Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Life and Fire Goddess Artist: Leah Day

Life and Fire Goddess
Artist: Leah Day

Do I have your attention? No, of course the title isn’t what it suggests. ­čśë

I have been experiencing something a bit odd lately. There are times when I feel pregnant. Not really, truly pregnant, with all of the physical realities (thank goodness for no morning sickness), but I feel as if I am protecting new life that is growing within me.

This isn’t the first time that I have had this experience. I can remember at least two other occasions. One was many years ago, when I realized that the process that I was going through was every bit as painful as giving birth. In fact, I was giving birth to a new me. My childhood abuse and neglect had affected me so profoundly, that in order to proceed towards the type of life that I wanted to have, I couldn’t just tinker around the edges of who I was. I had to get in and over a period of years slowly make the fundamental changes that eventually coalesced into a transformation. I was recognizable from the outside as me, but the way that I experienced myself and the world around me was totally different. At the same time, it wasn’t as though I developed something completely foreign to who I fundamentally had been before. My values and priorities were the same. I still was me, but as Mama Bear said, it was like I was more me. I had developed a me that was closer to who I might have been, if I had grown up in a healthy family.

The thing is that this isn’t a one time process. A person can only take so much personality change at one time. After I had this happen for the first time, I then needed to go off and live life for awhile. I needed to experience and live with the new self that I had developed. I had a natural breaking point around that time, when we left town so that my husband could attend seminary. I stopped therapy, other than during a brief period when I was going through a difficult pregnancy and I was a new mother. Who I was continued to grow and develop- being a parent challenged me to learn to stretch beyond myself in ways that were often painful, frequently joyful, and amazingly healing.

So, over a period of years, life pushed me to grow, and when I found my way back to working with Mama Bear again, I was ready for another transformation, even though I had no idea of what was about to happen at that time. Over the years I had developed enough strength and stability to begin to fully deal with my internal world, even though I had it almost completely walled off until I walked back into Mama Bear’s office. I remember walking (slowly) through the woods a few months into therapy, after my sessions with Mama Bear, feeling like a woman who was 8 months pregnant. I knew that there was a new me that needed to emerge, but I also knew that I was frightened of it and I fought it. While a small part of me welcomed this emergence, most of me didn’t want anything to do with it, because this was not a me that I felt comfortable with. This new me encompassed an increased awareness of my parts and a grudging acceptance that I needed to work with all of me. In many ways it really was like I gave birth to many of my parts that had been buried inside- I finally allowed them to start to emerge into the light of day.

And today, what is the experience like for me today? Emotionally, this is the closest to the hopeful but nervous anticipation that I actually experienced while I was pregnant with my daughter. I can feel myself being pulled apart, rearranged and put back together again, which is a disorienting, but not always painful process. Over the last couple of weeks, I have expected for myself to have certain reactions and was surprised when I had other, healthier reactions. There is real change going on inside in regards to how I relate to others. I find myself very protective of these fragile changes, the same way that I had the instinct to protect my daughter when she was growing inside of me. After all, this new me represents hope and my future. She is learning to be fully real with others, even when there are difficult feelings. She is learning how to turn to others to ask for comfort and then actually accept the comfort. She is learning that it isn’t only OK to need others, it is good to need others. She is learning how much she likes and wants to be in relationship with others. She is impacting my life already, but she isn’t yet fully formed or sturdy enough to take the knocks and bruises of daily life. This me needs some more time to develop, strengthen and grow, before I can “give birth” to her and have her settle into the greater me. I have to say that I like this new me; I like the way that I feel when I am connected to her and I love being able to finally, really connect with another, when I most need to connect.

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Torrent of Fear Leah Day

Torrent of Fear
Leah Day

I am massively confused, so please bear with me while I babble.

I don’t know what’s quite so wrong with me right now, but I don’t seem to be able to find my hope. I so rarely lose the sense that I am certain that things will turn out OK in the end, even if I know that it will be painful and may take a long time to get there. But for the last few days, that sense of hope is just gone.

I feel as though everything is wrong in the world and that even the best things are shadowed somehow.

I don’t know how much of this is a remembered sense of despair from when I was a child and how much might be depression right now. It doesn’t feel like a normal depression, but I don’t usually find myself in the grip of an emotional memory for days on end. In fact, I think that it would be a first for me. But that is more what this feels like.

After all, “I” know that this is a phase, and very painful phase, but I have been through painful phases before. I will eventually work through it. I don’t rationally agree with this thought, even if I can’t emotionally shake it off right now.

And then when you consider that I have had no desire to end my life for months, the fact that I had the wish tonight that there was some way to kill off all of me that remembers and feels anything about my family and just leave enough to be a mother for my daughter is a sign that something is amiss inside. Given how completely out of the blue it was, I suspect that it is a remembered desire to end the pain.

The last couple of weeks have been very, very difficult for me. I am trying my hardest to learn how to manage some very intense feelings of rage and grief, but I’m not really succeeding yet. I feel as though I have been sucked into this emotional vortex in regards to my dad, what happened with him, all of the unknowns about what happened, and my mother. My ability to disengage and give myself a break has been as its lowest level for the last several months. I’ve done a bit better today, but that isn’t saying much. There are a lot of different parts to what I am dealing with, but the most confusing of which are those that are memory related. I’m not going looking for memories, but it’s like I’m just surrounded by them and things are being triggered all too often.

Lately, I have been dealing with so many memories of sensations, emotions, and vague impressions that are I believe are from something real, but are so disjointed that I don’t know what actually happened. It is extremely difficult for me to deal with knowing that something really, really bad happened and having some vague idea of what it probably was, but not actually knowing. I strongly suspect that sometimes my mind may try to make sense out of the confusing information that I have and in the process fill in some of the blanks, without my being aware of it. This is hard for me to admit, because it is all too close to “making things up,” but I understand now that it is a need to make meaning and give some form to the terrifying pieces of information that I do have. And it isn’t like I’m doing it intentionally- it’s something my mind does in the background. For all I know, those blanks are filled in by pretty much what happened. Or they could be filled in by something that the information reminds my adult mind of, but might not have happened. I believe that this is why I keep on being warned that I can know in general what happened, but I can’t be sure of the details. I so seem to be developing a sense as to when this might be happening, and I try to take a step back and give myself an extra reminder to not rely on that memory to be literally accurate.

Right now, my most present conflict centers around a teen part. I know that I have had a sense/seeming memory of this part sitting on the floor of the bathroom of our house at the time, crying. I have seen this many times over the last 9 months or so. My intuition is that little to nothing physical happened with my father while we lived in this house, but what did happen is that I kept on getting triggered and so I lived with the sense of despair that nothing would ever be OK again. I do remember that for several months when I was 13, I would sob on my mother almost every day. The purported reason was because of social adjustments in school and while I was having trouble there I also seem to remember either at the time or afterwards thinking that my reaction was stronger than the problems warranted.

There is something that has been very disturbing to me in a vague way over the last while. I don’t have any physical memories that I identify of abuse during this time, but there is something else there. Then, tonight, while I was sitting in the bathroom, I got those memory type things that are almost too clear in the way that I identify as possibly being “fill in the blank” “memories.” Sitting here, writing, it has occurred to me that when I was a teen, I might have been triggered to being afraid and imagining certain things that might happen with my dad. He used to take me out on father/daughter “dates” to movies mostly and I can easily imagine that in my traumatized, dissociated brain, that would have been very threatening to me. It would have provoked fears of what he might do, which I probably would have dissociated, in an attempt to keep everything tucked away. This “feels” right- that I was terrified inside that he was going to rape me and I struggled to manage that fear the best that I could. It makes sense of why I have memories of crying in fear and emotional pain and I have images (with some emotional content) of being raped, but there are no physical or emotionally intense memories even though those types of memories are predominant in other ages. My heart goes out to the teen me; what a burden to try to manage without even really allowing myself to understand what I was trying to manage. I don’t know if I had some inkling of memory of abuse from when I was younger, or if I was as clueless as I seem to remember being. I don’t know which would have been worse: vaguely remembering being abused by my father or having these overwhelming fearful/despondent/painful feelings that I couldn’t make sense of.

Yesterday, I said something to Mama Bear about desperately wanting for someone to hold me while I sobbed on them and I immediately realized that I was experiencing a child/teen desire for my mother to hold and comfort me while I sobbed on her. I think that I was connected to memories of when I was 13 without being aware of it and that is why I have been experiencing this sense that everything is wrong and nothing will be right again. Even if I was mostly dealing with memories on the inside, I can only imagine how much despair would be evoked in a 13 year old who was going through sex education, starting to be aware of boys, and who had been sexual with her father and grandfather.

I just realized something… I was mostly an A student. I have only ever failed one course and it was that year. I failed PE the quarter that they did sex education. I refused to do the project for it and I wouldn’t go to school the day of the test. It’s like I tried to tell my mom that something was wrong. I don’t remember having any understanding of why I couldn’t deal with the class. I assume that I must have attended the class, in body at least, but I have no memory of it. I just remember all of the conflict and shame around failing that class, but being unable to take advantage of the opportunity to make up the test or turn in the project late.

I don’t know what to tell that 13 year old inside of me, because she is really hurting. The reassurances that work with the younger parts don’t seem right for her. And for the moment, nothing comes to me when I “listen”.

Well, I’m not sure that there was much here for anyone else, but I figured some things out that were quite useful. So thank you for “listening”!

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Elizabeth Morris Spring Rain

Elizabeth Morris
Spring Rain

“I have a new mantra for you. I’m not entirely sure that you are going to like it. Do you want to hear it?”

I looked at Mama Bear warily, “I’m not so sure with that introduction.”

“It isn’t anything bad, it just might be uncomfortable for you.”

Grudgingly, I agreed, because often when she starts off like that, whatever she has to say is important for me to hear, but also very painful.

“Believe the past, but live in the present.” I met her eyes and slowly took a breath, trying to take the mantra in. She slowly and deliberately repeated herself, “Believe the past, but live in the present.”

This time, what she had to say wasn’t painful. Actually, it was timed perfectly, because on the way to the session I had heard, “I am so done!” I was at a point where this gentle push helped me to crest the hill, and the thoughts and reactions in I am so done! were the results.

Since the session, over the last few days, it’s been echoing in my head, as if different parts of me are trying to take in just what it means to all of me.

“Believe the past.” Am I finally at the point where I can go ahead and simply choose to believe myself? While I have confirmed evidence that my extended family was one in which abuse of all types took place and my parents openly acknowledge that my grandfather was a bastard, I cannot see how I will ever have confirmation that the sexual abuse took place. I have to make the choice to believe myself, if I am going to free myself from endless rounds of “trying to figure out” from flashbacks whether the abuse actually happened or not. The thing is that it’s what fits. My being sexually abused as a child is a more logical conclusion than anything else I can come up with, when I look at everything that I do know. It would make absolutely no sense if I had experienced everything that I have experienced for decades with the body memories and the flashbacks and there had been no sexual abuse at all. The flashbacks, body memories, and dissociation all predate therapy and having sexual abuse on the radar at all; I didn’t come up with this in therapy. I’m not psychotic, even though sometimes I start to think that it would be easier to be “crazy” than to have this whole mess be true. I’m not making this up to get attention. For the most part, when things are at their worst, I hide, not seek attention. And finally, it’s what my insides say happen. OK, so that last isn’t something concrete, but sometimes it comes down to needing to choose to listen to yourself.

So I am practicing simply believing. Not worrying about which parts of the memories are more accurate and which are less so. Simply being with the knowledge that my grandfather hurt me very badly, and for the work that I have to do right now, that is enough. There may be times in the future when my work requires my being more clear on what happened, but for right now, it’s OK for me to leave the abuse memories behind a wall, out of sight. I don’t have to remember details and I certainly don’t have to relive it, in order to believe that I was brutally abused.

“Live in the present.” Bit by bit, I’m doing more of that. I’ve worked through some obstacles that threatened to derail a trip to visit to dear friends, and in the past I have cancelled trips. But I’m determined to live and not let my past control me. I’m no longer stuck in my rocking chair, staring into the distance, trying to sort through things internally. I have already made the gifts for a gift exchange not only for this year, but also for last year, because I was too overwhelmed to make anything then. I am engaging more with my husband and daughter, playing games and laughing. I’m more willing to take on hard therapy work that I would not have done before, because I both feel stronger and I’m more motivated to deal with things that impact my present. I’m not fully here yet, but it’s like those first stirrings of spring when the first bulbs come up and bloom. They are beautiful and welcome, but the garden still looks empty. It isn’t really empty; plants are stirring under the surface of the soil, and they will emerge when they are ready. Leaves are hidden inside of buds on trees and bushes which may from a distance look dead, but eventually, when the conditions are right, the leaves will burst out.

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My own quilt- Summer

My own quilt- Summer

I apologize for my absence; over the last few weeks, I have been experiencing more and more difficulty communicating.

I have started to deal with some deeply painful issues related to my parents and all sorts of defense mechanisms have been kicking in to try to keep me from talking. In session, the most effective one is that I simply cannot talk. First, it’s as if there is gauze between me and my thoughts and emotions and only occasionally can I see a hint of one and start to pull on it to have something to be able to say. But before I can start to speak, the thought has evaporated.

The self censoring filters are set so high that it’s hard to get anything out. “That isn’t worth telling her about. That’s trivial. Why would anyone want to hear about that? Talking about that would just be self centered and selfish. I have to be distorting things.” I was able to say something about this to Mama Bear and her response was that at this point, Anything that comes up in session is worth talking about.”

And then there are the wonderful responses when I do manage to express some of these intense feelings: having the urge to physically damage myself or even better thinking, “I don’t deserve to be alive. I shouldn’t be alive.” I know that it’s an attempt to get me to create some distance from the difficult emotions and while those urges are very unpleasant, I can recognize then for what they are, so they no longer panic me. However, I very much look forward to the day when I can feel such intense emotions in regards to my parents and not react by experiencing self destructive urges.

Sometimes I experience somatic symptoms: I get a sudden, piercing headache or I feel completely nauseated, as if I am about to throw up. In this context, I’m certain that they are at least a reflection of the turmoil that I feel inside over dealing with these parent issues.

There have even been a couple times when out of the blue I started to experience the beginnings of a flashback while dealing with these issues. I am certain that it was my brain trying to put something else between me and those terribly, terribly threatening thoughts and feelings. You know that your brain is desperate when it tries to bring up a flashback in a weird attempt to protect you!

So, why is my brain so desperate? Yes, the feelings are extremely intense, but I’ve dealt with intense emotions before. It’s because I am dealing with thoughts and emotions that I have kept buried for four decades in regards to my parents.

I don’t think that a 5 year old who is being abused consciously thinks to herself, “I can’t deal with this level of emotion and betrayal and keep my mind intact, so I’m going to dissociate those feelings and put them away there.” Or, “If I am angry about what is happening to me, then I’m going to rock the boat and I’m terrified that I will lose my mother and all of these things can’t exist in the same place, so I’m going to dissociate the anger and put it over here.” But I can say that by some mechanism that is essentially what happened for me. As a result, to this day, I have these strong taboos to not touch the deep emotions in regards to my parents. What I have been doing with Mama Bear lately feels life threatening to these protective parts of me that are supposed to keep everything under control that could have gotten me into trouble when I was a child. So, I have trouble talking.

The thing is that I’m in my 40’s, not a young, dependent child. The people I interact with now would rather deal with the whole me, rather than a limping, cut up me. It’s not just OK to be the full me, it’s desirable. I don’t have to fear abandonment if I address these issues. There is no one here who is going to hurt me. I’m not trapped with it being just me and my family any more; there’s a whole world out there, if I’m just willing to step out into it. I have this mental image of having been trapped in a small cave with my family and struggling to deal with this mess, but then realizing that I could take the whole thing out into the open air and have both more space to work on it and a sense of being in the world, not just trapped in dealing with my family.

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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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