Feel Your Feelings

I’ve written about the importance of experiencing anger and expressing it appropriately, but what about all those other feelings that cause us such discomfort? What about the intense sadness, the dark depression, the troubling fears and the debilitating anxiety? All those emotions we consider negative and just wish would go away and leave us alone and feeling “normal,” whatever that is.

I would love to make your day by telling you there is a two-step process to working through them all to move into blissful happiness. I really do wish I could do that, because I would be a very rich woman with all the books I’d sell and all the television appearances for which I’d be booked. However, you’re stuck with the hard processes and I’m stuck with a blog that I hope helps people but brings in no income.

First, the don’ts: Don’t self-mutilate; don’t binge and purge or starve yourself; don’t drink (In fact, it’s best if you stay away from alcohol altogether during these times.); don’t do drugs, except those prescribed by your one psychiatrist, and only at the prescribed dosages. In other words, don’t cop out by doing the things you usually do to blunt the feelings. Feelings are good, natural and normal. Let them come.

The good news is all you have to do is what comes naturally. When you feel those emotions, really feel them, experience them. Do not shut them down or run away. During one session with my psychiatrist, one of my alters started to cry and my doctor reached out to hand her a box of tissues. This part, who possessed great wisdom, said, “She needs to feel her tears on her face. Tears are healing.” And so, I sat there, experiencing my sadness in my heart and in my body as the tears made my face wet. I also think there was another benefit as my heart and body experienced the sadness together; I believe it helped battle the depersonalization that was such basic part of DID.

You may have already figured out that there are just sometimes you need to feel sad and cry. I just know that once and a while I need to listen to sad music or watch a sad movie to encourage the flow of the waterworks. I cry and I cry and I cry. Sometimes it’s a gentle cry with tears streaming; others it’s a sobbing, body-wracking wail. Occasionally I know why I need it, but many times I don’t have a clue. I just know what I need. That’s part of getting to know yourself and honoring You by giving You the freedom to do what you need. It’s a healing experience that leaves me feeling exhausted but almost euphoric afterward. Go figure.

Normally, when we experience depression, anyone and everyone around us, trained or not, has a, so-called, surefire cure. I’ve learned over the years that, though well meaning, most of them don’t help. I’ve also learned that just about everyone other than those who have themselves been clinically depressed and the professionals who work with us are well-meaning, but clueless, They get the blues and call it depression, so they really think they understand, and they want to help. As I’ve mentioned before, in this situation, I find it’s usually best to smile and nod. Arguing won’t change their minds and will likely only upset you. I’ve learned that when I’m down, there are certain times, and I’ve pretty well learned to know when, it is best to just give in. Lie down on the sofa, be sad, be depressed. Sometimes I don’t get dressed. I don’t answer the phone. I just let it wash over me, but only for two or three days. A lot of times I find that by then, I’m coming out of it. I just needed to give myself time to allow it to work itself out.

However, if it hasn’t begun to resolve after three days, I get on the phone with my doctor or my therapist. Then I listen to what he or she says, and I follow the recommendations.

Now that we’ve gotten to the good part, guess what? I’m saving fear and anxiety for next time.


The Poison We Take

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: “Bitterness is the poison you take hoping someone else will die.” So true. But you say to yourself, “I’m not bitter.” What about the person or persons who abused you? Have you forgiven them? Bitterness is nothing more than a lack of forgiveness that grows and foments in your heart.

I can almost see you rolling your eyes and giving me a “huh!” or “Yeah, right.” And for sure you’re thinking, “What? Are you kidding? Let that #@!? off the hook? Are you crazy?” Well, let’s see. No, I’m not kidding. No, I’m not letting the #@!? off the hook, and no, I’m not crazy, well not anymore anyway.

A wise doctor once told me that as long as I refuse to forgive my abuser(s), I’m connected to them. I’m spending energy on them. That’s the poison. If I’m holding on to the awful wrongs they did to me, I’m thinking about them, I’m letting their actions control my emotions, thus spending energy and keeping my connection with them strong.

Letting them off the hook? Nope? That’s not up to me. If they are to be let off the hook, they have some action to take, which includes repentance. And only God can let them off the hook, though as long as they live they will endure the consequences of their choices. Now, I know that it may appear that they’re not experiencing any consequences, but we can’t see the torture God may be working in their souls. And they’re certainly not going to let it show if they can help it. But it’s not unusual for these people to turn to a variety of behaviors to try to numb the guilt and try to kill the compulsion to repeat the offense. Think of heavy drinking, drug abuse, sex addictions, serial “relationships,” loss of family and friends and certainly of self respect. They are living every day with the fear that someone will find out about their “dirty little secret.” So, no, forgiveness in no way lets them off the hook.

Do they deserve more? Yes, I think so, but that’s really not up to me, except in the respect of reporting them to authorities. I had a lovely fantasy of torture that I entertained for some time, but eventually I gave it up in favor of forgiveness when I realized how much time I was spending thinking about my abuser. If I wanted to move on and be free from him/them, I had to forgive. It wasn’t easy, because I just didn’t feel like forgiving. Then someone pointed out to me that forgiveness had nothing to do with how I felt and everything to do with my will. I just had to choose. Whether or not I felt like it, I could choose to forgive them and release myself from the grip they had held on me.

It took a lot of forgiving in the beginning. I’d forgive, and then an hour later, I’d find myself thinking bitter thoughts, so I’d forgive again. Sort of like washing my hair. You know: lather, rinse, repeat. Only this was: forgive, release, repeat. Finally, I could go half a day, then a whole day. It takes practice, but it is so worth it. I certainly did not want to feel connected to my abuser(s). I learned how great it felt to be free, so I became committed to forgiveness. Now I practice it as a regular part of my life to keep my friendships in good shape and to release myself from bitter thoughts.


1 Sure Way to Derail Your Recovery

I’ve observed through my many hospital stays that people tend to compare their abuse against what others have experienced and then rate their hurt and pain on an imaginary scale. Then they decide how much hurt they should be experiencing in relation to others. Some come to think they shouldn’t be making such a “big deal” about their hurt; others look at their pain and wonder what others are complaining about, because clearly they haven’t suffered as much as they have. To illustrate the futility of this behavior, think about your last trip to the doctor or emergency room. One of the questions frequently asked is, “How would you rate your pain on a scale from one to 10?” Never do they ask, “And how do you think your pain compares to the person in the next room?” It would be ludicrous, and yet we do it with emotional pain all the time.

This continual evaluating of your pain against another’s can become a serious distraction from recovery. When you minimize your pain, you don’t give your best effort at feeling and working through it. You devalue it, thereby derailing your recovery. You begin to wonder why, if your pain was so “minor” compared to others’, you feel so devastated. You wonder why your life is in the pits and you’re feeling so out of control.

Those who compare trauma to prove their trauma is worse, do so, I believe, because their feelings are so big, so overwhelming that they think they MUST have had the worst trauma ever. Otherwise there is no justification in their world for their dramatic emotions. They feel they have to prove why their feelings are so intense.

There’s also a phenomenon among people in group therapy settings that cause some people to play the “one-up” game. You know, someone tells her story, giving some details. The following day someone else speaks up to tell his story, and it’s just a bit “worse.” And so it goes until the stories have eroded into bizarre fantasy. These people are not bad or trying to minimize the pain of others no matter how it may seem. It’s simply their way of justifying the depth of their feelings.

What’s important to understand is that in some important ways, your story doesn’t matter. If what happened to you was bad enough to cause you pain, then it was bad. And that’s all that matters. You hurt. You need healing, just like I do. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t share my story in the blog, because it really doesn’t matter. I was wounded, and I had to work through healing, just like you.

I have discovered that pain is pain. You can’t compare it. If you hurt, you hurt. It doesn’t help to hear that someone else hurts worse. Or do they? How does anyone know? And why would it matter anyway. Pain is pain. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And that’s what you deal with.

That’s what you have to deal with in recovery. Just focus on what’s causing you pain. Minimizing your pain, because you think someone else had it worse or inflating your trauma to justify your feelings, does nothing but delay your healing. Your focus must be on yourself, your pain and your problems. This is one time when your attention needs to be on yourself for the purpose of healing. What others do in their journey to recovery has no bearing on you or your recovery.

I understand that you may have a family that needs and deserves your time and attention, and you don’t want to neglect them in favor of focusing exclusively on yourself. It does mean, however, that you take some time for yourself when you shut everything else out and care for yourself. Just remember to deal with your own pain and let others deal with theirs. You can have compassion for them, but keep your boundaries in place as you deal with your burdens and move toward healing.


Dealing With Body Memories

Body memories are some of the oddest and, sometimes, scariest phenomena experienced by people who’ve been abused. They’re unexpected, catching us off guard with strange sensations and, occasionally showing up as marks on our bodies. One thing’s for sure, they can’t be ignored.

I was fortunate to be in the hospital when I experienced my first. I had just begun to remember bits of what had happened to me. I had been reading Courage to Heal or as some call it, Carriage to Hell. Something I read struck a chord, and I suddenly had a “vision” of the wallpaper in my parents’ bedroom when I was small. We had moved from there when I was seven, and the house had burned, so I hadn’t seen the room since. I couldn’t even remember what the wallpaper in my own room looked like, but suddenly I could see what my parents’ looked like. Just then, I started experiencing strong feelings of arousal. With everything that was happening and the realization of what this might mean, it scared me – a lot. Fortunately, my therapist was between appointments, so, holding on to the wall for support and bent over at the waist to try to stop the feelings, I hurried to get her. She took my arm and walked me back to my room and sat me down on my bed. She sat in the chair across from me, looked me in the eyes to ground me and reassure me, and then told me I was okay. She explained that what was happening was not unusual and that it was called a body memory. She kept reminding me to keep my eyes on her and breathe. She understood that I could easily get “lost” in it and lose touch with where I was, where I was in time and what was really happening.

Body memories can, as in my experience described above, create physical sensations that mimic those experienced during the abuse. Others can remind you of events when marks appear on the body for no apparent reason. Once when I was about to meet up again with a family member who had recently confronted me violently, marks appeared on my arm where she had grabbed me weeks before. I believe my body was reminding and cautioning me about the upcoming meeting.

Body memories present challenges in dealing with them. Because they are so unexpected, we are usually vulnerable and afraid, making the struggle to deal with them particularly difficult. First, remind yourself that this is a memory. Though it feels as if it’s happening now, it’s not; the event is over, in the past. Second, try to ground yourself to your surroundings by touching things around you; rub your hands on the carpet, hold ice cubes. Third, ground yourself to the present by saying your name out loud, looking at the date on a magazine or newspaper, looking in a mirror. Fourth, connect with someone. If a trusted friend or family member is close by, explain what is going on and ask them to hold your hands and talk to you. Ask them to remind you to keep your eyes open, because closing your eyes makes it easier to be pulled into the past and into panic. If you have to call someone who can be helpful and supportive, do it. Your therapist may not be a good idea, because he or she may be in session or unavailable, and you need help now.

When you’ve made it through the body memory, take a deep breath and allow yourself to calm down. Get something to drink, but avoid alcohol and drugs, except possibly a prescription anti-anxiety medication, and then take only what is prescribed. After you’re sufficiently calm, journal about the experience: what it was about if you can figure that out; how you felt while it was happening, describing the physical sensations; and record what helped you stay grounded and get through it. You’ll want to remember that in case you experience another body memory.

Though body memories are unsettling, they can serve to validate the past that can often feel surreal. Don’t let them throw you off course, but instead use them as tools to grow and progress.


New Look

If you’ve been to the site before, you may be surprised to see a new look. I’ve had comments that the site was difficult to navigate, and looking at it objectively, I had to agree. I hope you like the new look, find it appropriate and easy to use. I welcome your comments.

Jessica


Dealing with Good Memories

Painful memories are, not surprisingly, difficult to deal with sometimes for decades after the event. What is sometimes surprising even to us is that good memories are also difficult to deal with. Why? Because they force us to face the ambivalence we feel toward those who hurt us.

My parents, as my abusers, hurt me terribly. However, not everything they did was bad. They made sure I got the music lessons that I loved. They were there at every performance. I lived in a beautiful, comfortable home and wore fashionable clothes. They provided a college education for me at a good school and made sure I could focus on studying without having to work. I remember some fun times with them in which we laughed and just, generally, had a good time. Then there are the times with my father that I look back on now and wonder if they were more sexually charged for him than I suspected at the time.

How do I deal with it all? With difficulty. The mix of memories forces me to think of my parents as people who, I think, loved me, but were terribly flawed. Their sickness and awful choices cannot be excused. Before I remembered the abuse, I had them on a pedestal; I, wrongly, thought they were the best parents anyone could ever have. I must accept that they were neither black nor white, but gray, which is a much more difficult way of seeing them.

Remembering the good times won’t allow me to hate them, especially when I consider how very flawed I am. No, I have never abused my children, but I have hurt them in others ways that they’ve struggled with. If you put the mistakes I’ve made on a weighing scale against the mistakes my parents have made, from our human point of view, the scale is extremely unbalanced. But if I put the good things they did for me against the bad things they did, the scale balances just a tiny bit evenly. It’s not completely one-sided.

Sometimes we don’t want to remember the good times, because we think it means we have to say that what they did was OK. That’s not true! Recognizing the good simply means we’re being realistic. It’s confusing. It’s tough to wrap our minds around. Some people even refuse to admit that there was any good. However, no human being is 100% evil or 100% good. Accepting that our parents were terribly flawed human beings who also did some good things is a sign of maturity. It takes someone who has experienced considerable personal growth to understand and accept the ambivalence we feel for our parents. It takes none of the evil away from what they did; it simply puts it into its uncomfortable, but realistic, place.


Establishing and Maintaining Good Boundaries

Maintaining a relationship with those who hurt you requires a great deal of thought and firm boundaries. I think, but have no way of knowing, that it would be easier if the abuser were a stranger or someone with whom contact wasn’t necessary.

If your parents or other family members were your abusers, you are presented with tremendous challenges. If you’re like me, you loved your abusers and counted on them to take care of you, a trust they tragically violated. If you grew up with the knowledge of their abuse, perhaps you rebelled as a teenager to try to put distance between you and them. You may have consciously tried to be different than them in every way. You may have told yourself that you hated them, but ambivalence and conflict usually take up residence in your heart as the natural pull of familial love tugs you back.

Or perhaps you’re like me and repressed all the memories, stuffing them away to cope. However, memories like these can’t remain hidden forever, at some time, bits of memories and feelings start to bubble to the surface. When that happens you’re confused and stuck with feelings that don’t seem to make sense.

Either way, you’re faced with the question of how to deal with them once you know the truth. Will you end your relationship with them, turning back on your history once and for all? Will you sweep your feelings and memories under the carpet for the sake of maintaining your relationship? Will you have a conversation with them about what you remember and ask them to own up to it and say they’re sorry? Or will you come to an acceptance of what happened and then see how the relationship plays out? There are so many different ways the relationship can develop once the truth is out.

I confronted my parents one at a time with the truth. My father admitted it, cried and asked for forgiveness. My mother stonewalled, sitting tight-lipped, refusing to look at me. She refused to accept it. As they left, relief swept over me. I had been told not to expect anything from either of them. My then-husband took them to the airport afterward and they talked cheerfully about everything except my conversation with them. Later, my husband asked them how they felt about what we’d talked about, and they both vehemently denied admitting anything. They claimed that they would say “anything to make her better.” Shortly after, I wrote them a letter ending my relationship with them. I told them that if we couldn’t deal in truth, then there was no basis for a relationship. Now, that was my choice. Perhaps it was the right one, perhaps not, but it felt like the only one I could live with at the time.

I kept them out of our family’s life for eleven years. This decision had far-reaching consequences. My children grew up without this set of their grandparents, and they didn’t understand why. I wouldn’t accept gifts for my children from them, sending them back instead. Later, I learned that my children wondered why their grandparents had suddenly forgotten about them. I justified continuing my distance from them by telling myself I had to protect my children, after all. That was true, but perhaps I could have done it another way. I just couldn’t figure out how to have a relationship as long as they refused to acknowledge the truth. To me that was tantamount to calling me a liar. I couldn’t understand why they would want to have a relationship with me if they believed I would lie about such things.

Finally, after my divorce I went to visit them with my sister. The visit was a disaster because of my insistence on talking about the truth. After that, however, I did consent to occasional contact by phone, because I had learned certain truths that my ex-husband had kept from me. Like the fact that my father had called monthly to find out how I was doing and other things I felt were important.

After that I would have dinner with them if they came to the area to visit my sister and me, but I kept my distance . . . for a long time. Then I started to believe their professions of love and care, and immediately my mother pounced and tried to exert her control over me once again. I pulled back and quit taking calls. The last several years have been strained. I have learned that it is critical to keep my boundaries high and firm. I can’t risk the health I have worked so hard to achieve. However, that does allow for some occasional, careful contact. I don’t believe much of what they say about how they love me.

Here are the guidelines you need for a relationship with your abusers.
1. You have to learn what kind of relationship is right for you.
2. Whatever you decide, remember that, unless they have confessed their wrongs and admitted with sorrow their sins against you,
they are not trustworthy.
3. Determine what your boundaries will be in regard to phone calls, visits and letters.
4. Remain firm. Your health is at stake, and perhaps, the health of your own family as well.

Remember, now you have to establish a new normal, a healthy normal. You will be working to create strong new relationships that are likely different from any you’ve had before. Keep these things in mind as you work toward your new life with positive people to encourage you and hold you accountable.