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Posts Tagged ‘strength’

Life and Fire Goddess Artist: Leah Day

Life and Fire Goddess
Artist: Leah Day

Do I have your attention? No, of course the title isn’t what it suggests. ­čśë

I have been experiencing something a bit odd lately. There are times when I feel pregnant. Not really, truly pregnant, with all of the physical realities (thank goodness for no morning sickness), but I feel as if I am protecting new life that is growing within me.

This isn’t the first time that I have had this experience. I can remember at least two other occasions. One was many years ago, when I realized that the process that I was going through was every bit as painful as giving birth. In fact, I was giving birth to a new me. My childhood abuse and neglect had affected me so profoundly, that in order to proceed towards the type of life that I wanted to have, I couldn’t just tinker around the edges of who I was. I had to get in and over a period of years slowly make the fundamental changes that eventually coalesced into a transformation. I was recognizable from the outside as me, but the way that I experienced myself and the world around me was totally different. At the same time, it wasn’t as though I developed something completely foreign to who I fundamentally had been before. My values and priorities were the same. I still was me, but as Mama Bear said, it was like I was more me. I had developed a me that was closer to who I might have been, if I had grown up in a healthy family.

The thing is that this isn’t a one time process. A person can only take so much personality change at one time. After I had this happen for the first time, I then needed to go off and live life for awhile. I needed to experience and live with the new self that I had developed. I had a natural breaking point around that time, when we left town so that my husband could attend seminary. I stopped therapy, other than during a brief period when I was going through a difficult pregnancy and I was a new mother. Who I was continued to grow and develop- being a parent challenged me to learn to stretch beyond myself in ways that were often painful, frequently joyful, and amazingly healing.

So, over a period of years, life pushed me to grow, and when I found my way back to working with Mama Bear again, I was ready for another transformation, even though I had no idea of what was about to happen at that time. Over the years I had developed enough strength and stability to begin to fully deal with my internal world, even though I had it almost completely walled off until I walked back into Mama Bear’s office. I remember walking (slowly) through the woods a few months into therapy, after my sessions with Mama Bear, feeling like a woman who was 8 months pregnant. I knew that there was a new me that needed to emerge, but I also knew that I was frightened of it and I fought it. While a small part of me welcomed this emergence, most of me didn’t want anything to do with it, because this was not a me that I felt comfortable with. This new me encompassed an increased awareness of my parts and a grudging acceptance that I needed to work with all of me. In many ways it really was like I gave birth to many of my parts that had been buried inside- I finally allowed them to start to emerge into the light of day.

And today, what is the experience like for me today? Emotionally, this is the closest to the hopeful but nervous anticipation that I actually experienced while I was pregnant with my daughter. I can feel myself being pulled apart, rearranged and put back together again, which is a disorienting, but not always painful process. Over the last couple of weeks, I have expected for myself to have certain reactions and was surprised when I had other, healthier reactions. There is real change going on inside in regards to how I relate to others. I find myself very protective of these fragile changes, the same way that I had the instinct to protect my daughter when she was growing inside of me. After all, this new me represents hope and my future. She is learning to be fully real with others, even when there are difficult feelings. She is learning how to turn to others to ask for comfort and then actually accept the comfort. She is learning that it isn’t only OK to need others, it is good to need others. She is learning how much she likes and wants to be in relationship with others. She is impacting my life already, but she isn’t yet fully formed or sturdy enough to take the knocks and bruises of daily life. This me needs some more time to develop, strengthen and grow, before I can “give birth” to her and have her settle into the greater me. I have to say that I like this new me; I like the way that I feel when I am connected to her and I love being able to finally, really connect with another, when I most need to connect.

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girl and cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shaun Downey

Shaun Downey

A while back, I said that I would do a post on how I experience different parts. I quickly realized that writing such a post is quite difficult, because I generally lose my sense and memory of what a part is like, soon after I am no longer blended with that part. However there is one distinctive part that has been showing up a lot recently, and I think that I might be able to capture some of what the experience is like…

First of all, please bear in mind that I am trying to use words to describe nebulous and often transitory experiences, so I am sure that I will only be able to capture a portion of it. Also, I am going to refer to the me that I generally experience as me- the outer most me- as ‘I’ in this post.

With this part, I fairly strongly retain my sense of ‘I’, but it feels as though there is another slightly different and slightly distant ‘me’ draped over me. Simultaneously there is an awareness that this part is of me and yet this part also sees things from a different view point than ‘I’ do. Most of my parts are needy, hurt child parts, but I seem to have one helper part that morphs from time to time, and this is that helper part. She feels wiser, calmer, and far more compassionate than I do, and I wish that I could access this aspect of myself more consistently, but sometimes I go for months without accessing her. Lately, she has been more present, though, and she has been involved in my making progress at accepting what is, rather than fighting against what is, because I don’t like it. A few days ago, the part helped me to see that if my mind needs to be divided in regards to the abuse memories and keep them from feeling real to me, then that is what I need and I should accept it, rather than fearing that it means that the abuse didn’t happen. She helped me to grasp that I may simply need to chose to believe myself because I am worth believing and it’s the explanation that makes the best sense out of the facts that we have been able to verify. Tonight I realized that this part has no doubt that the abuse happened. I don’t think that she has access to the memories, but she has better access to the rest of me and it’s hard to doubt the abuse when faced with the results of the abuse.

She is one of the better “formed” of my parts, but she hasn’t always kept the same form or had a clear one. In the past she has shown up as a fairy godmother, a spunky teen, and other forms that were nebulous. Now, she seems to be a mirror image of me. Oddly enough, I don’t actually ‘see’ her, but I have a strong sense of her, which gives me the outline of what she looks like.

I am grateful for this part of me and I wonder why she is separate from the rest of the me that makes up ‘I’? There have been many times when I have needed the additional strength and calmness of this part and I simply haven’t been able to locate it. Why do I consider it necessary to dissociate the me that is more self compassionate, forgiving, and wiser? I suspect that it may be because I can’t simultaneously live from those qualities and be willing to twist myself into a pretzel in regards to my mom. I can’t treat myself gently and believe that everything is my fault at the same time.

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Something interesting happened yesterday… I got confirmation that someone from outside the family was disturbed by a type of interaction between my dad and me at age 12.

Now, this actually is very limited information, however it’s big for me that someone has actually told me that my family didn’t appear perfect to them.

For some reason, today I decided to IM one of my two best friends from when I was 12. She found me via Facebook a few years back and we have been in very loose contact since. I haven’t been willing to ask questions of any of the 3 people who have found me on Facebook and who might have some information up to now, partly because I’m afraid of what they might say and partly because of possible complications. Well, today I was dealing with mini flashbacks involving the house that I lived in when I knew this friend and I finally was desperate enough to risk asking. I simply asked her if there was anything odd that she remembered my telling her when we knew each other.

Considering that I was asking her to remember 33 years back, I knew that I probably wasn’t going to get lots of bits and pieces of things that struck her as kind of odd, the way that I might if I was asking about last year. I was only going to get something that made a big impression on her.

Her response was that I did tell her about how my father tickled me and what I said made her uncomfortable. She doesn’t remember my telling her anything else. However, there was one time when she was over at my house, when she witnessed my dad tickling me and it made her really uncomfortable. She felt that the contact was “inappropriate” given that I was 12. She also said that it might just have been that she was paranoid as a 12 year old. Paranoid, or listening to her gut when everyone else was acting like nothing was wrong? You see, when my dad tickled me, he completely overwhelmed me physically and pinned me down, tickling me mercilessly while I squirmed and wiggled under him. I was helpless; I wouldn’t even be able to breathe because he was tickled me so thoroughly. At some point within the next couple of years, I developed the ability to cut off the response to being tickled and finally the tickling stopped. I know that it continued at least occasionally up for another year or two because I remember it happening on my parents’ bed in the next house that we lived in.

I don’t want to turn a little thing into something large, just because it’s the only external piece of information that I have from this time period. So I am trying hard to keep in mind that I think that what I can comfortably surmise from it is that my father had poor physical boundaries with me at least into early puberty. That supports both scenarios: 1) he did sexually abuse me, or 2) I was afraid that he would, which was made worse given that my grandfather had.

Re-reading the description that I wrote above about being tickled, I find it disturbing, myself. I also am not comfortable with the fact that the tickling continued on my parents’ bed past the onset of puberty. So I also don’t want to be dismissive of the information in over reaction. I can also see that my dad was using the tickling as a way to physically dominate me. I can think of multiple reasons that he might have wanted to do this, supporting either scenario. I can see that I am going to need to keep an open mind and work to find the right balance.

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I do have something that I can talk about… Mama Bear said the nicest thing to me today that I can remember her ever saying…

We were at the end of the session, when we just talk, but don’t do any real work, so I can have a chance to “tuck back in” any loose parts and ground before I leave her office. I couldn’t help but shake my head and say, “Oy, my family…”

“Are you talking about how much they harm and are harmed by each other?”

I snorted, “Yes.”

She looked intently at me and said, “You do realize just how thoroughly you broke the cycle, don’t you? The buck stopped with you and it will not continue with your daughter. Somehow, you did that and no one else did.”

I nodded my head, “I’ve been thinking about that recently. I know that I can’t protect her completely from being hurt at all though, because I am still hurt and that affects her.”

“No, you can’t prevent all harm.” She smiled gently, “But you have completely messed up your opportunity for her to be harmed anywhere nearly as much as you were. Can you see that?”

I started to tear up, “Yes, that’s something else that I have been thinking about. So many terrible things happened to me before I was 8. She has a secure base now that I never had a chance to develop and I’m not going to let anything destroy that base for her.” Just like nothing can rewrite history for me and give me the childhood that I desperately needed, history also can’t be rewritten for my daughter and nothing can take away the early childhood that gave her what she did need. She isn’t going to come out of this unscathed, but if I have anything to say about it, she is going to come out of it better than OK. “I am so glad that I waited to have her, so I had a hope of being a good mom.”

“I remember when you and your husband brought her in for a session as a baby. I was just so thrilled for so many reasons. You were such a cute little family and I loved seeing you together. You are a good mom, C. And I’m sure that G. has something to say about that. You have come a very long way and you did it yourself.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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