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Posts Tagged ‘trauma memories’

Something keeps on going around in my mind…

I experienced my grandfather as enjoying hurting me. I believe that he derived pleasure from my terror and pain. I don’t think that it’s possible to fully describe what it’s like to know that your terror and pain is giving someone else pleasure. Yes, it’s frightening to know that you are under their control and what makes them feel good is very, very bad for you, but, for me, even worse than that was feeling as though for that time my purpose was to be hurt. In that focused time and space, there was nothing more to me. I was worth nothing. The phrase that comes to mind is “soul murder”, not because he actually killed off my soul, but because there was something about it all that felt as though it was an act of that level of violence against my soul.

The odd thing about it all is that even though what my grandfather did felt extremely violent and I was terrified about what he might do and in fear of my life at times, I get the sense that he was careful to always send me back to my mother with no physical evidence that would have shouted, “abuse!” to her. I think that he created more psychological pain and trauma, than physical. There are a few memories of very, very intense pain, but most of it seems to have been pretty numb physically, but with the emotions at over the top, mind shattering levels. He abused me with items that could have caused a great deal of physical damage and I was terrified as to what could happen, but he used them in ways that caused psychological scars, not physical scars.

I experienced it all as my grandfather trying to destroy me. It was like he was trying to crush the me out of me. Exactly what his motivations and mindset actually actually were, I will never know, but my sense of what he got out of abusing me isn’t ambiguous. It certainly could be wrong in areas, but I strongly doubt that it would have been completely wrong. He abused me because my suffering pleased him. The man was sadistic.

On the other hand, things with my dad were very different. Putting the different impressions that I have from memories together with my everyday knowledge of my father, I don’t think that he abused me because he was cruel. The abuse was cruel because it was abuse and sometimes he may have done things intending to hurt me, but I don’t think that was his over riding motivation. My father is self centered and does not take others’ needs into account, but he isn’t so motivated by wanting for others to suffer. He may act cruelly because he needs to feel more powerful or his needs/desires conflict with those of another person, but the suffering of others is a by product of his actions, rather than a goal. My father hurt me badly, but he is not a sadist.

My sense is that he abused me because he felt that he needed something. I think that it’s likely that he didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing. Whatever it was, though it wasn’t the need to destroy me.

I would be surprised if my grandfather didn’t sexually abuse my father. Because of the different types of motivation, the types of abuse that I remember with the two men tend to be different. However, there are a couple of odd things that I am sure that my grandfather did, but for months I have been getting hints in my mind that my father did them as well. Recently, it’s been stronger than hints. My instinct is that these “crueler” things that he did may have been re enactments of abuse that my grandfather might have done to him. Just a hypothesis, yes, and not something to rely on being correct, but it fits and it “feels” right.

My dad has always had such a strong need to be a “good guy” that I have no idea of how he could have justified even the more “normal” abuse that he was doing. That was one of my arguments for years as to why he couldn’t have abused me. Molesting your daughter just can’t be turned into a “good guy” type of activity.

I do have an idea of how he might have managed it, however. I don’t know if this simply was how I perceived things, or if it was influenced by how he perceived himself while he was abusing me as well… When I was young, I have more of a sense of it being my dad in the memories, but as I got older, more and more often I have a sense of the man being “Him/ He.” When I remember “Him,” “He” has no face or other defining characteristics, but I also know that “He” could only have been my father. God only knows how much my father would have needed some survival tool like dissociation in order to survive growing up in my grandfather’s house. I really wonder if he might have dealt with his conflicts over abusing me by dissociating and “He” really had seemed different to me from my daytime daddy. Did he wall off what he was doing, to protect himself from the guilt and conflict that would have come from abusing me?

There have been times of extreme stress when I have harmed myself, but the experience was as if I had no control over my actions. “I” was far back and only an observer; another part was controlling my actions and being driven by memories that “I” couldn’t even access at the time. I knew that the actions were wrong and that I should stop myself, but I felt trapped at the back and without any ability to change what was happening. I didn’t even understand why I was doing what I was doing and what it signified. Did my father experience something similar, but instead of harming himself, he harmed me. And instead of it happening a few times, it happened regularly over a period of more than a decade with him. Doing something wrong in a dissociative state is no excuse for what you are doing, it just means that you have to fight hard to find a way to alter your behaviors/ stop what you are doing.

I know. I don’t really know anything about why my dad abused me and I am not wedded to any of this, but “listening to” and putting together my impressions/ understandings from different places inside of me helps things feel less wildly confusing. It at least helps me to see that there are possible reasons that make a weird sort of sense, rather than it just being the case that my daddy must have hated me, or that I was bad and brought it out in him, or that my main purpose while I was growing up was to be sexually used, or that people will just randomly do such horrible things to the people that they are supposed to love. I may find the reasons unacceptable and the behaviors inexcusable, but it helps to know that there is some sort of reason to what happened, even though I won’t ever actually know exactly what those reasons were.

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A lot of my memories are very physical in nature. I remember a lot more of what happened in the abuse via sensations/ emotions/ just knowing than I do via visual memories.

One of the memories that I have been struggling with lately is the sensation of wishing for my father to do good feeling things to me. Needless to say, this has brought up intense feelings of shame, horror, disgust, and self loathing. It took me a few weeks, but I finally managed to talk about it in session with Mama Bear last week and she brought up several good points that I will talk about in a bit, but she missed the most obvious one: I knew that the abuse could feel just bad or a mixture of good and bad, so when I knew that something was going to happen, I would hope that it would be something that mixed the good and bad sensations.

There were things that my father would do that were pleasurable for my body, sometimes very much so. Bodies, including children’s bodies, are set up to have defined physical responses when they are stimulated in particular ways at certain locations. Even some young children can be stimulated to orgasm some of the time. It isn’t a case of anything being wrong with the child, it is a case of the child’s body being used against her.

It is extremely confusing to experience physical and/or emotional pain in combination with sexual pleasure. In some ways it adds another layer of pain to what is happening. At the same time, for me, having some pleasure was easier for me than not only just feeling negative physical sensations, but also experiencing the loneliness of feeling like an object that was being used and thrown aside. If he cared enough to make me feel good, then in my mind that meant that he cared about me and he remembered that I was there and I was a person who felt things.

Being sexually abused is extremely objectifying and dehumanizing. It was more so with my grandfather who set out to make me feel like a ‘thing’, but even with my father, who had different goals, it was the case. After all, my father could not have really been looking at me and fully seen me, his daughter, in all of my individuality and personhood. If he had, he could never have done what he did. He had to have seen me as an object for him to use to deal with his demons. I could never have articulated this at the time, but I certainly sensed it.

However, there was no way that I could have understand the complexities of the situation that I was in as a child or even early teen. All I knew was that I was in an impossibly painful situation. My mind had to deal with what I had been dealt the best that it could; it seems that part of the way that I dealt- some of the time, at least- was by feeling like I wanted to be with him and feel pleasure. As Mama Bear pointed out, I had very little physical contact or even concentrated attention from my father other than through the abuse. I yearned for his love. Given that set up, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some parts of me value that interaction with him. When he intensely paid attention to me and did things that made me feel good, I felt closer to him than at any other time. But other parts of me loathed what was happening and are furious at me for trusting him and want to tear my skin off for physically feeling anything.

So I am left with these strongly conflicting feelings that I need to accept were all valid. It would be so much easier if I could only remember hating and rejecting the abuse by my father, but that wasn’t my reality. It was with my grandfather- there wasn’t the slightest bit of connection with him, because he was purely a monster with me. My father was much more confusing for me to deal with. He hurt me, physically and emotionally, but he could also make me feel loved and physical pleasure. I didn’t want what was going on and wanted for it to stop, but if it was going to happen, I wanted for it to happen in the “good” way. Worst of all, though, he threatened my relationship with my mother. This was something that I couldn’t tell her, because I was so convinced that she would pick him over me. Actually, I am convinced that I tried to tell her that something was wrong. I wouldn’t have said just what was wrong, but even crying after school every day for months at a time I only got sympathy, not her trying to find out what was so terribly wrong.

I couldn’t get her understanding and support for the terrible bind that I was in back then. I had no one to help me deal with the adaptations that I had to make in order to survive the situation as intact as possible. As Mama Bear keeps on reminding me, things in the now are very different. I have external support, but, even more importantly, I now have the internal resources to start to give myself what I so desperately needed then. Today, I need to set aside my repulsion for what I did and look at it with compassion as ‘what I had to do’. I did what I had to do. I would never have chosen to have sexual interactions with my father, if I hadn’t been forced into the situation. I simply found the ways to deal with it that made it all as tolerable for me as possible. Sometimes these options weren’t open to me and what I experienced was purely awful. Comparing the two, I am glad that I had something available that was able to soften the edge of the abuse, some of the time.

It swirls through my mind: it doesn’t matter what I did to get through what happened. I didn’t hurt anyone, after all, I just tried to find the molds to put myself into that would make me someone who could survive an untenable situation as well as possible.

——-

I felt stronger while I was writing this, but now I am feeling more vulnerable. This more compassionate understanding of myself is all too tenuous. We will see whether I can tolerate leaving this post up or whether the shame and fear of being judged wins out.

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Return of the Sun Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

Return of the Sun
Artist- Robin Webb-Bransky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat there, struggling to get the words out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Irenic Glance Artist Randall Cook

Irenic Glance
Artist Randall Cook

This was written on September 9th, but wasn’t published at the time.

Last night, I figured out that I need to be honest with myself about something.

Bit of background: This is the second round of therapy after a break of about 7 years. I don’t remember very much about how things worked before, but Mama Bear tells me that I did a much better job of “letting the memories pass through me, rather than getting caught up in them.”

It’s been a puzzle as to why so much had been so hard this time around. Thinking tonight about other things, I remembered a point soon after I started therapy again when I started to deal with the memories and some part of me decided that if I protected myself from any of the impact of the memories, then my T wouldn’t believe me. I had to show her just how bad it was, so that she would believe me.

Or maybe it was that I had to show both of us just how bad it was, so that we both understood and believed me.

I don’t fully understand what happened with my father, but I know that parts of me believe that very sexual things happened with him. Maybe I don’t have to understand more than that right now.

However, I am certain that horrible things happened with my grandfather. Even my therapist has used the word “torture” to describe how I experienced the abuse. On a weekly (or more frequent) basis, I seem to keep on remembering more details and come to understand memories that didn’t make sense. I am struck by the thought, “how can one man do so many horrible things to one child? How can it be real?” How can I sometimes I feel like anyone I tell anything to will think that I just keep on making up more and more.

I am so convinced that I won’t be believed, even though Mama Bear has been clear to me that she believes that I was horribly abused, even if it is difficult to be sure about all of details because of my age and the nature of trauma and memory.

I think that I need to admit to her the belief that I can’t protect myself from being hurt by the memories, because if I do, then it will be written off as being not very bad abuse for me or even, “you look ok, so nothing could have happened.”

I need help convincing myself inside that this is a misguided attempt to help me. It’s ok to protect myself from the memories. It’s the right thing to do. If I help myself as much as I can, then I’m not going to lose any help from Mama Bear.

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Fractured Self 2 Artist: Randall Cook

Fractured Self 2
Artist: Randall Cook

I am struggling with acceptance these days.

I remember back when I started to acknowledge and deal with my parts again over 2 years ago; Mama Bear and I went through a rocky stage because I was treating my parts as if they were completely separate “others.” They felt so “other” and while I vaguely knew that they were all parts of me, at the same time I needed to keep them as separate from me as possible.

I would get so mad at her when she would talk about them as “memory states,” because they are far more than just memories. But it is true that most of them are organized around trauma memories and most of what I need to deal with for the parts is related to what happened when I was young. What is going on now might be triggering responses, but my feelings and reactions are not really to what is happening in 2014 most of the time. The sense of “otherness” is so compelling, though. I physically feel different, I sound different, I think differently, I see the world and my place in it differently, my relationships with others are different, and generally I feel like a child, often a small one. This is the mind’s way of dealing with experiences that were too overwhelming to integrate at the time, after all. They had to be “other.” It’s no wonder to me that so many people with DID are convinced that they have other people inside of them, but Mama Bear was determined that I not fall into that trap and she repeated reminded me that even if they didn’t feel like it, they were parts of me.

Eventually, I had a breakthrough when I realized that I was trying to go back and rescue these child parts from the abuse, as if they were separate children and the abuse was something that I could change now. I could have thrown myself against that wall for the next 100 years and I would only have failed over and over. These parts are not children that I need to rescue, they are parts of me that I need to help understand that they are no longer living in the 70s. There is no rescuing from the abuse. That needed to happen 35 years or more ago. The abuse actually is over and done with and I have not been in a situation where I have been at any risk for over 25 years. But so much of me doesn’t understand that the nightmare that keeps on getting run through my head is all in the past and doesn’t have anything to do with now.

So, for the last couple of years, I have been working on showing to myself that things are different now. It’s a slow process, but it is working, bit by bit. And the more of me that understands that I live in 2014 and am safe now, even if I feel scared and overwhelmed when I remember things, the better that I can do all of the work that I need to do.

I’ve been kind of proud of myself for making progress. Then, this past weekend, it hit me smack in the face that I have been fooling myself. I’m not accepting these parts the way that I had been thinking. What I’m really doing is saying, “OK, I have these parts of me that had these experiences. But they had the experiences. The experiences don’t belong to me at all. Those terrible things happened to those parts over there. Yes, it’s awful, but it’s that part that was raped. It’s that part that felt tortured. Not me. Never me. Never, ever me.”

I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it. I don’t know if I’m capable of really accepting that the child or pre-teen in the memories was me. Experiencing the memories from the inside, rather than from the outside is horrible. I don’t know if I am brave enough to deal with that level of terror for any more than a second at a time.

Frankly, my mind just freezes at this point. I don’t know what to do.

Mama Bear keeps on telling me that I can bring the parts to me, so I can soothe myself now, the way that I should have been soothed and comforted at the time of the abuse. The concept makes sense, but at the same time, I just panic at the thought of accepting that this is me (I can call it a “part”, but really it’s me), and then bringing it in close to more of me, to feel safe. I would rather go to the part in the memory and get stuck there for a bit, but then be able to leave the part and the memory behind (“it doesn’t really belong to me.”) That approach isn’t working though, not only does it put me through the wringer, but it doesn’t actually help the traumatized parts and they are starting to scream at me to help them.

I feel as though I should have some positive, hopeful ending, but really, I’m struggling with this. I don’t know how I am going to solve it. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to hit a dead end here, though. Either I’ll figure out a way to do what I’m trying to do, or I’ll figure a way around it, I always do. I often want to give up, however giving up isn’t an acceptable option for me. I will admit, though, that right now I am feeling pretty tired and discouraged.

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For decades, I have been focused on trying to figure out what the “truth” is about what happened to me. I have sought out a concrete truth that I could rely on to be something firm and unshifting. I think that I keep on looking for a truth that I can show my mother and be certain that she would agree with.

The only truths that will satisfy that criteria are that my extended family system is extremely distressed and the family stories show and extraordinary amount of severe disfunction and abuse over the generations. These conclusions come directly from things that my mother has told me or we have discussed.

Getting to the point where I could simply and unequivocally acknowledge that my family is one that abuse could thrive in was a big deal for me. Accepting the reality of my parts and the effects that the abuse had on me was another big step. Coming to grips with the fact that my insides clearly tell me that my father sexually abused me was yet another step forward.

Through all of this, though, I keep on censoring myself. This applies both to what I allow myself to know and what I then am willing to share. I will think to myself, “I don’t really know that” and turn my mind away from looking at what some part of me is saying. I think, “but I have no proof” when I consider telling Mama Bear about a memory. But unless something unforeseeable happens, I won’t ever have outside proof. All I will ever have is what is inside my head.

These last couple of days, it is as if I have decided inside, “No more hiding from the full truth. I know much more than I am allowing myself to remember. I am sick and tired of being alone with this crap. I know that I am here, now. I can deal with knowing what happened. I just can’t deal with secrets any longer. I feel as though I am going to suffocate on the secrets.”

I think that I need to accept that I will be dealing with what happened from the different viewpoints of the different parts. They might not always agree. They might sometimes be exaggerated or distorted and that is OK. I need to know what all of my parts need to tell me and I need to share with Mama Bear what they tell me. I won’t know for sure What Happened, but I can develop an understanding of what I believe happened and have the self compassion to accept that I am human and the best that I can do is to develop an understanding.

So, I have started writing in my journal, with the intention of being open to the parts of my story that I don’t yet understand. I know that Mama Bear would ask, “Do you need to know everything?” She is a stickler for making sure that I don’t overwhelm myself with the past. The answer is that I don’t need to know everything, but parts of me have been crying out to share their parts of the story for years. I think that I may most need to share the things that I previously most needed to keep hidden.

Most of the things that I am writing about are not new to me. I am either getting details to flesh out the story and help me understand it or admitting to myself something that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. Allowing myself to put it all down in one place, with the determination to be as honest as possible, allows me to start to see how eventually the barriers might one days come down between the parts.

In the interest of being real and honest, I will admit that I am a bit in shock at the moment. In one of my moments of honesty tonight, I was thinking about how so many of the things that I used to attribute to my grandfather turn out to have happened with my father. I never see my grandfather’s face in the memories, but I do have a strong sense of his body in the abuse memories that I am sure happened with him. And I suddenly knew that the horrible type of abuse that I have been referring to lately didn’t just happen with my grandfather, it happened with my father, too. He didn’t do it in a way that felt as bad, but he did it too.

I just want to swear that there is so much of a burden to work through. But it affects me even when I pretend that it isn’t there. At least now I can take it in and talk with Mama Bear about is after her break. It’s better for me to stop trying to block what my brain is trying to show me and it will be best for me to take these pieces in to Mama Bear as they come up, rather than trying to hide them in the corner, behind the door.

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