Posts Tagged ‘grief’

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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Lisa Marie Sanders Time

Lisa Marie Sanders

“I am done! I am just so done with this! No more!!”

I’ve been hearing a voice in my head say this for the last couple of months, but I haven’t been sure just what it is that I’m so done with. Therapy has been painful and exceptionally challenging, so I wondered if it meant that I was done with doing therapy. Yes, it felt related, as though I just couldn’t bear to keep on doing what I’ve been doing into the foreseeable future, I was tired of feeling beaten up emotionally. So very done with feeling all of that pain in regards to my parents, but I noticed that the voice didn’t use the word “quit.” I dreaded the sessions as much as I needed them as a life line, but I knew that I had to go, quitting wasn’t an option.

So what was that voice talking about?

I think that I’m starting to understand. I am completely done with feeling stuck under certain obligations to my parents that have controlled me my whole life. I am done with letting the limitations caused by the trauma reactions keep me from doing things that I very much want to do- keep me from seeing people who I know will help to nurture my heart. I am done with feeling like I have to stay curled up in a tight ball and not dare to breathe. I am done with letting the days slip by and not letting myself really live them, because I am too afraid of the pain. I am done with not allowing myself to fully be me, whoever she might be. I am done with living by the old rules.

I am just so sick and tired of that life. I don’t want it. And I feel as though things are opening up inside and I am slowly seeing that I don’t have to live that life.

I don’t know where I’m headed and I find that frightening. But I also feel as though I might be on the edge of stepping off on to a wonderful journey.

“I refuse to live in a box. I won’t do it for anyone.” That is what it has felt like, isn’t it? Folding myself up into a pretzel and then being walled in by a box. No more.

I know that these things wax and wane and I’m not about to jump up and turn my entire life upside down with revolutionary changes. But, yes, I agree with that voice, I am so done. I’m particularly done with the bonds that have kept me feeling trapped in a tight place with so many of the emotions and memories of when I was a child. I’m no longer that child who had no choice other than to get through the best that she could. Now it’s time to do my best to free myself from what has kept me so tightly tied to that period of my life. It’s time to allow myself to move through the pain and start to fully live in the present with a marvelous husband and heart-breakingly wonderful daughter.

From the depth of the pain that I felt today, this will not be an easy process; I’m not fooling myself. But I can also see that something different happened while I was experiencing the pain today: I both allowed myself to honestly express and fully experience my emotions and I allowed myself to not only take in and really accept acts of kindness and support from Mama Bear, but I was able to take in her intent to deliberately care for and comfort me. Sitting here now, I realize that once it was all over, I felt cleaner and freer somehow, if exhausted.

I’ll do this somehow. I’ll need the support of those who love the full me, but I’m done with staying in this place.

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I’ve discovered that having it feel more safe to feel real and to know that all of me is alive has its downside. It can also make the pain and the grief that much more intense. This really is my pain and my grief. Over the last several days, it has been intense enough that it makes it difficult for me to think, much less communicate with anyone.

That intensity was utterly overwhelming to me, so I shut down my connection to the painful emotions, without even realizing what I was doing. Shutting myself off from the pain came at a terrible cost, though. I found myself in a period of intense self loathing. I heard myself inside saying things like, “I should die” and “Please kill me,” and I had images of intense self harm. I knew that this state of mind would be damaging for me to stay in- repeatedly imaging harming yourself just isn’t a good way to reinforce feelings of safety in the here and now- but it seemed that I just couldn’t get myself fully out of that state. I couldn’t figure out why I was doing this to myself- the only thing that I could think of was the fact that Mama Bear had gone off on vacation, and I seem to always have a crisis of some sort while she is gone for more than a long weekend. That idea didn’t quite seem right, but was the best hypothesis that I could come up with.

Interacting with my husband and daughter helped me to orient better to my life with them, so I could temporarily push aside the self loathing, but it was tiring to do so, and eventually the feelings would come back full force. I knew that I needed to find some self compassion, but I seemed to be incapable of locating it. All I that I could connect with was a desire to destroy myself, even though the rational corner of my mind could see that this urge was not normal for me and I just needed to hold on and eventually I would be able to untangle myself from it.

Late last night, after everyone else went to bed, I curled up on the couch just trying to breathe. I kept on feeling drawn into round after round of especially intense self hatred and eventually I realized that the urge to split myself open was connected to a need to let something emerge from me. There was something more going on here than just a desire to punish myself.

I went outside into the last of the drizzle and started to pace, so at least I didn’t literally feel trapped in place. I wondered whether I should send a message the next day to contact Mama Bear for support, but I am determined that I am going to make it through this vacation without bothering her, so I didn’t want to do that. Besides, it didn’t really feel like my difficulties were about her. And then I remembered something she said to me the last time I talked to her: she had suggested to me that the reason that I felt so much better after I allowed myself to recognize and fully feel some intense anger at my mother was because I had accepted and been able to sit with myself in the feelings, rather than trying to keep them at a distance. Over the previous 2 or 3 days, I had done anything but accept my feelings.

So, I sat down on a step outside, and tried to accept the feelings of hatred for myself. I quickly realized that I was wobbling back and forth between the desire to destroy myself and intense pain that felt like it would destroy me. And then I remembered the pain that I had started to feel a few days earlier and I realized that the self hatred was a cover to keep me away from the feelings of pain; I would remain trapped in the self loathing until I allowed myself to feel how much I hurt. I thought about my conversations with Mama Bear that even though the emotions can be so intense that they feel like they will obliterate me, they are just emotions and I am strong enough to survive them, if I just have confidence in my strength.

So I imagined wrapping myself in a blanket and I allowed myself to feel a pain that felt like it was ripped from the center of my being. I sobbed while I rocked myself and each time I felt myself starting to flee, I stopped and reminded myself that even though I hurt a lot, I am in a place and time where I am safe. When I began to distract myself by trying to figure out what the “source” of the pain was, I realized that what actually mattered right then and there was that I honor and allow myself to experience the pain. Eventually, I felt cried out and for the first time in days there was no self hatred, only compassion.

I know that it’s a good sign that I am able to feel more fully, but I can’t help but wish that my increased feelings of safety had simply left me feeling better for awhile longer, rather than already pushing me on to the next painful step in healing. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but I’m tired. However, I am where I am. And thankfully right now I am able to feel compassion for myself, rather than hatred.

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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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Here in the USA, we are quickly approaching one of those dreaded “holidays”- Mother’s Day. I am always left struggling to figure out what can I do that will not insult or hurt my mom (which is not my intention) but also won’t leave me feeling false to myself. Your average Mother’s Day card is just plain not going to work. A phone call is out of the question right now. I refuse to give my mom the message that it is OK to pretend that everything is all OK, but I also do want for her to know that I love her, despite everything. We have a complicated relationship and are having a difficult time negotiating it, but I am grateful for the good that she has done for me.

Interestingly, a bit of a crisis came up with Mama Bear this week. There are some scheduling changes and one of them has me concerned. I do have some legitimate here and now concerns about that change, but the reaction is so much more intense than those concerns warrant. After all, I should be able to trust that if the change causes problems, we will find a solution; up until now we always have and I have no indication that anything fundamental has changed in our relationship. But I experienced feelings of abandonment and a fear that I was being punished for recently asking for something that I thought would help me. These clearly were not here and now feelings, but were child feelings. I pushed myself to tell Mama Bear what was going on, so I know that we will discuss it in the next session, because I have a tendency to do everything that I can to bury and dismiss these sorts of feelings for as long as I can. But when I do that, the foundation of my trust in Mama Bear is compromised and things don’t go well for me in therapy until I finally come clean.

I am proud to say that realizing what I was doing and telling her within 24 hours was a huge step forward for me- this is a process that just last summer took weeks and required her coaxing and reassuring me that she wouldn’t get mad at me or abandon me for telling her that I had a problem with her about something. Like so many relational issues, this is something that I should have been able to learn how to do with my own parents. Instead, I learned that if I pushed too hard, I would distress my mom, and then she wouldn’t be there when I most needed her. She didn’t intend to abandon me, but she did.

This morning, I felt an overwhelming amount of grief and loss when I realized just how much I yearn to be the most important thing in a caretaker’s life. There is a part of me deep, deep inside, at my very core, who still desperately wants to be central and the one around whose needs everything is organized. It reminds me of the sort of care that I had to give my daughter as an infant and toddler when everything had to be organized around her sleep schedule in order for her to stay happy and healthy. That level of care needed happen when I was young and it just can’t happen now that I am an adult, no matter how much my insides cry for it. Adult relationships don’t happen that way. In some ways, the therapeutic relationship is the closest that I am going to get, because at least for that hour, my needs do come first. So being told that there were other needs that required a change that costs me something was a very difficult reminder of how while my relationship with Mama Bear is something that is special for me and I do believe that it is special for her, I am one of many people that she has responsibilities for. It is a fact of life that she has to juggle my needs among her own, her family’s, her other clients’, and so on.

And the adult me is grateful that she cares enough to juggle me in. And she really does care. Dare I say it? There even is love there. Because I am the person I am, that love is deeply valued and I think that it enables me to deepen the work that I do with Mama Bear. There have been times when parts of me have relaxed into it and chosen to believe what she is trying to help me learn because I can tell that the love is real. The scaffolding of the relationship is a bit of an artificial construct, but the feelings are real. Because they are real and because she does not back away, they enable me to experience myself as real.

So, this morning, I was crying out some of these raw feelings, and it dawned on me that to some extent I was crying for my mother. I was crying because I wanted to feel loved and special and cherished and worth doing anything to safe guard. It isn’t Mama Bear’s place to provide those things to me, but as a child, it was a part of my mother’s job to provide them. Unfortunately, she wasn’t shown how to do them by her mother, and so she was only partially successful with me. My mother does love me and she says that she thinks that I am special and I do know that she means those things, but I don’t trust her enough to allow me to connect with her sufficiently to be able to take in what she could give to me in the now. The love that she gave me and the value that she placed on me as a child and teen were essential to allowing me to form enough strengths so that I could get some things right in my life, but I have been so hurt the many times I have tried to turn to her for support and suddenly found her emotionally gone, so I am afraid to risk opening my heart to her again.

Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever fully be able to heal this deep, aching hole that should have been filled by my mother surrounding me with her loving protection? Or will this hole be one of those things that Mama Bear has warned me about? There may be wounds that can never fully heal and so places where I will always be vulnerable. She assures me that with work, time, and self compassion, those wounds won’t hurt quite so much and eventually they will be easier to soothe when they have been activated, but some injuries really do go that deep. The abuse and neglect happened and that ‘happening’ can never be undone.

What would I want to say on this Mother’s Day, if it felt safe enough for me to be frank with my mom? “I love you.” “I want so much more out of my relationship with you.” “I wish that you were strong enough for me to be honest with, so I could share my anger, pain, and grief with you and be certain that you would still be there when I was done.” “I am grateful that you love me and in particular am grateful that you really loved me as a child, because I would not be standing here in this place without that love.” “I am so angry at your own mother for being a lousy mother to you, so you started at such a handicap with me.” “Thank you for doing the best that you could with me when you were young. But I think that you are capable of more now, so please push yourself and find the courage to not hide so much. I deserve more, you deserve more, and your granddaughter deserves more, so please dig deep and find the strength somewhere.” But most of all, “I love you.”

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Some weeks I just have to say to myself over and over, “I am strong enough to do this. I am strong enough to do this.” This has been one of those weeks. Or couple of weeks.

It hasn’t been all bad. I actually seem to have taken a big step forward on figuring out self soothing and support. But part of taking that step forward was to realize in a different way that I simply can’t abandon myself to the pain or fear. I have to sit with myself feeling the pain, while also doing whatever is soothing. I can’t keep on rejecting and pushing away from me the feeling parts. As a result, I believe that all of me probably is doing better, but I feel so much pain. However, I know that if I am making it through this period without thinking that it is too much for me survive or that I wish that I was dead, then I have to be moving forward.

A part of what has changed for me is that I decided to stop fighting with the rest of me. It hurts me too much to keep on saying, “I don’t believe what I am being shown/told because it is too threatening for me to believe.” When I do that, it’s like I’m telling those parts of me that they are liars or they are stupid and can’t accurately relate anything. To some extent I am saying, “Go away and shut up,” when those hurt/frightened/shattered parts of me desperately need love, comfort, stability, and to be soothed. I just can’t reject this aspect of me any more. I’m not willing to do that.

I don’t fully know what this decision means for me. But at least to start, it has involved deeply accepting that there was something about my relationship with my dad that was damaging to me. I keep on hearing over and over, “He hurt me” and I have been reassuring those young parts, “Yes, he did, but you are safe now. Feel this blanket or shawl that is wrapped around you; feel the safety, warmth, and comfort that it surrounds all of me with. I am safe now.”

Sometimes it is like I am being told that certain things happened. Right now I am taking an approach of, “Maybe that literally happened, maybe it didn’t. But for whatever reason, this part of me believes that it did. I’m not going to do anything right now other than say, ‘I understand that for some reason this feels real. Right now the most important thing is that I deeply know that I am safe now.'”

Much of the time, this keeps me from getting too caught up in the memories, but not all of the time. They still manage to suck me in some of the time. And sometimes, when they seem to make sense of body sensations that I have gotten for a very long time, it is hard to not jump to conclusions.

But my heart is breaking just from dealing with the acceptance that something about my relationship with my dad harmed me and accepting the possibility that there may have been sexual abuse. I don’t want to have been the child who was hurt that badly. I don’t want to have been the child whose mother failed her so miserably. I don’t want to have been the child who was only able to hold on to scraps of a sense of safety and who felt them slip through her fingers too often. I don’t want to have been the child that people believed that it was OK to use. I don’t want to have been the child whose body was used against her.

It’s great that I was also brave and resourceful and strong and determined to survive. But dammit, I don’t want to have been forced to be those things so young in order to survive!!! It isn’t a fair trade off. I could have learned how to be those things in ways that didn’t threaten to tear my soul apart. There is nothing that will ever make up for what happened to me.

I can go forward from here. I will have a life that I am grateful for. I will fill it with love and many of the things that were almost ground out of my soul. I am determined that I will have these things, because I have every right to create a life filled with love, beauty, creativity, nurturing, empathy, connectiveness, nature, the desire to stretch and grow and all of the other things that make life worth living for me. I will not let the sick and damaged members of my family define my life.

Yes, that is where I am going and I need to keep my eyes on the focus of that promise, but right now, I hurt. I hurt inside, in my vulnerable parts. I hurt in the greater me, because I see just how much I endured as a child. I don’t think that I can express how awful it is to accept, “Yes, things were that bad. It wasn’t just a bad dream that I will wake up from. I don’t just have an over active imagination. No, I’m not overly sensitive in a way that made me turn nothing into something huge. My family really did hurt me in a way that hurt my heart so badly that right now it feels like pieces of it are breaking off, falling to the floor, and shattering. My daddy hurt me.”

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