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Posts Tagged ‘C-PTSD’

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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A few days ago, I ran across something in an old journal entry. I’m pretty sure that most anyone who deals with dissociated memories of abuse also deals with fears that the memories didn’t “really” happen- that they just “made up” the memories. The reality is that memory is complicated and malleable. Under the best of circumstances it doesn’t function like a video recorder and is subject to distortion. Under the pressures of intense trauma being done to a small child and then the child trying to contain and make sense of what happened, it’s quite likely that what is remembered is not quite exactly what happened in some way. Sometimes the memories aren’t clear, particularly when they are missing important pieces of information or only involve one sense, and so they are susceptible to distortion while trying to make sense of them. When good therapists work with clients who are dealing with dissociated memories, they never probe for the memories, but allow them to emerge in their own time. These therapists also won’t say which memories or parts of memories they think are accurate, because it is the person who is remembering that is the best judge.

When I started therapy with Mama Bear, it was at the height of the “false memory syndrome” frenzy. At some point during that first year, I heard about it, and it did terrible damage to my ability to trust what was emerging. In many ways, it was a handy excuse for the parts of me that needed for me to stop looking at my history. “You can’t trust your memory. You can’t trust your mind. It’s impossible for you to have never seen any signs that this abuse was there.”

Well, yes, I had started to be afraid of sex right after I got married, as soon as I was safe from my family. But maybe I just have sexual issues for some other reason. Besides, it started to get really bad after I found and read a book that contained something about sexual abuse in it. Maybe that book started the whole idea? And then around the same time, I saw an Oprah show with Truddi Chase. That’s also around the same time that I can identify first having disruptive dissociative symptoms while in public. Of course, at the time I had no idea that they were dissociative symptoms and simply was bewildered and frightened by what I was experiencing. But maybe the dissociation was suggested to me by that show and somehow my mind took it and eventually developed it into something that looks like a dissociative disorder?

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I always had the doubt that somehow the idea had been planted in my mind and my mind developed it into this whole elaborate, tortuous experience. As I worked with various therapists and as I learned more about dissociation, the doubt eased, because it really is pretty preposterous that everything could fit together so well, match so exactly with what things would look like if the abuse had happened, and, most importantly, that significant healing and relief would be experienced when I accepted the reality of the abuse experiences. But underneath it all, there still was that nagging doubt, “But I first heard about sexual abuse and dissociation around the same time that I started to experience symptoms…”

Then I read that journal entry on Wednesday. When I read it, I understood that I was wrong about the time line. I described having an emotional memory of the abuse with my father triggered in a sexual situation with my then fiance, months before the wedding. I also described a part stopping me from being able to talk with my fiance about what had happened. I had no idea that there was a part involved, all I knew what that when I tried to talk, I felt as though I was being suffocated.

This all happened long before I was exposed to information about sexual abuse and dissociation. And I know from the description of what happened that I was triggered by a memory with my father, not my grandfather. Deep inside, I had still been hoping that maybe I was wrong about my father, but I’m not. Furthermore, the memory belongs to a group of things that happened that I had really been hoping I had somehow distorted under the stress of the memories coming out and that they hadn’t actually happened.

Over the course of two journal pages, I had the basis for all of my denial torn out from under me. Yes, denial doesn’t really rely upon logic, but by this point it has been weakened enough over all that hitting me in the face with evidence that counters the denial makes it pretty hard to keep it up. Being confronted in all of those areas at the same time was a big shock for me, though. Too big of a shock to deal with on my own.

Continued in Together

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I’m starting to try to puzzle through something and writing here often helps that process, so here goes with my thoughts and hopefully they will make sense to both me and you in the end.  🙂

Today, in session, I was triggered and I started to experience memories in the form of body sensations.  At the direction of Mama Bear, I first tried just breathing and then focusing back on our conversation which was about trying to help establish that I am not under threat the way that I feel like I am.  But that wasn’t enough and I fairly quickly spoke up, “I can’t focus on what we are talking about because I am being distracted by the memory sensations that are still plaguing me.”

“That’s good that you told me.  What does the part of you that is frightened want from you in order to feel safer?”

I paused, pulled the soft blanket on the couch over my lap and started to stroke it.  “To realize that those sensations aren’t happening right now, but I really am feeling the softness of the blanket that I am touching right now.”  I continued to stroke the blanket and really focused on what I was feeling at that moment through my hands.

“That’s good.  Keep on doing that.”

Touch may very well be the sense that I most naturally oriented towards.  It certainly is the sense that my memories seem to be most vivid in and it is the one that I generally find most effective for grounding.  It may be one of the reasons that dissociation was so important for me.  You can close your eyes to not see what is happening, but the only way that you can avoid the sensations is to dissociate.

As I sat there, with the blanket over my lap, and was able to move on with the session, I found myself running my hand over the blanket that covered my leg over and over again.  I spend a lot of time in my sessions either rubbing my arms or my legs, which I generally think of as one of the ways that I help to keep myself grounded in the face of emotionally challenging material.  I’m sure that is part of it, but today the thought occurred to me that the feel of stroking my leg through the blanket simply felt good, too.  I think that I was soothing myself by giving myself something pleasant to experience while also dealing with the chaos that kept on pushing at me from the inside.

But as quickly as I noticed that it felt good, I had to stop thinking about it, because the thought was incredibly threatening.  After the session, it occurred to me to wonder why should it feel so wrong to think about how something that I was doing felt good? Or more even worse that I might be doing something because it felt good to me. It felt like I had caught myself doing something bad/dirty, but what is bad about simple touch?  It feels like my reaction is a bit like how I would feel if I had been touching myself sexually, just a lot less strong.  But there was nothing sexual about the touch at all.  It was more like the way that I sometimes stroke my daughter’s arm or back when she is upset about something and needs contact.

So tonight I find myself going around and around in my head about the idea of touch and realizing that I naturally like touch.  I want that physical contact and comfort.  Many times it reaches me better than words do.  And not just when I am upset, but when I am feeling happy or like celebrating something, too.  I naturally want to be able to put an arm around a friend’s shoulders or give her a quick hug because I am happy for her, but up to now my traumatic reactions have hidden all of that from me.  I want that contact with the people I care about and feel safe with.  I want it very much.  I’ve spent my whole life putting out “don’t touch me” messages because I was taught to be afraid of touch, not because I naturally don’t like it.

This evening, I was triggered by something else and stuck in a frightened, young state.  Logistics first kept me from going to my husband for help grounding the way that I wanted to and then I was stuck in a bad state and unable to figure out how to reach out for help from him.  However, when he came to bed, I put my head on his chest and just concentrated on feeling him there, a loving and safe presence.  When I told him that being there with him helped me to feel more calm and safe than I had all evening, he began to gently rub my back, shoulders, and arms.  I allowed myself to simply feel what it felt like for him to touch me that way.  The part of me that often comes out in sexual situations started to be evoked, but I made myself really pay attention to how he was touching me and how I was experiencing it.  There was nothing sexual about it.  It was loving, warm, and connecting, but not sexual.  Yes, there was something similar to what I experience with him in sexual situations, but that is because our touch at those times also has these same basic qualities of loving, healthy touch but with sexuality added on top of it.

What an idea.  Touch can feel good without being sexual.  I think that it can feel very good, as scary as that is to say.  Just because something feels good doesn’t mean that it is dangerous, despite what I was taught as a child.  I was exposed to sexual contact way too young and I think that everything just got all muddled together in terms of touch, so now I am shocked to discover 40 years later that it is not just safe to have physical contact with certain people, but it’s natural to find that sort of contact pleasurable.  It isn’t forced sexual contact, in fact with most people it isn’t sexual at all, so it is safe for me to experience the pleasure that I find in it.

This is where I have a lot of work to do:  learning to accept that there is no shame in experiencing physical pleasure, that there is a difference between simple physical pleasure and sexual pleasure, and that the people that I would even consider having any physical contact with are not the type of people who would want to have forced sexual contact with me.  Part of me understands those concepts, but for the vast majority of me, they are foreign and frightening thoughts.

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