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Posts Tagged ‘fears’

The past several days have been very hard for me, so much so that my body has responded by having having a migraine almost every day. Eventually I realized that inside I felt as though the world was disintegrating around me and I was blanketed in a layer of heart stopping fear. Clearly, the work that I have been doing recently had pushed me past the point of being able to cope.

When I get this overwhelmed, I lose all sense of order inside. Internally, I feel as though I bounce between between parts, without ever being able to connect with and soothe any single part. This time, there was no sense of any coherent thought, just chaos, a complete lack of safety, and the fear that I was in the midst of losing absolutely everything that I care about.

The me that holds everything together could look around at where and when I am and see that there is safety and security in my life and there are no signs that the life that I am living is going to fall apart around me. These are old fears, but they had been triggered so strongly that I felt like I was drowning in them for days. I had to resist the feelings of helplessness and remember that I could indeed help myself. Mama Bear reminded me to, “…use your intellect to kindly assert that you are safe, the way a mother would assert this to her child. You know that you are safe, even if you don’t feel that. Remind yourself regularly that you are safe and loved, even when you don’t feel it. And, stay in the present as much as possible.”

And so I started to climb out of the hole that I had fallen into. As I started to climb out, I realized that I felt as though I simply could not take any more. For once there was no desire to understand anything about what was going on. I simply didn’t want to know about any cruelties or betrayals or how the way that I had been treated affected me. No, that isn’t quite right… The knowing isn’t so much the problem, the problem is that I no longer just know something, but I also feel it. I couldn’t take feeling how it felt to be maltreated. And to be honest, I still feel that way today. I just don’t have the resources to deal with how it feels to have another human do something vile to me. How it feels to have someone who should love me, hurt me instead. Right now, that is something that just feels as though it tears the world apart for me. On the face of it, it simply sounds bad, but for some reason, inside it feels unendurable.

Somehow, it left me doubting my own humanity and reality. “If I was really human, this couldn’t happen.” “I’m nothing more than a trash can for them to stuff bad things into.” “No one would make a good girl feel like this.”

At the moment, I think that all I can do for myself is to keep a hold of the fact that there is nothing in my life today that would create these feelings and ways of thinking about myself. I am safe now, even if I wasn’t as a child. I don’t have to understand at the moment exactly what happened to make things so unsafe for me as a child; it’s the right thing for me to be most concerned about helping the hurt me’s feel less frightened and hurt. Right now my job is to calm down the panicked, despairing parts of me, so I get close enough in again to bring healing to those parts.

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I know that I go on quite a bit about establishing feelings of safety, because for me that has been a huge deal. I am very aware that life is unpredictable and there is no knowing whether another car will run a red light and kill or injure one of my loved ones. People are capable of violence and while my life is set up so that I am sheltered from most sources of violence, there is no guarantee that some random act won’t intersect with my life. For whatever reason, I am just fine with living with this knowledge. Random bad stuff happens out in the world and some of it will show up in my life. Hopefully it will be manageable bad stuff, but I can’t live my life worrying about whether I will end up in the middle of something catastrophically bad.

The sort of safety that I am talking about is familial safety. Safety from being rejected and abandoned by those closest to me. The safety to know that the people in my life aren’t going to suddenly change into monsters without warning. The safety to believe that when people say that they love me and they want to support me, they really do mean it and they follow through with their actions. The safety to know that when I go to bed at night, I don’t have to be afraid of what is going to happen to me. The safety to know that there is no one who has the sort of power over me that adults had when I was a child. The safety to know that there is no one in my life who derives pleasure from hurting my physically and emotionally. The safety of knowing that I am now an adult and there is a lot that I can do to protect myself, if something should start to go wrong.

There is no guaranteed safety in life, but as an adult, it is possible to create a life where many of the places that I lacked safety as a child are now actually safe. I have found shelter in my current life. But learning that I am safe is a very slow process for me. And while I have made significant progress over the last few months, there is a lot of me inside that still doesn’t feel safe enough to feel safe. There is no forcing feeling safe, though, all I can do is to keep on reminding all of me to pay more attention to what I am experiencing in the world around me than what I experience in my memories.

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Earlier today, I had a fantasy… In it, it was possible to fully split into two people. Not just in terms of a divided mind, but to divide into two equal bodies. One body would have a mind that would be completely unencumbered by my parents and could go off with my husband and daughter and have a life full of joy. The other body would stay and deal with the duties and obligations that keep me bound to my parents. That self might be miserable, but at least she would know that a large portion of me was off having a happy life. Looking back on that fantasy, I’m astonished to realize that I didn’t even consider where anything to do with my grandfather would go. I am feeling pretty miserable where my parents are concerned right now.

On Friday, I had a panic, because I had some information that indicated that there was a chance that my dad might be planning on an unannounced visit at my house. He lives 2,500 miles away, so I normally don’t worry about this at all, but when I found out that he was on the East Coast and about to take a 2 week drive across country, to get back to the West Coast, I got worried. He has a history of just showing up at people’s houses on these trips, with an hour’s forewarning or less. When I e-mailed back to my mom, asking her whether he was planning on stopping here and she didn’t respond, I panicked. I know that she wouldn’t outright lie about something like that, but she might avoid answering the question.

I wasn’t thinking straight, but I knew that I really didn’t want to talk with her on the phone. I haven’t talked with her in months. It took Mama Bear reminding me that I could text my mother for me to even consider that option, and by the next afternoon, I had received a reply saying that my dad was taking the southern route and wouldn’t be coming near where I live.

At first I just felt relief that I wouldn’t need to deal with him right now, but then I started to feel shame and embarrassment that I had over reacted and thought that he might be coming, when he actually wasn’t. I got other people worried on my behalf and asked Mama Bear to call me, because I wasn’t thinking clearly and needed help coming up with a plan. But a situation that I thought was a likely emergency turned out to not be an emergency at all. I was worried about nothing. I took small cues that might have meant something more serious and proceeded as if they did, until I was able to prove otherwise. I blew something way out of proportion. And it makes me wonder, how much have I done that with my parents?

Right now I am in the midst of trying to figure out my relationship with them, particularly with my father. And I know that the way that so many other people experience him is not how I experience him. Most people love him. My cousins think that he is fantastic. Neighbors are impressed by how helpful he can be. He can be incredibly generous at times to people. And I am so confused about him. I hold so much anger inside of me at him and so much pain and grief, but maybe it’s just the normal emotions stored up that were never expressed? I can’t remember feeling loved by him, but maybe that’s some fault in my not remembering? I would happily turn and walk the opposite direction from him and not look back, if there was a way that I could do it without hurting my mother, but maybe there just is something wrong with me? I mean, where is the loyalty that I should feel? I only feel guilt for not feeling and thinking the things that I should.

But it isn’t like I know of anything really terrible about him. I can’t point to any one thing and say, “That hurt me so much that I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” I feel trapped. But I don’t think that I do much feel trapped by him so much as I fear that as soon as I start to encounter any resistance from my mother, I will completely crumble. That’s where my fantasy comes in. I want for there to be a me that can go off and take care of my mother and “do the right thing” and I want for there to be a me that can actually go off and have a life and be the me that I want to be. Right now it doesn’t feel like I can reconcile the two.

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One of the good things about healing is that you get stronger. But I have found that as I get stronger, I also find that since I can tolerate being more honest with myself, I need to be more honest with myself. Sometimes that can mean admitting to myself some things that I would really rather avoid thinking about all together. The good news here is that if I can admit to myself that it is going on, no matter how much I don’t want to admit to it, then I have a chance of dealing with it before it becomes a real problem.

This weekend, I caught myself feeling compelled to do something that I knew would be a mistake. It would have been harmful to me and set back my healing. It certainly would have reactivated some damaging messages and potentially could have retraumatized me. I knew that it would be a bad thing for me to do and yet I also felt an intense amount of internal pressure to do it.

So why was I reacting this way? I don’t know all of the reasons, but I think that part of it is that my husband was involved and I know that he was frustrated/angry about something that happened between the two of us. I interpreted his emotions to mean that he was frustrated and angry with me, but in retrospect, I think that he was just frustrated and angry about the situation.

OK, I’m going to just name the situation… I had been badly triggered while we were making love and this was one of a series of several times in a row that this had happened. My husband is patient, caring, and generous, but he is also human and after having his wife go from passionate to shaking with fear in about 2 nanoseconds for the 5th or 6th time in a row, he was irritated. He first held me and waited for me to calm down and be present again, but then he needed to leave the room because he was so irritated.

The young parts inside of me completely over reacted and were positive that he was furious with me and that I had to do something to make him less angry, otherwise I would be in terrible danger. It was like I then observed myself making a plan that I would wait until that night, when all of the lights were out and then let a sexualized part take over and “take care of him.” I had to wait until it was dark, because I knew that he would be able to tell that something was off if he could see my face.

It seemed to be that all of these messages that I have been fighting against were being triggered: “All I’m good for is sex.” “I’m made to be hurt.” “I’m in danger unless I do what he wants.” “My body doesn’t belong to me.” And I had a major battle going on as to how I was going to handle things.

The wiser part of me knew that it was a terrible idea for me to act on this impulse. Not only would it be harmful to me, it wouldn’t be what my husband wants anyways. Remember how said that I knew that I could only do what I was planning in the dark, because he would see that something was wrong if he could see my face? He’s not looking to have sexual gratification, no matter what; he wants to have a healthy sexual relationship with his wife. He doesn’t want to have sex with a sexualized part or a child part, just to have sex; he wants to make love with the me that he recognizes. Frankly, carrying through with that plan could only cause problems between us.

I wrote an e-mail to Mama Bear, describing my struggle to her. I knew that she was out of town and so would not get the e-mail for 2 1/2 days, but I hoped that by telling her, I would help to hold myself accountable for my actions. I was betting that if I knew that I would have to face her, I would be more likely to find a way to find the strength to resist the compulsion. I struggled with the idea of calling her to ask for help, but I really didn’t want to interrupt her trip, so I decided not to, unless I was pretty certain that I would be unable to resist the urge to act on the impulses.

And these impulses were persistent and strong, I believe because not only was I reacting out of a need to try to protect myself from an angry man (however false that perceived need actually was), but I was also acting out of a sense of self hatred and a desire to self destruct. This self hatred seemed to come out of nowhere and I can still feel the echoes of it now, but two days ago, it was so strong that it was overwhelming.

There has been so much that has been so positive lately and it’s almost like I’m afraid of the fact that I am starting to feel my strength, dare to live within my body, and increasingly claim my life for my own. It’s like I’m trying to slap myself down before someone else does it even more painfully. It’s like I hope that if I hurt myself badly enough, then I won’t be destroyed for daring to try to escape.

So I guess that once again, I am back to helping myself pay attention to the fact that the here and now that I am in really is different from how things were when I was a child. The people in my life now want for me to live into my strength, take delight in having a body, and claim my life. They believe me that things were bad and that I still hurt now and they won’t punish me for hurting or for getting better. It really is safe for me to fully be alive now. And I can keep on struggling with this for as many times and as long as I need to. Each time I will take in my safety a bit more and eventually I will deeply accept it and I won’t panic and think that I need to punish myself in a misguided attempt to keep myself safe.

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Tonight is another night when it is well past midnight and I am up yet again. Why do I do this to myself? Why am I so reluctant to go to bed at night? At the moment I am so tired that I can hardly think straight, but I still can’t get myself to turn off the computer and lights, get ready for bed, and get into bed. So you all get to be subjected to my late night ramblings, I fear.

Really, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I take a medication that makes it relatively easy for me to fall asleep most of the time, so it isn’t like I toss and turn for a long time once I go to bed.

I don’t think that I have nightmares, but then I rarely remember my dreams, so maybe I am having bad dreams and I just don’t remember them?

My bed is comfortable and there is nothing off putting about my room.

Or is there? Because I am now aware of being a bit anxious about going to bed. I think that there are two things here… 1) When I am in the process of waking up from or falling asleep into a nap, I am vulnerable to memories coming up. I think that my bed is now slightly associated with frightening memories. 2) My husband shares my bed with me. I didn’t realize that I was avoiding bed partially because of him. It isn’t like he does anything threatening. In fact, he understands that while I may want to cuddle up against him for some physical contact right after getting into bed, I can’t tolerate being touched at all while I am actually falling asleep. He has learned to not take it as a rejection when I turn my back on him and move over to my side of my bed; it’s just that I have to mentally create my own safe space in our bed, or else I will either never get to sleep or I will end up kicking and striking out defensively as I fall asleep.

I’m not going to kick him out of our bed. And most of me enjoys sleeping close to him; in fact much of the time I sleep better when he is at home in our bed as opposed to when he is out of the house for some reason when it is time to sleep. I will admit the obvious, these parts of me are nervous because sometimes I make love with my husband, and at times that still can be triggering for layers of me. So I need to find a way to reassure the nervous parts of me that it is completely safe to me to sleep in the same bed as hubby. I won’t ever wake up with him touching me at all, never mind touching me sexually. In fact he would help to keep me safe from a threat, so I am safer with him in my bed than I would be alone. Ah, those 2 things may be the keys… While I have been trying to separate past from present for these parts and convince them that my hubby is safe, however what I forgot was to not just tell myself, “he won’t hurt me,” but to think through and help those parts understand how my husband does act. He understands that being touched while I am sleeping could be highly triggering for me and he is a caring and considerate person who will act appropriately on such information. I can’t even remember the last time he touched me in my sleep- it likely was more than 20 years ago- and he isn’t likely to change how he acts after this long, when he has a better understanding of why it is so important. Also, those young parts tend to think of being alone as being safer, if I can’t be with my mother. Well, things are very different now- my mother no longer represents safety in the now, and I am safer in my bed when my husband is also in it. He is a help to me, not a threat!

There is no magic cure here, but this gives me a couple of things to work with myself on, that I hadn’t considered before.

Who else here has trouble with going to bed? What have you done to help yourself solve the problem?

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“You can call me or text me if you need to. You can try to e-mail me, but that will take longer for me to see. You know how to reach me.”

Mama Bear is going out of town for a long weekend and normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the last few weeks have been increasingly rough for me. The problem here isn’t her being out of town- she makes this trip regularly and she will be back before our next appointment. It’s that it’s already terribly difficult to for me contact her and ask her for support, even when she isn’t off doing something special with her family. Under normal conditions, I almost always e-mail her, because that seems less intrusive to me. I know that if she is busy with something, she isn’t going to be reading e-mails, so my e-mail is unlikely to interrupt something important. But sending a text or calling her is asking for a response in real time. I know that she won’t respond or answer if she is busy, but I still will have interfered with her other business. And acting as though my distress is a worthy enough reason to interrupt her day is frightening for me.

Will you contact me if you need to speak to me?” I struggle to answer that question. The logical part of me wants to say that I don’t intend to need to, but if things get to be that bad, yes I will. But all of the kid parts are clamoring, “No! I can’t!! I can’t! I want to but I can’t!” Finally I manage to force out, “I will try to.”

“You will try to?” Mama Bear sounds a bit disappointed.

“Yes, I will try to.”

“C., it really is OK for you to contact me. I know how to take care of myself. I appreciate that you want to respect my time with my son, but if you need to, call me.”

“But I don’t know how to tell how much distress is enough to warrant calling, unless I am at the point where I am about to go off the cliff.”

“Please don’t wait until that point. Call before that, it will be easier on both me and you if you do. It would be a problem if you were going to call me all day, every day, but you aren’t going to do that. We are talking about 5 or 10 minutes now and then and that is something that it is OK with me to give. It really is OK for you to ask for my help. I mean it.”

While she is talking, I listen intently and try to get all of me to listen. She finishes and for several seconds I just stare into her eyes, trying to show the parts of me inside that are afraid to believe what she is saying, that her eyes show that she is completely sincere.

“I’m not getting through at all, am I?”

“No, actually you are and I am trying to help more of me absorb what you are saying.”

This has been a long term problem for me. I am so afraid to ask for too much and end up rejected as being “too needy.” The thing is that I know that this is a mother issue and it isn’t really a Mama Bear issue; we have worked on it in the past and I am sure that we will continue to work on it for some time to come. It is a core issue for me, “Is it safe to need others? Can I trust them to be there for me when I need them? Will they decide that I am too demanding and desert me?”

Over time, I have made significant progress on present day relationships. Yes, these fears can be triggered in my relationships with my husband and friends, but I no longer automatically react from these fears every time. And as I slowly learn that while the people I care about are human and will let me down sometimes, I am able to make smart choices on who I trust and I’m not going to have any grand betrayals. I can trust myself to find good people to trust to be there for me.

But what gets stirred up in the therapeutic relationship is different. Much of the time, I’m not primarily reacting from the here and now me- that would be so simple- I’m reacting from so many young me’s who were formed at a time when I did experience just the sort of abandonment in the face of intense need that I am fearing. And as challenging as it is for me to struggle with it over and over, it’s something that I need to do, because those hurt, betrayed child parts need to learn that even though my mother let me down so profoundly, that does not mean that I can never reach out for help when I am in pain. There are people here, now, who I can trust to not abandon me to that pain, even if the intensity of the pain is frightening to me.

But asking for what I need is so hard, even when it should be a simple request. There have been so many times when Mama Bear has responded to my e-mail and I know that what I really need is to hear her say those same words, because the child parts don’t take in what is written in the e-mails. Sometimes I can imagine her saying what she wrote and hear her voice in my head, which helps. Over all, though, reading helps my adult, but isn’t so helpful for the child parts. And yet, it is these child parts who are most opposed to my picking up my phone, calling, and saying, “Hey, could you please take a couple of minutes to just say to me what you wrote, because my kids really need to take this in.”

For right now, I will hold in mind that Mama Bear really did mean what she said today. She knows that I am in a bit of a fragile place and that there is a real chance that something could set me off. It’s better for me to reach out for a steadying hand before I go spinning out of control, rather than grit my teeth and end up a royal mess that she gets to help scrape off the walls when she gets home. I won’t call, but I will text and ask to talk to her, if I find myself heading towards spinning out of control.

And I think that I may show her the paragraph about how helpful it would be to have her say things sometimes, rather than just write them. It would be good practice for me to ask for something that isn’t absolutely necessary but would probably be helpful. Because I need to help all of me understand that what I experienced as a child doesn’t actually define the limits of the entire world. Little by little I can test this out and take it in…

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Today I had an epiphany. It isn’t very often that I have one of those moments when everything shifts and becomes much easier, so I need to celebrate this one. ­čÖé

Over the last few days, I have talked about the turmoil that was stirred up when my mother asked me to call my father for his birthday. It brought to the forefront the need to figure out how to begin to talk with my mother about the fact that the abuse still affects me. I’m not even sure that she believes me when I say that I was abused, because she changes the topic every time I make any reference to being in therapy. She is highly avoidant and because this has been a life long coping skill, she isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Unfortunately, I learned my lessons in being avoidant of conflict all too well from her, making it even more difficult to have any sort of a conversation with her. So, over the last several months, Mama Bear and I keep on circling back around again and again to the questions of “What do I need to say to my mother? How am I going to say it? And how can I prepare myself so that I am able to deal with whatever her reaction is?” The subject comes up, we talk about it, and I become overwhelmed so the actual talk with my mother gets tabled. Each time we circle around, I do get a bit further, but I have been proceeding at a glacial pace.

My mother’s request, on top of her request to send my daughter out to my parents for 2 weeks, has accelerated the need for me to get to the heart of the matter and find my voice. This weekend, it became crystal clear to me that my mom is going to continue to pretend that nothing is terribly wrong and proceed along her way, with her eyes tightly shut to what is going on, if I don’t force the issue. And because she pretends that nothing is wrong, she keeps on doing or saying things that knock me off balance, just as I am starting to develop momentum in a good direction. I deserve better and my family deserves better.

Well, I started off this morning in a shaky place and I wrote to Mama Bear about the fact that my mom hasn’t responded to my e-mail at all and how I realized that a part of me had been holding on to an unrealistic hope. Maybe, somehow I had created a situation where my mom didn’t really understand how much pain I have been in and now that I have made it clear, she will reach out to me with statements of love and support. But by that point, it was pretty hard to hold on to that bit of hope any more, because so much time had gone by since my sending my message to her. Unfortunately, I had already swung to the other extreme of fear that I had so threatened my mother that she wouldn’t ever want to have anything to do with me again! Yep, talk about a neurotic mess- that was me this morning.

Mama Bear responded with her normal good sense and reminded me that it is unlikely that my mother has cut me off completely, it’s just that she automatically reverts to avoidance when faced with a difficult situation. Then she said two things that got my brain turning: “She has very little capacity for figuring out what you need emotionally. And, you need to continue speaking up for yourself in some manner.”

Somehow, seeing those two statements side by side made something click and the obvious finally became clear to me: “Even though she is the mother and I am the daughter, I’m in my 40s now and she isn’t necessarily any more of an adult than I am. In some ways she may be even less. I keep on expecting for her to be the adult in this situation and allow me to be the hurt child. That just isn’t going to happen and I need to protect that hurt child part of me anyways.”

She simply can’t do the mother/adult job that I want for her to do and hear my need for love and support in what I say, without my coming out and having to say, “Dammit, I need your love and support here! This is incredibly hard but it would be less hard if I knew that you believed me and that you were on my side. I have been suffering a lot and part of it is because I’m going through this without your support.”

I know that I am dealing with memories of desperately needing for her to figure out that something is terribly wrong from when I was a child. I really did need for her to rescue me then and I still feel those needs as if they apply to now. But they don’t. I want a relationship with my mother, but if she fell out of my life, I could go on after a time of mourning. My safety is no longer dependent upon whether she can bear to see that I am hurting and that something is wrong.

This takes so much of the pressure off of me. I don’t have to get our interaction “just right” so that my mom’s immediate reaction is both to understand how bad things have been and to not flee. She may very well retreat in order to adjust to what I need to say, but I am her only child and my daughter is her only grandchild- she is highly motivated to retain a connection to us, so she is likely to re-engage.

It also helps to lift me out of a vulnerable place, where I am looking for my mother to provide something that she almost certainly is unable to provide. But I can provide my own nurturing, safety, and protection now. I can either give myself what I need or I can find people who are willing and able to give me what I need.

Even though I often connect strongly with feelings of being a vulnerable child, the reality is that I am not. It sounds crazy to me, but I am in my 40s. I have a daughter who will be entering 3rd grade in the fall. I am an adult, it’s just a matter of getting me to remain connected to that knowledge and to feel confident enough to act from the strength of my adulthood. Today’s epiphany was a big step in that direction.

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