Posts Tagged ‘Mama Bear’

Return of the Sun Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Return of the Sun
Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Ever since some point this spring, I have been struggling in my relationship with Mama Bear. I have had 4, maybe 5 crises with her since this started, which is completely unusual for me. I need for things to feel stable and it always causes me significant distress when I experience a rupture with Mama Bear. So, this has been a very uncomfortable summer from me, and for awhile I felt bewildered and started to worry that something was really wrong. Now that things have calmed down again, I think that my problems with Mama Bear actually were signs that things were going mostly right, rather than signs that there was something terribly wrong.

One of the things that seems to have been going on is that I feel more comfortable with getting upset with her. Dare I say it? I have even been getting mad at her when I think that she mishandled something and I was hurt in the process. In the past, I would have made myself swallow my hurt and anger and proceed as if nothing had gone wrong. This summer, we stumbled our way through my going back and forth between aiming my anger at myself and expressing it to her in bits and pieces. Thankfully, she has the knack of remaining completely non-defensive and even being able to welcome my anger. She would point out that I was taking it out on myself again because that felt safer than being angry with her and then she would gently point out my angry body language, the anger in my voice, the anger in my look, and question me to bring out the anger in my thoughts.

I had crisis after crisis with her, but I also was engaging with her more intensely and intimately. I was “letting her in.” Six months previously, I couldn’t make eye contact for more than a second or two, but now there were times when I would seek out and sustain that contact, so that I did not feel alone with whatever I was struggling with. I felt as though I was sitting in the same room with her almost all of the time, bumping up against her. You are much more likely to feel in conflict with someone if they are right next to you than if they are in the next room.

At some point, Mama Bear pointed out to me that in my family, no one talked about conflict. What was happening with her was my chance to experience talking with her about whatever was upsetting me and working through it in a safe way. As she said, “In your family you used smoke signals at best, but here you get to use words with me. It’s a part of what we do; we talk through an issue and come up with a solution that works for both of us.” As I had to find the courage to talk with her about issues that I didn’t want to broach, I kept on thinking back to this idea. It’s my chance to learn how to work through conflict using words and she will welcome what I bring up.

However, perhaps the most important factor was that I had started to share with Mama Bear some of the ways in which I believe that my dad abused me and memories of some of the worst of the abuse by my grandfather. Deep down inside, I expected that there wouldn’t be anyone in the world who would actually deeply believe me. I believed that anyone that I told would respond in one of two ways 1) they would be overwhelmed and turn away and abandon me or 2) they would say, “It is impossible that your grandfather did X to you. He didn’t torture you. Nothing that bad could have happened; you are exaggerating and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

After this latest crisis, Mama Bear had been talking to me and said something that drove everything else out of my head. She said that it made sense that I had dissociated so extensively and developed so many parts because the situations that I had to deal with as a child were so overwhelming and painful. She then said something about how I had experienced my of my grandfather’s abuse as torture.

I will admit that I stopped listening at that point. I was completely caught up in dealing with the implications of her statement. I had used the word “torture” a couple of times early in the summer, and while Mama Bear had agreed with my use of the word at the time, she had never before used it herself. I was stunned to hear it come out of her mouth so matter of factly. Maybe she really believed when I had told her what my experience was like with my grandfather? Maybe she actually understood just how horrific it was?

I went home and thought a good deal about it all. I thought some more about what I wrote about in “Is it safe to help myself?” Eventually I decided to take a huge chance and talk with Mama Bear about the issues in that post, because this was a dynamic that was keeping me stuck and unable to move forward.

When I talked with her in the next session, she clearly understood what I was saying and further realized how what she was doing in an attempt to help me was instead pushing me to entrench myself in a helpless position. If I hadn’t told her, in spite of my shame, who knows how long we would have remained trapped in the same pattern.

I went on to explain that what had enabled me to feel brave enough to tell her was what she had said in the previous session.

She glanced at her notes, “I don’t remember what I said. Do you remember?”

I sat there, struggling to get the words out.

She reassured me, “It’s OK if you don’t remember. It might just be the over all conversation.”

“Oh, no. I remember exactly what you said.”

That got her attention, because my memory often is so bad from session to session. “Really? What did I say?”

“You acknowledged that I experienced my grandfather’s abuse as torture and I realized that you really believed me. Someone really, really believes me.”

She looked at me gently, “Yes, I believe that you experienced your grandfather’s abuse as torture. I have heard you and I believe you.”

I stared into her eyes for awhile, taking in that she really meant what she was saying, and then I burst out with, “Thank you so much!” and I started to sob from the very center of my being. I curled up in a ball on the love seat and cried and cried. After a moment or two, Mama Bear got up and came over to kneel on the floor by me and hold my hand. Her gentle presence helped me to feel as though I was being held and that it was safe to let out all of the fear and despair that no one would ever believe me.

I looked up at her, “I can’t tell you what a huge relief it is to feel believed about this. I didn’t think that I would ever have anyone really believe me.”

“I am so glad that you can fully take in my support and caring and belief in you.”

I looked at her for while in a bit of a state of shock and then I laid my head down on our hands and just felt contained.

She said to me, “I feel like something awe inspiring has happened here and I am grateful that I was able to share it with you.”

I nodded my head and we sat there together for another moment or two.

This interaction seems to have changed everything between us, from my perspective. It feels safe to deeply trust her again. Deep inside I had previously feared that she would hurt me for telling her the worst that I had to share. I think that I believed that she wouldn’t be able to help herself because everyone had to eventually reject either me or my experience, once I had told/showed them just how bad it was. But she didn’t reject either me or what happened to me. Instead she came closer to me and she helped me to hold and take care of those parts that were so terribly traumatized by my grandfather.

I do hope that the crises of this summer are over, but this was a reminder that just because things feel awful and chaotic, it doesn’t always mean that I am really in trouble. Several times this summer, Mama Bear would take me by the shoulders and look me straight in the eye and say, “We are OK, C. We really are, even though it doesn’t feel like it. We will talk about what is going on and work through it, but things actually are more OK between the two of us than it feels like right now.” I wish that I had been able to believe her at the time, because it turns out that she was right.

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Irenic Glance 2 Artist Randall Cook

Irenic Glance 2
Artist Randall Cook

I’m just a bundle of sunshine these days… A lot of my current work was kick started by a crisis the last time that Mama Bear went out of town. I’m planning on writing about it, as I get more distance and it becomes less painful. The important point for this post is that I reached an intolerable level of pain. I felt completely abandoned and like I had to learn how to deal with everything on my own. I eventually reached the point where I could not think straight and a part kicked in to try to manage the chaos and pain. The way that this part tried to “help” was by controlling what I was thinking about by causing me great emotional distress, so much that I couldn’t think about anything else but what the part was throwing at me. It turned all of the abuse into being my fault and came up with elaborate reasons why this would so. It would go on and on, hammering at me, while I was curled up in a ball, crying. It felt so much rage at me, particularly the traumatized parts of me and it would be like this part would go on a rampage, trying to pulverize the young parts and erase their existence.

And then, perhaps worst of all, this part would start to think about suicide. I want to be very clear that you do not need to worry about whether I will try to kill myself. I won’t. I very, very strongly believe that no matter how much pain I am in, I have an obligation to my daughter to find a way to stick it out, because my killing myself would be so damaging to her. I refuse to pass on the abuse that way. Even if I go through a period of being a completely inadequate mother to my daughter because of what I am dealing with, she is better off with me being around and messed up than my being dead. I also don’t want to cause that sort of pain to my husband and I would like to think that I would hold out for his sake, but I am positive that I will for our daughter’s sake.

However, this time, things were so bad that I wished so much that my daughter and husband were not in my life, so I didn’t have them stopping me. They are the best things about my life and I wanted them gone, so that I could not exist and stop hurting so much. If there had been some way for me to just wipe myself off the face of the planet without harming anyone else, I think that I would have done it that week.

When Mama Bear came back, I just managed to drag myself into her office and she knew from the moment that she saw me that things were bad, even though when she left, we had hoped that this trip would be better than the others have been. Instead it had been far worse. I stumbled through sharing with her what had gone on in my head and straightening out things between the two of us and then I finally did something that I have never done before in the 22 years that I have known her. I talked with her about the suicidal thoughts and feelings that I had experienced. Yes, during those years she has known of other times when I felt suicidal and I have answered her safety questions, but (as far as I can remember) I have never actually been able to talk about what it is like for me. This time, I realized that I needed to not be alone with the pain and despair. I’ve been alone with it too much. From the other things that we had talked about, I had been newly reminded that Mama Bear was not my mother and she wouldn’t run from me because I was in so much pain.

To my surprise, it was a profoundly comforting experience. I was afraid that I would experience judgement or some level of anxiety on her part, but she remained completely calm and accepting of what I was telling her. She showed compassion and an understanding of how my thoughts and feelings were a reflection of the extremity of the pain and isolation that I had experienced. I didn’t really want to die and I certainly didn’t want to kill myself, I was just desperate to escape the pain. I think that she really got it at the point when I shared that even the thought that things could get better wasn’t enough for me this time, I didn’t care what I might be giving up, it just hurt too much to exist.

Talking with her helped a great deal; it didn’t make all of the thoughts and wishes go away, but they mostly went away and I knew that I didn’t need to be alone with them, if they started to get to be bad again. Frankly, it makes me feel safer and more secure to know that I have someone whom I can go to before things get to be that extreme. In fact, she wants for me to come to her well before they get to be that extreme, both because it will save me suffering and because it’s easier for her to help me well before I get to a crisis point.

I’m slowly learning that I don’t have to hide all of the worst parts.

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Kentucky Dogwood Natalie Sewell

Kentucky Dogwood
Natalie Sewell

Last week, I talked with Mama Bear about one of the memories that has ranked highest on my “impossible to tell” list. Actually, when it first came back again about a year ago (from my journals, I see that it first, first came out years ago, but I had forgotten it), I was so shocked, horrified, mortified, and repulsed that it was one of the two or three things that I had to call her about immediately after the memory came out and struggle through telling her what the type of abuse was, just because I felt so crazy with what I was remembering. At that time she gently helped me to say what I needed to, reassured me that the type of abuse that I was talking about wasn’t unheard of and that it wasn’t my fault, and did her best to help me find as much comfort and grounding as possible. Within a day or two, I wrote an e-mail to her with a few of the details, asking her to “hold” them for me, and then hadn’t mentioned it since then. I certainly never said anything about it to her person.

There are three types of memories with my grandfather that I consider the worst. The first I talked about with her earlier this summer and I see that one as being the most intensely overwhelming type of abuse for me. The abuse that I am talking about now left me feeling subhuman and was the most demeaning and disgusting. The last type was the most terrifying. Around the time that I talked about the first type of abuse, I almost talked about this abuse as well, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.

One of the perils of hiding things that I have discovered is that all of those things that I don’t deal with can pile up against each other and suddenly I may find myself in a place where I need to deal with Z, but I have been hiding from W, X, and Y, which need to be dealt with before I can hope to deal with Z. That happened last week. I realized that I have Z issue that is affecting my relationship with my husband, but that is related to Y way of experiencing myself and touch, which is linked into X memories with my father. That particular abuse by my father was especially toxic because it became linked to W abuse by my grandfather. To even be able to start to address this in therapy, I was going to have to go all the way back and start to deal with these memories with my grandfather and then work my way through everything else that I have been hiding from Mama Bear.

It was a fight to even start to get anything out about it because I was so overpowered by my feelings of shame, revulsion, and the deep expectation that she would withdraw in horror. I asked her to move a chair to sit next to me and hold my hand, so I could feel that tangible physical support and connection, while I flailed around inside, struggling against everything that was trying to keep me silent.

“This is so hard to talk about. I am so ashamed and disgusted by it.”

“You do know that it isn’t really yours to be ashamed about, don’t you? He is the one who is responsible for what happened.”

“Yes, I understand that. I really do. But inside I just don’t feel that way. I just know that it seems like what happened makes me believe that I have to be as horrible and disgusting as I felt while it was happening.”

There was another long pause as I struggled some more and then she said, “You really want to tell me about this, don’t you?”

“Yes, I am so damn tired of being alone with it. I don’t want to be alone with it anymore. I have been for too long already!” I paused and then pushed out, “Do you remember when I told you about W?”

Mama bear took a slow breath and gently said, “Yes, I do.”

I then just doubled over with my face on our hands and sobbed while shaking. I let myself feel held by her calm and caring presence as the young part of me who has carried this burden all of these years could finally let go of clenching it close to her in hiding. It was safe for me to let out all of the feelings of disgust, confusion, terror, and the certainty that if anyone knew what had happened, they would never be willing to touch me again. Shaking the whole time, I went back and forth between crying and talking.

“It just felt so disgusting while it was happening. It still makes me feel disgusting and dirty!” I don’t remember what she said in response, but I do know that those feelings have eased a bit now.

“It was just too much! How could anyone do something that cruel to a child?” I looked at her, feeling bewildered.

“We don’t know what happened to him to make him that way, but it seems that he might have been a sadist.”

I stared at her, “You think?!?”

“Remember, you haven’t told me as much about what happened as you think that you have! But from what you have said, yes, I do think that it is safe to say that he was a sadist.”

I cried again, because it was such a relief to hear it said out loud. I have long been convinced that he enjoyed being “inventive” with all of the ways that he could hurt, humiliate, and terrify me, but I wasn’t sure that anyone would ever believe me that he got pleasure out of hurting me. There is something that is damaging in a particular way when you experience someone else getting a kick out of finding different ways to reach inside and harm you. For me it was particularly dehumanizing, because it made me feel like some perverse toy that was only there for his pleasure.

But now, while I still wasn’t able to talk about all of the details of the experiences and how I felt, I was able to talk about some of them and I was able to experience my feelings while someone compassionately listened to me and held me both literally and figuratively. It was safe to be human. It was safe to feel. It was safe to share the real me and what I have experienced.

I looked at Mama Bear, “Deep inside, I absolutely expected for you to withdraw in disgust and horror.”

“Do you feel me withdrawing?”


“What do you see on my face?”

“Concern. Caring.”

“No disgust?”


“Good, I feel no disgust what-so-ever for you, C. And I feel no need to withdraw from you.”

Often, after such an intense session, I experience some sort of repercussions, but I didn’t that day. Instead, my experience was that the child part that had shared still felt safe and my protector parts hadn’t been aroused. That would come, but for that day, I just felt relief at finally being able to talk about what happened and cry while holding the hands of someone whom I know loves me. I needed to be held while I told my mother what happened over 40 years ago, but I was convinced that she would withdraw in disgust. I can’t change what happened then, but at least now I can finally tell.

Note: I struggled over whether or not to state in general what the abuse was related to, because while it was unusual, it is not unheard of. It also isn’t talked about, though. And not being able to talk about it only helps to give the abuse power but it keeps all of us who have lived through it in isolation, thinking that no one else experienced the same depravity. I am not at the point where I can name it, though. Simply talking about it at all is the best that I can do for now. Maybe someday. Maybe even before very long I will be able to write and say what it was, because it really isn’t my shame. It was my body that was involved, but my grandfather was in control. And while I don’t want to trigger people, I also think that it needs to be OK to say, “There are some really sick people out there who do these things to children. It sounds too awful to be true, but it really does happen.”

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Artist: Grace Wever Path to the Light

Artist: Grace Wever
Path to the Light

I recently discovered that I have told Mama Bear far less about the abuse than I think that I have. I have talked around what happened and hinted at it, but not given her many details. In some ways, that is OK; we have talked about how I can heal without going into the details. Unfortunately, it can also cause some pretty significant problems, though.

A couple of weeks ago, Mama Bear and I had a significant disruption because of misunderstandings caused by my thinking that I had been more clear to her than I actually had. She does the good therapist thing (actually it’s healthy communication, period) and doesn’t make assumptions based on what I hint at, however, in my mind, I have told her that I remember X happening. What I have been doing is referring to a lot of fuzzy “memory-type things” (my phrase) with my father (and maybe hinting broadly at what happened) and my struggles with believing myself, and so in her mind the whole story was vague and anything but clear. In my mind, I had been telling her about the types of memories, if not the details, and while I am experiencing a lot of conflict and somethings a fuzzy, what is clear, is clear.

When she came back from her trip a few weeks ago, after receiving my e-mails about the memories that I was dealing with, she asked me what I actually remembered about the abuse with my dad. In her mind, she was just trying to get a clearer picture of what was clear to me, if anything, and she wasn’t asking about specific abuse memories. She has no doubt that I was badly abused; whether I remember specifics or not only matters in terms of how treatment needs to proceed. In my mind, she was questioning whether I actually remembered anything and was asking me to prove that I did. That was not a session that went at all well. I felt attacked, bewildered, betrayed, like I had lost the person I could talk about the abuse with, angry, and more. My trust in her was severely shaken. I did not believe that she had hurt me on purpose, but what I experienced in the session and over the several days after the session was painful and frightening, so she had in effect hurt me. I took all of the anger that I felt towards her and aimed it squarely at myself, because I couldn’t tolerate being angry with her when things already felt so unstable. I was an exceedingly mixed up person who couldn’t fully get out of child states for most of the week between the disaster session and when I saw her next. Even now, there are parts of me that are wary about trusting her, now that I have experienced how badly things can go, without her trying to harm me. She made a mistake. She, herself, said that she had very poor timing and that she messed up how she asked me the question, even though it was something that she did need to clarify with me, because the lack of information was getting in the way of her helping me. However, the one thing that I gained was the certainty that something bad could happen between the two of us and while it might mess me up for awhile, I could eventually pull myself back together. If she fails me again, I can survive it. Unfortunately, the only way for me to really be certain of that was to experience it.

This experience got me thinking about how much I have kept from her, even after all of this time. I understand some of the reasons why I hide things, but I think that they are old reasons and don’t have much to do with today. I had a loving mother, but I believed that I had to keep things from her. There were lots of reasons why I believed that it wasn’t safe to tell her, both because of external threats and because I didn’t think that she could handle knowing; the end result was that I was trained to hide what happened, even from someone who was caring. I have heard other people say that if you don’t feel like you can tell your therapist anything, then there is something wrong with the relationship with the therapist (with the implication that the therapist needs to do more to enable your feeling able to share), but with Mama Bear, she has done everything possible to create a safe place to share. The problem is that I have to fight against very early survival training and then decades of following the same rules.

So I am trying to push myself to hide less. I need to act judiciously, so I don’t overwhelm myself, but I think that the very act of hiding/ not being able to speak about what happened gives it more power than it otherwise would have. I need to take that power for myself, so I can free the parts of me that still feel bound to the abuse memories.

Yesterday, I told her about a part that I have come to understand and be able to work with since the beginning of the year, but I had been afraid to tell her about because I was afraid that she would tell me that I was doing something wrong or that this part couldn’t exist the way that I was experiencing it. I had not felt confident enough in myself and my ability to support this part to say, “This is what is going on. Period. If your theories don’t work with it, then too bad.” But I pushed past that fear yesterday and discovered that 1) it was vitally important for me to openly bring this part into a session and work with it, 2) Mama Bear is interested in my experience first and then uses the theories to help inform how she organizes treatment (I knew this, but needed to be reminded of it), and 3) the way that I experience this part actually fits well with the theory after all.

Huh, I pushed past the fear that has bound me up to now, I shared with Mama Bear, and not only did nothing bad come of it, but good came out of it. Maybe I don’t have to hide as much as I have in the past. I’m starting to feel as though maybe I have the freedom to move a bit and not worry so much about making a single false step. I think that it’s safe enough to take some chances. I’m strong enough to deal with things going wrong, even if I may react badly at first. No one here is judging me. There is no “test” to make sure that I get things just right. Once again, I remember that it’s safe to be “me”, as I slowly discover who all of me is.

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Lisa Marie Sanders Time

Lisa Marie Sanders

Continued from Breaking Down Denial

At first I thought that I could deal with the shock of losing the basis for those last holdouts of denial all on my own. Mama Bear is out of town for most of a week, so I did not have my second session of the week. I knew that I could e-mail her, but I didn’t know if she would have computer access while she was gone. I knew that I could text or even call her, if need be, but I resist doing that.

At first things were difficult, but manageable. Unfortunately, by the next day I had started to unravel under the stress. I experienced a memory that fills in a gap that I probably wasn’t really ready to experience. I started to feel young, lost, and alone. I tried telling some of my friends that I was in distress, which helped the adult me feel supported, but I couldn’t tell them the details and the younger parts still felt incredibly alone. Finally, I realized that the burden of what had come together all at once was too much for me to carry alone. If I didn’t let Mama Bear know what had happened and create a feeling of connection, I would keep on unraveling until I was in a full blown crisis. I don’t have to try to do this alone any more.

I sent Mama Bear a long series of texts, explaining that I was trying to avert a crisis by telling what had happened and asking for a hand clasp to create some connection. She responded with “a good firm hand clasp”, a reassurance that we would discuss what had happened, and checking to make sure that I didn’t need more from her at that point. It worked. It kept me from getting any more worked up and I started to calm.

That evening I finished an e-mail to Mama Bear, talking about what had happened, what it had brought up for me directly and then other things that had been triggered indirectly. It was a long and complicated e-mail with material for probably a good two months worth of therapy, if not more.

In her response to me, she said, “You have sent this to me and we will address this together.” Together. I know that she has said that we will work on things “together” in the past, but for some reason that word is deeply reassuring and calming to me right now. She knows what she is committing to and I have seen that she is not afraid to deal with what many people would quail before. If she says that we will deal with it together, I can trust that she will follow through and be there for me. I don’t have to be alone because I am afraid or ashamed anymore. What I fear and am shamed by doesn’t seem to phase her; she keeps on seeing me in front of her, not the ugliness that was done to me. Together. I have such a deep wound from having to deal all on my own, for all of those years, with what happened and the experience of dealing with it together with someone who cares for me is profoundly healing by itself. There is no shame in all of this being too much for me to deal with alone. No person should ever have to deal with such trauma without the support of others; we seem to be designed to need others when we are in distress. Right now, I can’t get out of my head what a relief it is to know that Mama Bear and I will deal with whatever we need to, together.

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