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Posts Tagged ‘denial’

“Sometimes, when I really allow myself to feel how intense the fear, pain, and betrayal was, I just don’t understand how I possibly could have survived it as a child.”

Mama Bear and I were at the end of our post session check-in and I pulled the phone equivalent of a doorknob disclosure, but it was weighing on my mind and I hadn’t had a chance to say anything about it earlier in our conversation. And she did ask me if there was anything else that I needed to say or ask…

“I don’t think that your mind could have survived without the dissociation. It protected you.”

“It’s just that sometimes it seems like if these things had really happened, then it would have crushed me and I wouldn’t have made it here.”

Mama Bear gently replied, “But we know that these things happen to children all too often and they survive. That isn’t a reason to believe that it couldn’t have happened to you.”

“But these feelings are just so intense. Sometimes they feel barely survivable to me now, even though I am an adult!”

“Part of that may be a memory of just how overwhelmed you felt as a child. And you do have an adult’s resources right now. You have more emotional resiliency and strength. You know that you have support from people who care about you.” She paused, “You know, sometimes denial is protective and actually serves a useful purpose. There have been times when something painful has happened to me, nothing nearly as bad as what happened to you, but bad enough that for a period of time, I needed to make use of denial, while I adjusted to what had happened. I think that we all do it to some extent. Sometimes we need to protect ourselves from the pain.”

Is that it? Is this coming up now because of the increased turmoil and pain these past couple of weeks?

Later on the same day, I felt as though I was standing in the middle of wreckage, surveying the damage, dismayed at how much repair work is still needed. Who was I kidding? I deal with the fallout of the abuse every day and in many ways it has crippled me for most of my life. OK, so I did get out of it intact enough to make it through school and recognize a life partner who would be healthy for me, but there is an awful lot of damage there that has prevented me from ever trying a whole host of “could have beens”. This was caused by something bad happening, it didn’t happen by accident or because I was “too sensitive” or “too weak.”

It’s just that right now it hurts so much to know that I was a child who was left alone to deal with fear and pain at levels that no child should ever be forced to deal with. It isn’t just the pain of having something bad done to me, but there is just as much pain that the abuse happened, that another person would intentionally hurt me that much. That someone could enjoy hurting me. Who derives pleasure from frightening and causing pain to a child? My grandfather did. And then there is the pain that no one noticed what was going on. No one noticed that I was being hurt. And my mother kept on sending me to stay with him and my grandmother.

But those are old issues that I am used to dealing with? What has changed? Tonight, I wish that I could keep from going to the thought of how much my heart would break if my father molested me. I don’t want to feel the grief that would go with knowing that so much of the time, there hadn’t anywhere that was really safe. My mind just stutters over the thought of what it would have been like to wonder if my mother knew what was happening. And I am so frightened by the idea that I might have lived with an abuser and what that means about his access to me. One of the things that I have reassured myself with over the years is that it only happened during a few discrete periods when I visited. That should have meant that the child that I was could only have been violated on visits, not on an ongoing basis. But I also have been confused as to why there was a sense of more instances of abuse than the time available should have allowed. Maybe there were more.

I guess that for right now, I will teeter along at the edge of denial, as I my mind wrestles with these challenges. Outright full denial is no longer an option for me- too much of me gets too upset when I tend towards full denial. And I don’t seem to be ready to take on the full weight of understanding what it is about my relationship with my dad that causes me so much distress.

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Today I did something in session that I have never been able to do before. Victories feel so hard won that they need to be celebrated! 🙂

In general, when I start to get too overwhelmed emotionally, I escape the intensity by going into denial. “None of this could have happened to me.” “It can’t have really been this bad.” “How can I think something like this? It’s crazy?!?” For a long time, I couldn’t even see that this process was happening until I was already entrenched in denial, and then I would have to slowly work my way out of it again. Two or three months ago, Mama Bear pointed out to me that the denial was in reaction to my being phobic of the intense emotions that arise around the abuse and my family relationships.

Once that was pointed out, I was able to start paying more attention to how I respond to strong feelings and in particular what I do when I start to feel overwhelmed. I have a lot of different ways of escaping the emotions… One method of distracting myself was to fall into denial about the abuse in general. Another method was to simply shut down and go numb. Yet another was to start to have flashes of memories. And then there was the ever popular escape of dissociation. All of these experiences are highly unpleasant and to be avoided in their own right, and yet somewhere inside, they were preferable to staying with those impossible feelings. Sometimes the mind does things that can cause a lot of pain in order to escape seemingly unendurable distress. While recognizing that I was playing a part in triggering memories and such was quite unpleasant, it also empowered me to help myself.

So, today I was in session and I can’t even remember what I was talking about, but I was feeling extremely intense grief and emotional pain. It was to the point where I would normally start to dissociate, usually by fleeing into a child state, and Mama Bear even asked me, “Are you still here with me?” I couldn’t speak, so I nodded my head, I was very much there; I was connected to all of that pain and to the me that normally holds it. But after a bit, it started to be too much. While I didn’t recognize that it had become too much, I did catch the first thoughts of denial, “There is no way that any of this could have happened to me! How could I think it at all?” I realized what I was doing and thought, “I really don’t want to go there. Let’s not go down that path, because it just causes too much stress and pain. My reacting with denial means that I have become overwhelmed and I need to turn the intensity down.” So I imagined taking a step or two back, and it worked! The intensity went down and the denial faded away.

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if I could manage to catch and turn down the intensity all on my own, I would have looked at you as if you had two heads. I knew that it should be possible, but at that time my emotions could escalate so quickly that I couldn’t hope to catch what was going on in time, never mind control it myself. But what I did today was the product of months of Mama Bear pointing out to me when I was at the point of overwhelm and my stopping whatever we were doing, breathing, and grounding. And what do you know, I finally learned how to recognize that I was at the point of becoming overwhelmed and reduce the intensity all on my own. For your average person, it probably would be a trivial task, but for someone who learned to do anything in order to avoid the “dangerous” emotions, this was a real accomplishment.

So the next time I am working on something with Mama Bear for what seems like the 500th time, I need to remind myself, that’s how I learn and eventually it will pay off. And probably, when it works, it will come as a complete surprise, like it did today.

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It was Wednesday today, so it was session day for me. This was one of those sessions that will probably end up being very influential, not because I did anything flashy, but because I was willing to look at how I am doing the work that I am doing, what is going awry, and how I might need to change things.

One of the things that I know that I need to change is my need to “know” for sure what happened. I know that it is causing me problems and keeping me stuck right now. I know that it is causing unnecessary suffering on my part. So I have been trying to puzzle out how to let go of this need over the last few weeks and I went into the session with some thoughts on it…

One thing that I realized a couple of days ago is that I unintentionally create a trap for myself. Sometimes when the fuller me is talking about a difficult issue, I feel like something is being told through me about how something was for me. Very often, I’m not talking about a specific memory of abuse, but rather an understanding of what it was like to be a younger me, living in the situation that I was living in. I don’t have specific memories that I can access that create that understanding, but it feels true. I get very confused by that. I don’t remember this. I don’t remember what it was like to be 3 or 4 or even 6 or 10 and living in these overwhelming situations, trying to deal with the family dynamics. But somewhere inside of me, that memory/understanding seems to exist, even if I don’t access it in the way that I normally access a memory. So am I making this up? But it really doesn’t feel like making it up. The best that I can describe it is that I experience it as “feeling” inside for where the truth is and letting it come through me, but it doesn’t have the pictures and narrative that memory normally has. So how can I call this memory? How can I rely on it? But if I start to worry too much about whether what I am saying is “real” or not, then I tend to reach inside, to try to “prove” to myself whether it is real. Most of the time, this just ends up sending me to a traumatized place. And when it comes to talking about the actual abuse, it’s even harder.

As I was struggling my way through explaining this to Mama Bear, she asked me, “Do you believe that you were sexually abused and terrorized?” “Yes.” “That is the only thing that you have to be absolutely certain about. It may be that it will always be too terrifying for you to fully remember what happened.”

That was hard for me to hear, but it is something that I have been wondering about lately. I have been getting clear messages from inside that there are things that I do not know and that I do not want to know them. I feel my mind getting near to, “what was it like” and it just feels like chaos and screaming and I “jump” away from it. I keep on hearing inside me the question of, “How much can one mind take?” but that question isn’t about my mind now, it is about my mind then. And then there is the understanding that my grandfather trained me to be terrified when I was being abused; so even something that from the outside might not seem to be quite so bad would have put me into a terrified state, because I had learned that if I wasn’t scared enough, he would make sure that I got that way. There is just so much fear.

So how do I deal with all of this? Right now, my plan is to simply listen to and share what my insides tell me and resist, as much as possible, the urge to judge whether something is “true” or not. Today I realized that in many ways the answer as to whether something is “real” is going to be “yes” when what is inside of me acts as if it is real, whether or not something literally happened in the exact way that I have been “told”. It still is “real” inside of me, even if a video tape wouldn’t have recorded what happened that way. And it is the healing of the inside of me that is what matters. In so many ways, it doesn’t matter whether something literally happened or not. What is hurt inside of me, is hurt inside of me. Whatever the exact thing was that hurt that part of me, this is how that damage is being shown. I am here. I am hurt in the way that I am. I need to go forward from where I am right now, so that I can heal.

Do you question the “reality” of what you remember? If so, how do you deal with those questions? How do you keep from driving yourself crazy when you don’t have outside confirmation of the abuse?

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Life actually seems good at the moment, and I think that the shift is largely due to my doing something that I would have considered just about impossible 24 hours ago.

I have been feeling so much despair and immense amounts of pain lately.  Yesterday evening, I hid in the study, crying, and feeling like I just couldn’t take anymore pain.  I found myself thinking that I wished that I didn’t have my daughter, because then I wouldn’t be obligated to stay alive.  I have never gotten to that point before, and all I could do was to cry and keep a hold of the knowledge that it isn’t normal for me to wish that I wasn’t alive, never mind to wish it so intensely, and to hold on to the hope that it would pass soon.  

I was rather like the walking dead, but I managed to pull a simple dinner together and then I went to hide again.  Suddenly, a few different pieces came together.  There is a set of memories that have been coming up for at least 15 years, probably more like 20. Each and every time I have convinced myself that they could not have happened, largely based on not seeing what the motivation/reward/appeal could possibly be for my grandfather. Yesterday it clicked that if the motivation was humiliation and shame, it actually made sense and my denial that it could not have happened just crumbled. 

I have never said a word about this to anyone. In fact, I have hardly been able to write about it. But last night I was torn between feeling like I couldn’t tolerate being with it alone any longer and fear that Mama Bear would either be disgusted by me or be unable to believe me. 

First I wrote to her, saying pretty much what I have said here and she assured me that whatever it was, she would not be disgusted by me. Then a bit later she followed up, saying that if it would help to talk, I could give her a call. 

We did talk and I managed to get out one short sentence, which conveyed all of the information that she needed to understand why this was so difficult. She assured me that she has heard of such things before and said that she was so sorry that it had happened to me.  She also told me,”I can see why you didn’t want to send this to me in an e-mail. It would have driven you crazy to not hear my response, wouldn’t it? I am glad that you called me, and I think that it’s a good sign that you were able to just tell me and get it over with.”

She understood why this was so hard.  She was not disgusted with me, she did not reject me, she did not think that I was a liar or that I was crazy. I had finally told someone and it had been safe to tell. 

Today, I feel lighter and cleaner than I have been. I can hear what Mama Bear said rolling around in my head, “It was not your fault. What he chose to do didn’t have anything to do with you. It was all his shame. You were just trying to survive.”

I am astonished to experience how some part of me has decided that if it was safe to tell what happened and everything turned out OK from telling, then things must be different now.  I must be safe now.  I can feel that part of me settled into my body, curled up against me, soaking in the fact that she is truly safe, not just kind of safe.  It’s almost like that part of me has woken up from a nightmare and can see the world around her now, rather than the nightmare.

I don’t know whether I will need to talk more about what happened, although I suspect that I will.  There is grief and anger there that I believe needs to be expressed.  But my hope is that I can keep that part of me connected to the reality of my current safety, even while talking about what happened and the difficult emotions that go along with it.

And what a huge relief it has been for me to experience a part of me accepting that I really am safe now.  And not just lack of feeling in danger safe, but deeply safe.  The sort of safety that you can sink into like a feather bed.  A safety that almost makes me want to cry, because it usually feels so unattainable.

I am under no illusion that this will automatically translate to other parts of me, but each and every part that I can bring to safety helps me grow stronger.  And for right now, I am able to just revel in managing to rescue this part of me and how differently things now feel to that part of me.

If you had asked me 24 hours ago whether I could or would tell anyone about seeming to have memories of this type of abuse, I would have told you that you were crazy to even think that it might be possible. I was so deeply convinced that absolutely no one would ever believe me and I couldn’t bear to believe myself. But once I believed myself, I desperately wanted to not be alone with it a minute longer than I had to. I needed to get that craziness and disgustingness out of me. And after last night, even the me that holds the memory can accept that it was his behavior that was crazy and disgusting and I can loosen the hold that those memories have on me.

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I am feeling so confused these days…  I feel like I am having so many different conflicting reactions, with so many powerful feelings.  I almost feel dizzy, like I am being spun so many different ways and I don’t have a chance to fully think or feel through anything.  It’s all leaving me feeling a bit lost and uncertain about what I am doing and where I am going.  And the way that I feel is so very different; it is like I am somehow partially slipping between different states, even though “I” am still the constant.  This is disturbing for me, because the age range is so wide and I don’t seem to be settling into anything consistent.  And I don’t have a clue as to why I am suddenly doing this.

There are the times when the anger comes up and it is just so powerful.  I don’t know what to do with it and sometimes it is like there is a part that just wants to use it to destroy the inner me and pulverize everything that is inside.  I feel so much self hatred at those times and at the same time so much helplessness.  I want to cry and I want to scream, but I just sit here quietly, holding it all inside.  Sometimes I find myself saying, “I hate him!”  But most of the time, it’s like my mind quickly skips into and skips out of the anger again.

I keep on finding myself in very young states that just want to be helped and comforted.  Frankly, these are these easiest to deal with, because I know how to help them and I can help them.  I find that I can help to ground them/me together into a sense of safety and security.

I slip into a state that is so connected to feelings of despair and start to think of bridges and icy water.  Don’t get me wrong; I will not do anything to harm myself.  I know my responsibilities to my daughter and husband and how much harming myself would hurt the people I love the most.  Besides, most of me just doesn’t feel that level of hopelessness at all.  I believe that it is a remembered hopelessness far more than it is a present one, but it still is a distressing state to slip into, even briefly.

I find myself on the edge of memories that I am currently trying to not engage with.  Most of these are memories that I have experienced many, many times.  Some are newer.  There is a distinction here between experiencing them and remembering them.  If I can just remember them, it isn’t so bad, because there is more of a knowing, narrative quality about it.  Experiencing is very hard, though, because in some way I am in the memory and there is no distance between it and at least a part of me.

I am so quick right now to completely discount all of these experiences as soon as I feel even remotely normal.  “Things really couldn’t have been very bad.  I must be completely crazy to be even consider possible some things that some of me seems to think happened.  I am a horrible person to even entertain some of these possibilities.”  It’s like as soon as there is even the possibility of denial, it goes into effect.

I am so torn right now and I feel like I am reaching out for myself, but I don’t even know where I am.

Yesterday, my path seemed so clear…  There is something that may or may not have happened and I just can’t deal with figuring out whether it did or didn’t happen.  Whenever I try to go close enough to what seems to be memories, my mind just feels like it is blasted, but when I step back and just concentrate on comforting and soothing the young parts who need to feel heard and connected, then I am able to ground and help all of myself feel so much better.  So it seemed obvious to me: stop trying to figure out what happened and just concentrate on comforting and strengthening.

But today I feel like I am being tossed in so many different directions at the same time and I have lost that path.  All I know is that I keep on wanting to say that I hate myself and I know that I am grieving and I feel lost and alone.   Mama Bear has reminded me to stay as oriented to the here and now and in my fuller self as much as possible.  Excellent advice.  If only I was doing a better job of following it.  I wish that I understood why I am having so much trouble doing it right now!!!  I thought that I was getting stronger and more stable, so what in the world is happening to me?  Have I just been fooling myself?

I don’t know…  All I know is that I have to keep on trying and hoping that I find a way to feel steady and solid again before long.

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“I’m crazy and I’ve made it all up somehow.”

I don’t know how many times I have gone back to that over the years.  It’s like I haven’t been able to bear to allow all of me to believe that I was abused.

And tonight, I said it to myself again, “I’m crazy and I’ve made it all up somehow.  It has to be me.”  But I found that I can’t do it any more.  I can’t fall back upon that escape, because my next reaction was, “Just who do you think that you are kidding?  You know what happened.  So cut that out.”

I know that it is a good thing for me to believe myself.  It helps a great deal to no longer be fighting against myself and beating myself up in that way.  Things have been working better since I gave up the denial.

But tonight, for some reason, I am feeling a sense of loss.  There is no escaping it: I really do come from a family that abuses its children.  I have no idea of how many generations this goes back and for how long the children have been growing up with no clue as to how to be good parents.  So they either neglect, abuse, or fail to protect their own children.  How long has this been going on for?  How much pain is there?  How many children have cried themselves to sleep?  How many were hurt so badly that they grew up so damaged that they wanted to torment the people they should have loved?  How many of these souls could have been something great and instead they were crippled?  It just makes me want to cry from the sorrow and outrage of it all.  I only know the very beginnings of the stories from my parents generation and there is only one cousin who has been frank with me about her experiences, but what I know indicates families on both sides with a significant amount of abuse going back at least another generation beyond my parents.

In my last session, I said to Mama Bear, “I am very grateful that I was born in the time that I was, because it meant that once I was an adult and able to seek it out, there was help for me.  I am so sad that my mother never had that opportunity.  I don’t know whether or not she would have taken it, but I wish that she could have had the choice.”  “I wish that she had, too, both for your sake and hers.”  My mother has a lot that is good about her and it is such a damn waste that the rest of her potential was lost beneath the burden of her own abuse.  I cry for her, I cry for what I missed as a child, and I cry for what I am missing now.

“I can’t change what happened before, but I can make sure that the abuse and the damage stops here and does not go on to my next generation.”  I’ve probably said it at least a dozen times in session and it is often on my mind, because sometimes it is the best hope and motivator that I have.  I should never have had to pay the price that abuse extracts in a family, but I can’t avoid paying it.  However, I am absolutely determined that my daughter will be impacted as little as possible.  I can’t avoid everything, because having a parent who is in such distress for months at a time is going to affect a child, but I will make sure that I do not repeat the most serious mistakes that have been made in my family and I am making every effort to give her the supportive, secure foundation that I never had.

Hopefully she will escape, but there is no escape for me except straight through this mess.  And it hurts and sometimes I just want to protest that it is so incredibly unfair that I have to deal with the effects of the abuse and I wish that there was some way to make it all just go away.

But damn it, I am not crazy and I did not make it up.  And I refuse to wish that I was.  I will no longer swallow the pain in an attempt to make it go away.  I’m not sure what to do with the pain and the anger, but I will no longer harm myself inside in an attempt to escape from it.  I just wish that I knew what to do with these feelings when they stay with me for days.  When I feel them, it feels like there is just a bottomless reservoir of emotion inside of me.  I try to focus on other things and they are always there as an ache and a pressure in the background.  It gets to be hard to think clearly and in a straight line. For right now, though, I seem to have cried enough while writing this to not have the feelings pressing at me so hard, so at least I have that to be thankful for.

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Earlier today, I asked another blogger, “Do you ever wish that you could just cut the parts out of you that are thinking/feeling/maybe remembering some of these things? That’s the way that I feel right now.”  By that point, I had gone through a difficult 24 hours, bouncing between feeling fine and struggling to find a way to deal with something that I don’t feel capable of dealing with right now.  Sadly, at the moment that I wrote it, I meant it.  I was desperate to find a way to escape.

But why was my instinct to wish for a way to make part of me go away, in order to take care of the problem?  Am I really the problem here?  Part of what I am struggling with is that question of what really happened in a very murky situation, one where my mind seems loathe to give me any clear answers.  So my reaction tends to be to see my mind as being the problem.  It is what is giving me these bits and pieces that often seem contradictory and that I am struggling (and so far failing) to put together into some sort picture that makes sense.  Just what is going on here?

I find myself telling Mama Bear things and then being horrified that I have thought such things, much less told her about them.  I feel so split on all of this.  I start to write about it for myself or in an e-mail to Mama Bear but then I can’t finish a sentence because the way that I think about what I am writing changes two or three times before the end of the sentence.  In some ways I fear that I am crazy and then some times I would rather be crazy than consider that some of what I fear might be true.

This all makes me feel so unsteady and uncertain of myself.  It is no wonder that I want for it to go away.  But cut a part of me away in order to make it go away?  I can’t do that.  Whether or not this exact thing actually happened, I am dealing with parts of myself that have been traumatized and it is at the very least the over all trauma that is bringing this up, not some intrinsic flaw in me that should be cut out.  I feel like I should apologize to myself for wanting to do damage to myself, even if it was out of a desire to escape pain.  The answer here is not the removal of parts of me that hold things that I don’t want to feel/know/consider/look at.

So what is the answer?  At least, what is the temporary answer?  How do I get through the next days and weeks and maybe even months while I inch my way through this painful puzzle?  Because I have realized that I can’t sit inside the puzzle, trying to figure it out.  I start to become overwhelmed and disoriented and unable to think in a straight line about it.  And I make myself miserable and become unable to engage in the rest of my life.  I simply can’t do that, for my sake and the sake of my family.  Talking to Mama Bear this evening, she reminded me, “It not only is OK for you to take a step away from it, you need to take a step away from it.”  Even though she has told me that at least a dozen times before, I needed that reminder, because I keep on wanting to work and work and work at what is distressing me in a vain attempt to figure it out more quickly and get it all over with.  That hasn’t worked with less difficult material and it certainly is not going to work with this.

Mama Bear also told me that I need to be patient with myself.  I may find myself being drawn back to this material and needing to move myself away from it “for the 150th time that hour.”  Beating myself up doesn’t help things at all, but treating myself with compassion and understanding can.

Frankly, I don’t want to do this, whatever “this” is.  I am scared of whatever it is that my mind holds and I am scared of the repercussions that it could have.  I hate how I feel in reaction to the confused glimpses that I have seen.  The thought that certain things might be makes me want to curl up in a ball and be annihilated.  This morning, while driving back from taking my daughter to school, I just started screaming, “I can’t do this!!!  I won’t do this!!!  It can’t be!!!  It is just impossible!!!”  And I don’t know if those are the cries of a part of me saying that I have it terribly wrong and that what I feared didn’t actually happen or if they are a way of trying to escape and deny what is there.  Right now, I can’t even afford to try to figure that question out, because I fear being drawn down the rabbit hole if I let myself get that close and feel any of it.

I also don’t like the feeling of not being able to do anything to try to work at this.  It somehow seems wrong to just stand by and let it be, at least until I next see Mama Bear.  But I get it.  If I can, I have to avoid touching it.  I can write about my reactions in the way that I am now, so I can try to help myself figure out better how to make it through all of this, but my challenge to myself is to see if I can avoid touching this until next Wednesday.  So please wish me strength and luck at not accidentally stumbling over it, OK?

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