Posts Tagged ‘love’

Sky Gazer Kelly Hendrickson

Sky Gazer
Kelly Hendrickson

Relationship, connection, and needing other people have been on going themes for me that have cropped up several times over the last few months. Actually, they are themes that have been a focus of a lot of my therapy work since I started to work with Mama Bear again. This time around, I have become very aware of the walls that I put up between myself and others, in particular the walls that I put up with Mama Bear in the therapy room.

I can understand how those walls were necessary for me as a child. I used them to help buffer myself from painful relationships and to try to control how much I “needed” other people. They were a part of my attempt to be the child that I thought would be most acceptable to my parents- pleasant, non demanding, and able to take care of myself. However, as is the case with so many coping mechanisms for an abused and neglected child, over the years they became rigidly relied upon until I wasn’t able to make a choice of whether I wanted to let someone in or not. Everyone was kept out.

I always knew that I wanted love and connection, though. Fortunately, that led me to choose a husband who was loving and respectful, even though when I made that choice I had no understanding that I was dealing with demons inside, much less what the demons were. Something in me said, “I need love. I deserve love. I will not accept anything less than real love and I experience it with this man.” My mom failed me in many, many ways, but she also loved me. She really loved me. I think that having that experience of being loved gave me something to hold onto at my core, despite all of the abuse from my father and grandfather and her failing to protect me. So much happened that made love feel dangerous and unreliable, but I still had that experience of what being loved was like and so I have always yearned for it, even while I have been to frightened to open myself to it.

What a confusing situation for a child… I remember that one of my mom’s favorite phrases was, “All that really matters is love.” Yes, love is so central to my well being, but is it all that really matters? No! Or at least the emotion of love just isn’t enough by itself. I needed for her to be able to find enough strength to move past her own fears and limitations and find a way to protect me, not just love me! Love involves action, not just feelings. Those warm and fuzzy feelings may have felt great for her and, to be fair, it’s likely that her aiming them at me may be what gave me the resilience to keep on going, but I needed for her to deal with the rot in our family, as well as giving me kisses and hugs.

So I have been experiencing this push/pull all my life: a profound mistrust of others and the expectation that they will fail me when I most need them and yet also a deep yearning for love and intimacy. Over the last 25 years, I have slowly, bit by bit made progress by at first allowing myself to even start to see how much I mistrusted other people and then slowly testing and building on experience after experience of people being trustworthy in normal, everyday situations. Then I learned to trust myself to have the strength to deal with those times when others would let me down, not out of malice, but because they were human. And now I am at a point where I feel enough safety with Mama Bear that I can begin to fully reveal the traumatized parts and allow them to connect with her.

It’s a process that is scary and at the same time such a relief. It certainly isn’t something that comes naturally at this point! Many times when I am talking about something difficult, I find myself starting to fuzz out and looking anywhere but at Mama Bear, and I realize that I’m doing it again- I’m sitting in the same room as her, talking to her, but I’ve removed myself from connecting with her. She could just as well be a video recording, because I’ve isolated myself, and I feel all alone, even though she didn’t go anywhere. Over these last few months, when I catch what I am doing and I am able to resist it, I then try to breathe to ground myself and make myself look into her eyes and take in how she is looking at me. I open myself to the fact that here is a person who cares about me and is sitting there with me, having her own responses to what I say and do. She is real. I am real. What I am saying and experiencing is real. I have an impact on her. It is safe for me to allow her to have an impact on me. She wants for me to heal and would do everything that she could to avoid knowingly harming the fragile, hurt parts of me.

What a concept. Actually, what a constellation of concepts. And what a sense of hope.

I wish that I could say that this fixes all of my difficulties with allowing others in, but it was one of my deeply ingrained ways of being and it will take my having many, many “aha” moments in order to finally begin to come from a place where I fully believe that it is safe to be in relationship. But those changes are starting and more and more of me sees that they can happen. Even the parts of me that were hurt the worst can learn how to dare to take the chance to love and be loved again. I can’t say that all that I need is love, but all of me very much needs love.

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My vacation reminded me that not only is going out and living good for its own sake, but it can even help with healing. On the drive to the airport for the trip back home, I realized something that astonished me and made me start to cry in gratitude, because unexpectedly I had been given exactly what I need right now.

You see, before I left, I was one stressed out puppy. I was experiencing a “perfect storm” of dealing with very distressing material in regards to my dad, being convinced that I am on the brink of losing my mother, the pressures of the holiday season, the stress of needing to travel when I really didn’t want to travel, the fact that I was traveling to about 20 miles away from where I lived between the ages of 6 months and 6 years, alarming migraine symptoms that resulted in my having an MRI, and finally I was experiencing brief periods of loss of time, which is very unusual for me and no one knew if they were neurological or dissociative due to all of the stress.

As a result, I was in a bit of a mess when I flew out to the West Coast to visit with my husband’s family. One of the things that I was really worried about was my mother in law asking awkward questions that I just didn’t have the resources to deal with, but right before we left, my husband let her know what topics were out of bounds on this trip. That made all of the difference. I was able to relax and we did eventually talk about about some of those same topics, but it was on my terms, so it was my choice to share. As a result, I experienced her attention as caring, rather than being intrusive. While I have always known that it was meant as caring, her questions in the past have only made me want to run, so this shift was a relief for me.

In fact, given the proper boundaries, being with my husband’s family turned out to be a healing experience, rather than the stressful experience that I had anticipated. What a delightful surprise! One of the things that we did differently this time was to break up the time that we spent with people, and we traveled up the coast, staying with different family members. We spent a lot of time hanging out, doing low key activities, like going to the beach, taking walks, and tide pooling together. New Years Day was spent entirely outdoors with my sister in law, enjoying her company, my husband and daughter, the fantastic weather, and the amazing sea life. Days like that help to heal my soul and they provide a calming, wholesome memory for me to come back to in times of distress.

I loved watching my daughter play with her cousins and aunts and make those connections that I so dearly wish that I had with my own family. It was healing for me to watch her settle into feeling secure and loved in the arms of her extended family. Families don’t have to be like the family that I grew up in. My husband’s family is not perfect, but it is loving and supportive and several family members have made an effort to improve upon what they were raised with, so it isn’t stagnant and stuck in dysfunction. It’s reality. My little family with my husband and daughter isn’t perfect, but hopefully we can provide a good enough environment for my daughter to take what we give to her and improve upon it for the next generation.

We spent a couple of days with the other young family in his extended family- their children are 7, 4, and 4 months. That time probably was the highlight of the trip for me. I saw another family where both of the parents came from backgrounds where they had been badly hurt at some point, and yet they have worked hard to heal that hurt, grow, overcome their limitations, and continually strive to learn to be better partners for each other, parents, and fuller people. Once again, they aren’t perfect, but they are kindred spirits in understanding what it means to struggle over and over, fail, pick yourself up and keep on going. They also manage to have faith that while things are hard, they will find a way to make everything work in the end and they remember to have joy in each day. Such a good reminder to find the joy, no matter how small, even in the midst of the struggle.

Unfortunately, the trip wasn’t without bumps. I received a call on New Years Day from my Dad’s phone and even though I didn’t answer it, I was triggered and ended up in a very bad state the next day. I tried my hardest to get myself out of it, but finally conceded that I couldn’t do it on my own and called on Mama Bear for help. At another point, I had to deal with something intrusive in regards to my dad, but at least I was able to put that away by myself. On the other hand, I learned that the trip didn’t have to be problem free in order to be a good thing for me.

The time that I spent connecting with the various people in my husband’s family was far more important to me than I realized while I was doing it. Reflecting on it, I think that I may have let them in more than I have dared to in the past. Somewhere along the way over the last couple of years, I really have learned how to start to open my heart more.

So what was this realization that I had in that predawn car ride to the airport? That I was leaving feeling like I had been loved by my husband’s family. Really feeling that there are people out there who love me, beyond just the few that I have regular contact with here was profound for me. I am someone who is worth loving. Someone who naturally loves and is loved in return. I don’t have to hide behind walls. It is safe for me to exist. I am not going to be rejected for being me. No matter what happens with my parents, I still have people around me who will love me. I’m not going to end up all alone, if I find and tell my truth.

This current realization doesn’t solve everything, of course, but some greater chunk of me is shifting. Tiny bits of me had been taking it in before, but now this larger part of me has experienced being loved, even in the face of starting to deal with what I most don’t want to deal with. I’m interested to see how it plays out both in my everyday relationships and in 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

“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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Yesterday, I had my follow up phone chat with Mama Bear. Each week, she talks to me for 15-20 minutes via phone a day or two after the session- we always make the appointment during the in person session, because the day and time changes based on her schedule. I had been having a very difficult time making it through the week with only one scheduled contact; all too often, I would hit Friday night or the weekend and end up in crisis mode. Even though Mama Bear has always been available by phone if I need to speak to her, I tend to put it off until I am a severe crisis, which isn’t good for either of us. We thought of a couple of different options for dealing with the situation, but eventually we hit upon this as a solution and it has worked beautifully. For anyone who is having similar issues, I highly recommend creative problem solving with your therapist until you find something that works for you.

This week, I was so sick and unable to function at the scheduled time that Mama Bear told me to just contact her when I was up to talking and we would figure something out. As a result, I ended up sitting outside in my yard, talking to her, as she got home from work. She has semi adopted a neighbor’s cat who greeted her and because I was amused by the whole thing, she fed the cat the yogurt snack that she was demanding and we discussed the cat in between talking about how I was feeling physically. Looking back, I think that this helped to trigger thoughts of connection, joy, and participating in life that were important later on in our talk.

After a couple of minutes of this, she said, “OK, enough of the cat. Now I’m focusing on you. Are we just talking about your being sick? Or is there something else that you need to talk to me about?”

As I paused, she said, “Now don’t go digging for something!”

“I’m not digging. It’s been there. I guess that I just feel really sad.”

“Ah, yes, we have been talking about a lot of sad things.”

And I just sat there, and allowed myself to feel her support in my sadness; I realized that I didn’t need or want to talk about the causes of the sadness, but I needed to not be alone with it. After a minute or two, I looked up and I noticed how beautiful the green leaves were against the blue sky, and I took a deep breath in and soaked in the beauty of the day.

“This evening is so beautiful. I am glad to be here.”

“It is delicious, isn’t it?”

“Both you and Linda (my other favorite therapist) talked to me about life as being, ‘delicious’ and something to be ‘savored.’ I had never thought of it that way before you two and it was an important concept for me. Just the hope that some day parts of life could be delicious made a difference.”

“And you have things in your life now that are delicious, don’t you?”

“Yes, my relationship with my daughter and husband. The woods….”

I thought for a bit, looking at the beauty around me, and then I felt something blossoming inside of me and then washing over me…

“It really is safe for me to be fully alive, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“It really is safe for me to feel safe, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“It really is safe for me to feel whole, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“It really is safe for all of me to be here and now, isn’t it? None of me needs to hide?”

“Yes, it is safe. You don’t need to hide.”

I sat there, feeling cradled in this knowledge, soaking it in through my pores for a couple of minutes while Mama Bear sat with me in silence.

Then I realized that I needed to just stay in that state for as long as my system wanted for me to and I no longer needed to talk to Mama Bear. I didn’t even need to explain that to her, I just said, “Thank you,” to which she gently responded, “You are very welcome. Talk to you soon. Goodbye.” “Goodbye.”

I’m not sure how long I sat there for, but at least a half hour. And the experience has left me feeling calm, strong, and grounded. Even though I can tell that there is something nasty nibbling at the edge of my mind and I keep on getting flashes of it, I still keep on returning to that pervasive feeling of safety. Yes, there are miserable memories that I need to deal with and more processing about my relationships with my parents, but the foundation of my life in the now is good and strong. It is safe for me to be in life and of life and to savor life. And for right now, I can sustain myself by pulling up memories of sitting out in my yard, reveling in the realization that it is safe to be alive.

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