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Posts Tagged ‘dissociated memories’

I have really been struggleing with an inner battle over believing myself about the abuse with my father- especially the more severe abuse. This has been going on for months, more or less constantly. It’s always in the background, even if it isn’t the center of the work that I am doing. Sometimes I find some peace with the disagreement between my inner and outer selves as to what happened, but often it leaves me feeling at such odds with myself. 

Mama Bear and I have tried to look at the question of, “Well, what would it mean if he really did the things that I seem to remember?” without saying that he actually did. Sometimes I can get somewhere, but often my mind just completely freezes. We try grounding in the safe now and that does seem to help me to feel better in other ways, but I just can’t get past this refusal to belief myself. 

I have tried treating my young parts with compassion and meeting them where they are as best I can. Yet again, very important and helpful, but it doesn’t get past this sense that I Cannot Believe It Happened.  Period. It feels like the world will fall apart/ I will run crazy and destroy everyone and everything around me with my rage/ I can’t live with it/ everyone will be able to see what happened/ I will lose everything/ it will destroy me. 

This morning, I realized That I feel so much anger at my mother. So much of me either believes at some level she knew something was wrong or doesn’t care that she didn’t know that he was abusing me because she should have.

I know that she wasn’t responsible for the abuse, he was, but she helped to create a situation that let it keep on happening. I don’t want to believe it, but she had a part in my being hurt so badly. She has some blame.

I hate this so much. I don’t want for her to have had a part in my being hurt. 

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Today,I wanted to jump out of a window, but I knew that it was an old voice of an old terror speaking. I cast about for now and today, for the reality of the life that I live and I want, but it seemed to be the insubstantial, not for real time. The terror time was too solid. I reached out for a voice who could help to guide me back, help me find my solidity in the now, help me find compassion for the part of me who remembers terror.

Yesterday’s session was intense. I found some of my intense rage at my father and my outrage that he raped me as a child and that the consequences wreck havoc on areas of my life to this day. All of it is painful to own, yet at the same time it also is a relief to be honest. The hurt me’s and the adult me’s worked together, both to express the pain, grief, and anger and then to find comfort and support, knowing that I had been heard and was not alone.

Today I woke up feeling fairly good, but then I was triggered and some terrible memories came up in regards to my grandfather. It felt as though everything fell apart. All of the communication, cooperation, and comforting skills that I have learned around my father just don’t seem to automatically apply to the parts that hold the abuse experiences with my grandfather.

Memories of some of the most intolerable experiences with my grandfather came up and I was completely overwhelmed. I began to have extremely strong urges to jump out the window, or begin to bash my head as hard as possible against the wall, or break a glass and begin to slash my arms with it. I have only very rarely done any self injury (and never serious self injury), but when I have, it has been related to my grandfather’s abuse. That awareness coupled with the strength of the urges made me wary of these impulses.

I kept on trying to ground and orient myself to the here and now. What was the texture of my pants, under my fingers? What did the light look like coming into the room? What did my chair feel like under me? It did little to no good. I could look out of my eyes and see the here and now, I could reach out my hand and touch it, but it still seem ephemeral in contrast to the intensity of the feelings of terror, abject helplessness, and vulnerability from knowing that I am at the mercy of a man who enjoys hurting me in disgusting ways. And at that moment, even though the abuse happened over 3 decades ago and he has been dead for more than 25 years, I could not shift that present tense perception into the proper past tense.

The panicked parts driven urges to do things that would harm myself did not ease at all and I was afraid to move from where I was sitting, because I wasn’t sure who would be in control when I got up. I realized that it was close to Mama Bear’s lunch hour and I considered trying to contact her. The “I need to do this on my own!” voices started up immediately, but I realized that I could either try to contact her or I could go curl up in a ball in bed, hope to fall asleep and reset before I needed to pick my daughter up in a couple of hours. “She deserves a peaceful lunch!” the voices went, but I knew which option Mama Bear would vote for.

I did manage to wait until about 10 minutes into her lunch, so she could have a bit of a break after her last client, but then I sent a text: Hi. Was doing ok until suddenly not. Can’t get myself present oriented. Panic stricken parts that want to self destruct. Grandfather. I couldn’t quite manage to get myself to explicitly ask her to call, but I knew that with that message she would at least ask if I needed to talk.

She called a few minutes later and started in on helping me to present orient myself. Where am I? My art studio/ sitting room. What do I see? My cat in the other rocking chair. We talked about how he doesn’t only have extra toes, but he has proto- paws, with all of the claws and mini toes. Once I was more now oriented, she reminded me that I had been experiencing memories of the frantic need to escape that I had experienced with my grandfather. The urges had nothing to do with the here and now. I was already clear on that fact, but it still was nice to hear her say it.

We talked a bit more and she asked if I was ok with ending the conversation there. I slowly said, “Yes…” “Are you telling me the truth?” “Well I’m ok with it, but parts inside are frightened.” “Ah… Can you ask what would help them to feel more safe?”

I felt inside and then knew what was needed. “All of the work done over the last few months around the parts wreathed to my father is missing with these parts. They don’t have the same safety and ability to be comforted. I don’t want to dive into dealing with lots of issues around what happened with him right now, but I do think that I need to work with them to set up some of that same safety connection.”

“You don’t have any of it with these parts? ”

“No. At least not in the same way that is so helpful to the other parts. These parts really need it, too. They need to know that they are not alone and can be heard, even if they need to wait to fully tell their story.”

“That really is essential to you, isn’t it? Not being alone and being heard”

“Yes!”

“Ok, this all makes sense to me. Shall we work on this when we meet on Friday? Is that ok?”

I felt an internal sigh of relief. “Yes, that would be good.”

These parts of me were terrorized by my grandfather. I’m at the point of increasingly taking in what that meant emotionally. I had somewhat grasped it intellectually, after all, I know what many, if not all of the acts were. But I simply didn’t grasp the emotional depth of what happened with him. I have struggled with suicidal feelings after dealing with intense material for a period of time around him, but I don’t remember ever going from being just fine to feeling such intense urges that clearly weren’t mine to do things to escape the memories that couple have seriously injured me or put my life at risk.

I wish that I could keep myself from falling into that pit in the first place, but it happens so automatically and quickly that I can’t stop it with my grandfather, yet. I have come to the point where I can at least keep one foot out of the pit with my father, so I know that it possible, it just takes time and effort to get there.

If I’m going to fall into the pit, then I wish that I could get myself out again, but I have come to see that when the terror is above a certain level, I freeze and can’t effectively help myself. The best that I can do is to reach out for help, create support and connections! and slowly start to learn that I am safe no matter how terrified I am in the memories. But I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I need someone else there, providing a new voice, with new messages, to help me teach the old voices that they can be safe now. They don’t have to do anything drastic to escape. They don’t have to struggle all on their own. Life is different today.

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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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A lot of my memories are very physical in nature. I remember a lot more of what happened in the abuse via sensations/ emotions/ just knowing than I do via visual memories.

One of the memories that I have been struggling with lately is the sensation of wishing for my father to do good feeling things to me. Needless to say, this has brought up intense feelings of shame, horror, disgust, and self loathing. It took me a few weeks, but I finally managed to talk about it in session with Mama Bear last week and she brought up several good points that I will talk about in a bit, but she missed the most obvious one: I knew that the abuse could feel just bad or a mixture of good and bad, so when I knew that something was going to happen, I would hope that it would be something that mixed the good and bad sensations.

There were things that my father would do that were pleasurable for my body, sometimes very much so. Bodies, including children’s bodies, are set up to have defined physical responses when they are stimulated in particular ways at certain locations. Even some young children can be stimulated to orgasm some of the time. It isn’t a case of anything being wrong with the child, it is a case of the child’s body being used against her.

It is extremely confusing to experience physical and/or emotional pain in combination with sexual pleasure. In some ways it adds another layer of pain to what is happening. At the same time, for me, having some pleasure was easier for me than not only just feeling negative physical sensations, but also experiencing the loneliness of feeling like an object that was being used and thrown aside. If he cared enough to make me feel good, then in my mind that meant that he cared about me and he remembered that I was there and I was a person who felt things.

Being sexually abused is extremely objectifying and dehumanizing. It was more so with my grandfather who set out to make me feel like a ‘thing’, but even with my father, who had different goals, it was the case. After all, my father could not have really been looking at me and fully seen me, his daughter, in all of my individuality and personhood. If he had, he could never have done what he did. He had to have seen me as an object for him to use to deal with his demons. I could never have articulated this at the time, but I certainly sensed it.

However, there was no way that I could have understand the complexities of the situation that I was in as a child or even early teen. All I knew was that I was in an impossibly painful situation. My mind had to deal with what I had been dealt the best that it could; it seems that part of the way that I dealt- some of the time, at least- was by feeling like I wanted to be with him and feel pleasure. As Mama Bear pointed out, I had very little physical contact or even concentrated attention from my father other than through the abuse. I yearned for his love. Given that set up, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some parts of me value that interaction with him. When he intensely paid attention to me and did things that made me feel good, I felt closer to him than at any other time. But other parts of me loathed what was happening and are furious at me for trusting him and want to tear my skin off for physically feeling anything.

So I am left with these strongly conflicting feelings that I need to accept were all valid. It would be so much easier if I could only remember hating and rejecting the abuse by my father, but that wasn’t my reality. It was with my grandfather- there wasn’t the slightest bit of connection with him, because he was purely a monster with me. My father was much more confusing for me to deal with. He hurt me, physically and emotionally, but he could also make me feel loved and physical pleasure. I didn’t want what was going on and wanted for it to stop, but if it was going to happen, I wanted for it to happen in the “good” way. Worst of all, though, he threatened my relationship with my mother. This was something that I couldn’t tell her, because I was so convinced that she would pick him over me. Actually, I am convinced that I tried to tell her that something was wrong. I wouldn’t have said just what was wrong, but even crying after school every day for months at a time I only got sympathy, not her trying to find out what was so terribly wrong.

I couldn’t get her understanding and support for the terrible bind that I was in back then. I had no one to help me deal with the adaptations that I had to make in order to survive the situation as intact as possible. As Mama Bear keeps on reminding me, things in the now are very different. I have external support, but, even more importantly, I now have the internal resources to start to give myself what I so desperately needed then. Today, I need to set aside my repulsion for what I did and look at it with compassion as ‘what I had to do’. I did what I had to do. I would never have chosen to have sexual interactions with my father, if I hadn’t been forced into the situation. I simply found the ways to deal with it that made it all as tolerable for me as possible. Sometimes these options weren’t open to me and what I experienced was purely awful. Comparing the two, I am glad that I had something available that was able to soften the edge of the abuse, some of the time.

It swirls through my mind: it doesn’t matter what I did to get through what happened. I didn’t hurt anyone, after all, I just tried to find the molds to put myself into that would make me someone who could survive an untenable situation as well as possible.

——-

I felt stronger while I was writing this, but now I am feeling more vulnerable. This more compassionate understanding of myself is all too tenuous. We will see whether I can tolerate leaving this post up or whether the shame and fear of being judged wins out.

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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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Fractured Self 2 Artist: Randall Cook

Fractured Self 2
Artist: Randall Cook

I am struggling with acceptance these days.

I remember back when I started to acknowledge and deal with my parts again over 2 years ago; Mama Bear and I went through a rocky stage because I was treating my parts as if they were completely separate “others.” They felt so “other” and while I vaguely knew that they were all parts of me, at the same time I needed to keep them as separate from me as possible.

I would get so mad at her when she would talk about them as “memory states,” because they are far more than just memories. But it is true that most of them are organized around trauma memories and most of what I need to deal with for the parts is related to what happened when I was young. What is going on now might be triggering responses, but my feelings and reactions are not really to what is happening in 2014 most of the time. The sense of “otherness” is so compelling, though. I physically feel different, I sound different, I think differently, I see the world and my place in it differently, my relationships with others are different, and generally I feel like a child, often a small one. This is the mind’s way of dealing with experiences that were too overwhelming to integrate at the time, after all. They had to be “other.” It’s no wonder to me that so many people with DID are convinced that they have other people inside of them, but Mama Bear was determined that I not fall into that trap and she repeated reminded me that even if they didn’t feel like it, they were parts of me.

Eventually, I had a breakthrough when I realized that I was trying to go back and rescue these child parts from the abuse, as if they were separate children and the abuse was something that I could change now. I could have thrown myself against that wall for the next 100 years and I would only have failed over and over. These parts are not children that I need to rescue, they are parts of me that I need to help understand that they are no longer living in the 70s. There is no rescuing from the abuse. That needed to happen 35 years or more ago. The abuse actually is over and done with and I have not been in a situation where I have been at any risk for over 25 years. But so much of me doesn’t understand that the nightmare that keeps on getting run through my head is all in the past and doesn’t have anything to do with now.

So, for the last couple of years, I have been working on showing to myself that things are different now. It’s a slow process, but it is working, bit by bit. And the more of me that understands that I live in 2014 and am safe now, even if I feel scared and overwhelmed when I remember things, the better that I can do all of the work that I need to do.

I’ve been kind of proud of myself for making progress. Then, this past weekend, it hit me smack in the face that I have been fooling myself. I’m not accepting these parts the way that I had been thinking. What I’m really doing is saying, “OK, I have these parts of me that had these experiences. But they had the experiences. The experiences don’t belong to me at all. Those terrible things happened to those parts over there. Yes, it’s awful, but it’s that part that was raped. It’s that part that felt tortured. Not me. Never me. Never, ever me.”

I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it. I don’t know if I’m capable of really accepting that the child or pre-teen in the memories was me. Experiencing the memories from the inside, rather than from the outside is horrible. I don’t know if I am brave enough to deal with that level of terror for any more than a second at a time.

Frankly, my mind just freezes at this point. I don’t know what to do.

Mama Bear keeps on telling me that I can bring the parts to me, so I can soothe myself now, the way that I should have been soothed and comforted at the time of the abuse. The concept makes sense, but at the same time, I just panic at the thought of accepting that this is me (I can call it a “part”, but really it’s me), and then bringing it in close to more of me, to feel safe. I would rather go to the part in the memory and get stuck there for a bit, but then be able to leave the part and the memory behind (“it doesn’t really belong to me.”) That approach isn’t working though, not only does it put me through the wringer, but it doesn’t actually help the traumatized parts and they are starting to scream at me to help them.

I feel as though I should have some positive, hopeful ending, but really, I’m struggling with this. I don’t know how I am going to solve it. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to hit a dead end here, though. Either I’ll figure out a way to do what I’m trying to do, or I’ll figure a way around it, I always do. I often want to give up, however giving up isn’t an acceptable option for me. I will admit, though, that right now I am feeling pretty tired and discouraged.

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Set Fire to the Rain Artist: Nik Helbig

Set Fire to the Rain
Artist: Nik Helbig

I can tangibly feel a young part of me right now; it’s like she is sitting there, connected to my solar plexus. I can feel her need for assurance and love, but I also feel her needs for other things that I just can’t identify. I don’t know what to do or to “say” to help her.

“But I’m OK.” That’s who this part is. She is the one who would be “OK” right after the abuse. She could get right up and somehow act “normally” because she was “OK.” She didn’t feel any of the pain or physical residue of the abuse; someone else did. She could laugh, even while other parts of me inside were screaming. She had to laugh, to act like nothing ever happened.

I had to laugh. I had to laugh at jokes that I didn’t understand and made me feel bad. I had to want to be there in that house because I had to “love” my grandfather.

I had to act like everything was OK. I didn’t want to. But someone had to. Then. I don’t have to anymore.

But then, someone had to be able to get up and walk out of that room.

Because the part of me that took the abuse couldn’t. That part of me could only curl up in a ball and cry. That part of me wanted to wash and wash until there was nothing left. That part of me was desperate and couldn’t have said anything to anyone because she knew that she had to stay silent. That part of me thought that she would rather have been dead than feel it happen to me again.

That abuse will never happen again. I promise. I promise. It just won’t. It is over. It is done with. I am safe from it now and from now on I will be safe from it. I can’t guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen, but I can promise that that particular abuse won’t happen again.

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