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Posts Tagged ‘Complex PTSD’

Something keeps on going around in my mind…

I experienced my grandfather as enjoying hurting me. I believe that he derived pleasure from my terror and pain. I don’t think that it’s possible to fully describe what it’s like to know that your terror and pain is giving someone else pleasure. Yes, it’s frightening to know that you are under their control and what makes them feel good is very, very bad for you, but, for me, even worse than that was feeling as though for that time my purpose was to be hurt. In that focused time and space, there was nothing more to me. I was worth nothing. The phrase that comes to mind is “soul murder”, not because he actually killed off my soul, but because there was something about it all that felt as though it was an act of that level of violence against my soul.

The odd thing about it all is that even though what my grandfather did felt extremely violent and I was terrified about what he might do and in fear of my life at times, I get the sense that he was careful to always send me back to my mother with no physical evidence that would have shouted, “abuse!” to her. I think that he created more psychological pain and trauma, than physical. There are a few memories of very, very intense pain, but most of it seems to have been pretty numb physically, but with the emotions at over the top, mind shattering levels. He abused me with items that could have caused a great deal of physical damage and I was terrified as to what could happen, but he used them in ways that caused psychological scars, not physical scars.

I experienced it all as my grandfather trying to destroy me. It was like he was trying to crush the me out of me. Exactly what his motivations and mindset actually actually were, I will never know, but my sense of what he got out of abusing me isn’t ambiguous. It certainly could be wrong in areas, but I strongly doubt that it would have been completely wrong. He abused me because my suffering pleased him. The man was sadistic.

On the other hand, things with my dad were very different. Putting the different impressions that I have from memories together with my everyday knowledge of my father, I don’t think that he abused me because he was cruel. The abuse was cruel because it was abuse and sometimes he may have done things intending to hurt me, but I don’t think that was his over riding motivation. My father is self centered and does not take others’ needs into account, but he isn’t so motivated by wanting for others to suffer. He may act cruelly because he needs to feel more powerful or his needs/desires conflict with those of another person, but the suffering of others is a by product of his actions, rather than a goal. My father hurt me badly, but he is not a sadist.

My sense is that he abused me because he felt that he needed something. I think that it’s likely that he didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing. Whatever it was, though it wasn’t the need to destroy me.

I would be surprised if my grandfather didn’t sexually abuse my father. Because of the different types of motivation, the types of abuse that I remember with the two men tend to be different. However, there are a couple of odd things that I am sure that my grandfather did, but for months I have been getting hints in my mind that my father did them as well. Recently, it’s been stronger than hints. My instinct is that these “crueler” things that he did may have been re enactments of abuse that my grandfather might have done to him. Just a hypothesis, yes, and not something to rely on being correct, but it fits and it “feels” right.

My dad has always had such a strong need to be a “good guy” that I have no idea of how he could have justified even the more “normal” abuse that he was doing. That was one of my arguments for years as to why he couldn’t have abused me. Molesting your daughter just can’t be turned into a “good guy” type of activity.

I do have an idea of how he might have managed it, however. I don’t know if this simply was how I perceived things, or if it was influenced by how he perceived himself while he was abusing me as well… When I was young, I have more of a sense of it being my dad in the memories, but as I got older, more and more often I have a sense of the man being “Him/ He.” When I remember “Him,” “He” has no face or other defining characteristics, but I also know that “He” could only have been my father. God only knows how much my father would have needed some survival tool like dissociation in order to survive growing up in my grandfather’s house. I really wonder if he might have dealt with his conflicts over abusing me by dissociating and “He” really had seemed different to me from my daytime daddy. Did he wall off what he was doing, to protect himself from the guilt and conflict that would have come from abusing me?

There have been times of extreme stress when I have harmed myself, but the experience was as if I had no control over my actions. “I” was far back and only an observer; another part was controlling my actions and being driven by memories that “I” couldn’t even access at the time. I knew that the actions were wrong and that I should stop myself, but I felt trapped at the back and without any ability to change what was happening. I didn’t even understand why I was doing what I was doing and what it signified. Did my father experience something similar, but instead of harming himself, he harmed me. And instead of it happening a few times, it happened regularly over a period of more than a decade with him. Doing something wrong in a dissociative state is no excuse for what you are doing, it just means that you have to fight hard to find a way to alter your behaviors/ stop what you are doing.

I know. I don’t really know anything about why my dad abused me and I am not wedded to any of this, but “listening to” and putting together my impressions/ understandings from different places inside of me helps things feel less wildly confusing. It at least helps me to see that there are possible reasons that make a weird sort of sense, rather than it just being the case that my daddy must have hated me, or that I was bad and brought it out in him, or that my main purpose while I was growing up was to be sexually used, or that people will just randomly do such horrible things to the people that they are supposed to love. I may find the reasons unacceptable and the behaviors inexcusable, but it helps to know that there is some sort of reason to what happened, even though I won’t ever actually know exactly what those reasons were.

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“The most purely painful thing about the abuse is how it has affected my relationship with my mother.”

“Yes. You know, it is your dilemma with your mother that has made everything else be so very hard to deal with over the years.” Mama Bear looked at me carefully as she chanced this sympathetic, but blunt statement.

I just nodded my head and said, “Yes, I do know.” I have known for years that I was trying to protect my mother, but I always thought of it as protecting her from the pain of not having protected me from being abused by my grandfather. I have been trying to protect far more than that, though; it’s our basic ability to have any relationship at all that feels at risk. In fact, that’s what I have been trying to protect since my dad started to abuse me, so it is the habit of most of a lifetime. And that’s why I couldn’t allow myself to believe that my dad abused me, no matter what other costs there might be. Over all, I could not “destroy” my relationship with her; never mind that if it is destroyed, it will be destroyed by the pressures of the abuse, not me.

Over the last 6 months, I have said to her as loudly as possible without actually coming out and saying the words, “I don’t want to have anything to do with my father.” I have refused to speak to him on the phone, insisted that he pass the phone to my mother, and gone to some lengths to arrange for my calls to go directly to her, rather than through him. I say nothing about him in any of my communication with her. While I did send cards and gifts for Mother’s Day and her birthday, I did not acknowledge his birthday or Father’s Day at all.
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Despite all of this, she still manages to pretend that all is well and she recently asked if she and my father could take my daughter on a trip. I her lack of reaction demonstrates to me that the only way I might get some acknowledgement from her would be if I am very blunt with her about how I feel, at least to the point of saying that I do not feel at all comfortable with my father and I do not plan on either myself or my daughter being in the same room with him again. On the other hand, she just might act like I said nothing- at this point I can’t predict the extent that she will go to in order to not acknowledge what is going on.

This is a painful situation for me now. I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place. Either I can accept the status quo and have no acknowledgement at all as to all of my pain and suffering, or I confront her and stand the very real chance of it all blowing up in my face. I can’t imagine a good outcome that I think has any real chance of happening. On the other hand, not saying anything is eating me up inside and complicating my healing.

Unlike what any semi healthy mother would do, she isn’t ever going to come to me and say, “obviously something is going on, talk with me.” If she was capable of it, she would have done so years ago. It’s all going to be on me to initiate and lead any discussion that we might have. And it’s going to be on me to absorb the pain when she can’t react with concern for me about my feeling that it is so impossible to have a relationship with my father. I don’t know whether she will be defensive, hurt, protective of my father, in shock, angry with me, or if she will simply act like I didn’t say anything. I am 99% certain that I will have to either take care of her, protect myself, or both. I can’t escape this dilemma without experiencing a great deal of pain where she is concerned. Pain that I have been avoiding for so very long.

At the end of me session today, it hit me that I need to know that it is ok for me to talk about the abuse with my dad. Not just the abuse that I am pretty certain happened the way that I remember it, but especially the abuse that I am terribly confused about. I need for it to be ok to talk about it from the place that believes that it happened exactly that way, but also have it understood that I have some reasons to believe that some things didn’t actually happen the way that I think that they did. I need to know that it will all be accepted and safe for me to talk about, both the believing and the not believing.

Mama Bear listened to me say this and she agreed that I need to be able to talk about these things in regards to my dad, but she also reminded me that it is very important that I be working on helping the traumatized parts feel safe and connected to the here and now. “When you talk about what happened and those parts of you don’t feel safe enough, the part of you that beats up on the rest of you gets activated. When you were a child, you absolutely could not afford to remember what was going on. That part of you kept the rest of you quiet and separate, so you could go about your business and actually manage to have a life and grow up. Now, when you talk about what happened, we need to make sure that you feel safe enough, so that part won’t come out and harm you. Keeping you terrorized will only make all of this take longer. This part is too frightened to understand that she is making things worse for you, rather than helping you now. How do you feel about what I have said?”

“It feels right. I understand better now why you keep on pushing me to defocus from the memories and place more focus on calming and soothing the traumatized parts. When things gets to be too overwhelming, it does bring out my self destructive part.”

Walking home from the session, it became increasingly clear to me just how desperately I needed to not “know” about the abuse when I was young. I had to dissociate my knowledge of what was happening, not just because the abuse acts themselves were too much to deal with, but because I was so convinced that my mom would pick my dad over me. My mom was my only sense of stability and safety in the world, so the prospect of losing her was as threatening as an obviously life and death situation.

I have remained stuck in that feeling for all of these years since: I cannot do anything that would create a situation where she might chose my father over me. Never mind that I haven’t lived with her or relied on her for financial support for over 25 years. Or that I went for a period of almost 10 years without speaking to either of my parents. Or that I am hardly speaking to her now and I am getting all of my emotional support and nurturing from other sources.

I’m unable to forget that I love her so very much and I know that she loves me. It’s hard enough feeling my love for her in the now, but I also feel that over riding child’s love, where it feels as though the sun rises and falls in my mother. She is the person I loved first in the world and she is the person whose love kept me whole enough to keep on going, even in the face of the abuse by my father and grandfather.

But something else has to give now. It can’t be my sacrificing my ability to own my own story any longer. I don’t know yet what it will be, but I do know that something has to give.

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I have come to realize that part of my problem with writing these days is that I have so many parts near the surface that I feel as though they are constantly interrupting my thoughts while I try to write. I can’t seem to think a full thought, never mind write it out, before something else is thrust at me.

It’s hard when different parts have different priorities. One will think that the most important think to write about/explore is my developing relationship with Mama Bear and I will start to write a post about how our interactions nurture my increased ability to trust and tolerate emotional intimacy. However, writing about her reminds me of the work that we have been doing on present centering and working to bring the traumatized parts forward, so that they are able to be comforted and helped in the safe now, rather than be retraumatized by experiencing the same memories over and over. This seems that it would be more useful to others, so I start to write about it. But then while writing, I mention something about my relationship with my father and another part barges in, urgently needing to write about father issues. But then a protective part silences me, making it impossible to write any more about my father, and I am left fuzzy headed, staring at a computer screen, feeling as though I have nothing worthwhile to say and that I should just shut up.

At that point I give up and have yet another partial draft post sitting there, never to be finished. I’ve been tempted to go ahead and post one of these attempts at writing, because I am feeling thwarted and somewhat silenced, but I think that they would be too fragmentary to be of use to anyone.

I am feeling a bit overwhelmed these days by the intensity of dealing with these parts. One has a name. My parts don’t have names, but this one does and she seems to have a lot of life force. She only exists for one type of situation, but she will become completely dominant for those situations. She has strong beliefs and feelings. She holds so much of the more complicated trauma with my father. So often, touching her makes me start to shut down and go to sleep, because I can’t handle her and what she did yet.

But I’m supposed to be helping my parts cope and soothing them, not shutting down on them! I’m supposed to be stronger than her. I’m supposed to be lightening their burdens but with this one, I am too scared to look directly at what she carries, even though I have an idea of what it is. I am exhausted just coming close to her.

Right now I am grateful that my mind was able to dissociate and pull the experiences that she holds into a separate part of my mind. My father was a very deficient father in general, but he wasn’t a monster like my grandfather. Take away the sexual abuse, and I had a family life that was more inadequate than actively damaging, because my mother really did care. Take away the sexual abuse and I could look my mother in the eye and maintain the most important relationship in my life. Take away the sexual abuse and I could excel at school and buy my way into a different life. Take away the sexual abuse and my world didn’t dissolve into a bewildering morass of feelings and experiences that I had no hope of handling alone. But I am no longer 3 or 6 or 9 or 12 or 15. Slowly, bit by bit, I will take back the experiences and feelings that I couldn’t afford to feel for so long. I don’t want to, but I need to accept that her experience was my experience.

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Return of the Sun Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Return of the Sun
Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Ever since some point this spring, I have been struggling in my relationship with Mama Bear. I have had 4, maybe 5 crises with her since this started, which is completely unusual for me. I need for things to feel stable and it always causes me significant distress when I experience a rupture with Mama Bear. So, this has been a very uncomfortable summer from me, and for awhile I felt bewildered and started to worry that something was really wrong. Now that things have calmed down again, I think that my problems with Mama Bear actually were signs that things were going mostly right, rather than signs that there was something terribly wrong.

One of the things that seems to have been going on is that I feel more comfortable with getting upset with her. Dare I say it? I have even been getting mad at her when I think that she mishandled something and I was hurt in the process. In the past, I would have made myself swallow my hurt and anger and proceed as if nothing had gone wrong. This summer, we stumbled our way through my going back and forth between aiming my anger at myself and expressing it to her in bits and pieces. Thankfully, she has the knack of remaining completely non-defensive and even being able to welcome my anger. She would point out that I was taking it out on myself again because that felt safer than being angry with her and then she would gently point out my angry body language, the anger in my voice, the anger in my look, and question me to bring out the anger in my thoughts.

I had crisis after crisis with her, but I also was engaging with her more intensely and intimately. I was “letting her in.” Six months previously, I couldn’t make eye contact for more than a second or two, but now there were times when I would seek out and sustain that contact, so that I did not feel alone with whatever I was struggling with. I felt as though I was sitting in the same room with her almost all of the time, bumping up against her. You are much more likely to feel in conflict with someone if they are right next to you than if they are in the next room.

At some point, Mama Bear pointed out to me that in my family, no one talked about conflict. What was happening with her was my chance to experience talking with her about whatever was upsetting me and working through it in a safe way. As she said, “In your family you used smoke signals at best, but here you get to use words with me. It’s a part of what we do; we talk through an issue and come up with a solution that works for both of us.” As I had to find the courage to talk with her about issues that I didn’t want to broach, I kept on thinking back to this idea. It’s my chance to learn how to work through conflict using words and she will welcome what I bring up.

However, perhaps the most important factor was that I had started to share with Mama Bear some of the ways in which I believe that my dad abused me and memories of some of the worst of the abuse by my grandfather. Deep down inside, I expected that there wouldn’t be anyone in the world who would actually deeply believe me. I believed that anyone that I told would respond in one of two ways 1) they would be overwhelmed and turn away and abandon me or 2) they would say, “It is impossible that your grandfather did X to you. He didn’t torture you. Nothing that bad could have happened; you are exaggerating and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

After this latest crisis, Mama Bear had been talking to me and said something that drove everything else out of my head. She said that it made sense that I had dissociated so extensively and developed so many parts because the situations that I had to deal with as a child were so overwhelming and painful. She then said something about how I had experienced my of my grandfather’s abuse as torture.

I will admit that I stopped listening at that point. I was completely caught up in dealing with the implications of her statement. I had used the word “torture” a couple of times early in the summer, and while Mama Bear had agreed with my use of the word at the time, she had never before used it herself. I was stunned to hear it come out of her mouth so matter of factly. Maybe she really believed when I had told her what my experience was like with my grandfather? Maybe she actually understood just how horrific it was?

I went home and thought a good deal about it all. I thought some more about what I wrote about in “Is it safe to help myself?” Eventually I decided to take a huge chance and talk with Mama Bear about the issues in that post, because this was a dynamic that was keeping me stuck and unable to move forward.

When I talked with her in the next session, she clearly understood what I was saying and further realized how what she was doing in an attempt to help me was instead pushing me to entrench myself in a helpless position. If I hadn’t told her, in spite of my shame, who knows how long we would have remained trapped in the same pattern.

I went on to explain that what had enabled me to feel brave enough to tell her was what she had said in the previous session.

She glanced at her notes, “I don’t remember what I said. Do you remember?”

I sat there, struggling to get the words out.

She reassured me, “It’s OK if you don’t remember. It might just be the over all conversation.”

“Oh, no. I remember exactly what you said.”

That got her attention, because my memory often is so bad from session to session. “Really? What did I say?”

“You acknowledged that I experienced my grandfather’s abuse as torture and I realized that you really believed me. Someone really, really believes me.”

She looked at me gently, “Yes, I believe that you experienced your grandfather’s abuse as torture. I have heard you and I believe you.”

I stared into her eyes for awhile, taking in that she really meant what she was saying, and then I burst out with, “Thank you so much!” and I started to sob from the very center of my being. I curled up in a ball on the love seat and cried and cried. After a moment or two, Mama Bear got up and came over to kneel on the floor by me and hold my hand. Her gentle presence helped me to feel as though I was being held and that it was safe to let out all of the fear and despair that no one would ever believe me.

I looked up at her, “I can’t tell you what a huge relief it is to feel believed about this. I didn’t think that I would ever have anyone really believe me.”

“I am so glad that you can fully take in my support and caring and belief in you.”

I looked at her for while in a bit of a state of shock and then I laid my head down on our hands and just felt contained.

She said to me, “I feel like something awe inspiring has happened here and I am grateful that I was able to share it with you.”

I nodded my head and we sat there together for another moment or two.

This interaction seems to have changed everything between us, from my perspective. It feels safe to deeply trust her again. Deep inside I had previously feared that she would hurt me for telling her the worst that I had to share. I think that I believed that she wouldn’t be able to help herself because everyone had to eventually reject either me or my experience, once I had told/showed them just how bad it was. But she didn’t reject either me or what happened to me. Instead she came closer to me and she helped me to hold and take care of those parts that were so terribly traumatized by my grandfather.

I do hope that the crises of this summer are over, but this was a reminder that just because things feel awful and chaotic, it doesn’t always mean that I am really in trouble. Several times this summer, Mama Bear would take me by the shoulders and look me straight in the eye and say, “We are OK, C. We really are, even though it doesn’t feel like it. We will talk about what is going on and work through it, but things actually are more OK between the two of us than it feels like right now.” I wish that I had been able to believe her at the time, because it turns out that she was right.

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Irenic Glance 2 Artist Randall Cook

Irenic Glance 2
Artist Randall Cook

I’m just a bundle of sunshine these days… A lot of my current work was kick started by a crisis the last time that Mama Bear went out of town. I’m planning on writing about it, as I get more distance and it becomes less painful. The important point for this post is that I reached an intolerable level of pain. I felt completely abandoned and like I had to learn how to deal with everything on my own. I eventually reached the point where I could not think straight and a part kicked in to try to manage the chaos and pain. The way that this part tried to “help” was by controlling what I was thinking about by causing me great emotional distress, so much that I couldn’t think about anything else but what the part was throwing at me. It turned all of the abuse into being my fault and came up with elaborate reasons why this would so. It would go on and on, hammering at me, while I was curled up in a ball, crying. It felt so much rage at me, particularly the traumatized parts of me and it would be like this part would go on a rampage, trying to pulverize the young parts and erase their existence.

And then, perhaps worst of all, this part would start to think about suicide. I want to be very clear that you do not need to worry about whether I will try to kill myself. I won’t. I very, very strongly believe that no matter how much pain I am in, I have an obligation to my daughter to find a way to stick it out, because my killing myself would be so damaging to her. I refuse to pass on the abuse that way. Even if I go through a period of being a completely inadequate mother to my daughter because of what I am dealing with, she is better off with me being around and messed up than my being dead. I also don’t want to cause that sort of pain to my husband and I would like to think that I would hold out for his sake, but I am positive that I will for our daughter’s sake.

However, this time, things were so bad that I wished so much that my daughter and husband were not in my life, so I didn’t have them stopping me. They are the best things about my life and I wanted them gone, so that I could not exist and stop hurting so much. If there had been some way for me to just wipe myself off the face of the planet without harming anyone else, I think that I would have done it that week.

When Mama Bear came back, I just managed to drag myself into her office and she knew from the moment that she saw me that things were bad, even though when she left, we had hoped that this trip would be better than the others have been. Instead it had been far worse. I stumbled through sharing with her what had gone on in my head and straightening out things between the two of us and then I finally did something that I have never done before in the 22 years that I have known her. I talked with her about the suicidal thoughts and feelings that I had experienced. Yes, during those years she has known of other times when I felt suicidal and I have answered her safety questions, but (as far as I can remember) I have never actually been able to talk about what it is like for me. This time, I realized that I needed to not be alone with the pain and despair. I’ve been alone with it too much. From the other things that we had talked about, I had been newly reminded that Mama Bear was not my mother and she wouldn’t run from me because I was in so much pain.

To my surprise, it was a profoundly comforting experience. I was afraid that I would experience judgement or some level of anxiety on her part, but she remained completely calm and accepting of what I was telling her. She showed compassion and an understanding of how my thoughts and feelings were a reflection of the extremity of the pain and isolation that I had experienced. I didn’t really want to die and I certainly didn’t want to kill myself, I was just desperate to escape the pain. I think that she really got it at the point when I shared that even the thought that things could get better wasn’t enough for me this time, I didn’t care what I might be giving up, it just hurt too much to exist.

Talking with her helped a great deal; it didn’t make all of the thoughts and wishes go away, but they mostly went away and I knew that I didn’t need to be alone with them, if they started to get to be bad again. Frankly, it makes me feel safer and more secure to know that I have someone whom I can go to before things get to be that extreme. In fact, she wants for me to come to her well before they get to be that extreme, both because it will save me suffering and because it’s easier for her to help me well before I get to a crisis point.

I’m slowly learning that I don’t have to hide all of the worst parts.

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Irenic Glance Artist Randall Cook

Irenic Glance
Artist Randall Cook

This was written on September 9th, but wasn’t published at the time.

Last night, I figured out that I need to be honest with myself about something.

Bit of background: This is the second round of therapy after a break of about 7 years. I don’t remember very much about how things worked before, but Mama Bear tells me that I did a much better job of “letting the memories pass through me, rather than getting caught up in them.”

It’s been a puzzle as to why so much had been so hard this time around. Thinking tonight about other things, I remembered a point soon after I started therapy again when I started to deal with the memories and some part of me decided that if I protected myself from any of the impact of the memories, then my T wouldn’t believe me. I had to show her just how bad it was, so that she would believe me.

Or maybe it was that I had to show both of us just how bad it was, so that we both understood and believed me.

I don’t fully understand what happened with my father, but I know that parts of me believe that very sexual things happened with him. Maybe I don’t have to understand more than that right now.

However, I am certain that horrible things happened with my grandfather. Even my therapist has used the word “torture” to describe how I experienced the abuse. On a weekly (or more frequent) basis, I seem to keep on remembering more details and come to understand memories that didn’t make sense. I am struck by the thought, “how can one man do so many horrible things to one child? How can it be real?” How can I sometimes I feel like anyone I tell anything to will think that I just keep on making up more and more.

I am so convinced that I won’t be believed, even though Mama Bear has been clear to me that she believes that I was horribly abused, even if it is difficult to be sure about all of details because of my age and the nature of trauma and memory.

I think that I need to admit to her the belief that I can’t protect myself from being hurt by the memories, because if I do, then it will be written off as being not very bad abuse for me or even, “you look ok, so nothing could have happened.”

I need help convincing myself inside that this is a misguided attempt to help me. It’s ok to protect myself from the memories. It’s the right thing to do. If I help myself as much as I can, then I’m not going to lose any help from Mama Bear.

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