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Posts Tagged ‘safety’

http://latitudequilts.blogspot.ca/p/silence.html

I’ve been thinking about attachment, security, and how children find a sense of safety. In my situation, as a child, my mother was my source of safety. I knew that if I was in physical contact with her or she was paying close attention to me, no one would hurt me. There were times when we were very close, perhaps almost too close, because my father was in the military and he would be gone for up to a year at a time. Unfortunately, when he was around, she wasn’t able to pay as close of attention as she would like to think that she did. There are lots of reasons for this, some of which I probably can’t even guess at. I don’t think that she intentionally allowed me to be abused, but I do think that most likely she couldn’t allow herself to see what was going on.

Anyways, I have these funny responses to attachment, especially when it comes to dealing with the abuse. I guess that this makes sense, because in normal day to day life, there were some attachment issues with my mother, but she generally was pretty much there for me. As a result, I was able to recognize a healthy life partner and develop a marriage that has lasted 25 years. But in regards to the abuse, I’m simply was an attachment disaster. It was when I most desperately needed for my mother to be there for me that I experienced what seemed to be her abandonment. The situation was too complicated for it to be simple abandonment, but that is how I experienced it, which is what is important for developing attachment. I saw that she was there on a day to day basis and she was warm and caring, but somehow I was left to deal with the abuse all on my own. I don’t know how much of it was my hiding what was going on due to a perceived need to protect her from the knowledge, how much was an assumption that she had to know that something so overwhelming was going on, how much was my not telling because of threats, how much was my trying to tell her and her not understanding, how much was my belief that she didn’t want to know. The end result is that I needed for my mother to be there for me and she wasn’t.

Over the last few months, my relationship with Mama Bear has been developing to the point where I finally have really let her in so she can support me. While I have been dealing with these terrible memories, I have increasingly used my sense of connection with her to not only help me through the session, but to also keep myself in an OK state outside of session. Even when I have told her the worst details, she has remained calm, grounded in the now, and there with me. She has shown signs of outrage but there always is an underlying calmness to her. That is deeply reassuring to me- even though I am in serious distress because I am engaged with the memory, what happened isn’t so awful and potent that it take over my environment. Mama Bear can listen to what happened, be involved enough to understand how horrible it was (as much as is possible from the outside), be there with me, and yet still be an oasis of calm for me. Between sessions, the memory of her being there for me in the face of the memory and the knowledge that I always have her care combine to help me keep the terrible memories contained. I am no longer alone with the abuse.

I have been thinking today about an example of when I was not allowed to maintain/repair the connection that I needed with my mother. When I was 10, my mother went abroad to join my father for 2 1/2 months and I was sent to stay with my grandparents. Mostly I stayed with my maternal grandmother who was neglectful and often cruel at best. For instance, she would shame me for needing money to buy a school lunch, even though it wasn’t my fault that my mother had not given me money for this purpose. Most of my time in her house is a blank, but what I do recall is a sense of loneliness, shame, and sadness. From what I remember, she sent me to stay with my paternal grandparents as often as she could- weekends, Christmas break, and any school holidays. My paternal grandfather was one of my abusers and he was particularly cruel. This was a man who enjoyed hurting people. I remember almost nothing of being at their house. I’m not sure which of the abuse memories belong to that time, but I think that it is a safe assumption that he created a little hell for me during that visit.

I remember having a hard time with not knowing a concrete date as to when my parents would arrive. Once it got to be the right month, I kept on hoping that my mother would come and get me earlier than planned. My father likes to surprise people, so I had no warning- they suddenly were there. The next few days are a blur, but what I do remember is desperately wanting to be in constant contact with my mother. Being near her wasn’t enough, I needed to touch her. For years I thought that I wanted to be near her because I knew that my grandfather couldn’t hurt me with her there, but now I understand now that I also was doing my best to repair my sense of connection to her. I think that 2 1/2 months of separation would have been difficult for most 10 year olds in and of itself. Throw in a generally hostile environment and it would be difficult for anyone. Add on top of the rest of it sadistic sexual abuse, and the result was a frantic need for any safe connection that would help me to manage the emotional damage done to me.

My father doesn’t like to share my mother’s attention with me. Even now, when we are together, he will find ways to refocus attention onto himself, if we are paying too close of attention to each other. He’s even been known to distract my mother by fondling her breasts while she was on the phone with me. When they showed up after 2 1/2 months and I was obviously very needy for my mother’s attention, my father grudgingly allowed it. But after a week, maybe a week and a half, when I showed no signs of letting up on my need to be in physical contact with her as much of the time as possible, he got angry. I remember him shaming me, saying that I was too old to need the contact and that I was burdening my mother by always dragging on her.

Now days, one of my problems is that the greater my distress, the more difficult I find it to reach out for contact. I am sure that this episode alone didn’t create that, but it sure is a clear example of what probably was a common pattern in my childhood. I’m in distress, so I go to Mommy, but either Mommy can’t deal with the distress for some reason or Daddy says that I am bothering her. I learn that if I ask for help when I really need it, then I’m likely to be rejected which makes me feel even worse inside. All I can do is stand there and hope that Mommy notices and offers to help me. If that doesn’t work, then I go and hide and take care of myself.

Those are the lessons that I learned in childhood: I’m likely to be hurt and rejected if I ask for help- it isn’t safe. If the person is willing to help, they will notice and offer, and if they don’t offer that is a rejection, but it is an easier rejection for me to tolerate. I “should” be able to take care of myself and I am too needy when I can’t. The safest/best thing is for me to do is to go and hide in a corner when I am hurting the most.

They were false lessons, though. They applied to my distorted life as a helpless, abused child who could not understand what was going on, but knew that she couldn’t rely on any support. Thankfully, they don’t apply to my life now and I am slowly learning that they don’t. Ironically, they probably apply least in the part of my life where I am dealing with the abuse, because Mama Bear is mindful of these beliefs and tries to not only not reinforce them, but she also challenges them.

Yesterday, in our session, I struggled to tell her that I was feeling angry with her because of something that happened in the previous session. In retrospect, I wasn’t so much angry as I was extremely distressed because what had happened had caused a disruption in the connection in our relationship. I needed for her to come together with me and work it out, but asking for her to do so was incredibly frightening for me, because parts of me expected for her to become angry and reject me. Not only did she willingly engage with me, she helped me to see that my fears had no basis in reality. First she said, “C. you need to really look at me… Do I look like I am at all angry or upset with you?” I had to admit that I didn’t see any signs of anger. Then after we had talked a bit more, she said, “OK, take another look at me. How do I look like I feel now?” I struggled to come up with an answer, because I wasn’t seeing any strong emotions, so she continued, “I’m feeling much more relaxed than I was before, because we are talking about what is going on between the two of us. I realized after our last session that we had a disconnection and now we are addressing it. That feels good and I am able to relax.”

Huh, she wants the connection, too. She also notices when there is a disruption in the relationship and it also feels uncomfortable to her, albeit in a different way than it feels uncomfortable to me. Attachment isn’t just me attaching to her, it’s the creation of a relationship. It involves both of us. As she said, “We are in this together.”

Humans are social animals and I believe that we are best off when we deal with our traumas (both trauma and Trauma) with the help of others. But it seems to be all too easy to damage our ability to create the connections with others that would allow for such healing. What have your experiences been with the use of connection to others to help to yourself heal?

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Detail of quilt: Fauna Artists: Frances Alford, Kathy York, Vickie Hallmark, Julie John Upshaw and Judy Coates Perez (who did the chameleon) Full quilt can be seen at: http://aquamoonartquilts.blogspot.com/2007/10/3rd-times-charm-fauna-wins-2nd-place-at.html

Detail of quilt: Fauna
Artists: Frances Alford, Kathy York, Vickie Hallmark, Julie John Upshaw and Judy Coates Perez (who did the chameleon)
Full quilt can be seen at: http://aquamoonartquilts.blogspot.com/2007/10/3rd-times-charm-fauna-wins-2nd-place-at.html

Things are very different for me today than they were a week ago. I was in a bad place last Saturday and now I am in a better place than I was before I fell apart last week. I went into my session today and tried to explain to Mama Bear what felt different. I told her that I felt as though things are shifting and adjusting inside and could tell that I needed to be patient with my insides while this was happening. Her question was, “Why is now different? Don’t they deserve for you to be patient with them all of the time?” That took me aback. She is correct. All of me needs for me to be far more patient and compassionate than I normally am towards myself. I deserve to be treated gently and with love and respect. I need to treat myself the way that I hope that I would treat another person who has been through what I have been through.

Very often, I will struggle and struggle over something big and seem to make little or no progress for months, sometimes many months, and then suddenly things will suddenly come together in a way that allows for a huge shift all at once. Sometimes I will have some sense that a shift is coming, but generally I have no clue until I am trying to adjust to it. That is what has happened to me now. Suddenly I am able to look at the whole of what I experienced as a child and say, “Really terrible things happened to me. I am the person that those horrible things happened to and they hurt me badly, but I am also the person who is standing here right now. A strong adult who is dealing with some deep wounds but doing fairly well despite everything. I can be both.” Up until now, I have always had to be one or the other. I either experienced myself as the child who was being hurt or I experienced myself as the adult now. Sometimes I could experience myself in rapid succession as the hurt child and then the adult trying to help soothe the hurt child, but I still needed to think of the abuse as happening to that child part, rather than to me. I knew in my head that it happened to me, but always in a vague, distant way. I had to think of it as having happened to the child that I was or to the young body that grew into the body that I have now. For the last couple of days, things have been different and I can finally accept, “It happened to me. Past tense, happened, but it happened to me.”

I realize that I still am early in the process of making this transition and if directly faced with the emotions of a trauma memory, I think that I would immediately fall back into the habitual ways of dealing with it through dissociation. At the same time, I fully recognize that what I am experiencing right now is something big.

In fact, I see it as an important step on the journey towards integration. So far, the process of integrating is turning out to be something quite different from what I expected for it to be. I’m not doing anything with the goal of integrating in mind; I’m just working towards healing in the ways that feel most important to me and in the order that feels right. Instead, as I heal, I find that the separateness and barriers feel less necessary and they are dissolving bit by bit on their own. I know that I am early in the process and I am taking baby steps as I go, but I suspect that I will continue to experience further changes in the same way.

The mental image that I have is that I had this big house that was all cut up into these tiny rooms that were isolated from each other and the doors were locked. That house is changing over time. In some cases walls are being knocked down between rooms, in others doors are being created or enlarged between rooms. Some rooms didn’t even have any windows to start, so windows are now being added. There now is a common area that is growing as the walls are being knocked down. The common area it isn’t all open though, there still are places where things can be kept out of sight as need be, but there also is relatively free movement within that area. I don’t know how this is going to “look” over time. I may end up still needing to have some rooms that can be closed off from the rest of the house. I may need to just have alcoves. The point is that it is safe for my internal state to evolve now so it best suits the me in the now. I had to keep that house a dark warren of small rooms as a child, because at first my mind couldn’t have survived putting those experiences together and as I got older the only way that I could tolerate dealing with what was happening on my own was to keep the experiences separate. As a young adult, I started to put in doors between the rooms when I started my therapy work. As time went on, I was able to bring in more light and open things up somewhat in the “wing” that deals with my grandfather, but the wing that holds my experiences with my father remained as tightly closed up as I could make it. Now I am finally at the point where things have come together in a way that allows me to do massive renovations.

What a revelation… It really is safe for me to learn how to be the person that I need to be. I don’t have to be a chameleon in order to survive. It is safe for me to discover who I am and then to really be that person. It doesn’t feel safe yet, but I understand that it is safe, and in time it will come to feel safe.

How about you? Have you discovered that you are safe to be/do something that never felt safe before?

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Martha Wolfe Hope prayer flag

Martha Wolfe
Hope prayer flag

In no particular order, 10 things that Mama Bear has said to me that were particularly helpful, and because I could have kept on going, there will be more at a later date.

1) He is dead. After I started working with Mama Bear again and I became more aware of just what some of my child parts were experiencing, I realized that deep down I didn’t believe that my grandfather really was dead and I was terrified that he could come after me again. We spent weeks talking about my attending his memorial service, the evidence that I had that he was dead, and why I was having trouble accepting it. I know that he was cremated and have seen the container that his ashes were collected in, so as I began to feel more secure I found myself having revenge fantasies about what I could do with his ashes. Slowly, more and more of me accepted that he probably was dead. The fear that he was so powerful that he could get me anywhere, at anytime ran so deep that I simply had to accept that the process of fully believing that he was dead and I am now safe from him would take however long it would take. I spent several months when a part would unexpectedly pipe up in session, “Is he really dead?” and we would have to take a few minutes to go over the evidence again, and then I would feel reassured enough to refocus on the original topic. Now I almost entirely believe that he really is dead, but sometimes I still slip.

2) Even if he wasn’t dead, you are a capable adult now and you know how to protect yourself. I was shocked the first time that she said this. I tended to think of him as so much more powerful and larger than me, but eventually I realized that Mama Bear was right. Not only am I three inches taller than he was, but I am physically more capable than he was. And as I thought about it, I realized that he tended to reserve his worst treatment for those who had the least ability to stand up against him. Or, as Mama Bear said, “He was a coward who preyed on a defenseless child.” But I am no longer that defenseless child that he was able to prey on. I have strength in myself. I have strength in allies. If my grandfather stood in front of me today, he might make a few cutting remarks, but he wouldn’t dare to do anything more.

3) It isn’t happening now. My flashbacks often have a very strong sense of “nowness” to them. Even though I can look around and see that I am here in this time and place and know all of that at a surface level, the part of me that is experiencing the flashback believes that the events are happening right now. Even after I manage to I pull back from other aspects of the flashback, I often am left feeling as though part of me is still stuck inside of it. So Mama Bear and I have emphasized the difference between here and now and there and then over and over and over. It all has helped a great deal, but sometimes I still am not able to pull myself into the here and now on my own, so hearing her say, “It isn’t happening now” is a tremendous relief to me. When I hear those words, I can grasp ahold of her reassurance that here and now really is reality, the flashback isn’t.

4) It’s nothing but a horror show. During a particularly harrowing period of frequent, intense flashbacks, Mama Bear said this to me. It seemed to fit, because, yes, the things that were happening in the flashbacks felt like they would do better in a horror show than in my mind. I was dealing with a particularly revolting set of memories and it helped so much to imagine taking it out of me and placing it on a screen, in a horror show. While I couldn’t entirely turn off the horror show until it had run its course, at least it was a bit more distant and tolerable. And most importantly, it no longer felt as though it was a part of me. It helped me to see that the memory was a memory, it was not me.

5) I see you. Hearing her say this while looking her in the eyes and really allowing myself to connect is both a terrible and wonderful experience. Terrible in the sense of painful and overwhelming because it goes to the core of so many attachment issues for me: feeling unseeable, that no one would want to really know me, that it could never be safe for the most vulnerable me to know and be known by someone… It was wonderful because it is what I have craved all of my life. First my mother wasn’t capable of providing it and none of the other adults in my life were remotely safe enough to connect with deeply, and then, when I was older, it was too late, I was too badly hurt to risk allowing myself to feel that fully seen. I am still in the midst of learning how to be fully in the room and allow myself to perceive that she is fully in the room with me. When we have had these connecting experiences, I both feel a physical jolt of pain and I cry tears of relief and hope. Slowly, step by step, I am allowing my full self to be in full relationship with her, and at the same time, bit by bit, I am doing the same thing in my other significant relationships.

6) You are going to be angry with me sometimes, that’s just what happens in relationships. Don’t worry, it takes a lot to ruffle me, and I’ve had clients get really angry at me. Just don’t try to throw me out the window. Mama Bear has been trying to encourage me to feel safe enough to feel angry with her for many years, and I’m finally at the point where I can hear what she is saying and believe her. I have been testing her bit by bit over the last year or so, at first just showing the tiniest bit of anger in an e-mail. Each time I tested her, she would reassure me again that it is OK for me to get angry with her and while what I had shown had been a big deal for me, it was no threat to our relationship at all. She would talk about how real people in real relationships get angry with each other sometimes, because everyone makes mistakes. At some point she would mess up and I would get really angry at her, but I didn’t have to worry about how she would react. She isn’t frightened by anger and her joke said to me that she wasn’t afraid that I would get so angry that I would lose control and do something terrible. I might be afraid that my anger would turn me into my grandfather, but she knew that it wouldn’t. Through her, eventually I learned to have faith that nothing could turn me into my grandfather.

7) You can’t get rid of me. I went through a period that was several months long where I kept on testing Mama Bear, even though I didn’t quite realize what I was doing at the time. I was terrified that if I really leaned on her as much as I needed to, then she would abandon me when I was most vulnerable. I knew that she wouldn’t intentionally betray me, but I was afraid that I would overwhelm her and drive her away. I was convinced that I would turn out to be “too” something for her- too much trouble, too demanding, too clingy, too needy, too hurt, too contaminated, too weird, too something… So we talked over and over about how she knows how to take care of herself and she can create boundaries, so she was confident that I was not going to be too much for her. I didn’t believe her. I would write long emails and end them with, “See, I’m too needy, aren’t I?” or some such thing. And when that didn’t work, sometimes I would turn around and say, “I don’t think that I can do this anymore. I just want to run.” Eventually she sat me down and just flat out said to me, “C., you can keep on trying, but you can’t get rid of me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to abandon you when you need me. And you’re going to have to work a lot harder than that to convince me to let you go.” It didn’t all sink in at once, and it took her repeating herself, but at that point I started to feel a bit of security that it was safe to rely on Mama Bear. Eventually, I realized that Mama Bear is far stronger and more capable of taking care of herself than my mother was- she really was telling me the truth and I could trust her to be there for me. She really was willing to provide the security that I needed then to feel held, contained, and secure. What I realize now is that the problem wasn’t that I was too needy, hurt, clingy, etc. when I was a child, the problem was that my mother didn’t have the resources to deal with helping a child who was being abused. It wasn’t my fault that I overwhelmed her and that she couldn’t hold me in my pain, the way that I needed for her to.

8) You don’t need to know exactly what happened. You just need to know your truth. Dissociation saved my mind by putting me in a different state during the abuse, but by doing that, my memories of the abuse were completely disrupted. There is an awful lot about what happened to me that is unclear. I have experienced many of the same body and emotional memories for decades, however there are other areas that continue to confuse much of me, even after decades. To make matters worse, when I experience flashbacks, I’m torn between wanting to believe myself and wanting for it all to be untrue, messing with any sense of what might or might not be real. Unfortunately, I also have had the driving need to know exactly what happened. Mama Bear and I have gone round and round with this: There is no knowing which details of the memories are true, but I have been able to build an over all picture of what my experience was like. I feel as though I have thrown myself against a wall time and again over this, but I finally get it. Part of the reason I was holding out for details was because I didn’t want to accept my truth. I realize now that it doesn’t need details for it to be a horrible truth, so horrible that I want to have a reason to hold back from owning it.

9) We know that you were abused. You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over. I don’t have a memory of trying to tell my mother about the abuse, but I act like I did and I feel as though I did and she just didn’t understand me. I think that is tied into why I have had this deep fear that Mama Bear doesn’t really believe me and I have been convinced that I will betray myself and stop believing myself. Inside, there are parts of me that have been convinced that “No one will really believe me. It’s impossible.” While I was completely unaware of it at the time, I felt the need to prove to myself and to Mama Bear over and over that I had been abused, and I pushed myself towards being triggered into flashbacks. It was an incredibly painful way to demonstrate that I had been abused, but it was effective. Somehow, Mama Bear caught on to what was going on, and she started to say to me, “We know that you were abused. You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over.” Wow. “We know that you were abused.” I finally realized that someone did believe me, really believe me. “You don’t need to keep on proving it over and over.” It sank in that she wasn’t going to stop believing me. Further, she noticed and cared about what this was doing to me.

10) I hear your pain/anger/grief and I am here with you. I have spent much of my life running from the intensity of my feelings, but that causes all sorts of problems for me. So I am currently working to allow myself to come together and fully feel my emotions in the context of my truth, but when that happens, it feels as though I am being filled with that emotion in a physically painful way. In fact, it feels unendurable, but I know that I need to find a way to endure it without dissociating, if I can. When Mama Bear sits there with me and says, “I hear how terribly deep your pain is and I am here with you,” it reminds me that she believes that I am strong enough to survive the pain, that it is safe for me to no longer be invisible and I don’t need to suffer in silence, that someone sees/hears how much pain that I am in, and that someone cares enough to stay with me. That sort of support makes a difference and sometimes it’s enough to allow me to remain with the emotions until they ebb on their own. It hasn’t happened often, but each time that it does happen, I learn a little more deeply that strong emotions may be unpleasant to experience, but I can survive them.

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UPenn Suicide Prevention Quilt

UPenn Suicide Prevention Quilt

I know that progress is not even in therapy. Sometimes it feels like 2 steps forward and 1 or 2 or 3 back, which is exhausting and frustrating. But over the last couple of days, I felt as though I turned around and ran about 50 steps back. I completely fell apart into a dissociative mess who could only pull it together in the presence of her daughter. When I was on my own, I felt as though I was bouncing between who knows how many parts, as those parts became increasingly desperate. Eventually, it was as if there was a loop running through my head: “I don’t deserve to exist. I should be dead. I should be hurt. I hate myself. I am worthless. It’s all my fault. I’ve caused everything because I have a sick mind.” I completely lost track of the side of me that normally can soothe and nurture the traumatized parts and it was as if all I could do was to hunker down and wait for it to pass. Very dimly, I was aware that it should pass eventually. This time the hunkering down wasn’t enough, though.

Yesterday evening, Mama Bear texted me in response to an e-mail I had sent to her the previous night and I couldn’t tell her that I needed help. I responded with something vague and because I am supposed to actually tell her when I need to talk to her, she concluded that I didn’t want to. I don’t know what I wanted at that moment, really. I remember being aware that I was having problems, but also thinking that it was unthinkable to ask for her help and that even if I did ask for help there was nothing that she could do to help me, so I shouldn’t bother her. Somewhere in there, the belief that I should not be alive grew even stronger and to my horror, I observed parts of me even thinking of plans.

I suspect that everyone who has been around the block a few times has experienced a time or two when they didn’t want to be alive. Sadly, I’m certain that every trauma survivor who has been dealing with the trauma for a length of time and can be honest about it would have to admit that there have been times when they very much wanted to end their lives, just to escape the pain/chaos/horror. I have dealt with the desire to end my life on multiple occasions, some of which have been more serious than others; I have, however, been able to keep myself from ever making an attempt. Since I had my daughter, I have been very clear with my self that I cannot end my life because I will not do that to a child that I love. I know that having a parent suicide is devastating for a child and it significantly increases the chance that she will make a suicide attempt herself. It would be another way of passing on the abuse and I refuse to do that. So, when I find parts of me changing from, “I don’t want to be alive” to “I should kill myself,” I use my understanding of what it would do to the little girl whom I love more than anyone else to slap some sense into me.

Usually that will at least keep things from going any further, but it didn’t last night. To my alarm, I realized that parts of me were starting to evaluate different possible ways of killing myself, so I tried a new tact. I started to point out to myself the ways in which each plan could fail to work and how easily I might end up still alive, but even worse off because then I would have some injury or disability as a result of the attempt. And I pointed out that I would then have to face my daughter and my husband. That combination finally shocked those parts of me enough to back off on imagining things.

It’s strange to think of needing to use tough love on myself, but I just couldn’t access the part of me that might have been able to soothe those parts out of being in that state. I wasn’t able to reach out to anyone else for help in calming those parts and I was the only adult in the house. I was alarmed at the direction that my thoughts were taking and I knew that above all else, I had to keep myself safe. I knew that I was becoming increasingly dissociated, that my thinking was increasingly atypical for me, and I was afraid that I would have less and less control over my actions. Most of all, I knew that it was my responsibility to make sure that the rest of me wouldn’t do something stupid.

Thankfully, I am doing better this evening. I still was in enough crisis this morning that I convinced myself that I was coming down with my daughter’s virus and cancelled my therapy appointment at the last minute. Mama Bear saw through that and insisted that I talk with her on the phone, even though I was so dissociated that I could hardly talk at all. I spoke with her again this evening, when I was more clear headed and she was pretty clear with me that I should have told her that I needed to talk with her last night. I have always had trouble figuring out when I can ask for help and this time my needing it so badly made it even harder to figure out that I should ask for it. So now I have some clarity, if I have the thought that I should die go through my mind over and over, even if I know that I won’t actually act on it, I need to contact Mama Bear. That thought is an indicator that I am in significant distress and I am not able to deal with it on my own. I should not be suffering on my own anymore. I can ask for help now, even if it is just because I am hurting.

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The past several days have been very hard for me, so much so that my body has responded by having having a migraine almost every day. Eventually I realized that inside I felt as though the world was disintegrating around me and I was blanketed in a layer of heart stopping fear. Clearly, the work that I have been doing recently had pushed me past the point of being able to cope.

When I get this overwhelmed, I lose all sense of order inside. Internally, I feel as though I bounce between between parts, without ever being able to connect with and soothe any single part. This time, there was no sense of any coherent thought, just chaos, a complete lack of safety, and the fear that I was in the midst of losing absolutely everything that I care about.

The me that holds everything together could look around at where and when I am and see that there is safety and security in my life and there are no signs that the life that I am living is going to fall apart around me. These are old fears, but they had been triggered so strongly that I felt like I was drowning in them for days. I had to resist the feelings of helplessness and remember that I could indeed help myself. Mama Bear reminded me to, “…use your intellect to kindly assert that you are safe, the way a mother would assert this to her child. You know that you are safe, even if you don’t feel that. Remind yourself regularly that you are safe and loved, even when you don’t feel it. And, stay in the present as much as possible.”

And so I started to climb out of the hole that I had fallen into. As I started to climb out, I realized that I felt as though I simply could not take any more. For once there was no desire to understand anything about what was going on. I simply didn’t want to know about any cruelties or betrayals or how the way that I had been treated affected me. No, that isn’t quite right… The knowing isn’t so much the problem, the problem is that I no longer just know something, but I also feel it. I couldn’t take feeling how it felt to be maltreated. And to be honest, I still feel that way today. I just don’t have the resources to deal with how it feels to have another human do something vile to me. How it feels to have someone who should love me, hurt me instead. Right now, that is something that just feels as though it tears the world apart for me. On the face of it, it simply sounds bad, but for some reason, inside it feels unendurable.

Somehow, it left me doubting my own humanity and reality. “If I was really human, this couldn’t happen.” “I’m nothing more than a trash can for them to stuff bad things into.” “No one would make a good girl feel like this.”

At the moment, I think that all I can do for myself is to keep a hold of the fact that there is nothing in my life today that would create these feelings and ways of thinking about myself. I am safe now, even if I wasn’t as a child. I don’t have to understand at the moment exactly what happened to make things so unsafe for me as a child; it’s the right thing for me to be most concerned about helping the hurt me’s feel less frightened and hurt. Right now my job is to calm down the panicked, despairing parts of me, so I get close enough in again to bring healing to those parts.

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I know that I go on quite a bit about establishing feelings of safety, because for me that has been a huge deal. I am very aware that life is unpredictable and there is no knowing whether another car will run a red light and kill or injure one of my loved ones. People are capable of violence and while my life is set up so that I am sheltered from most sources of violence, there is no guarantee that some random act won’t intersect with my life. For whatever reason, I am just fine with living with this knowledge. Random bad stuff happens out in the world and some of it will show up in my life. Hopefully it will be manageable bad stuff, but I can’t live my life worrying about whether I will end up in the middle of something catastrophically bad.

The sort of safety that I am talking about is familial safety. Safety from being rejected and abandoned by those closest to me. The safety to know that the people in my life aren’t going to suddenly change into monsters without warning. The safety to believe that when people say that they love me and they want to support me, they really do mean it and they follow through with their actions. The safety to know that when I go to bed at night, I don’t have to be afraid of what is going to happen to me. The safety to know that there is no one who has the sort of power over me that adults had when I was a child. The safety to know that there is no one in my life who derives pleasure from hurting my physically and emotionally. The safety of knowing that I am now an adult and there is a lot that I can do to protect myself, if something should start to go wrong.

There is no guaranteed safety in life, but as an adult, it is possible to create a life where many of the places that I lacked safety as a child are now actually safe. I have found shelter in my current life. But learning that I am safe is a very slow process for me. And while I have made significant progress over the last few months, there is a lot of me inside that still doesn’t feel safe enough to feel safe. There is no forcing feeling safe, though, all I can do is to keep on reminding all of me to pay more attention to what I am experiencing in the world around me than what I experience in my memories.

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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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