I flailed around inside, struggling against everything that was trying to keep me silent.

“This is so hard to talk about. I am so ashamed and disgusted by it.”

“You do know that it isn’t really yours to be ashamed about, don’t you? He is the one who is responsible for what happened.”

“Yes, I understand that. I really do. But inside I just don’t feel that way. I just know that it seems like what happened makes me believe that I have to be as horrible and disgusting as I felt while it was happening.”

There was another long pause as I struggled some more and then she said, “You really want to tell me about this, don’t you?”

“Yes, I am so damn tired of being alone with it. I don’t want to be alone with it anymore. I have been for too long already!” I paused and then pushed out, “Do you remember when I told you about W?”

Mama bear took a slow breath and gently said, “Yes, I do.”

I then just doubled over with my face on our hands and sobbed while shaking. I let myself feel held by her calm and caring presence as the young part of me who has carried this burden all of these years could finally let go of clenching it close to her in hiding. It was safe for me to let out all of the feelings of disgust, confusion, terror, and the certainty that if anyone knew what had happened, they would never be willing to touch me again. Shaking the whole time, I went back and forth between crying and talking.

“It just felt so disgusting while it was happening. It still makes me feel disgusting and dirty!” I don’t remember what she said in response, but I do know that those feelings have eased a bit now.

“It was just too much! How could anyone do something that cruel to a child?” I looked at her, feeling bewildered.

“We don’t know what happened to him to make him that way, but it seems that he might have been a sadist.”

I stared at her, “You think?!?”

“Remember, you haven’t told me as much about what happened as you think that you have! But from what you have said, yes, I do think that it is safe to say that he was a sadist.”

I cried again, because it was such a relief to hear it said out loud. I have long been convinced that he enjoyed being “inventive” with all of the ways that he could hurt, humiliate, and terrify me, but I wasn’t sure that anyone would ever believe me that he got pleasure out of hurting me. There is something that is damaging in a particular way when you experience someone else getting a kick out of finding different ways to reach inside and harm you. For me it was particularly dehumanizing, because it made me feel like some perverse toy that was only there for his pleasure.

But now, while I still wasn’t able to talk about all of the details of the experiences and how I felt, I was able to talk about some of them and I was able to experience my feelings while someone compassionately listened to me and held me both literally and figuratively. It was safe to be human. It was safe to feel. It was safe to share the real me and what I have experienced.

I looked at Mama Bear, “Deep inside, I absolutely expected for you to withdraw in disgust and horror.”

“Do you feel me withdrawing?”


“What do you see on my face?”

“Concern. Caring.”

“No disgust?”


“Good, I feel no disgust what-so-ever for you, C. And I feel no need to withdraw from you.”

Often, after such an intense session, I experience some sort of repercussions, but I didn’t that day. Instead, my experience was that the child part that had shared still felt safe and my protector parts hadn’t been aroused. That would come, but for that day, I just felt relief at finally being able to talk about what happened and cry while holding the hands of someone whom I know loves me. I needed to be held while I told my mother what happened over 40 years ago, but I was convinced that she would withdraw in disgust. I can’t change what happened then, but at least now I can finally tell.

Note: I struggled over whether or not to state in general what the abuse was related to, because while it was unusual, it is not unheard of. It also isn’t talked about, though. And not being able to talk about it only helps to give the abuse power but it keeps all of us who have lived through it in isolation, thinking that no one else experienced the same depravity. I am not at the point where I can name it, though. Simply talking about it at all is the best that I can do for now. Maybe someday. Maybe even before very long I will be able to write and say what it was, because it really isn’t my shame. It was my body that was involved, but my grandfather was in control. And while I don’t want to trigger people, I also think that it needs to be OK to say, “There are some really sick people out there who do these things to children. It sounds too awful to be true, but it really does happen.”

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Lisa Marie Sanders Time

Lisa Marie Sanders

Continued from Breaking Down Denial

At first I thought that I could deal with the shock of losing the basis for those last holdouts of denial all on my own. Mama Bear is out of town for most of a week, so I did not have my second session of the week. I knew that I could e-mail her, but I didn’t know if she would have computer access while she was gone. I knew that I could text or even call her, if need be, but I resist doing that.

At first things were difficult, but manageable. Unfortunately, by the next day I had started to unravel under the stress. I experienced a memory that fills in a gap that I probably wasn’t really ready to experience. I started to feel young, lost, and alone. I tried telling some of my friends that I was in distress, which helped the adult me feel supported, but I couldn’t tell them the details and the younger parts still felt incredibly alone. Finally, I realized that the burden of what had come together all at once was too much for me to carry alone. If I didn’t let Mama Bear know what had happened and create a feeling of connection, I would keep on unraveling until I was in a full blown crisis. I don’t have to try to do this alone any more.

I sent Mama Bear a long series of texts, explaining that I was trying to avert a crisis by telling what had happened and asking for a hand clasp to create some connection. She responded with “a good firm hand clasp”, a reassurance that we would discuss what had happened, and checking to make sure that I didn’t need more from her at that point. It worked. It kept me from getting any more worked up and I started to calm.

That evening I finished an e-mail to Mama Bear, talking about what had happened, what it had brought up for me directly and then other things that had been triggered indirectly. It was a long and complicated e-mail with material for probably a good two months worth of therapy, if not more.

In her response to me, she said, “You have sent this to me and we will address this together.” Together. I know that she has said that we will work on things “together” in the past, but for some reason that word is deeply reassuring and calming to me right now. She knows what she is committing to and I have seen that she is not afraid to deal with what many people would quail before. If she says that we will deal with it together, I can trust that she will follow through and be there for me. I don’t have to be alone because I am afraid or ashamed anymore. What I fear and am shamed by doesn’t seem to phase her; she keeps on seeing me in front of her, not the ugliness that was done to me. Together. I have such a deep wound from having to deal all on my own, for all of those years, with what happened and the experience of dealing with it together with someone who cares for me is profoundly healing by itself. There is no shame in all of this being too much for me to deal with alone. No person should ever have to deal with such trauma without the support of others; we seem to be designed to need others when we are in distress. Right now, I can’t get out of my head what a relief it is to know that Mama Bear and I will deal with whatever we need to, together.

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I’ve been thinking about attachment, security, and how children find a sense of safety. In my situation, as a child, my mother was my source of safety. I knew that if I was in physical contact with her or she was paying close attention to me, no one would hurt me. There were times when we were very close, perhaps almost too close, because my father was in the military and he would be gone for up to a year at a time. Unfortunately, when he was around, she wasn’t able to pay as close of attention as she would like to think that she did. There are lots of reasons for this, some of which I probably can’t even guess at. I don’t think that she intentionally allowed me to be abused, but I do think that most likely she couldn’t allow herself to see what was going on.

Anyways, I have these funny responses to attachment, especially when it comes to dealing with the abuse. I guess that this makes sense, because in normal day to day life, there were some attachment issues with my mother, but she generally was pretty much there for me. As a result, I was able to recognize a healthy life partner and develop a marriage that has lasted 25 years. But in regards to the abuse, I’m simply was an attachment disaster. It was when I most desperately needed for my mother to be there for me that I experienced what seemed to be her abandonment. The situation was too complicated for it to be simple abandonment, but that is how I experienced it, which is what is important for developing attachment. I saw that she was there on a day to day basis and she was warm and caring, but somehow I was left to deal with the abuse all on my own. I don’t know how much of it was my hiding what was going on due to a perceived need to protect her from the knowledge, how much was an assumption that she had to know that something so overwhelming was going on, how much was my not telling because of threats, how much was my trying to tell her and her not understanding, how much was my belief that she didn’t want to know. The end result is that I needed for my mother to be there for me and she wasn’t.

Over the last few months, my relationship with Mama Bear has been developing to the point where I finally have really let her in so she can support me. While I have been dealing with these terrible memories, I have increasingly used my sense of connection with her to not only help me through the session, but to also keep myself in an OK state outside of session. Even when I have told her the worst details, she has remained calm, grounded in the now, and there with me. She has shown signs of outrage but there always is an underlying calmness to her. That is deeply reassuring to me- even though I am in serious distress because I am engaged with the memory, what happened isn’t so awful and potent that it take over my environment. Mama Bear can listen to what happened, be involved enough to understand how horrible it was (as much as is possible from the outside), be there with me, and yet still be an oasis of calm for me. Between sessions, the memory of her being there for me in the face of the memory and the knowledge that I always have her care combine to help me keep the terrible memories contained. I am no longer alone with the abuse.

I have been thinking today about an example of when I was not allowed to maintain/repair the connection that I needed with my mother. When I was 10, my mother went abroad to join my father for 2 1/2 months and I was sent to stay with my grandparents. Mostly I stayed with my maternal grandmother who was neglectful and often cruel at best. For instance, she would shame me for needing money to buy a school lunch, even though it wasn’t my fault that my mother had not given me money for this purpose. Most of my time in her house is a blank, but what I do recall is a sense of loneliness, shame, and sadness. From what I remember, she sent me to stay with my paternal grandparents as often as she could- weekends, Christmas break, and any school holidays. My paternal grandfather was one of my abusers and he was particularly cruel. This was a man who enjoyed hurting people. I remember almost nothing of being at their house. I’m not sure which of the abuse memories belong to that time, but I think that it is a safe assumption that he created a little hell for me during that visit.

I remember having a hard time with not knowing a concrete date as to when my parents would arrive. Once it got to be the right month, I kept on hoping that my mother would come and get me earlier than planned. My father likes to surprise people, so I had no warning- they suddenly were there. The next few days are a blur, but what I do remember is desperately wanting to be in constant contact with my mother. Being near her wasn’t enough, I needed to touch her. For years I thought that I wanted to be near her because I knew that my grandfather couldn’t hurt me with her there, but now I understand now that I also was doing my best to repair my sense of connection to her. I think that 2 1/2 months of separation would have been difficult for most 10 year olds in and of itself. Throw in a generally hostile environment and it would be difficult for anyone. Add on top of the rest of it sadistic sexual abuse, and the result was a frantic need for any safe connection that would help me to manage the emotional damage done to me.

My father doesn’t like to share my mother’s attention with me. Even now, when we are together, he will find ways to refocus attention onto himself, if we are paying too close of attention to each other. He’s even been known to distract my mother by fondling her breasts while she was on the phone with me. When they showed up after 2 1/2 months and I was obviously very needy for my mother’s attention, my father grudgingly allowed it. But after a week, maybe a week and a half, when I showed no signs of letting up on my need to be in physical contact with her as much of the time as possible, he got angry. I remember him shaming me, saying that I was too old to need the contact and that I was burdening my mother by always dragging on her.

Now days, one of my problems is that the greater my distress, the more difficult I find it to reach out for contact. I am sure that this episode alone didn’t create that, but it sure is a clear example of what probably was a common pattern in my childhood. I’m in distress, so I go to Mommy, but either Mommy can’t deal with the distress for some reason or Daddy says that I am bothering her. I learn that if I ask for help when I really need it, then I’m likely to be rejected which makes me feel even worse inside. All I can do is stand there and hope that Mommy notices and offers to help me. If that doesn’t work, then I go and hide and take care of myself.

Those are the lessons that I learned in childhood: I’m likely to be hurt and rejected if I ask for help- it isn’t safe. If the person is willing to help, they will notice and offer, and if they don’t offer that is a rejection, but it is an easier rejection for me to tolerate. I “should” be able to take care of myself and I am too needy when I can’t. The safest/best thing is for me to do is to go and hide in a corner when I am hurting the most.

They were false lessons, though. They applied to my distorted life as a helpless, abused child who could not understand what was going on, but knew that she couldn’t rely on any support. Thankfully, they don’t apply to my life now and I am slowly learning that they don’t. Ironically, they probably apply least in the part of my life where I am dealing with the abuse, because Mama Bear is mindful of these beliefs and tries to not only not reinforce them, but she also challenges them.

Yesterday, in our session, I struggled to tell her that I was feeling angry with her because of something that happened in the previous session. In retrospect, I wasn’t so much angry as I was extremely distressed because what had happened had caused a disruption in the connection in our relationship. I needed for her to come together with me and work it out, but asking for her to do so was incredibly frightening for me, because parts of me expected for her to become angry and reject me. Not only did she willingly engage with me, she helped me to see that my fears had no basis in reality. First she said, “C. you need to really look at me… Do I look like I am at all angry or upset with you?” I had to admit that I didn’t see any signs of anger. Then after we had talked a bit more, she said, “OK, take another look at me. How do I look like I feel now?” I struggled to come up with an answer, because I wasn’t seeing any strong emotions, so she continued, “I’m feeling much more relaxed than I was before, because we are talking about what is going on between the two of us. I realized after our last session that we had a disconnection and now we are addressing it. That feels good and I am able to relax.”

Huh, she wants the connection, too. She also notices when there is a disruption in the relationship and it also feels uncomfortable to her, albeit in a different way than it feels uncomfortable to me. Attachment isn’t just me attaching to her, it’s the creation of a relationship. It involves both of us. As she said, “We are in this together.”

Humans are social animals and I believe that we are best off when we deal with our traumas (both trauma and Trauma) with the help of others. But it seems to be all too easy to damage our ability to create the connections with others that would allow for such healing. What have your experiences been with the use of connection to others to help to yourself heal?

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Cry Me a River Eileen Wimmiam

Cry Me a River
Eileen Wimmiam

Thank you.  I take a deep breath and feel the relief of once more having more of the fuller me engaged.  I think again towards Mama Bear, Thank you.


The last few days have been pretty miserable for me.  Even once I managed to get out of the most intense phase of wishing that my grandfather had killed me, I was still largely stuck in a child state that thought that I was in immediate danger.  Reaching out to those I generally get the most support from felt dangerous.  The thought of feeling loved frightened me.  Inside I was convinced that I would always be under my grandfather’s control.


I could just barely recognize that these thoughts were not rational and not reflective of my here and now reality, but try as I might, I simply could not break free of them.  I was able to go through the motions of doing what I needed to do with my family, but I wasn’t really here, in 2014, with the two people I love most in the world.


For whatever reason, my insides were convinced that I should cancel my next appointment with Mama Bear and preferably end therapy all together.  I could recognize that I was isolating myself in a self destructive way, but it was like I was watching myself acting out and I couldn’t do anything to stop myself.


This morning, Mama Bear e-mailed me to ask how I was doing and I told her a bit.  We exchanged a few short e-mails and in her last one, she ended with, “Remember that talking with me for a few minutes is one of your options.”  We have talked about how I can call her when I need to and she has encouraged me to call more often, but inside I just don’t feel comfortable with doing so.  I may desperately want to.  I may know that what would help me more than anything would be to hear her voice and reassure my insides that I am not alone, but at the same time it feels like if I ever rely on her being there, that will guarantee that she won’t be.


However, her invitation started me thinking and after a few hours, I realized that I simply was making no progress on present orienting myself.  On the other hand, if I could find the courage to reach out to her and talk to her, there was a chance that I might be able to break out of the trap that I was in. 


The few minutes turned into over a half of an hour.  At first, I was so confused that I kept on getting caught and having trouble talking.  At some point, she asked me something, and another part must have been triggered out because she suddenly couldn’t understand what I was saying.  We went through 3 or 4 minutes of her asking me to repeat myself over and over.  I tried talking louder, more clearly, directly into the phone, but whatever was coming out of my mouth just wasn’t intelligible to her.  I kept on ending up frozen in fear and then, finally, it penetrated that it just might be safe for me to talk to her- nothing bad was happening other than my being triggered.  I finally was able to start to connect and with that connection, I could start to notice that nothing terrible was threatening me at that moment.  Thank goodness, I was able to start to shift how I was perceiving the world around me.


We talked about how at that point, nothing that I did felt soothing, but I could still go through the motions of soothing actions and at some level they would start to help at some point.  It might take quite some time before I actually started to feel safe, but keeping on focusing on the here and now would help me eventually realize that I was not being tortured today, but that was a memory that was decades old.


After we talked, Mama Bear and I connected a few more times today.  She texted about needing to shift an appointment at the end of the month and after we settled that, I let her know that I was continuing to feel progressively a bit better.  Her response was heart warming for me, “Oh, glad you have a little relief!”  The parts of me that had become so terribly frighten of being connected started to relax and remember that Mama Bear and I have an established relationship that is based on genuine caring.


This evening, I was thinking a bit over what happened, and I could feel those young parts wanting to reach out to her and reassure myself that she really was there.  My first reaction was to feel silly, because I had already had contact today.  My second reaction was to decide to give those parts of me whatever they want, if it might help me work past this disruption.  The sooner I can at least re-establish my relationship with Mama Bear as feeling solid and safe, the better for me.


I wrote to her, “I’m just reaching out for a, “yes, I am here.”  The younger parts of me that have been so upset over the last few days are considering that it just might be safe to want for people to be there.  So I am reaching my hand out for a virtual hand squeeze.”


Her response: “Always, a virtual hand to hold, C.  And, Wednesday, a real one.”  


What a huge sense of relief!  I haven’t had everything  that came up over the last several days be magically resolved, but at least I feel as though I have a safe base to work from again.  I was able to use that safe base to then share a memory by e-mail that I needed to share.  I think that this memory holds the keys to some dynamics that make it difficult for me to feel free from my grandfather.  And I am pretty sure that it was underlying a lot of what I suffered through this weekend.  


Confronting these profoundly traumatizing memories and the lingering emotional memories that they evoke almost always seems to stress and threaten to break apart my connections with those I need the most.  I am just grateful that Mama Bear understands the dynamics so she remains patient and that somewhere in there I have a part that keeps on moving back towards connection, even when the rest of me is fighting it.  That connection/ support/ love is going to be what gets me through dealing with the most horrific trauma.

Thank you, Mama Bear for being there and caring so deeply about me.

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Ocean Mosaic Artist Unknown

Ocean Mosaic
Artist Unknown

“Remember that there is nothing that you can tell me about the past that will change how I see you.”

Those are powerful words.

Nothing? Really? Yes, really, she tells me.

Mama Bear is out of town for a week to attend her son’s graduation from college and help him move. Today was my normal therapy day, though, and my mind wasn’t going to stay quiet, so it did some very intense thinking about some very difficult topics. One of which was something that was very, very difficult indeed. For weeks my mind has been stepping around admitting to itself something about how I experienced things with my father that I can cognitively understand is not my fault, but in all other ways feels devastating to me. As I sat there, struggling with it, I realized that this is something that I am going to have to talk with Mama Bear about, because it will keep on haunting me until I do so. This aspect of my experience intersects with so many of the problems that I am having that I simply cannot keep on ignoring it.

So, I sent an e-mail to Mama Bear, starting with: “I keep on running from this in my mind and it isn’t leaving me alone, so I’m going to try sending it to you. I so don’t want to admit to this. I can’t say how much I don’t want to admit to it, but as much as I hate it, I’m going to have to talk about it, sooner or later. At least I will have stated that this is behind some of what I keep on experiencing.” And then I told her.

I know that she isn’t accessing her e-mail frequently while she is gone and in the subject headline I stated that it wasn’t urgent and she should wait to read the e-mail until she got home. I didn’t want to interrupt her break with something so heavy duty, but I knew that if I waited to send it until Monday, I would chicken out and not send the e-mail. It might take months for me to work around to finally talking about this and I think that I will do better if I talk about it in the next week or two.

However, I also realized that the younger parts of me felt vulnerable and needed just a bit of assurance that Mama Bear is still there. Before she left, we had talked and she told me to text her if I needed just a bit of contact and she would get back to me when she was able to. I could tell that at the moment I was only feeling uncomfortable, but without reassurance, it could easily turn into outright distress. I spent too much of the last week bouncing from one part to another and Mama Bear had made it very clear to me that she wanted for me to contact her, rather than risk going back to that place. So I sent her a text, “Hi. Sorry to interrupt, but reaching out for a hand hold.”

A bit later she responded saying, “Hello, C. At lunch with the graduate. Will give a ring a bit later. I am very much here. You are a capable, kind adult!” Just that response was immensely reassuring to me and I told her that she didn’t need to call me. However, she still did so when she was alone, walking from point A to point B. My heart was touched by the kindness of her making that call and spending 20 minutes talking to me when I wasn’t in an extreme crisis but I did find just talking to her to be grounding and reassuring.

Her giving me that time and attention out of her free choice meant a great deal to me. I could feel my heart softening and opening a bit more to be able to trust her just a bit more than I have been able to.

So when I received the e-mail that stated, “there is nothing that you can tell me about the past that will change how I see you,” the response from the part of me that admitted such a shameful thing to her was one of hope. “Nothing? Really?” In the past that would have meant, “I don’t believe you! It isn’t possible!” Today it meant, “I want to believe you. I need to believe you. Tell me again and I will believe you, because I know that I can trust you and you won’t hurt and lie to me.”

Mama Bear has consistently been kind and caring to me. Dare I say it? Really, she has been loving. It hasn’t always been pleasant for me- she has told me things that she believed I needed to hear, but she knew would be upsetting to me- however she did it as gently as possible and it was a loving act. Her willingness to be loving and real with me when it was uncomfortable showed me that her love was real, not pretense to be cast aside when it was no longer easy.

All of this time and energy on her part to provide a figure who was worthy of earning my trust and just as much time and energy on my part to push past my fears over and over until I could finally reach the point where I can say, “Nothing? Really?”, feel as though a blanket of safety has been pulled around me, and want to cry in relief.

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Walking Through Time X Sue Benner

Walking Through Time X
Sue Benner

I have spent the last few days in a haze of pain and fear. You see, during the previous session, while in a very young child state, I told Mama Bear about a type of abuse that my dad did to me when I was three. It was an important step for me to reveal that part of me to Mama Bear, never mind to name a type of abuse that I have never been able to say out loud. Unfortunately, it inevitably left me in a vulnerable state, even though Mama Bear did her best to try to enlist the help of my parts in keeping things contained until our next session.

Part of the problem was that I received word of my paternal grandmother’s death that evening, which completely unsettled me. There is no grief, only relief that she is dead, but it still was difficult news to receive, especially when I learned that my parents waited over 2 weeks to tell me. I’m sure that there is some message and power game in there from my dad, but I’m not playing along. Still, it just reinforced my understanding of how I constantly dealt with this sort of crap from my dad while I was growing up. I was so vulnerable to him in so many ways and so confused by how he treated me.

Unfortunately, I spent the next four days more or less in a blended state with this 3 year old part who was in a state of terror much of the time. There are some good things to be said about it, even though it was a thoroughly miserable experience. In the past, I simply would have been sucked into the child state and have been hardly aware of the here and now. This time, I was more than half way in the here and now, although I also was strongly experiencing the world as that frightened, small child. That dual awareness allowed me to retain some sense of safety most of the time. I also was able to “observe” what was going on with me in the child state and eventually realized that this part of me felt trapped and was desperate to cry out to someone, “Help me! Save me!”

In the past I would have simply have turned into a quivering mass of terrified child. I might have called Mama Bear in desperation (if I was capable of reaching out) or I may simply have gritted my teeth and rocked myself in my rocking chair until my next session. Instead, I managed to remain somewhat in the here and now, so I was able to function in my family life and I found a clue as to help this part of me. So progress. That’s good news!

So, my session this morning… I went in feeling that child part’s terror and little else, even though I was aware that it was a memory of terror, not actually my current emotion and as we exchanged our greetings and I settled, I realized that I was going to have to deal with the feeling.

Mama Bear knew from an email that this part of me was struggling to say something, but it kept on being lost in gibberish, so she started out with, “I would like to invite this part to tell us if there is something that we- both you and me working together- can do to help her feel safe enough to share what she wants to share. It isn’t a demand, this is an invitation, and only if she wants to.”

I sat there, thinking a bit about what she said, but mostly just trying to breathe and see if I could help to bring down the fear level a bit, so I could think more clearly. “There is so much fear there. It’s like there isn’t room for anything else at the moment and I won’t be able to get any work done until I can bring it down a bit.” I thought of all of the times that I had tried to push through such strong feelings of fear without much useful coming of it and realized that it was better to give myself a few more moments to take in the calm of the office and Mama Bear’s supportive presence and let those help to bring it to a tolerable level. And I slowly felt as though the fog lifted and I could think again.

We talked about comfort and how much this child part needed comfort. “What do you think might be comforting to her?” Mama Bear asked.

I sat there on the love seat, completely aware of the blanket that was draped over the arm. “She needs for someone to hold her.” And then in the child part, I grabbed the blanket and clutched it to me. After a second, the adult part of me took it and spread it over me, tucking it around me, allowing me in the child state to curl up against the pillows as if I was cuddling up against someone. It is an odd sensation soaking in the sense of being comforted, soothed, loved, and being held in compassion, when you know that you are the one that it providing those things to yourself. It sounds like it should be artificial, but wasn’t forced or planned in any way. Instead, it was a profoundly healing experience for me. I deeply went into the experience and at one point Mama Bear checked with me, “Are you dissociating? Or are you comforting?” I nodded when she said comforting, thinking to myself, “Of course I’m in a dissociative state! I’m experiencing the comfort as a young child!”

And then it was as though this figure that I imagined holding and comforting me gently touched me, “He hurt you here and here, didn’t he?” I first felt frightened, but because the touch came from an intense desire to heal, the young part relaxed and sighed in relief. Someone was finally talking about the fact that it physically hurt. Someone was saying the unsayable. It really is OK to talk about even the embarrassing and gross parts of what happened.

Soon after that, Mama Bear called me back to the room and asked me to talk about what happened as I was able to. I described what I experienced about being comforted, hesitated, and then told her about how I imagined the figure acknowledging that I was hurt physically.

She looked at me with so much compassion, “This is what you needed as a child, isn’t it?”

I nodded, “It’s exactly what I needed. I so very much needed for someone to hold and protect me! I needed to be able to say, ‘My Daddy is hurting me!’ But I couldn’t! I needed for someone to hear me!”

I paused, realized how I had felt Mama Bear there with me the whole time, and looked at her, “But you do hear me, don’t you?”

She smiled sadly, “Yes, and I’ve been hearing you for a long time.”

In the past, Mama Bear has provided comfort to me, which was healing and much needed. I am fortunate that Mama Bear is comfortable with touch and willing to use it with clients for whom it is appropriate. I am completely touch oriented and would have felt isolated without the option of holding her hand when I needed to. During my deepest crisis, there were sessions where that was the only thing linking me to the present. I know that I can ask her to come and sit near to me any time I need for her to, but I also know that I need to be able to provide some of that comfort to myself. Today, when she asked me what I needed, if the answer had been for one of us to move, so I was closer to her, that would have been fine and not unusual. She is there when I need her. Today I needed something more, though. I needed to hear myself well enough for me to find the compassion to deeply comfort myself. I needed to take down those barriers inside, at least for awhile.

And so I learn today- some things on a deeper level, others for the first time: I have a voice. I can be heard. I can be comforted. I can both comfort myself and ask for comfort. I don’t have to keep any secrets any more. At least with one person in the world, it’s safe to talk about everything that happened, whenever it seems right for me to talk about it. I can talk about the “icky stuff.” It helps so much to have someone who cares there with me- it helps to give me the courage, strength, and confidence to do what I haven’t been able to do before. I am no longer alone with what happened. Mama Bear believes me and she has believed me, even when I couldn’t believe myself. She hears what I say, even when I can’t bear to really hear it myself. Taking down the barriers inside opens me to emotions that are difficult to live with, but it also allows me to feel more whole. Slowly, bit by bit, I can learn to tolerate really hearing myself and knowing what my experience was.

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