Posts Tagged ‘grounding’

I won’t do anything to harm myself. I feel too much responsibility for how taking my life would affect those I love, particularly my daughter. Generally I am grateful for those ties, but at other times I wish that my ending all of this struggle wouldn’t impact anyone else.

Yes, there are things about my life that are very good, even wonderful, but so often I find myself wondering, “Is anything worth suffering through what happened to me? How long will it take for me to escape the memories of it now? How long will it take for me to work past feeling trapped by what happened?”

I struggle over the question of whether I would have been better off if I had never been born. There are things that I love about life, but there has been so much that has been inexpressibly painful.

Sometimes I wish that my grandfather had just killed me like I thought that he wanted to. Maybe there would have been some sort of afterlife that was a relief, maybe it would have just been oblivion, but it would have to have been better than what was happening to me.

I don’t understand why I feel this desire for it to all be over so intensely right now. In so many ways, things have been so much better lately, but it’s like I am drowning in a sense that he will always be able to hurt me in anyway that he wants. That all I was good for was for my body to be used by my father and grandfather and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

I know that I felt more hope and self power several days ago, so I’m just going to go on faith that this will pass.

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Martha Wolfe Hope prayer flag

Martha Wolfe
Hope prayer flag

In no particular order, 10 things that Mama Bear has said to me that were particularly helpful, and because I could have kept on going, there will be more at a later date.

1) He is dead. After I started working with Mama Bear again and I became more aware of just what some of my child parts were experiencing, I realized that deep down I didn’t believe that my grandfather really was dead and I was terrified that he could come after me again. We spent weeks talking about my attending his memorial service, the evidence that I had that he was dead, and why I was having trouble accepting it. I know that he was cremated and have seen the container that his ashes were collected in, so as I began to feel more secure I found myself having revenge fantasies about what I could do with his ashes. Slowly, more and more of me accepted that he probably was dead. The fear that he was so powerful that he could get me anywhere, at anytime ran so deep that I simply had to accept that the process of fully believing that he was dead and I am now safe from him would take however long it would take. I spent several months when a part would unexpectedly pipe up in session, “Is he really dead?” and we would have to take a few minutes to go over the evidence again, and then I would feel reassured enough to refocus on the original topic. Now I almost entirely believe that he really is dead, but sometimes I still slip.

2) Even if he wasn’t dead, you are a capable adult now and you know how to protect yourself. I was shocked the first time that she said this. I tended to think of him as so much more powerful and larger than me, but eventually I realized that Mama Bear was right. Not only am I three inches taller than he was, but I am physically more capable than he was. And as I thought about it, I realized that he tended to reserve his worst treatment for those who had the least ability to stand up against him. Or, as Mama Bear said, “He was a coward who preyed on a defenseless child.” But I am no longer that defenseless child that he was able to prey on. I have strength in myself. I have strength in allies. If my grandfather stood in front of me today, he might make a few cutting remarks, but he wouldn’t dare to do anything more.

3) It isn’t happening now. My flashbacks often have a very strong sense of “nowness” to them. Even though I can look around and see that I am here in this time and place and know all of that at a surface level, the part of me that is experiencing the flashback believes that the events are happening right now. Even after I manage to I pull back from other aspects of the flashback, I often am left feeling as though part of me is still stuck inside of it. So Mama Bear and I have emphasized the difference between here and now and there and then over and over and over. It all has helped a great deal, but sometimes I still am not able to pull myself into the here and now on my own, so hearing her say, “It isn’t happening now” is a tremendous relief to me. When I hear those words, I can grasp ahold of her reassurance that here and now really is reality, the flashback isn’t.

4) It’s nothing but a horror show. During a particularly harrowing period of frequent, intense flashbacks, Mama Bear said this to me. It seemed to fit, because, yes, the things that were happening in the flashbacks felt like they would do better in a horror show than in my mind. I was dealing with a particularly revolting set of memories and it helped so much to imagine taking it out of me and placing it on a screen, in a horror show. While I couldn’t entirely turn off the horror show until it had run its course, at least it was a bit more distant and tolerable. And most importantly, it no longer felt as though it was a part of me. It helped me to see that the memory was a memory, it was not me.

5) I see you. Hearing her say this while looking her in the eyes and really allowing myself to connect is both a terrible and wonderful experience. Terrible in the sense of painful and overwhelming because it goes to the core of so many attachment issues for me: feeling unseeable, that no one would want to really know me, that it could never be safe for the most vulnerable me to know and be known by someone… It was wonderful because it is what I have craved all of my life. First my mother wasn’t capable of providing it and none of the other adults in my life were remotely safe enough to connect with deeply, and then, when I was older, it was too late, I was too badly hurt to risk allowing myself to feel that fully seen. I am still in the midst of learning how to be fully in the room and allow myself to perceive that she is fully in the room with me. When we have had these connecting experiences, I both feel a physical jolt of pain and I cry tears of relief and hope. Slowly, step by step, I am allowing my full self to be in full relationship with her, and at the same time, bit by bit, I am doing the same thing in my other significant relationships.

6) You are going to be angry with me sometimes, that’s just what happens in relationships. Don’t worry, it takes a lot to ruffle me, and I’ve had clients get really angry at me. Just don’t try to throw me out the window. Mama Bear has been trying to encourage me to feel safe enough to feel angry with her for many years, and I’m finally at the point where I can hear what she is saying and believe her. I have been testing her bit by bit over the last year or so, at first just showing the tiniest bit of anger in an e-mail. Each time I tested her, she would reassure me again that it is OK for me to get angry with her and while what I had shown had been a big deal for me, it was no threat to our relationship at all. She would talk about how real people in real relationships get angry with each other sometimes, because everyone makes mistakes. At some point she would mess up and I would get really angry at her, but I didn’t have to worry about how she would react. She isn’t frightened by anger and her joke said to me that she wasn’t afraid that I would get so angry that I would lose control and do something terrible. I might be afraid that my anger would turn me into my grandfather, but she knew that it wouldn’t. Through her, eventually I learned to have faith that nothing could turn me into my grandfather.

7) You can’t get rid of me. I went through a period that was several months long where I kept on testing Mama Bear, even though I didn’t quite realize what I was doing at the time. I was terrified that if I really leaned on her as much as I needed to, then she would abandon me when I was most vulnerable. I knew that she wouldn’t intentionally betray me, but I was afraid that I would overwhelm her and drive her away. I was convinced that I would turn out to be “too” something for her- too much trouble, too demanding, too clingy, too needy, too hurt, too contaminated, too weird, too something… So we talked over and over about how she knows how to take care of herself and she can create boundaries, so she was confident that I was not going to be too much for her. I didn’t believe her. I would write long emails and end them with, “See, I’m too needy, aren’t I?” or some such thing. And when that didn’t work, sometimes I would turn around and say, “I don’t think that I can do this anymore. I just want to run.” Eventually she sat me down and just flat out said to me, “C., you can keep on trying, but you can’t get rid of me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to abandon you when you need me. And you’re going to have to work a lot harder than that to convince me to let you go.” It didn’t all sink in at once, and it took her repeating herself, but at that point I started to feel a bit of security that it was safe to rely on Mama Bear. Eventually, I realized that Mama Bear is far stronger and more capable of taking care of herself than my mother was- she really was telling me the truth and I could trust her to be there for me. She really was willing to provide the security that I needed then to feel held, contained, and secure. What I realize now is that the problem wasn’t that I was too needy, hurt, clingy, etc. when I was a child, the problem was that my mother didn’t have the resources to deal with helping a child who was being abused. It wasn’t my fault that I overwhelmed her and that she couldn’t hold me in my pain, the way that I needed for her to.

8) You don’t need to know exactly what happened. You just need to know your truth. Dissociation saved my mind by putting me in a different state during the abuse, but by doing that, my memories of the abuse were completely disrupted. There is an awful lot about what happened to me that is unclear. I have experienced many of the same body and emotional memories for decades, however there are other areas that continue to confuse much of me, even after decades. To make matters worse, when I experience flashbacks, I’m torn between wanting to believe myself and wanting for it all to be untrue, messing with any sense of what might or might not be real. Unfortunately, I also have had the driving need to know exactly what happened. Mama Bear and I have gone round and round with this: There is no knowing which details of the memories are true, but I have been able to build an over all picture of what my experience was like. I feel as though I have thrown myself against a wall time and again over this, but I finally get it. Part of the reason I was holding out for details was because I didn’t want to accept my truth. I realize now that it doesn’t need details for it to be a horrible truth, so horrible that I want to have a reason to hold back from owning it.

9) We know that you were abused. You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over. I don’t have a memory of trying to tell my mother about the abuse, but I act like I did and I feel as though I did and she just didn’t understand me. I think that is tied into why I have had this deep fear that Mama Bear doesn’t really believe me and I have been convinced that I will betray myself and stop believing myself. Inside, there are parts of me that have been convinced that “No one will really believe me. It’s impossible.” While I was completely unaware of it at the time, I felt the need to prove to myself and to Mama Bear over and over that I had been abused, and I pushed myself towards being triggered into flashbacks. It was an incredibly painful way to demonstrate that I had been abused, but it was effective. Somehow, Mama Bear caught on to what was going on, and she started to say to me, “We know that you were abused. You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over.” Wow. “We know that you were abused.” I finally realized that someone did believe me, really believe me. “You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over.” It sank in that she wasn’t going to stop believing me. Further, she noticed and cared about what this was doing to me.

10) I hear your pain/anger/grief and I am here with you. I have spent much of my life running from the intensity of my feelings, but that causes all sorts of problems for me. So I am currently working to allow myself to come together and fully feel my emotions in the context of my truth, but when that happens, it feels as though I am being filled with that emotion in a physically painful way. In fact, it feels unendurable, but I know that I need to find a way to endure it without dissociating, if I can. When Mama Bear sits there with me and says, “I hear how terribly deep your pain is and I am here with you,” it reminds me that she believes that I am strong enough to survive the pain, that it is safe for me to no longer be invisible and I don’t need to suffer in silence, that someone sees/hears how much pain that I am in, and that someone cares enough to stay with me. That sort of support makes a difference and sometimes it’s enough to allow me to remain with the emotions until they ebb on their own. It hasn’t happened often, but each time that it does happen, I learn a little more deeply that strong emotions may be unpleasant to experience, but I can survive them.

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Artist- Noriko Endo

Artist- Noriko Endo

As I have said before, I am currently learning about mindfulness and practicing meditation and it seems to be helpful. It has been helpful with the progress of my therapy, but I think that it also is just plain useful in terms of life quality. One of the things that has become increasingly obvious to me is just how much of my life I have drifted through. Even though I come from a very long lived family, I most likely have lived past the half way point of the active part of my life. I feel as though I have missed so much and I want for that to stop.

Over the last few weeks, I have started to notice more of the details of my life, to my delight. Yesterday I played a game with my family that has some lovely artwork and previously I had thought, “What nice art work” but I had never really looked at it. I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t really looked at it until I started to be surprised by some of the details that I observed!

On the last few walks in the woods, I have found the variety of textures and colors in the forest to be astounding. In fact, the experience was almost overwhelming, when I added in the smells and sounds and feel of the damp, cool air.

With all of this in mind, I was struck by the following quote when I read it tonight and I wanted to share it:

In this way, little by little, moment by moment, life can slip by without us being fully here for it. Always preoccupied with getting somewhere else, we are hardly ever where we actually are and attentive to what is actually unfolding in this moment. We imagine we’ll be happy only when we get somewhere else, wherever and whenever that may be. Then we’ll have “time to relax.” So we postpone our happiness, rather than opening to the quality of the experience we’re having right now. As a consequence, we may miss the quality of the unfolding moments in our day, just as we missed doing the dishes and drinking the coffee. If we are not careful, we may actually miss most of our life in this way.

– The Mindful Way Through Depression

The first time or two I read this, I thought to myself, “That’s easy to say when you’re avoiding normal, everyday unpleasantness, but this trauma stuff is just so overwhelming and it isn’t that simple!” But the more I think about it and the more I learn to be in the moment, I can see that it really can be that simple when dealing with trauma. If a person can step out of being drawn through trigger cycle after trigger cycle and create a bit of space in her life, then she can start to have more normal, every day experiences. And the more that she is aware of the solidity of her current experiences, the easier it is to resist being triggered. So, in fact, developing this ability is especially important when dealing with trauma.

This mindfulness stuff is useful! I’m still tottering along trying to figure it out and barely able to make use of it, but the bits and pieces that do make sense are making a difference. If even the bits and pieces are giving me tools that I have never had so I feel less at the mercy of whatever my brain might throw at me, I wonder what will happen as I more deeply understand it and incorporate it into my life?

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Caryl Bryer Fallert Migration #2

Caryl Bryer Fallert
Migration #2

These last several days have been challenging for me, but not in a way that I am used to. I’m doing much better than I have been for many months. I am at least mostly present more of the time, able to enjoy more activities with my family, starting to think about things that I might want to do for myself, and just plain not in pain a good portion of the time. Dare I say it? I’ve even felt happy some of the time!

So what’s challenging about that? Unfortunately, I’m not only doing reasonably well, I am also experiencing periods that are just as painful/frightening/flashbacky as they have been in the past, and sometimes it seems that there is no transition time from doing well to experiencing terror. I have spent the last week and a half or so feeling as though I am being buffeted back and forth between different states, out of control. It has played havoc with my memory, because I am bouncing between different states and not able to sustain a sense of continuity between them. Suddenly I will feel like a frightened child and then I will get distracted and 10 minutes later I will feel like a calm adult and not have a clue as to both why I got frightened and what happened to calm me down again.

In the same e-mail to Mama Bear, I will rationally tell her that I don’t understand what is going on inside but there is so much energy that it feels like something is going to explode and it is making me feel off balance, and then I will plaintively tell her “I am just so scared,” not asking her to, but wishing that she could just make it all better. I simply couldn’t make any sense of what was going on or why it was making me feel like things were so terribly wrong, when as far as I could tell there wasn’t anything that was so wrong.

And then last night I finally realized that it was the contrast between doing well and having real difficulties that was distressing me so much. I was used to being in terrible pain, dissociating all of the time, and being only partially functional. I hate the way that it feels, but at least it’s something that I’ve gotten used to. I know what feeling OK feels like and I could deal with that just fine. However, going back and forth between them several times a day was a different story all together. It was driving me crazy- literally making me feel crazy. For the last couple of days, it felt as though it had gotten to the point where I was so disoriented that it was like the mental equivalent of being in the mirror room at a carnival.

But something shifted during my session today. I’m not quite sure what or where, because it was one of those quiet sessions where when I look back, I see that a surprising amount of ground ended up being covered.

I brought up how sometimes when I am having a difficult time and I badly need help feeling safe, it seems that I reach for the part of me that generally can help me feel safe and I just can’t find that part. Mama Bear reminded me that sometimes all I can do is know that I know that I am safe, even if I can’t feel it at all. She has said this before, but it hasn’t ever made sense to me. When I stared at her doubtfully, she said, “You don’t understand what I am saying, do you? I am sure that you can know that you know that you are safe, because you talked about reaching for the part who can help you feel safe.” I sat there for a bit, struggling with the concept, feeling as though it was bending my mind into odd shapes, but then it started to make sense. I’m still not clear on what good it does to know it without feeling it, but I will trust Mama Bear that keeping a hold on that knowledge is better than just trying to white knuckle it through being scared.

We talked about my difficulties with going back and forth between doing OK and not and I could see that Mama Bear really got what I was saying. It was a relief to hear someone say, “Oh, it makes perfect sense that this is what has been going on for you!”

I told her about the things that I have picked up from the mindfulness reading that are making a difference for me: 1) being aware of when I am tensing up, because it actually creates a feedback loop between the body and the brain, increasing the sense of being under threat and 2) starting to become aware of when I am beginning to go down a well worn path that won’t do me any good and realizing that sometimes I can make a choice to not go down that path, but rather to feel my body sink into the now.

At some point while we were talking, I started to feel sad and like crying. Mama Bear encouraged me to cry, if that was what felt right and I started to, but then I felt overwhelmed by fear and the sadness was drowned out. I remember sitting there with the fear, not allowing myself to retreat into it and thinking to myself how difficult it was to tolerate it. And then somehow, I was through it. We talked about how I can hold myself in the knowledge that I am in a safe time and place and allow myself to feel whatever the emotion is that is there for me to feel. I do not need to be afraid of the emotions. She emphasized that this is why the mindfulness is so important, because as I practice it more, I will be better able to do it. “I can already see that you are starting to integrate some of the mindfulness practices, because of how you were just able to handle the fear and that you were able to bring yourself back so quickly.” My thought was, “Great! Now if only I understood what I just did!” But I guess that I must understand it in some part of my brain, even if it isn’t the part that I’m most aware of and I guess that will have to be good enough.

About an hour after I got home from my session, I became aware of a lot of emotional pain. Without really thinking it out, I made my way over to my glider rocker, curled up in it, and drew a blanket around myself. As I started to cry, I was aware of a split, there was the me who was experiencing tremendous amounts of pain and then there was the me who was cradling the rest of me in the knowledge that I am safe right now. Eventually I wasn’t just crying, but I was making these sounds that I don’t really know how to name- wailing or howling maybe. But they expressed pure, unrestrained pain from the very center of me. They are the sort of sounds that I am afraid to make in Mama Bear’s office because I know that other people in the building would hear them and find them distressing. But today I was able to help myself find a sense of safety even in the midst of that pain. My hope is that I have both gained a bit more confidence in my ability to remain supportively present for myself in the face of difficult emotions and that I have helped the part of me who holds that pain experience how despite the pain of then, there is safety in the now.

I couldn’t help but notice the unjustness of the fact that I spent so much time struggling with a lot of fear earlier in the day, so I could then go home and be able to tolerate experiencing unbelievably intense pain. All because of something that I had no control over that happened decades ago. It does no good to dwell on it, so I won’t, but every once in a while, it really strikes me how completely unjust this whole thing is.

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At Mama Bear’s urging, I started to read about mindfulness about a year ago. I make it part way through a book, trail off around chapter 7 or 8 and then a few months later she will ask me to start to read the book again. On Friday she asked me again, for the 4th or 5th time. You would think that I would have made it all of the way through the book by now, but no, I haven’t. I think that I made it to chapter 9 this past time, but I can’t locate the book, so I’m not sure.

You would think that I hate mindfulness; I certainly seem to be resistant to reading about it. The fact of the matter is that I’m actually attracted to it and I read the Mindfulbalance blog on a daily basis. I seem to be able to take it in small doses, just not in chapter form. And many, many times I read something on the blog and think, “Well, that sounds good, but I am no where near to applying that to what I am dealing with right now!” But sometimes it hits me just right. Whichever way it goes, the blog allows me to take that bit and think about it, which seems to work for me.

So when Mama Bear asked me, “Would you kill me if I asked you to try to read the mindfulness book again?” at our last session, she was surprised when I not only agreed (because the book does flesh the concepts out more), but informed her that in the aftermath of my crisis, I had been using meditation in an attempt to help calm my mind. Once she recovered, she suggested that I change from doing a meditation focusing on breathing to one that also focused on the body.

I tried it and to my own astonishment, I really liked the experience. It left me feeling more solid than I had all week, which was a huge relief for me. At that point, I was intrigued and started to do a bit more research. I discovered that the body scan meditation is often helpful for sleep issues. I definitely have sleep issues; they aren’t so much in terms of getting to sleep, but the quality of my sleep is compromised and I tend to spend the night clenched in a ball.

I figured that it was worth $1.99 to get an app for my phone that would let me do the body scan in bed, as I was falling asleep, on the chance that it might help. I woke up only once during the night and discovered to my astonishment that chronic pain in my shoulders and back was only a fraction of its normal state. I wasn’t sleeping clenched up for once!

At that point I started to experiment with different meditations and bought the sister app to my first purchase. I tried the “lake meditation”, hoping that it would apply better to my state of mind than it does, but it still left me feeling calm and focused, so that was good. I tried another 15 minute or less guided meditation, to see what it was like and felt good after it. Later on in the day, while I was driving to the grocery store, I started to feel pressed in upon by some intrusive stuff. I decided to pull over and try a quick 3 minute meditation to see if I could interrupt the intrusions. I noticed that at the end of the meditation, I felt noticeably dissociative, but I also was in a calm, not just numb state. I went on with my errands and before long the feelings of dissociation faded. A successful experiment and something that I will need to remember to try in the future.

That evening, I had a more difficult, but still important experience. I was doing another 15 minute guided meditation when I started to experience some intrusive memories that had a physical component. At this point, I can’t actually remember what the memories were. I do remember repeatedly trying to shift my focus back onto whatever the focal point was in the meditation and repeatedly being pulled back by the memory. And then something clicked and I was able to see how I was remembering something that had happened, but what my body was actually experiencing was an entirely different set of sensations. My actual experience was sitting still in a chair and feeling how my body made contact with the chair and the floor. All of the other stuff was “just” a memory of something terrible that happened a long time ago. To my surprise, the focus was able to shift to my current experience and the memory was put in the background, without any real effort on my part.

Today, my experiences with meditation have been far less successful. I first tried to do the “mountain meditation,” but it simply didn’t work for me this morning. I needed more time to develop the images today than the recording gave me and I wasn’t able to figure out a way to modify it to suit my needs. So I switched to a guided meditation and I found my mind being drawn away over and over, until I switched it off, rolled over and let myself sob angrily while rocking myself. I simply had too much going on inside emotionally in order to be able to do anything but express. The meditations are supposed to allow for you to observe your emotions and let them by, but when they are a volcano inside of you, it just doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, because I have been practicing thinking in meditative terms, maybe I was a bit less caught up inside the emotional turmoil than I would have been in the past. Who knows?

Anyways, I have seen today that this isn’t going to be an easy process, even though it is one that has promise. And now that I have experienced difficult emotions paired with meditation a couple of times, the parts of me that just want the peace that the meditative experience can bring are feeling a bit nervous. Yes, this actually is something that will help to connect me to my feelings; it isn’t a soporific. The idea is that I am supposed to be mindful about what I am experiencing right now, and if I have been dissociating the rage that I feel towards my father, then I may experience some powerfully disruptive emotions when I try to meditate. And what did I write about last night before I went to bed? Well one hint, it had to do with my father. No wonder I had those experiences when I tried to meditate right after waking up this morning. And it’s no wonder that I have been angry all day.

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