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Posts Tagged ‘connection’

Lisa Marie Sanders Time

Lisa Marie Sanders
Time

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’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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http://latitudequilts.blogspot.ca/p/silence.html

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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Taking Flight Krista Withers

Taking Flight
Krista Withers

In my last post, I wrote about a new me that I am growing inside who is learning how to experience and function in relationships differently from anything that I have been capable of before. Developing this me has been an intense experience over the several weeks/couple of months.

At the center of all of it, I have been working with two parts who were hurt very, very badly by my dad. One who is quite young and who I believe represents the beginning of the abuse with him and the one who is 12 and who I believe experienced the most relationally confusing abuse. (I wrote about it a few posts back.) It seems to me that the healing work that I am doing with these parts and the relational work with Mama Bear involved in developing this new me are inextricably connected. For instance, I take a metaphorical step towards Mama Bear and tell her that I feel closer when I sit closer to her and she agrees with me that it is easier to connect emotionally when there are only a few feet between us, rather than half a room. Then the next session I move from my comfortable chair to a portable chair that I put close to hers and I share difficult feelings and bits of memories with her. To my amazement, I discover that I am better able to stay connected to her and it’s almost like I can physically feel her supporting me, not just in the session, but for the rest of the day. For the first time, this part feels really heard and I start to understand at a deep level that I am no longer alone with what happened to me. I no longer need to protect myself by hiding the abuse and holding it close to myself; in fact, in my current reality, the safest thing is for me to share it with a person I am certain can deal with what I am saying and showing to her. And so with this experience of closeness and support, I find myself wanting to share more with Mama Bear, and on and on it goes in an upward spiral, one healing experience building upon another.

I have to admit that I when I look at the work that I have done over the last few weeks, I am astonished. On February 14th, I wrote an e-mail to Mama Bear and said, “But what is it about this particular situation that creates a knee jerk reaction of, ‘none of the bad stuff will ever come out in session. It will only come out when I am alone.’ I think that a lot of it is so I can figure out how much it hurts and whether I can survive it while I’m safe and alone. Sigh. There it is- the belief that I am only truly safe when I am alone.” In our session earlier that day, Mama Bear had encouraged me for the 2,000th time to bring the memories to her in session and work on them with her, rather than struggling through them alone, at home, as I always did. I was too polite to baldly come out and say to her, “There is no way that you will ever see me experiencing the really bad memories. I don’t trust you enough and I won’t ever trust you enough. I will only ever be safe when I am alone.” However, I know that I thought it very loudly at her and she heard that message. But now, two months later, these same parts have had a complete reversal, and I find myself wanting to share with her their experiences. Before, I believed that sharing what happened to me would open me to more pain and somehow having someone there would make it feel as though shards of glass were being dragged across my flesh. Instead, the experience of telling has been very difficult, but having her right there helps to keep me from being overwhelmed by the emotions and sucked into re-experiencing what happened. It has been nothing short of a revelation that the part of the session that comes after telling feels so very healing, even calming and soothing. I see in her eyes that even though I have shared something terrible with her, she still sees me as me. She still treats me kindly and she helps me work with the young parts so they can understand that they are not dirty or terrible or disgusting or ruined. We work together to help all of me learn that it really wasn’t my fault, that my father was fully responsible for what happened. I am learning that those memories really are in the past, although there is a lot of me that still is very unclear about that point.

I feel like the therapeutic relationship has become more of a partnership than it was before. It never was the case that Mama Bear tried to control what happened in therapy- anything that hinted of her trying to take control put my hackles up and made me completely uncooperative anyways. It was more that I came in and did my best to follow the direction that my internal compass sent me in. She then went with me, supporting me, guiding me as best she could when she thought that I was really going astray, reining me in when I moved too quickly and overwhelmed myself, suggesting options that she thought might be helpful, etc.. Mama Bear definitely worked with me, but I’m not so sure how much I actually worked with her. I tried to be cooperative and trusting, but a substantial part of me looked at everything that she did and suggested with suspicion and mistrust.

Somehow, it was partly through taking the chance to trust Mama Bear a step more that I was able to accept that my father abused me and begin to really do the work that is needed in regards to that abuse. I also believe that it is through accepting that my father abused me and giving myself permission to see him as he was, rather than as he portrayed himself, that I was able to really take steps in trusting Mama Bear to be the person who I perceive her to be. When I couldn’t let myself trust what I know about who my dad was, how could I have confidence in the way that I saw anyone? But when I decided that I could trust my perceptions of my dad, then the world became a safer place for me to be in, because I had the ability to watch out for myself. Yes, I confirmed that my dad was unsafe, but if I knew when someone was clearly unsafe, then surely I could also trust my judgement based on years of observing someone’s safe behavior.

Having decided to more fully trust that Mama Bear is a safe person, even if human and so prone to making occasional mistakes, it’s like there is a whole new world in the therapy room. I find myself better able to see her, the person. Looking back, I realize that to some extent, over the last 2 1/2 years, I have put her into a box. I needed for her to be as predictable as possible, so I didn’t want her reactions to anything. I’ve even gone through a period of not wanting to hear much about her life outside of the office, although in the past I appreciated the humanizing aspect of knowing a bit about her. She was who she was and she didn’t really let me fully box her in, but she seems to have been sensitive to my needs and tried to respect them as much as possible. It’s been like I needed for her to stay as stationary as possible, while to try to figure out some of the chaos inside of me. She always was a warm human being, and over the last several months I have been slowly trying to connect more and more, but I while I wanted to connect, I also couldn’t really let myself to connect in more than glimpses. I wasn’t ready for the messy and unpredictable part of a relationship, yet.

Over the last couple of weeks, that has changed. I have come to realize that I now need to experience her as a real person that I am having these close interactions with. I need to experience myself being experienced by a caring other. After my last session, I wrote to her, explaining that even though I am afraid to ask how she experiences me and what she feels in response to what I share, I hoped that it would be OK for me to ask sometimes.

This was her response: “You can always ask me questions about my responses to you and what you are saying/feeling. If I do not answer right away, I will try to remember to explain why. I do not have problems with your wanting to know how I am experiencing you, nor do I have a problem with you telling me how you are experiencing me if you should want to do so.”

This is completely antithetical to my family life while growing up. Even though my current family is much healthier, it still is something that is barely done now- my daughter does the best job with it! I’m going into this challenging all of my ingrained, unwritten rules about how to interact with other people. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting. What will it be like to tell Mama Bear about some of the abuse, process it with her some, and then ask her about her response to what I told her? I can imagine her saying that it brings up her anger at my father or protective feelings toward the child that I was or any manner of other things. What will it be like for me to finally share with someone what happened and get someone’s emotional response that it was wrong? I think that what I am hoping for is to experience someone being angry along with me or empathizing with my grief or also wanting to comfort the hurting child inside of me. I am looking for a shared experience. It isn’t that I am looking for her to validate my feelings, it’s that a part of having a relationship is having shared emotional experiences. I just realized that I feel that I know Mama Bear well enough to be able to predict that her reactions should be appropriate and it will be safe for me to ask for them. However, there always is the risk that something will come out wrong and there will be a misunderstanding. So what this requires of me is to trust in Mama Bear to remain the same person I believe her to be, and to trust in my ability to not freak out and instead work things out with her, if she happens to make a mistake and say something that comes out wrong.

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Sky Gazer Kelly Hendrickson

Sky Gazer
Kelly Hendrickson

Relationship, connection, and needing other people have been on going themes for me that have cropped up several times over the last few months. Actually, they are themes that have been a focus of a lot of my therapy work since I started to work with Mama Bear again. This time around, I have become very aware of the walls that I put up between myself and others, in particular the walls that I put up with Mama Bear in the therapy room.

I can understand how those walls were necessary for me as a child. I used them to help buffer myself from painful relationships and to try to control how much I “needed” other people. They were a part of my attempt to be the child that I thought would be most acceptable to my parents- pleasant, non demanding, and able to take care of myself. However, as is the case with so many coping mechanisms for an abused and neglected child, over the years they became rigidly relied upon until I wasn’t able to make a choice of whether I wanted to let someone in or not. Everyone was kept out.

I always knew that I wanted love and connection, though. Fortunately, that led me to choose a husband who was loving and respectful, even though when I made that choice I had no understanding that I was dealing with demons inside, much less what the demons were. Something in me said, “I need love. I deserve love. I will not accept anything less than real love and I experience it with this man.” My mom failed me in many, many ways, but she also loved me. She really loved me. I think that having that experience of being loved gave me something to hold onto at my core, despite all of the abuse from my father and grandfather and her failing to protect me. So much happened that made love feel dangerous and unreliable, but I still had that experience of what being loved was like and so I have always yearned for it, even while I have been to frightened to open myself to it.

What a confusing situation for a child… I remember that one of my mom’s favorite phrases was, “All that really matters is love.” Yes, love is so central to my well being, but is it all that really matters? No! Or at least the emotion of love just isn’t enough by itself. I needed for her to be able to find enough strength to move past her own fears and limitations and find a way to protect me, not just love me! Love involves action, not just feelings. Those warm and fuzzy feelings may have felt great for her and, to be fair, it’s likely that her aiming them at me may be what gave me the resilience to keep on going, but I needed for her to deal with the rot in our family, as well as giving me kisses and hugs.

So I have been experiencing this push/pull all my life: a profound mistrust of others and the expectation that they will fail me when I most need them and yet also a deep yearning for love and intimacy. Over the last 25 years, I have slowly, bit by bit made progress by at first allowing myself to even start to see how much I mistrusted other people and then slowly testing and building on experience after experience of people being trustworthy in normal, everyday situations. Then I learned to trust myself to have the strength to deal with those times when others would let me down, not out of malice, but because they were human. And now I am at a point where I feel enough safety with Mama Bear that I can begin to fully reveal the traumatized parts and allow them to connect with her.

It’s a process that is scary and at the same time such a relief. It certainly isn’t something that comes naturally at this point! Many times when I am talking about something difficult, I find myself starting to fuzz out and looking anywhere but at Mama Bear, and I realize that I’m doing it again- I’m sitting in the same room as her, talking to her, but I’ve removed myself from connecting with her. She could just as well be a video recording, because I’ve isolated myself, and I feel all alone, even though she didn’t go anywhere. Over these last few months, when I catch what I am doing and I am able to resist it, I then try to breathe to ground myself and make myself look into her eyes and take in how she is looking at me. I open myself to the fact that here is a person who cares about me and is sitting there with me, having her own responses to what I say and do. She is real. I am real. What I am saying and experiencing is real. I have an impact on her. It is safe for me to allow her to have an impact on me. She wants for me to heal and would do everything that she could to avoid knowingly harming the fragile, hurt parts of me.

What a concept. Actually, what a constellation of concepts. And what a sense of hope.

I wish that I could say that this fixes all of my difficulties with allowing others in, but it was one of my deeply ingrained ways of being and it will take my having many, many “aha” moments in order to finally begin to come from a place where I fully believe that it is safe to be in relationship. But those changes are starting and more and more of me sees that they can happen. Even the parts of me that were hurt the worst can learn how to dare to take the chance to love and be loved again. I can’t say that all that I need is love, but all of me very much needs love.

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Landing Artist: Shea Wilkinson http://www.sheawilkinson.com/#!portfolio/vstc1=exquisite-lifeforms I kind of feel like this alien making first contact.

Landing
Artist: Shea Wilkinson
http://www.sheawilkinson.com/#!portfolio/vstc1=exquisite-lifeforms
I kind of feel like this alien making first contact.

Something surprising happened on Wednesday. I met my therapist. No, I haven’t changed therapists, I’m still working with Mama Bear. Yes, you remember correctly, I’ve been working with her for a long time (we first met 21 years ago.) But over all of those years, even though I have slowly grown to trust her more than anyone other than my husband, I still wasn’t letting her fully be in the room with me.

Over all of those years, I had never allowed her the intimacy of letting myself meet her eyes and really connect with her. Yes, I have made eye contact, although I do spend a lot of my session looking down or over her, or to either side, or at her hands, if I’m not completely covering my face. Once I am working in a session and feel at all vulnerable, I look anywhere but at her eyes. And we have managed to develop a therapeutic relationship that allowed me to do incredible work over the years. However, I always kept a barrier up between us, without even realizing it.

I suspect that the only people with whom I have had that level of intimacy are my husband and my daughter. It tends to happen only at rare, intimate moments with my husband, and I have had to force myself to make sure that I make that level of contact with my daughter, because I know that she needs it, in order to grow up healthy. Once I have made the connection with her, I am comfortable, but it is hard for me to remember to do so and the prospect of it can be a bit frightening because it is so foreign for me.

A few sessions back, Mama Bear pointed out that I cover my face and I don’t look at her when I seem to be most in need of connection. When I allowed myself to explore my internal reactions to what she said, I realized that a lot of my insides viewed her as a comforting construct who wasn’t actually real. Of course they weren’t sure that I was real either.

In our next session, I asked her to come and sit closer to me. I pushed myself to make eye contact repeatedly during that session and in it I finally allowed several of my younger parts to directly tell her, “He hurt me!” and to make sure that she really did hear and understand what I was saying and that she believed me. Because I could see her eyes, I could see that she remained the same person, no matter how much of myself and my pain I revealed to her. And my insides could see that someone really does hear what I have to say and accepts that I was indeed hurt very badly. I don’t have to “prove” it, because she sees the hurt right there, in front of her.

At the end of the session, young parts marveled at her, “I’m really not alone? You really are real? You really exist? I really exist?” She smiled at me, “Yes, C., you are not alone. I am real, you are real, and I’m here to help you.” It was just too big to fully take in, “I don’t have to do it all myself.”

The sessions proceeded like this, no session was entirely about our relationship, but in some way our relationship was an important part of each session. And every session I allowed myself to nudge just that much closer to taking down that buffer that was still there between the two of us. The relationship work that I have been doing with her reflects some of the other work and so these huge shifts have been going on inside of me, leaving me feeling disoriented, uncertain, and a bit lost. But I know from experience that shifts do that to me and eventually I will get to the point where I start to consolidate the changes and everything will settle down and I will regain a sense of stability.

Then, in the last session, we had our no exchange. In the post I mentioned that we made an intense connection, but I actually mean that we made an intense connection. The buffers were down. Our eye contact almost felt like a physical contact, it was as if I had been gathered in to feel her love and compassion and joy at seeing that I had actually allowed myself to make contact. It overwhelmed me with strong emotions and I wasn’t sure what they were, much less what to do with them. And then we both stepped back a bit and the intensity eased. I looked at her, reached out my hand to her, and said, “How can I know you for 20 years and today feel as though I finally let you say, ‘Hi, I’m Mama Bear.'”

She smiled, “Deep, authentic connection is difficult for everyone. Some people never achieve it who weren’t abused. For those who were abused, reaching that level of connection takes a long time and a lot of work.”

Towards the beginning of today’s session, she asked me how I felt about the end of the previous session. My response: “Frankly, I still feel completely shaken by it” and I burst into tears.

First she sat with me a bit, then, “How did it feel for you?” I struggled for words (as I had been all session to that point) and continued to sob, so she helped me out. “Wonderful, but also terrifying?” I nodded. “Enticing, overwhelming, exciting?” I nodded again. “It will get easier. It is a lot for you to handle right now, but be gentle with yourself and it will get easier.”

And then we went on to stumble across an extraordinarily intense piece of work that allowed a very, very young part to feel seen and start to take in the warmth of human connection as a balm against a wordless expanse of pain. Once I was able to come to the surface again and engage, I asked Mama Bear, “What we just did, we couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t really letting you connect, could we?” “No, it needs this level of connection.” You see, what really reached that young part was not anything that Mama Bear said. In fact, I don’t believe that anything was said during that part of the work; I certainly wasn’t capable of it. I remember looking up at Mama Bear, meeting her eyes, seeing her give me such a caring look, and then watching her slowly fold one arm then the other around herself and squeeze as if to send a hug to me. It hit me like a jolt of electricity, left me sobbing and keening in grief and pain, but after that, this isolated, hurting part started to take the warmth in which was so welcome.

These past few weeks have been such a reminder of how it was the combination of the abuse and the relational deficits when I was young that caused so much damage. Over the last few weeks, I have done some of the most challenging work that I have done in therapy. Period. I have cried more than I ever cry. And we have hardly talked about the trauma at all. This work goes to the core of who I am and how I exist in the world. I am hopeful because I can start to see that maybe if I really allow someone to accompany me, maybe I can eventually get to the point where I can tackle those memories that have always been too terrifying for me to process. Up to now, even with Mama Bear in the room, I’ve been going back there alone, which just doesn’t work for me. I do feel very much like a work in progress at the moment, though. I’ll get there… And I won’t be doing it alone.

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