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Posts Tagged ‘living’

My daughter and I both made a mistake and she is paying for it.

For those who don’t know, I have a daughter. She is bright, sensitive, loving, curious, and emotionally mature for her age, but she still is a child. She admires the art that I do. This makes my art journaling particularly intriguing to her.

A week or two ago, she came up while I was prepping some pages for future work and asked if she could see my journal. I told her that I would show her some pages, but not others and it was very important for her to not look at my journal on her own, because there were many things in it that I did not think that it was a good idea to show her. She agreed, I showed her a few benign pages, and we went on.

This is where I made my mistake. Up until now, she always has been trustworthy about such things and she is amazingly good about keeping her word, so I didn’t even consider the need to put my journal out of her reach. Her mistake was that she succumbed to her curiosity and went looking in the art journal.

As she puts it, “I thought that you were just embarrassed for me to look at your art. I forgot that it was a journal.” She got way more than she expected. Night before last, she came into my room after she went to bed, in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she told me what she had done. It was already 10 pm at that point and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I just worked to calm her down and reassure her, so she would be able to go to sleep.

My reaction inside was, “Oh, shit!” though. I didn’t know how much of of the journal she had looked at or what she understood at that point. She clearly knew that I had been hurt very badly and that was frightening to her; she also needed to be reassured that she would not be hurt in the same way.

That was Thursday night and it now is Saturday night and we have talked about it 4 or 5 more times. Clearly she still is disturbed by what she has discovered. Nine is too young to deal well with the frightening truth that the people whom you love are vulnerable to being hurt badly. It’s too young to not be frightened badly by the realization that people will deliberately do great harm to others. It’s an age when a child still needs for the world to feel safe and predictable. Even she realizes that she is too young to deal with this well and she says that she wishes that she hadn’t looked. While she had been told before that I had been hurt and she knows that I am working with a therapist, seeing the intensity of the art and reading my uncensored words describing my struggles obviously made it all much more real to her.

The good news is that I have written very little that is descriptive of the abuse and either she didn’t see those pages or she didn’t understand what she read. Neither of us are ready to talk about the fact that I was sexually abused yet. She’s at the point developmentally where she reacts with disgust to any sort of reference to sexual activity. I don’t have a clue as to how to tell her without upsetting both her and my insides too badly.

The bad news is that she seems to be working her way towards asking who the “he” that hurt me is. One of the things that she did see was a piece on which I wrote, “I hate him so much.” I never express ‘hating’ someone around her, so she found that statement to be upsetting. Who hurt Mom so badly that she hates him? I don’t know how I am going to respond if/when she does ask. While she hasn’t seen my father in three years and she isn’t particularly fond of him, she does know him. How will it affect her to learn that her grandfather hurt her mother that badly? How will it affect her to realize that she has been around someone who has the capacity to hurt children? How will she react to the knowledge that her grandfather cannot be trusted?

And then there is the simple fact that I don’t feel ready to commit to telling her that my father hurt me. There is no explaining to her what a confusing state I am in right now, where most of me believes that certain things happened, but parts of me are convinced that the rest of me is delusional. She isn’t in a place where she can deal with that sort of ambiguity, but the idea of saying flat out that my dad hurt me feels too overwhelming to me.

If she asks me directly if I was writing about my dad, I will have to say, “yes,” but otherwise I don’t yet know how I would handle it.

I’m not sure what is best to do here. I know that she will eventually need to know, but what she already knows is making it hard for her to get to sleep at night.

What I am sure of is that this gives me one more thing to be angry at my dad about. His actions continue to hurt people, and while I can do my best to soften this blow, I can’t erase the basic facts and how learning about them will change my daughter’s view of the world.

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Jungle Garden Nancy Smeltzer

Jungle Garden
Nancy Smeltzer

Hi all! Sorry for the prolonged absence. The move was, well, crazy, although I am happy to say that we haven’t had any outright disasters. My computer access has been spotty- this is only the 3rd time that I have been on a computer in at least 6 weeks. Phone access is useful, but really makes it difficult to write much of anything! Plus I have been doing some pretty intense work in therapy, involving a lot of internal conflict. When I’m like this, I often find it hard to write, because parts of me disagree and I end up sitting in front of the key board, unable to finish a sentence.

However, I now have my repaired computer back, have a place to use it that is semi accessible, and I am starting to feel the urge to write again. All together, I hope that this means that I will be writing more frequently, in large part because I could use the clarity that writing might give me as I try to figure out how I want for therapy to proceed.

However, it is late and I’m tired, so I will wait until tomorrow to tackle that one.

I do want to share that we are happy in our new house. It is far from perfect, but there is much that is very nice about it. And I finally have some pretty good studio space for doing various fiber arts. It isn’t fully set up yet (nothing is fully set up yet!), however I have started back to work on my daughter’s quilt. To my frustration, I have discovered that trying to work on it under poor conditions left me with many small errors that together add up to be unacceptable to me. So I am taking apart and either adjusting the blocks or even completely removing and replacing some of the fabric with new pieces that have been cut to exactly the proper size. It’s amazing how quickly 1/8th or even 1/16th of an inch adds up to a noticeable and disturbing error!

I feel like there should be a lesson in there for me somewhere. I guess that I need to pay attention to getting the working conditions (for whatever I am working on) to be as correct as possible in order for me to be as successful as possible. Actually, that may be relevant to what I am trying to figure out in regards to therapy.

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girl and cat

Tomorrow (today now, really) is my daughter’s ninth birthday. Despite how tiny our house is, we managed to have a birthday party here. Seven giggling eight year old girls for two hours. I haven’t ever dared to have a party at the house before and I don’t know why I chose to this year, but I did. And I made it work! They had fun, ate good food, and only one girl felt left out (which was quickly fixed when I pointed it out). I’m amazed, really.

Over the last month or two, so many things have been shifting inside, and it seems that I have been able to find my resilience and strength for normal day to day challenges again. And the trauma symptoms have diminished so much- I’m at maybe 30 or 40% of what I was over the summer, sometimes even less.

Over the previous year, there were too many days that I spent in bed or wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, just trying to survive. I felt so guilty about not being as present as I should be for my daughter, even when I was in the same room with her, but I couldn’t manage to get myself fully into 2013. It was a terribly difficult year and as much as I hate what I experienced, I hate even more that I missed so much of this last year with my daughter and I can’t get it back. She is only going to continue growing up and I am aware that my time to hold her close to me is growing short. Even now, she needs to venture out, but at least she still wants to come back and nestle against me each day.

Somehow, it seems that I have managed to do what I needed to do to keep her fairly healthy, so some part of me must have been on duty, even when the rest of me was out of touch. I am grateful that I managed to take care of her, but I wish that I remembered more of what I did. I really wish that I had been capable of having more fun with her.

I can’t change the past, though. All I can do is to work to create a better now, which will hopefully lead to an even better future. So today I ended up with seven eight year olds in my house, running around, making a considerable amount of noise. This is something that a month ago would have caused me to dissociate for sure. In fact, I was over at another house for a play date about a month ago and that is exactly what happened. Today, I got kind of stressed for part of the party, but I was able to stay present, help the girls make bracelets, avert potential hurt feelings, and keep things running smoothly in general. It was exhausting and I took a three hour nap afterwards, but I did it. Most importantly, I gave my daughter what she wanted: a normal, fun birthday party with her friends at home.

Tonight, after she went to bed, I sat in the rocking chair, looking at the balloons bobbing on the living room ceiling. I remembered the sense of anticipation exactly nine years ago, knowing that by the next afternoon I would be holding my daughter in my arms. I had so much hope and fear then and I didn’t really have a clue as to how much joy she would bring, how I would love this little being more fiercely and completely than I had ever loved anyone, and how much heartache and frustration I would feel as I struggled through parenthood.

I am so grateful that I am able to do more of the living again while I am healing. I am particularly grateful, because I want to savor the time that I have with this wonderful, exasperating, loving, challenging, giving child of mine. She’s already nine. She’s no longer a little girl. I want to start to savor my time with her and show her that life can very much be worth living.

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Lisa Marie Sanders Time

Lisa Marie Sanders
Time

“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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maine

My family went on our first family vacation in two years last week. It was much needed and much looked forward to. My husband isn’t much of a travel planner, so I tend to propose an idea to him, he agrees with it, and then I plan the whole thing out. In many ways it’s nice, because it means that everything is to my taste.

When trying to decide what to do for this trip, we knew that we needed to keep the costs down, so it needed to be a place that is within a two day drive. So no trips to Glacier National Park for us, which is the sort of thing that would be our first choice. My daughter and I love the ocean, so I thought that a holiday close to the ocean would be a good thing. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of renting a cottage on an island off the coast of Maine for a week. We would cook for ourselves and do outdoor activities, so we could keep the costs to a reasonable level.

Off we went on our island adventure and all was well on the two day trip there, other than not being able to leave until 8pm on Friday, so not getting to our first stop until 3AM! Saturday evening we made it to the island, found our very pleasant cottage, made the beds, pieced together a dinner and then fell into our beds exhausted.

Early Sunday morning, I woke up to nightmares. I almost never remember my dreams. I’m sure that I have bad dreams all the time trying to process what I am dealing with, but I just don’t remember them. Well, something changed, and Sunday morning set the pattern for the entire week. I woke up to nightmares at some point during every night/early morning last week, except for the final night. It reminded me to be grateful that I normally don’t remember my dreams, because if that was a taste of what is going on when I am doing heavy duty processing, I think that I will leave the dreams to my unconscious mind for that side of the work.

On Sunday morning, I managed to get back to sleep and woke up feeling somewhat better around the same time as my husband did. So we did what most couples would do on a vacation morning while their child is still asleep: we started to cuddle and kiss. At least we did until I suddenly was massively triggered into a child state and feeling terribly trapped.

I continued to feel dissociated during the day, although we did go out into the woods and to the beach and we played a new game as a family, so I still was functional. When I was active and out, I simply felt dissociated, as if part of me was being active with my family and doing the things that I enjoy but that part felt about 10 feet away. The rest of me was wrapped in a cocoon, and I couldn’t even touch the ground or really connect with anyone. Actually, it took me about three days to get to the point where I could even describe how I felt- I was that dissociated.

Much of the time when I was alone, I felt as though I was getting memory type flickers of things. Most of the time when that happened, I was able to not engage with them, although I do remember at one point clearly connecting with something and collapsing, curled up into a ball.

It was a very odd experience: I was doing things that I enjoy very much with my family on this beautiful island off the coast of Maine, but at the same time, internally, I was having a very different experience. The thing was that I was so numbed out and dissociated that I couldn’t even see that maybe I should be concerned about what was going on for the first few days.

Monday morning was a repeat of Sunday. Tuesday morning was a repeat of Sunday and Monday. And I continued to go along in a dissociate state that I couldn’t seem to touch, no matter what grounding technique I used. Finally on Tuesday afternoon, I e-mailed Mama Bear, because by that point even I could see that something was going wrong, although, the thing that I could most clearly see was problematic was my physical relationship with my husband. Thankfully, the woman has good sense and pointed out that I was putting pressure on myself and working from expectations, not from what I actually wanted. Being sexual with my husband because of expectations simply would not work.

Once I took that pressure off of myself, things got somewhat better. I still was dissociated, but enough less so that I could actually figure out some of what I was experiencing. I felt trapped. I knew that I was being triggered by something, but I just couldn’t figure out what. There were things in the bedroom that we were in that made me uncomfortable, but not enough so to have this extreme of a reaction all day long. I had felt fine on the drive up to Maine, so it wasn’t that I had brought it with me. I just couldn’t figure it out, so I gave up on trying to figure it out.

At that point, we were mid way through our week on the island and I resigned myself to the fact that I might continue to feel that way for the rest of the vacation. However, I also kept in mind that I knew that I was not going to stay in that state forever. I wasn’t actually trapped in it, even if I felt trapped right then. The “knowing” me simply had to hold on to the knowledge that the state that I was in would ease at some point, even though the “experiencing” me was afraid that I was stuck in it long term. Panic wouldn’t help me in any way.

I also accepted the fact that I just wasn’t going to have the vacation that I wanted to have. It was frustrating and it wasn’t fair, but accepting it for what it was would make it easier for me to get out of it as much as I could. I might only be able to have 40% of the experience, but that was better than the 25% that I had been getting.

One of the most frustrating things for me was that I realized that extra stimulation increased the levels of dissociation. An 8 year old chattering at you and bouncing around is stimulating. Simply being around my daughter made things worse for me, much of the time. So we would take her out on hikes and walks on the beach and I would drop back and try to focus on little details, so help me ground into the experience. The different colors and textures of moss on a fallen tree. How things reflect in a pond when there is only a breath of wind. The iridescent colors in the mother of pearl on the inside of an abalone shell. Those connections to that moment helped me to take in as much of the experience and be as present as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the memories from the 2nd part of the week are more vivid than the memories from the first part of the week. I never managed to completely ground myself- I was somewhat dissociated the entire week- but I was able to manage the situation well enough that it didn’t completely degenerate into my being a dissociative mess. Instead, I was able to help myself.

And I finally figured out what my trigger was: being on an island. I felt trapped because I was on an island. The morning that we left, I felt better even before we left the island, but within an hour or two of getting to the mainland, I felt as though a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders. It turns out that my husband also felt trapped, but had a much more mild reaction than I did. I’m not sure how much of it was not being able to get off the island easily and how much of it was simply being on a small island. Between the ages of 10 1/2 and 13, I lived on a small island, so that may have been part of the trigger for me. I really don’t know and it isn’t important right now. What I do know is that there was nothing that I could have done short of leaving the island other than just what I did: remind myself that I wasn’t really trapped in the now, and work on grounding and being as much in the present with my loved ones as possible. And repeat over and over and over.

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I do a lot of my best thinking while I am out walking and today was no exception.

I went out a noon for a walk on my favorite thinking trail, which winds along a river and through the woods and just let my mind wander to start. I’m not sure what brought it up, but I heard a little voice internally say, “I wish that I didn’t have a body.” I thought about that a bit and then thought, “But if I didn’t have a body, I couldn’t be walking through the woods right now. I couldn’t smell the damp, earthy smells that surround me. I couldn’t notice the way that the light plays on the bark of that tree.” And I felt like I had gotten my insides’ attention, so I continued, “I couldn’t feel this velvety new leaf. I couldn’t smell whatever it is that is blooming. I couldn’t hear the woodpecker beating on the tree.” At some point, it simply changed to my listing the things that I was able to do because I have a body. “I can taste ice cream. I can hear all of the birds singing. I can feel both the warm sun and the cool breeze against my skin. I can dip my hot feet into a cool stream. I can stroke my daughter’s hair.” After about 10 minutes of letting things that I love wander through my mind, I realized that most of me was grateful to have a body, so I could experience those things. In fact, at that moment, the parts of me that I was in contact with were thoroughly grateful to be alive.

As I continued to walk, I marveled over it feeling safe for me to feel myself fully connected and living in that moment. I wasn’t just existing, but I was daring to feel really alive and to experience the feast for my senses that is otherwise known as spring in the woods.

I climbed up a cliff into another section of the forest, and my thoughts changed a bit. I remembered something that happened in yesterday’s session. I had connected with my anger and just how much I wish that I had been able to fight back when I was a child, so I could have saved myself. Mama Bear’s response was, “I really wish that you could have taken a baseball bat to your grandfather and beaten the shit out of him, but that just wasn’t possible. You did fight back though. You fought back the best way that you could. You survived and you beat him.”

As I thought about that, I realized that even though I often keep myself from feeling my strength, I showed an amazing amount of strength as a child. It was the strength of endurance, of keeping on going, no matter what, of surviving, even when parts of me were convinced that I was dead. It also was a strength that I had to hide, because it wasn’t safe to show that I was strong, so I learned to not fully live into my strength. Well, now things are different. It is safe for me to be actively strong now. It is safe for me to take action on my behalf. It is safe for me to experience myself as strong and to let others see the strength.

And I cried. They were good tears, tears of relief, but also tears of intense emotion. Off and on since then, I have felt almost dizzy because things are shifting internally. And I am astonished to feel myself starting to reach out towards life, rather than holding back in an attempt to protect myself.

A couple of hours later, I had my scheduled phone check in with Mama Bear and I told her what had happened. She probably understands better than anyone just how profoundly amazing it was for me to joyfully experience and accept my body’s senses today and so she celebrated with me for a bit. When I started to admit that I knew that how I feel today isn’t permanent, she said something deeply reassuring to me. “Yes, this experience will fade and you will lose touch with it in the face of everything that you are dealing with, but now that you have found your way here, you will be able to find your way back again. And each time that you find your way back, it will become easier the next time. You might misplace it for awhile, but nothing can take this away from you now that you have found it within you.”

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Snow Dog

Snow Dog

Per request of another blogger, here is our dog, after first taking a swim in a partially frozen river and then rolling blissfully in the snow. She isn’t at her full glory, because she shook off a good bit of the snow right before this pic was taken. Remember this blog is supposed to be about living, too, and she certainly helps to tie me to feeling alive!

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