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Posts Tagged ‘belief in self’

Checks and Balances Artist- Caryl Bryer Fallert

Checks and Balances
Artist- Caryl Bryer Fallert

I have found it incredibly difficult to write for the last several weeks. I keep on starting posts and then my mind just freezes up and says, “I’m not going to write about that.” So I’ve decided to just write and if I say anything worthwhile, I’ll post it…

It’s been a transformative couple of months, or at least I have been put on the path to being transformed. I think that I’m a bit afraid to write about it, because the changes have been so drastic in many ways. I’m afraid that things will go back to the way that they used to be, if I share what is finally going right.

I’m not even sure how to describe what has changed… I think that the most drastic change is that I suddenly decided to simply trust myself, especially in regards to my dad. It was partly a reasoned change and partly a heart change. I’ve said before that over the last 20 years or so, I’ve gone through multiple periods when I thought that he had abused me when I was a child, but I managed to convince myself each time that I had to be wrong, shut everything back up, and thrust it into the far recesses of my mind. Well, I’ve been struggling with this issue for most of the 2 1/2 years since I started to work with Mama Bear again and a few weeks ago, I went through an intense process over about 5 days where I went from “He just couldn’t have abused me” to “Inside, I am completely convinced that he did abuse me, I think that I need to talk to Mama Bear about how I should handle that” to “I know that he abused me.”

Actually, the statement was stronger than that, if I am going to be honest. It was “He had sex with me.”

Those 5 days were very challenging for me. On day 3, I had a session with Mama Bear and I went in intending to talk with her about that middle stage, but the entire session ended up being about my struggling to simply move from my normal seat to another seat, so I could talk from a different perspective. This was something that I had proposed, but I still couldn’t do it, until I finally tore myself out of my seat and threw myself across the room. Looking back at where I had been sitting and crying, I exclaimed, “I’m not trapped there anymore! I’m not! I’m not!” I felt so much anger at feeling trapped in saying what I thought that I was supposed to say, trying to figure out what was OK to say, and it was as if all of me was saying, “No more!”

I felt so discouraged at the end of the session because I had done almost none of what I wanted to do that session. I looked at Mama Bear and said to her, “I move by such baby steps. All of that just to get out of this seat.” Her response was, “C, sometimes baby steps are huge. What you did this session was not small.”

That night, I did a yoga session and during it my mind made lots of connections that it hadn’t made before. After the session, I sat with myself for about an hour and just thought. What finally became clear to me was that I had a choice. I calmly looked at everything that my insides had been telling me about what happened with my dad and I could see that it all fit together. It made sense. It made sense of so much about my life. I realized that I could try out seeing what believing myself might be like. It couldn’t be the “I’m going to punish myself for believing myself” that was the best that I had done before, it needed to be a trial of simply believing myself. Then I went to bed, because it was very late.

The next day, I realized that it was as if everything started to ease and shift in me. The constant sense of strain started to release. I was no longer fighting with myself 24/7. I hadn’t realized that I was fighting myself that much until I stopped doing it! And as things eased, it became clear to me that I was much better off believing myself than doubting myself. The truths that I was looking at were incredibly painful and horrified me, but despite the pain and horror, I still felt far better than I had in ages. I saw that I could either choose to believe that my father did terrible things to me, but by believing myself then feel sane, or I could continue to fight with myself and say that everything my mind was saying that had happened wasn’t real and as a result feel that I must not be sane.

I have lived for so long not believing that I can trust my own mind and it is terrible to live with those doubts. But Mama Bear has repeatedly assured me that I am sane. The psychiatrist treats me as sane. My husband and friends say that I am sane. And, really, I know that I am sane. I’ve just been dealing with an insane situation.

So, on the 5th day I had another session with Mama Bear. First off, she remarked on how good I looked and I responded that I felt good, and I thought that it had to do with something that I had been working on that week which I needed to talk with her about. I moved to the seat that I had wanted to sit in the previous session and started to talk.

“There is something that is very difficult for me to talk about. When thinking about what I would say to you, I realized that I couldn’t even use any of the qualifiers that I normally use. I can’t say, ‘I think’ or ‘A part of me believes’ or ‘Maybe.’ I simply have to say ‘I know.’ Saying anything less feels like a betrayal of myself.”

Her looked seemed to enfold me in a sense of support and care and she said, “You really seem certain about this.”

“Unfortunately, yes.” I explained about how I had come to a place where I realized that I need to believe myself and then I took a deep breath and said, “My dad had sex with me.”

She gave me a sad but unsurprised look and nodded her head.

“I think that I was twelve! NO! I know that I was twelve!” burst out of me and I started to cry.

Most of the rest of the session is a blur. For the most part, Mama Bear just let me say what I needed to say. But I do remember saying something at a later point…

“What is so surprising to me is how I can admit to something that I hate so much and is so horrible, but now I feel so much better. I feel freer. As weird as it is to say, I almost feel a little bit happy. How can I feel happy because I am talking about something this vile?”

She nodded her head, “Actually, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Can you think of why you might be having that reaction?”

“Because it is such a relief to no longer be fighting myself? Because it no longer is a secret? Because I have told someone and the world hasn’t fallen apart? Because I can finally allow myself to be furious with him?”

“Those are all good reasons.”

I paused and thought a bit. “I’ve been beating up on myself to try to keep myself quiet and I was doing damage to myself.”

“Yes, you were and I have been very concerned about it. What I have wanted for you was for you to be able to accept yourself. Did you understand that?”

I shrugged, “No, not really. I couldn’t figure it out.” I really couldn’t. She would say things and I knew that I simply could not understand what she was saying the way that she meant it. It wasn’t a lack of communication on her part, it was that my brain was refusing to take it in.

Over the last couple of weeks, at each session, Mama Bear has asked me some variation on, “So how do you feel now about the conclusions you came to in regards to your dad?” To my surprise, my sense of certainty hasn’t wavered. As I’ve told her, it isn’t that all of me believes that he abused me, but I am no longer beating myself up about it. It’s now like most of me believes and there is a part of my mind in which the abuse never happened. That part finds all of this bewildering and impossible and I can see that I need to be kind and patient with that part. As for the rest of me, if I decided to, I could go back to the same old pattern of raking myself over the coals and going round and round in circles, but why would I do that? I am so much healthier now that I have accepted the unbelievable about how my dad treated me. I no longer hate myself and the self destructive urges have stopped. I generally feel calmer. I tend to dissociate less of the time. I have had fewer flashbacks. I see signs that it will be hugely helpful in my relationship with my husband. Things just make sense now. Amazingly, I have a sense of greater wholeness and of things flowing more easily inside of me. I feel stronger and more capable than I have for years. I have no wish to go back to the way that things used to be.

When I start to doubt myself, I compare how I have been doing these last few weeks to how I was doing before. I ask myself, how could there be all of this benefit if my dad hadn’t abused me? Why would telling myself a lie bring about so many positive changes and trying to convince myself of the truth just tear me apart? It wouldn’t. I’m finally doing what I need to do.

Yes, I know that I am nowhere near done, but I feel so much more hopeful than I did two months ago. It seems like I can start to see where I am going, when before I felt as though I was stumbling around in what seemed to be circles. What a relief it is to believe myself.

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At the moment, I am just reeling under the impact of some additional perspective into my parents and my relationship with my parents that has come up in a period of about 24 hours.  It isn’t bad, in fact it is quite good because it reflects that some very important internal changes are going on right now.  But it is certainly disconcerting to literally feel dizzy because of shifts going on inside.

What it all boils down to is that I am finally really accepting that I both can and should trust in my own perceptions of things.  Sounds simple and obvious, doesn’t it?  For me, this is a profound change, particularly when it comes to my parents and it is shaking me to my roots.

I have spent 20 years trying to learn how to do this, in one form or another.  Sometimes I am largely successful, but even then, it isn’t based purely on my own perceptions, but my sharing them with others whom I trust and having them reflected back at me as being accurate.  It wasn’t really trusting my own take on things, but rather trusting others to be able to evaluate things correctly and reflect back to me where I was on target and off base.

For a long time, I would pretend to not understand as much as I understood, when it would have involved stating, “This is the way that I see things.”  This happened all the time in everyday life.  I rarely do that anymore, although it has shown up occasionally in times of extreme stress.

The place where I most profoundly distrust my take on things is in regards to my parents and my relationship with them.   I have said before that I have a complicated relationship with them.  They really are not bad people, but they are the products of their upbringing.  I grew up fully buying the story that they were fantastic parents.  All of my friends thought that they were wonderful.  My mother was always cheerful.  My dad was always charming, outgoing, and “fun.”  They were constantly active and on the go when my dad was home, although he was in the service, which could take him away for months at a time.  I was provided with everything that I needed and then some.  I was enabled to go to an excellent college, despite the financial strain it put on my parents.  I had everything to be grateful for and nothing to complain about, right?  I certainly believed that.

But looking back, I remember being sad and alone so much of the time.  As a teen, I believed that I had everything, but there was a hollowness inside.

And then after college graduation and marriage, all hell started to break loose in terms of body memories and flashbacks beginning to emerge.  It was all unbelievable.  Abuse had nothing to do with the image of family that my parents created.  When I told my mother that I believed that I had been sexually abused, her response was, “But we were so close.  I knew you so well and I would have known if something was happening.”  And that was the family myth, that we were so close that she almost had a psychic link with me.  It was like I was being told, “If I didn’t see it, then it couldn’t have happened.”

During that period, my parents never overtly said, “We know better than you.  You are wrong.  You can’t trust what you believe to be the truth, if it doesn’t match with how we see things.”  But it was such an underlying and completely pervasive message while I was growing up that it was in my bones and so I felt immense pressure to comply with their version of reality, which most certainly did not include abuse.  I did not have the strength to resist that pressure and take on healing from the abuse at the same time, so I cut off contact with them for years, although I did re-engage with them after the birth of my daughter.

Recently, Mama Bear asked me what it was like for me to not have contact with my mother all of those years.  My response was, “I don’t remember.”  I hate to say it, but I suspect that I don’t remember because it wasn’t any real hardship for me.  It just was.  And frankly, it was a relief to no longer feel so much pressure to believe that the sky was green and the grass was blue.

As I have talked with Mama Bear through the years about my parents and my relationship with them, I have been very aware that she hasn’t ever met them and her view is purely through me.  In the back of my mind, there was always the worry that one day she would meet them and go, “What’s the big deal?  They seem completely normal to me.”  I wasn’t worried that she wouldn’t see them clearly; I was worried that my perceptions of them was that off base.  I was worried that I was being “too sensitive” or “blowing things out of proportion” or “distorting everything” or “unable to see things clearly” or “indulging in my imagination.”  Even though I was painfully developing a new understanding of my parents and my relationship with them, I couldn’t fully trust that understanding, because it went against the image of my parents as the “perfect” parents.

I have worried about sharing many of my insights into my parents with my husband, because he has met them and I feared that he would scoff at me and say, “I just don’t see that!”

But over the last few months, as I have felt more able to share with Mama Bear things like fearing that everything that was off about my mother was all in my mind, she has been able to help me start to see that I can trust how I see the situation as being at the very least what the reality is for me and probably very close to what others would see as well.  As she said, “Your mother is not going to react perfectly, she already hasn’t, many times over.”

One of the most profound disconnects for me is between my mother’s belief that she knew me so well and was so close to me, and the devastatingly deep sense that I have of being completely and utterly alone with the abuse and in so many other ways while I was growing up.  Obviously my mother’s version is much more palatable than mine and it was what I would have told you if you had asked me in my early 20s or before.  My version was much too painful for me to own.  Now days I am slowly replacing that aloneness with the knowledge that in the here and now, I have many people who love and support me and who can bear to know that terrible things happened, that I was hurt very badly, and to be there to hold my hand or provide a shoulder for me to cry on when needed.  In the context of the very different reality of now, it becomes possible to own the oh so painful reality of then.

The clincher came for me today, though.  My mother had not known about the accident and was surprised at a reference to it in an e-mail, so I sent her something that was almost exactly what I posted on my blog the night of the accident.  It was completely honest about how the experience was frightening, could have been much more serious, and that I had an extreme reaction after the accident.  I was curious to see how she would respond.  Her reply had 3 sentences: The first was “Is there anything that we can do to help?”  (My mother is known for offering help when I am unlikely to accept it.)  The second was congratulations to my husband for something.  The third was asking me to give him a hug from her.  Nothing at all that was directly about the accident.  No, “That’s so terrible!” or “Thank, God you are alright!” or “I’m so sorry that you went through that!”  It isn’t that she isn’t caring, and I am pretty sure that she had some of those normal reactions, but she couldn’t reach out to me when faced with a situation that had been potentially life threatening.  And it became very clear that my mother is unable to deal with any difficult emotions and she so will ignore the situation.  Suddenly it becomes so much more believable that she couldn’t bear to see that there was something wrong with me when I was a child.  And it becomes crystal clear that her version of reality is severely edited, whether she is aware of it, or not.

So now I am reeling under the realization that I really can accept how I see and feel about things.  I shouldn’t second guess my perception of things when it does not agree with the family myth.  It probably isn’t 100% accurate, but it probably is as accurate as the next person’s perception would be.  The problem does not lie within me, it lies within my mother.

(I will write about my father later, because this is already much longer than I expected.)

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