Posts Tagged ‘feelings’

Susan Stein Cascade

Susan Stein

The session today was, well, intense. It probably involved more tears than any other than I can remember. They just kept on dripping down my face. Usually when I cry in session, I’m curled up in a ball and it’s as if the sobs are being torn out of me. Today I just sat there and let the tears drip, sopping them up occasionally with a tissue.

I went into the session knowing that I needed to talk with Mama Bear about something and while we tried to talk about something else first, it went nowhere pretty quickly. I found myself so tangled up in feelings of grief and anger that I couldn’t think straight enough to answer Mama Bear’s question. After struggling to focus on the other topic and beating myself up about it a bit, I realized that I should accept the wisdom of my pre-session instinct and just go with what was presenting itself.

When I stopped fighting them, the emotions grew stronger and Mama Bear remarked, “You are obviously quite upset about something.”

I opened my mouth to try to tell her what I was thinking and feeling and I just burst into tears. I cried and I cried. I cried more freely than I can remember crying before. Eventually the crying would calm and I would try again to speak, however just thinking the words that I would speak stirred up the grief anew and I would dissolve into tears once more. She sat with me silently and let me cry and was always there to meet my eyes when I looked at her for contact and support. I don’t know how many times this happened, but we were more than half way through the session before I could finally gather myself enough to really look at Mama Bear and say, “You aren’t going to let me get away with not telling you what that was about, are you?”

“Do you mean, am I going to not talk, so you need to talk?”

“No.” I struggled to get out, “You aren’t going to let me pretend-” I stopped gasping in pain, because I realized what dynamic I was describing, and then continued,”-that nothing happened and just ignore it, are you?”

She shook her head. “No. I’m not. That’s like what happened when you were a child.”

I nodded in agreement and tried to breathe with the pain of that acknowledgement.

Then Mama Bear said something completely unexpected, “I’m still here. I’m still listening.” And with that, I started to cry even harder than I had been before. You see, she accidentally directly touched on what I was so upset about. I realized a day or two ago that I am angry and grief stricken about the fact that I don’t get to have a permanent relationship with Mama Bear. I have always been aware of the boundaries around the therapeutic relationship and the very good reasons that those boundaries exist, so I was surprised when I was hit by this upset. I felt like such a cliched client. But I also knew that the feelings were intense, they weren’t going to resolve without addressing them with her, and it didn’t really matter that I didn’t approve of them.

It was terribly embarrassing to admit this to Mama Bear, although I have learned that if I am embarrassed or ashamed about something, it helps for me to name it, rather than just struggling with the feelings. She asked me, “What do you mean by “A permanent relationship?” I sighed and said, “I don’t even know the answer to that!” “OK, so it’s just kind of a general thing then?” I agreed and then she asked me, “Do you know if anything triggered this in you? Did anything come up since I last saw you?”

I first answered, “No, I don’t think so.” But then something tickled at my mind. Over the last several days, my mind has been dipping into memories of a particular type of abuse and I have been slowly accepting the reality of the physical components of that type of abuse. It has been intense at times, sometimes to the point of actually feeling physically painful. I had to deal with what physically happened to me all by myself when I was a child. I can remember thinking last night, “I don’t want to be left all alone with this again!!!”

I told Mama Bear what I had remembered. We talked a bit about it and then she said, “I’m going to ask you a really crazy question. Do you think that there is any chance that the fear of losing me could keep you from getting better?”

I thought about it a bit and said, “I hope not.”

“I hope not, too. But there was some incredibly intense grief there.”

I don’t think that it is getting in the way right now. Things are changing so rapidly inside of me, I often feel as though I don’t know which way is up. I keep on expecting myself to have a difficulty with something because I always do, but it suddenly doesn’t seem to be an issue. I don’t trust these changes because they have been so swift and I keep on expecting to take 2 steps back, but at this point it would need to be about 30 steps back and I haven’t had a major reversal yet. On the other hand, I know that I felt like I was going in circles last Spring and I wonder if fearing losing Mama Bear was a dynamic at the time. Obviously, I don’t know how I will react in the future. I anticipate that a part of me will want to hold on to her, the question is whether the rest of me will be able to manage it well enough to keep it from becoming a problem. I think so, but I don’t know…

You might think that I have just caused problems for myself by allowing myself to create such a close bond with Mama Bear- I considered that myself earlier today- but I think that while there will be a cost of painful loss when we stop working with each other, the benefits to me are more than worth the cost. I will write about this more in my next post.

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There is something in my relationship with Mama Bear that repeatedly causes me pain. It isn’t that she is doing anything wrong, in fact she keeps on trying different ways to communicate with me about the problem area, but it almost seems like I am deaf to the meaning behind her words.

I keep on expecting Mama Bear to not believe me or to think that I’m exaggerating/blowing things out of proportion, or that inside she discounts what I tell her. She has never discounted anything that I have said and she always hears what I tell her with compassion and respect. However, I still feel that way every time I tell her about anything that seems memory like. I feel that way some of the time when I talk about my emotional experiences with my family. By this point, all of me seems to know that she won’t ever say anything unkind, but I still cringe, because I fear what she is thinking inside. Of course, it’s all made more complicated because we simply don’t know exactly what happened, so there is no way that she can just believe me, not because she thinks that there is something wrong with me and she is judging me as unbelievable, but because even I don’t really know what happened.

Today, however, something hit me. I knew that it wasn’t really about Mama Bear already, but maybe it also isn’t primarily about being believed about the abuse.

You see, with my parents, my experiences were discounted, dismissed, and even turned into family jokes. I know that this dynamic happened repeatedly to some extent or another, but the example that I remember clearly is from my 17th birthday. My parents were going to leave to go on a cross country trip the next day, via RV. So they were busy the entire day packing up the RV and getting it all ready. I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t even a birthday cake, certainly no celebration. Historically, my mom liked to make a big deal about birthdays, so this was a big change and felt like a punishment for my deciding to not go with them on the trip. I don’t remember much about the day, however what I do remember is becoming increasingly frustrated and angry. I knew that I couldn’t show it to them and for whatever reason, I had to stay around the house, but I got to the point where I just had to let it out. It’s the only angry outburst that I remember as a teen and it consisted of some sort of sound of frustration and my throwing the rolls of toilet paper as hard as I could at the tub, in the closed bathroom. My parents figured out that I was throwing something and called me on it. I guess that they only way that they could deal with it was to turn it into a joke. And toilet paper rolls remained a joke well into my adulthood.

I can see now that they didn’t know how to deal with my being angry and they needed for me to stop being angry, so they tried to make it a joke. This was the best that they knew how to deal with the situation. But this also was a pattern. My feelings weren’t legitimate. What was important to me wasn’t really important. Even now, having written that out, I expect for everyone to read what I wrote and say, “Well, so what? What’s the big deal here?” Because it wasn’t like they did something awful. It was just a combination of ignorance and personal limitations. There was no intent to harm. But that pattern of having my feelings and how I saw things be discounted time and again left me feeling like I would never have my experiences simply be accepted, especially when there is something difficult about them.

That is a large part of why I keep on wanting for Mama Bear to believe me, even though we go round and round and I understand that we just don’t know. I’m not really looking for her to believe me that X type of abuse happen under X circumstances. What I’m really looking for is to experience feeling believable.

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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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This has been an interesting week for me. My daughter and I went to visit friends who live a 6 hour drive away; actually we were able to visit with two entirely unrelated sets of friends, so it was quite a nice trip. One set of friends even came up with a plan to get me to the ocean and let me go off on my own while they watched the kids play. ­čÖé It’s amazing for me to take in people paying attention to what I need and helping me get it. I still find it a bit frightening to let people in close enough to know me that well, but it is something that I am learning to appreciate and even enjoy.

This whole trip was a lesson in learning to allow myself to really be with other people. Or rather, it was my first chance to experience myself in a more challenging setting, now that I am better able to settle into myself and not flee into slight dissociation when I feel thrown off balance emotionally. I used to spend so many of my social interactions feeling superficial or fake, because I would show a calm, friendly exterior, while inside I had been triggered into an awkward, frightened child state. The two states wouldn’t fully be in contact, because I had dissociated, in avoidance of the uncomfortable feelings that didn’t go with the adult interaction that I was in.

I had noticed that I have felt more “fully myself” while interacting with people in my town, but those have been much less challenging interactions. This trip was full of good, but still challenging, interactions. It felt like the outer me has over the last several months “thickened” or grown “deep” enough, so that when something stressful happened that might cause me to dissociate, I was able to feel for the ground under me, so to say, and stay fully present.

For instance, my very good friend that I was staying with had asked me how I was doing and I had told her a bit, but I knew that if I really started talking about it, I would open up far too much emotionally. If we had had a few hours alone, just the two of us, that would have been one thing, but we had 20 minutes, while we went to pick up pizza for everyone. But while trying to sleep that night, I realized that she sounded like she really did want to know how I am doing and she wasn’t looking for pat answers. I also recognized that I needed for her to know. She is one of the people I trust most in the world and I needed for someone else who loves me and whom I trust to really know just what things are like for me. What most people see of me would never give them an inkling as to what my inner experience can be like, but I needed for my friend to “see” more of me, not just the easy to see part.

So the next day, I took her aside and asked her if she “really wanted to know just what things are like for me” and I listened carefully to the tone as well as the words of her answer. Then I pulled up a recent blog post on my phone and handed it to her; it was one that I wrote on a difficult day. I almost changed my mind at the last second because it was frightening to reveal so much of myself to someone who means so much to me. But looking back, I was uncomfortable, I was frightened, I felt unsure and vulnerable, but I stayed there with her and with the feelings. It was hard to see her reactions, because I could see it reflected in someone else’s face just how horrible things are some times. At one point, I found myself focusing on my daughter telling a funny story to other family members in the other room and imagined myself connected to her and what she represents in my current life. To my astonishment, I realized that I actually smiled briefly, and I was reminded that even though I deal with difficult feelings, there is joy in my life now. And then when my friend finished and looked at me with tears in her eyes and told me how brave I am and hugged me, I just cried, because I felt less alone.

And through all of this, I was present, I didn’t flee. Despite feeling frightened and vulnerable, I still felt safe enough to fully stay there, with my friend. I’m still astonished… Yes, I know that I have more to learn and to practice in this area, but if I could manage to stay present in this interaction, it gives me hope that I can learn to stay present, period.

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I really miss the ocean right now… Not for the normal reasons that you miss the ocean- playing in the water, watching for dolphins, making sand castles, chasing waves- but because it was so very healing to me.

We lived in San Diego for three years before we moved back to New York State. Now, I’m really not a Southern California kind of person, so I was happy to say goodbye to most of what makes Southern California, Southern California. But the ocean was very different. The second to the last time I went to the ocean before I left, I went alone, so I could say my farewells without needing to take care of a 5 year old. To my astonishment, I cried; I felt that much grief at needing to say goodbye to something which had helped me keep my soul from being tattered.

While we were in San Diego, I had the extreme good fortune to have a job where I could walk down to a mostly deserted beach, linger for 20 minutes, and walk back up to the office, all during my lunch hour. I wish that I could say that I did the walk every day, but I probably did it twice a week or more, much of the time. Sometimes I would go alone, other times I would go with friends, but each and every time I came back feeling at least a bit replenished.

And then there were the challenging times. I managed to keep things pretty well locked up during that period and did no therapy what so ever. But every once in awhile, things would start to leak out. When I started either feel the trauma pressing at me or just overwhelmed by some of the curve balls that life was throwing at me, I would go down to the beach alone. I would find a sheltered spot, with my back to the cliffs, sit cross legged on the sand, close my eyes, and just breathe. It would feel like all of the stress, difficult emotions, confusion, whatever happened to be threatening to overwhelm me at the time was draining out of my body as I sat there. I could imagine it flowing down the beach and into the ocean and the power and energy of the waves taking what I had just released and pounding it into nothingness. I wasn’t powerful enough to hold what was troubling me, but I could imagine giving it over to the ocean and the power of whatever was hurting me was nothing in comparison to the power of the whole Pacific Ocean.

Today, while I was out walking in the woods, thinking about my session, I realized just what a powerful healing force the ocean had been for me. The time that I spent with it when I was troubled, doing that meditative/imagery work was probably a large part of the reason I was able to do as well as I did while we were there. It’s funny how sometimes, if you let something emerge from inside of you, you find that you actually know what it is that you need to do in order to help yourself.

I also realized today that I haven’t been able to find anything to replace the role that the ocean played for me, and that is somewhat of a problem. I need a place that I can allow all of the pain, shame, fear, etc. to drain out of me into. But what else is there that holds the same energy and power as the ocean?

I do grounding/meditative exercises using the earth and trees and they work wonderfully for those purposes because they are so solid and go so deep, but I need something with more of a sense of energy for this other job, I think. Of course, I am so stuck on, “It needs to be the ocean” that I am having trouble getting creative here!

Any suggestions?

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