Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Sorry for my absence

Please forgive me for my extended break from blogging. This is not how I envisioned this blog when I began, but, as with most things worth doing, it is harder than it looks!

Life has been especially busy lately with both happy and difficult circumstances. I’ve had more work than usual, and my daughter has been sicker from the illnesses I mentioned in another post. I am hoping to get back to regular posting as soon as possible. I hope you can bear with me through this.

During my most recent therapy session, my therapist suggested the possibility that not every alter integrated when most of them did 11 years ago. If I had heard this a year ago, I would have been devastated, but I had begun to suspect that it might be the case. My hospitalization in August revealed hints that perhaps I still had parts holding onto information they had not previously been ready to share. 

Whether or not there are more parts still there doesn’t really matter to me. I know that I still have work to do, and I intend to do that work. The healing I have done so far has been so worth it, that I’m not willing to quit now. I have lots of living to do, and the healthier I am, the better I can take advantage of what’s to come.

It’s not that I’m not afraid. Therapy is scary and difficult, but I’m determined. I have children and grandchildren who motivate me. I want to be there, all there for them, and I will be!

 

 

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Living With the Aftermath

It’s over. It’s in the past. I know that. That’s the good news. And it is good news. Really good news. It’s the present that gives me problems.

The results of the abuse are always lurking. They show themselves in the fear of the future, the “knowing” that what’s coming is going to hurt and more than what’s hurt in the past. The sense that, in spite of the horror of the past, the other shoe still hasn’t dropped, and it’s only waiting for me to make a mistake. One mistake and it will all fall apart, all the good that I’ve worked so hard to build — my home, my family, my life. And I will be responsible.

That’s why I work so hard to keep all the balls in the air. I have to be good enough; I have to pray enough; I have to work hard enough; I must be the perfect mother. No stone must be unturned. I’m sure that the one time I forget to buckle a child’s seat belt will be the time there will be an accident, and I will be responsible for the results. I will miss one essential plea before God’s throne and a daughter’s brain tumor grow beyond treatment. I forget a job contact and my career is unsalvageable.

I think I can take whatever life can throw at me; after all, I already have (or so I think). Then PTSD steals up from behind and brings the awful memories to life in living color complete with sounds, the sense of being touched and the smell of the people and things around, and I realize I’m not prepared at all.

The dissociation steals my mind away and I have car accidents. Then I realize that I am not in control at all.

The nightmares from which I cannot wrench myself suck me back into my position of vulnerability, and sometimes, in my sleep I whimper or beg for mercy. I wake up drenched in sweat.

I wonder. Am I losing my mind? And what do I do to get it back? Can I get it back. Does anyone care if I get it back? Or do I just let my head fall on my pillow and allow the nothingness to take me away. Would it be a relief? And yet, even when I give in to the temptation, my thoughts will not allow me to just abandon my sanity. They bring me back to the now of how do I do this life, and I find there are no easy answers. So, I let the tears of sadness, loneliness and fear soak my pillow with salt water.

I may not be alone, but the journey of clinging to sanity is walked alone. Oh there can be people who support, who love, who encourage, and I have learned to let them. But, the journey in my head is made alone with only my voice trying to be the voice of reason tepeating the words of others, though always wondering how they know that what they’re telling me is the truth if they’ve never walked this journey themselves.

This is the sojourn I have been on that recently resulted in two and half weeks in a psych hospital. I had gone in for what I thought was a deep depression brought on by very difficult circumstances. However, once inside, my wise mind let me know there was so much more to be dealt with. Namely, years of memories that had lain untouched since the last time I had been in the hospital and had seriously addressed them in therapy.

You see, I had thought all that was in the past. I had thought that once I had integrated, I had dealt with all the memories, the hurt and the pain of the past. And I was anxious to put it behind me, so I walked away. I put that part of my life neatly in a box and set it on a shelf in a dark corner of a closet that I never entered and tried hard to forget. I seemed OK and I wanted to be. I wanted to be “normal.” I wanted to be the Jessi that I once had, the Jessi that people remembered. The Jessi that was all together.

But the “monster of abuse” refused to stay locked away. Now, I know that it is not a monster, maybe not a friend, but a companion that will probably always walk with me. I think there will be times, when it will be content to keep her distance and others when it sidles up to me and whispers in my ear. I’ll probably never get used to or be happy with its presence, but, as a survivor of abuse,it will most likely stick by my side. And now I know that I CANNOT ignore it. It has a tendency to throw tantrums. And they’re not pretty, and I seem to end up the loser.

So, I have committed to ongoing therapy that I had been neglecting because of financial problems. Now I know that my therapy is as important as my phone or electricity. I cannot function without it. I am working with my psychiatrist to adjust my medications. And, I have learned to “never say never” when it comes to going back to the hospital when I need it. It may have saved my life, and I’m so glad it did.

Now, that I’m doing what I need to: journaling, seeing my therapist and my psychiatrist, and working with my meds, the PTSD seems to have subsided, the dissociation (at this writing) seems to be at bay, my nightmares have gone away for now and I no longer think I’m losing my mind.

Life is not a panacea. Loneliness comes and goes. I miss my children. But I see a hope for the future. A hope that promises life does not have to be filled with only the remnants of a painful past but also with the threads of a promising future.


Can You Trust Your Friends?

Because of more and more celebrities being open and sharing their struggles with mental illness, the stigma is perhaps slightly less severe than in the past. However the misunderstanding of mental illnesses and their symptoms endures. When well-known figures talk about their illness, they do so when they’re well. Their stylists have carefully done their hair and make up, and helped them select their clothes, so they look their absolute best. No unwashed hair, sweat pants and pajama tops for them. Every detail is carefully orchestrated so that as they announce their illness, everything about them screams, “But don’t worry about me. See how fine I am. I’m still the star you’ve known. Don’t stop worshiping me, because I can’t afford to lose my status as a box office star.”

So, perhaps, people won’t fear us quite as much when they learn of our diagnosis, but they will still hold us to the same standards as any well person: smiles on our faces, cheerful attitudes, perfect attendance at work and full participation in social activities. We should be excellent housekeepers, good cooks, fit and, above all, disciplined.

We are held to the standards of healthy people with no allowance for our illness. Consider an individual with cancer. If he or she chooses to stay in bed and sleep to attempt to escape the pain awhile longer, housemates tiptoe around to ensure no one disturbs him or her. However, when someone with clinical depression is simply unable to get out of bed, we’re considered lazy and undisciplined. Why? Because mental illness is still seen as “all in the head,” no pun intended. In other words, if we would just make better choices, we could lead perfectly normal lives. The paradox is that people tend to be afraid of us if we let them know we have bipolar disorder or DID, but if we don’t run around leaping around the room and screeching like chimpanzees, we’re considered healthy. The general public doesn’t get the “illness” part of mental illness.

Some people with bipolar disorder, DID, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic disorder and other disorders are able to function pretty normally most of the time. They can hold down jobs and be active socially. Many others simply cannot no matter how hard they try. They wish they could. Most of them have tried and were either forced to quit or were fired. Either way, their self esteem undoubtedly took a serious nose dive, and they had to use every bit of energy they possessed to claw their way out of the depressive hole they fell into as a result.

Understanding friends are few. Most adults have, at some point in their lives, had a bad case of the blues, so they think they understand what it means to be truly depressed. Thus, they wonder why we can’t pull ourselves out if it as they did. You may have talked, explained, shown, shared books, even taken them to your therapist with you. But most still refuse to accept the reality of the severity of the symptoms we live with every day. Loneliness ensues, compounding our feelings of isolation and unworthiness. We begin to doubt ourselves. Are we really just lazy and undisciplined? We may set more goals and promise ourselves that this time, we’ll carry through. This time we’ll be like other people who can follow through and consistently discipline themselves to reach their goals. And again, depression, dissociation or a manic phase steal our physical, mental and emotional strength, and, in our eyes, we fail again.

The truth is, however, that we haven’t failed. We have simply been unable to live up to unrealistic expectations – our own and those of others. We have to accept that most of the people we love and who we thought loved us don’t understand; they just don’t get it. We must be careful to cherish those who get it and offer support when we need it, who encourage us when we’re down and who hold us accountable when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Very few people earn that kind of trust, and they must earn it. We can accept the input of people who have proven, over time, that they love us no matter what. They love us whether we get out of bed or stay there with the covers pulled over our head. They love us whether our house is clean or the place is a wreck. They understand that when our minds are disorganized, so are our surroundings. They don’t criticize when we miss church yet again. They understand the difference between what we want to be and what we’re able to be. They listen when we’re hurting and celebrate with us when we get back to the selves we want to be, the selves that can reciprocate their friendship.

I have learned to expect criticism. That doesn’t mean it hurts any less, but at least it’s not a surprise. Still, sometimes, I let my guard down and start to trust someone who I think has proven him/herself worthy, and my heart takes a blow when they let me down. Those occasions make me wonder why I bothered to trust. That’s when my self-talk says, “Haven’t you learned? Don’t you know better than to trust? How could you be so stupid?” And my self-esteem takes another blow. Then I have to take a deep breath and remind myself of the truth about myself and the person who let me down. Perhaps he/she is a real friend in some ways but not others. I have learned over time that few people get “me” – that is all of me. I have friends who I have lots of fun with, but I know they don’t want to share any of the burdens with me. I have friends who are understanding to a point, but they don’t get my illness. Then I have friends who love me with all my stuff. Those people understand me and love me just the same. Those are the ones with whom I trust my heart. They have earned it. We just have to use our wisdom to know when it’s safe to share our hearts.

We have to know what we are capable of achieving and what we are not. We must always strive to be our best but not beat ourselves up and accuse ourselves of laziness when our goals were simply out of reach – at least for now. We have to learn how to have thick skin, while keeping our hearts tender. We must understand that most people cannot understand what they have not experienced. And, most of all, we must, when possible, be faithful friends to them and give them the love and understanding we wish they could offer us.


Feeling the Feelings, Part Deaux

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that in the distant past (April), I posted about the value of “Feeling the Feelings,” which I have been doing a lot of recently, and that has kept me from posting. These feelings happened to be physical as well as emotional, as I had a car accident recently. I’m fine, and my shoulder strap bruise has healed, and I’m driving a new (to me) car. My computer was quite ill for several days, and then, of course, I was kicked in the stomach with depression. I’m also under a physician’s care as we try to diagnose the cause of ongoing physical illness. At any rate, I hope to be getting back on track with the blog.

I had written about experiencing and working through depression. Next I wanted to talk about fear and anxiety, because they’re so closely related. However, I believe they are different enough to warrant separate posts.

Fear is rooted in reality or what we perceive as reality. A person or a situation causing, or threatening to cause us harm prompts that rumbling-in-the-stomach, heart-pounding, mind-twisting terror that takes over. We turn it over in our minds, and become obsessed with the fear. We lie awake pondering it. Concentration on anything else is difficult if not impossible.

Those of us who have been abused have had plenty to fear. Awful things that are unimaginable to a child have crept up out of the dark, making our worst nightmares come to life. We may now be adults with spouses and children of our own. We probably have locks on our doors and even alarm systems to keep out the unknown, as well as the familiar nightmares. However, none of those precautions can deal with the fear that lives on in our minds. Perhaps we startle easily. Perhaps we’ve developed full-blown PTSD that brings the horror back to life in living color, complete with the sense of being touched, hearing the sounds, seeing our surroundings and smelling the scents that were present when the nightmare was alive and real. How do you deal with these present manifestations of past people and experiences?

Actually, I think it is practically impossible to completely lock out the memories of the past that cause us fear in the present. However, there are steps that will help us deal with the memories in such a way that they will stay where they belong – in our awareness of the past, in our consciousness, to be dealt with when we can be calm, thinking clearly and able to put well-defined boundaries around the past.

How? Acknowledge the memories as real and valid pieces of your past. Running from them doesn’t help. In fact, running usually ensures that they will pursue you doggedly until you stop and look the truth. It may sicken you and disgust you and force your fear up to the level of terror at first. You may have great difficulty believing that people who were supposed to love you, whom you trusted, could choose to hurt you so much. To get through the process of facing the truth of your past, you’ll probably need the help of a professional who knows how to guide you through it without traumatizing you further. But you can learn how to cope when the memories come back unbidden again when you are not with your therapist.

If you’re experiencing an ugly memory that seems to take your breath away, try to ground yourself in the present. Feel the chair you’re sitting in, look at your surroundings, take your hands and rub them back and forth on your legs and listen to the sounds around you as you put your memory back in the past. Tactile sensations are helpful in bringing you out of the memory and into the present, so doing things like holding ice in your hand does wonders to banish the lingering memory. If you can, pick up a magazine or newspaper to verify the date to remind yourself you are in the present. Look in a mirror to see that you’re not a small, vulnerable child any longer.

Work to calm your breathing. First, exhale slowly and completely through pursed lips. Your chest should drop as you do this. Next, breathe in slowly through your nose as you focus on your diaphragm rising while your lungs fill with air. Repeat this slowly and gently ten times. If you begin to feel dizzy, stop for a moment, then begin again.

The scent of lavender works wonders for some people, like me, for example. You can find lavender in different forms at most bath stores. Put a dab on the pulse points, and then let it work its magic. I like to lie down, close my eyes and focus on the scent. Perhaps you have music that is particularly soothing to you. Try putting that on to play, and, again, lie down and let it wash over you.

Some people have relaxation CDs meant exactly for this purpose. Relaxation CDs are available at most music retailers. Many are available free through iTunes, YouTube, and other Internet sources. Or you may have the voice of your therapist taking you through guided imagery. I used to listen to one every night in order to fall asleep.

And some people have a prescription for anxiety medication from their doctor. However, reserve the meds as a last resort to be used only if and when you’ve tried everything else. Use them exactly as instructed by your physician and avoid alcohol! That is critical. No alcohol if you’ve taken an anti-anxiety medication. They do not mix!

Hopefully, by now your troublesome memories have dissipated and you are feeling calmer and more peaceful. The more you practice relaxation, the more adept and effective you will become at dealing with the nightmares of the past.


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.


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.


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.