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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Artist: Thea Penna

Artist: Thea Penna

I am feeling shaken and grieving…

If you have been reading my blog, you are probably aware that over the last few months I have been struggling with trying to figure out whether my father sexually abused me or not. Parts of me are terrified of him and I kept on experiencing things that were flashback like, but at the same time a large part of me was convinced that he didn’t actually abuse me. It has been maddening to deal with and I have been tearing myself apart inside to try to figure it out.

Over the last week or so, so things have shifted. I finally accepted that no matter how hard I try to figure out whether he did or did not abuse me in my head, there is no way that I can actually “prove it” to myself one way or the other. I needed to give up on trying to do it all together, although I wasn’t sure what to do with the parts of me who are convinced that he hurt me. All I was doing accomplishing was shredding myself apart inside and keeping myself hyperaroused. Then, yesterday Mama Bear asked me a question that was incredibly painful, but has caused me to look at my relationship with my father in a different way. She asked me, “When did he last take care of you?” When I replied, “A very long time ago,” she went on to ask, “If you don’t count things like feeding you, what about then? When did he last emotionally take care of you?” I just stared at her, because I knew that she knew what the answer was: I don’t remember him ever doing any sort of emotional care taking.

This morning, some things came together and finally started to make sense of my feelings for him. I think that I understand better why I have been so confused about my dad. I can’t say that this is all of it, but I think that it is a large part of it…

My father knew full well what sort of a man my grandfather was. He experienced how my grandfather treated children, because he grew up as my grandfather’s son. I strongly suspect that my grandfather was sexually abusive of him. Given how my grandfather was, would he really have waited until there were girl grandchildren available? What he did wasn’t about sexual desire, it was about control and hurting people who were weaker than you. I would imagine that a boy child would serve the purpose just as well. My father is severely homophobic, and he doesn’t hate/fear entire groups of people, so such a frame of mind is quite unusual for him. I think that there is a reason for the strength of his feelings; I think that he was sexually abused by my grandfather.

Anyways, in the here and now, I believe that it was highly likely that he should have been aware that my grandfather was capable of sexual abuse. I think that when I was a child I thought that he knew what he was sending me to- he knew what would happen to me. At least one part of me is convinced that he wanted for my grandfather to do those sorts of things to me. And I’m getting the message from my insides that I believed that my father wanted to do the same sorts of things and I lived in fear that it could happen.

Even if he never did anything to reinforce the fear that I was in danger (never molested me), he also never did anything to help me feel safe with him. I had no sense of security with him. There was no history of being shown that he cared about me and would help me in a meaningful way. Yes, he provided for the family, but he never provided for me emotionally. I had nothing to counter the fears that, in his heart, what he really wanted was to harm me. And I had ample proof that men in my family would act in ways that felt like they would destroy me.

It really is no wonder that I have this huge confused mess inside where he is concerned, and it’s no wonder that my insides are confused about what he did or did not do, if I lived in long term fear (terror really), thinking that it was likely that he would do something (maybe even expecting for him to do something at times.) I wouldn’t even have had vague fears of him doing “something” because I knew exactly the sorts of things that could happen.

Maybe I picked up on something between us and he really did have those sorts of urges, maybe not. I will never know. Maybe he actually did abuse me at some point. I probably won’t ever know the answer to that. But at least I think that I finally have an answer that is largely on track as to why my insides are telling me that at some level I lived in terror, but I also don’t think that actually he treated me like my grandfather did. Because, even if he did something, I know that he wasn’t the horror that my grandfather was.

This isn’t nearly as bad as those things actually happening, but God, it would have been horrible to live with. No wonder I have no trust for him. No wonder I carry so much rage. No wonder I am desperate to protect myself from him.

It may be that he never touched me inappropriately, but it’s still his fault that I lived with this fear. Living with the expectation that my father could decide to violate me at any time was traumatic. It harmed me. If he hadn’t put me in my grandfather’s hands, I wouldn’t have had reason to fear such treatment by him. He gave me no reason to believe that while my grandfather was like that, he was different.

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I feel as though I am balanced on a tightrope right now. Everything is so precarious that I can’t think about anything other than focusing on staying balanced. But that balance is artificial and I know that I am going to have to step off that tight rope from time to time.

That tightrope has me over two different states: one where I don’t believe that anything very bad at all happened with my dad. The other state believes that everything that I think might have happened, did happen. Sitting here, writing, I can connect with a third state: the me who can see that the truth most likely lies somewhere between the two extremes.

I have been here before. I hate being in this place. I hate this tug of war inside of me. So why do I come back here over and over?

I’ve finally realized that when I was a child, the only way that I had any “normal” was to not believe that anything bad had happened. If I could mostly live in a state where nothing bad had happened, then I could go to school and learn, have friends, do things with my mother, even be happy some of the time. I had some “normal” and that “normal” helped me to be in far better shape than I would have been without it. I had been looking at these current episodes of denial as being problem behaviors of mine or at the best ways that my mind is using to titrate taking in the reality of what happened, but now I can see that they are habits formed as a child, when they actually served an important and positive purpose. It’s no wonder that I am repeatedly drawn back to the denial over and over! Especially when I am overwhelmed and stressed. Fortunately, things have changed, and grounding in the here and now is a better way for me to find my “normal” these days, rather than denying my experience.

But the denial also helps to balance the pull to believe every single memory type thing that has come up. You see, I hesitate to believe that it all happened. Something inside of me resists believing that he actually did all of those things. But also I know that I am beyond furious at him and if there was a simple way to do it that didn’t hurt my mother, I would simply walk away from him right now. I know that parts of me hold extreme fear where he is concerned. I know that so much of me just hates him and wishes that he was dead. I know that when I talk or think about him, so much of the time I want to throw up. Those reactions are way too strong to be based on nothing, so there has to be some reason for me to have such strong feelings. The terror is stronger where my grandfather is concerned, but all of the other emotions are stronger with my father.

For several months I kept on trying to dig and dig, to see if I could figure out just what happened with him. That didn’t work. I got more and more hyperstimulated and more and more easily triggered into flashback states that may or may not have been accurate. Rather than clarifying what happened, I just got more and more confused. I want to be clear that the entire time, Mama Bear was trying to get me to not dig, but it was as if there was a divide and part of me understood and accepted that and another side of me was determined to just keep on digging.

Unfortunately, all of this means that I am left with all of these things in my mind that really might not have happened. What do I do with that? Especially because some things might have happened, so it isn’t as though I can just dismiss them all as products of an over stimulated, traumatized brain.

I feel as though I can’t figure out where to sit right now. Every place that I try has something spiky that pokes me when I try to settle there and I have to jump up and try another place, but that isn’t going to be comfortable either. It isn’t that nothing happened and it isn’t that everything happened. OK, so something happened, but what sort of something? Was it “just” bad in my mind because of what happened with my grandfather, or was it something that anyone would recognize as being bad? I wish that it didn’t matter so much to me, but it does. There is a particular room and a particular activity that keeps on coming to mind, but does it haunt me because I have thought about it too much, or do I think about it so much because it haunts me?

I have no idea when I will come to a place where I can settle sufficiently for me to be comfortable. Even if he did sexually abuse me, so much of me sees it as being impossible that it could have been a part of my life, I don’t know that I will ever be able to believe myself. I knew that my grandfather was outright cruel and enjoyed hurting people- that was openly acknowledged in the family. My dad was supposed to be the “good guy” of the family. The one who turned out all right and who all of the cousins could look up to.

I don’t know. All I know is that I am confused and angry and hurting. I know that I hate dealing with all of this. And I know that I have to find a way through this mess, even if it feels impossible at the moment, because I refuse to carry it with me for the rest of my life.

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I have had a rather odd experience today and I’m wondering if anyone has any insight into it…

I have been having these brief but vivid memories off and on all day- at this point for 14 hours. But they aren’t trauma memories at all. They are from the same time frame that I have been predominantly dealing with lately- the period of time when I lived in Hawaii, between the ages of 7 and 13.

They are memories of going to the beach. I just “see” short clips in these memories and while I know that there are other people around, they are not in the memories. Instead, I can feel and see myself unrolling a beach mat and smell the smell that only goes with a beach mat. I can feel the sand as I burrow my hands and feet into it. Actually I get multiple experiences with that. One is of soft, white, fine sand and how it is hot on the surface, but cool as I burrow down into it. Another is the coarse grittiness of the wet, slightly grayish sand at another beach, as I sit at the edge of the water. Yet another is sitting there with sand running through my hands. I can feel my hands pushing through the water, playing with the water pressure and experience how delightfully cool it is. I can smell the scent of the coconut oil that people used and hear a slight scraping noise from a folding chair being settled into the sand.

Only one of these is not a familiar memory to me, but I don’t remember having quite this level of tactile detail in the past. And I don’t remember ever having benign, even positive memories pushing at me, nudging me when things are quiet. They aren’t intrusive in the way that traumatic memories are, but they have been persistent. The other odd thing is that there is just a touch of that sense of being there that I get with traumatic memories.

It isn’t really a problem that this has been going on today, but when something is such a striking change from normal, I can’t help but wonder, “Why?” and “What is going on?”

So… I am open to hypotheses here…

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Waimea Falls- North Shore Oahu

Waimea Falls- North Shore Oahu

I want to do something completely different today… Sometimes it seems like the memories from my childhood are just full of nightmares- awful things that frighten and disgust me, but I know that there was more to my childhood than just that. I think that trying to pull up some of those happier memories might be good for all of me, because it may help to connect me to the good that was in my life and so the source of my strength as a child. There is no erasing the bad, but bringing some balance in to my perspective may help me be less intimidated by what these child parts hold, as I start to intentionally work with them.

I believe that this collection of memories is from around the age of 9 or 10 or so, however all but one of them are certain to be collections of memories, because we went to these places more than once, so they may range anywhere from between 7 1/2 until just as I turned 13.. That was a period of time when my family lived in Hawaii and I’ve realized that my unremittingly good memories are all out of doors.

I loved the ocean and the beach, but in particular I remember that we would go to a beach up on the North Shore that had puka shells. These are the round shells with a hole in the middle that are often strung into necklaces and are quintessentially Hawaiian. I loved to sit there in the sand, sorting for the shells, because the shells were relatively rare, so it felt like finding treasure each time I located another one. If I remember correctly, this was a large beach and it had an area that was relatively shallow for some distance, and I would swim out with friends, splashing them, diving under them, swimming between them, floating with them. I have no memory as to who those friends were, just that they were there and I felt secure and happy with them. At the far end of the beach, there were these small cliffs that people would jump off into the ocean. Some of them were taller, maybe 20 feet tall, and others were relatively small, less than 10 feet. I spent years building up my courage to jump off the smaller cliffs. I knew that other kids my age did it; I knew that I was a strong swimmer; I knew that people looked like they have a wonderful time doing it, but looking down over the edge and actually making that leap was hard for me. I vaguely seem to remember my mom being there, in the water, waiting for me, encouraging me, and cheering me on when I finally did it. Once I over came that fear, of course I wanted to do it over and over and over. 🙂

Another favorite outing was to hike Waimea Valley up to the falls and then swim in the falls. The valley was lush with all sorts of interesting things to look at. One of my favorite activities was to try to spot all of the peacocks, because there were many in the park. By the time we would make it up to the falls, we would be hot and sweaty and jumping into the pool at the bottom of the falls felt like heaven. I can remember swimming next to the falls and feeling the water from the falls beating down into the pool and just wanting to stay in the water forever.

Then there was the time that I went mudsliding with my Girl Scout troupe. Up in the mountains, there are these areas that have this super slick mud. You have to be taken by someone who knows where they are and who has a vehicle that can get back up in there, because it is all by dirt roads, and of course you go when everything is muddy. But it is a blast! We took along pieces of cardboard that we “rode”, and I seem to remember that some of the runs were pretty long. I remember being absolutely covered in mud by the end of it, from head to toe, and full of bruises from hitting rocks that stuck up, but also being blissfully happy. I seem to remember that as a day when I fully felt a part of the group, rather than set apart a bit, which was my normal state.

Hanaumu Bay- Oaho

Hanaumu Bay- Oaho

My last happy memory comes from going snorkeling in Hanaumu Bay. The snorkeling in this bay was just phenomenal and I know that I would go off with a friend or two, exploring the bay all day long, only coming back for snacks and lunch. The coral was beautiful; the fish were spectacular; I knew where to look for hiding eels; and the water just felt perfect. The colors in the picture above don’t actually do justice to the place- it is that gorgeous and it made my heart sing. I would have been a happy girl if we could have gone there every weekend!

I need to remember this… There were some very good, life giving things in my life at that time and probably most of my life was made up of average stuff that I have only have a handful of vague memories about. This is a period when some very bad things happened with my grandfather for a relatively short period of that time and then I have a lot of other questions and I know that there were some bad dynamics between my father and me. Unfortunately, the emotions that go with the bad things seem to overshadow everything else around then, but there was so much more to me than an abused and neglected child. I need to help myself hold on to the side of that child who also knew what it was like to swim in the ocean, pretending that she was a dolphin, who would tan a golden brown, and whose hair got all tangled from the wind and salt water. I need to remember that I was the child who would string flowers into leis and braid orchids into my hair. I was a child who did know how to laugh and how to embrace the things that I loved about my life. I was a child who was determined to live and I was stronger than the wrong that was done to me.

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OK, I am really confused at the moment… Something has been coming up repeatedly over the last month and 1/2 or so, so I finally started to write it out and e-mail it to Mama Bear. She won’t get it until next Wednesday evening, but at least I know that I’ve told her and it won’t be pushed to the back by more pressing things again.

This is different from most things that I write to her about. This is about something that I know happened…


This comes under the “I think that I’ve always remembered it, but I might not always have been able to access it” category for me. When I was 7, after the summer I stayed with my grandparents and before we moved to Hawaii, my dad trained in the Bay Area. We lived in an apartment there and everything was really temporary, but we had to have been there for about 4 or 5 months.

This is just about the only thing that I remember about living there. There was a group of older boys there. I’m not sure how old, not late teens, but definitely enough older to feel bigger. I have always known that it happened, “Behind the dumpsters”, but it somehow seems partially enclosed. I don’t understand that. I felt trapped. And things happened that really shouldn’t have happened. And I’m pretty sure that I was taken there more than once- I remember not feeling safe to ride my bike. But other than knowing that it involved contact, that it was disgusting to me, that the boys could get in trouble for what they were doing, and that it was frightening and I didn’t want to be there, the details were lost. I seem to have gotten some details recently, but who knows how accurate they are? And who knows what I would have been afraid would happen?

I get a sense of, “This was a very bad thing to have happened, but it wasn’t absolutely horrible.” The worst part about it is that there were boys- more than one.

Oh, my… I think that I just realized the most important thing about this… I know that this happened. I know that it was upsetting to me. And either I said something to my mother and she did nothing or she had not a clue. Whatever those boys did, it can’t have been nearly as bad as what my grandfather did, but it was at least frightening and disgusting. Bad things could happen and she did not know. OK, I did not realize that this was going to hit me.

I spoke with some friends about it, got some much needed support, thought that I was OK, and they went off to bed. Suddenly I am not so OK with this. But I don’t understand why. Other than the bit about my mom, which is very important, there is nothing new to me here. But I am reacting to the whole thing.

I don’t think that I have ever talked with anyone about this. At first I was very, very ashamed about it. But then it didn’t seem to be worth talking about. What kind of crazy perspective is that?

I don’t think that it computed as being sexual abuse before because these were boys that weren’t all that much older than me. But I was forced to participate. I know that I did not want to be there.

Why does this feel like such a big deal to me? I have always known that it happened, even though it was tucked away in a corner of my mind. In comparison to the things that happened with my grandfather, it had to have been next to nothing.

But I’m left wondering, “How did I ever feel safe enough to step outside my front door, when I was caught near my home, doing something as innocent as riding my bike?”

And I can’t help but want to cry for that little girl. I can catch glimpses of how having it happen outside the family as well was just about enough to tear my mind apart.

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I have recognized that I have this pattern.  I will be going along for awhile, dealing with therapy and life at a fairly steady level, hit something and totally fall apart and go into crisis.  I then put myself back together with Mama Bear’s help.  But the interesting thing is that I don’t go back to the same level of functioning that I had been at previously; I generally function better.  And at least the last two or three times that this has happened, there is a continued sense of movement and shifting in the few weeks after getting myself out of crisis.

It’s actually kind of cool and I’m hoping that recognizing that this is going on will help me feel less panicked the next time that it happens, because it is a sign of better things coming.  While I would love to think that I’m not going to have another crisis, I’m going to be realistic and recognize that it’s likely that I am not done with them.  I rather wish that I would shift things around inside in a less tumultuous manner (and I’m sure that Mama Bear would really love to not need to deal with crises between sessions), but I don’t know that I have any choice in the matter.  I suspect that the best that I can do is to just keep myself as calm as possible and keep on reminding myself that there is a pattern here and things will be better again soon.

So, I have just gone through another one of these reorganizations, and I’m kind of wondering where has it left me?  In the three sessions since I started putting myself back together again 2 weeks ago, I have found it easier to stay present focused and noticed that I seem to be doing much better after and between sessions by keeping the sessions more present focused.

When I started up again with Mama Bear a bit over a year ago, I came in intending to talk about present day issues, but all sorts of abuse related material just came bursting out.  And I had to deal with it.  Over the course of this year, we have tried two or three times to refocus back on the present day issues, because they are actually very important ones that have an impact on my fundamental sense of safety and security in the here and now.  But each time, I have been drawn back into dealing with the past.  There are all sorts of possible reasons for this, ranging from once the abuse had been reactivated, there simply was a certain mass of it that I had to deal with in order to get myself feeling secure enough to start to move on to maybe it was less frightening for me to deal with the abuse, as horrific as that was, because at least I know how that turned out- I survived it and I am here.  I don’t know how these present day issues will turn out because they are still playing out.  My guess is that there is no single answer, but rather that there were a lot of different factors interacting with each other.

But now I am sitting here thinking to myself, “Things have shifted inside of me over the last couple of weeks.  And I’m not entirely sure how to proceed.”   Yes, it is clear to me that I need to spend the bulk of my energy right now on dealing with present day issues, some of which are every bit as painful as the abuse memories, maybe even more so.   Working through how I feel about my relationship with my mother and trying to figure out what my next steps will be hurts so much it feels like I am ripping my heart out.

I am also clear that I am quite willing to try to avoid going into the memories for right now.  The thought of doing that hurts in a way that indicates to me that it is a bad idea.

But I am left with a sense that there is something that I need to be doing specifically for these hurt parts of me.  I have spent some time trying to figure out what that might be and each time I think of something, I get a reaction that says, “No, that takes me back to what was and that isn’t what I need to do for these parts of me.  I need something that points all of me forward, not backwards right now.”  Maybe that is part of what I need to figure out in my session tomorrow.

I wonder whether I am done for right now with memories coming up?  There is such a strong internal sense right now of “that is not where I need to go at this time” that I can’t help but wonder if my mind is going to try to keep the memories calmed down, as long as I help by not stirring things up.  But this really is unknown territory for me and I don’t know what is going to happen.  I know that I am continuing to get the same set of physical memories that I have been getting for months, but at least they aren’t as distressing to me.  It is more like they have moved to background noise.  So, my question is whether they will die down further, as the trauma response in my nervous system further calms or will they keep up?  I guess that I will only know with time.

I know that a month or two ago, I was convinced that I was going to need to explicitly talk about some of the abuse with my grandfather, because being so ashamed of naming it was keeping me trapped in it.  Does this mean that I don’t actually need to do that?  What does it mean?  Am I going to have to come back to these incidents again in the future?  Or is there another way to work with all of me that allows me to resolve what I need to resolve, without connecting so directly with the abuse memories?  I know that I have heard that it is possible, but is it actually going to work that way with me?  I think that I am feeling unsettled by the very suddenness of the shift away from fearing that I will have to deal directly with most, if not all, of the abuse memories to having a strong sense that I should not be allowing myself to go deeply into the memories right now.  It’s like the rules have been changed on me and I don’t understand yet what they have been changed to.

I am left with so many questions right now.  But I think that it’s OK for me to have these questions.  I don’t have to have the answers at this moment, and I guess that I should be happy to discover that I am now steady enough on my feet and in myself to be able to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty involved with them.  I don’t have to know just what is going to happen next, even though I would like to.  Things are getting better.  I am feeling stronger, more connected, more hopeful, and even a bit happy.  For now that is enough.  (Even if not knowing is driving me a bit batty!)

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