Tag Archives: therapy

The Struggle Continues

Please accept yet another apology from me for my absence from the blog. It was my intention in the beginning to post twice a week, and I haven’t kept that commitment to you.

I haven’t blogged, because I’ve been struggling myself. When I started this blog, I wanted to share my success story, my journey of recovery with you. Now it seems that I’ll be sharing my own struggles with you. I hope we can encourage one another. At the same time, I will be sharing what is and is not working for me. Perhaps we can be of help to one another.

For such a long time, I’ve been out of therapy, partly because I thought I didn’t really need it anymore and more recently because I just couldn’t afford it. Now that I’m back in treatment, after several visits, my psychologist and my psychiatrist agree that I am probably not fully integrated. As I have shared previously, I thought I integrated 11 years ago. However, when they told me, though I was disappointed, I can’t say I was terribly shocked. Several occurrences had caused me to wonder if perhaps someone or “someones” were still there.

I think it’s possible they’ve been afraid to rock the boat, because I was so convinced I was integrated. Lately, though, I think part of the reason my life has become so difficult may be because I haven’t allowed them to “be,” to share what they need with me.

The fact that I also have bipolar disorder muddies the waters of my symptoms and treatments. The dual diagnosis makes the work and the decisions of my psychiatrist and psychologist that much more difficult. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps I don’t have bipolar disorder at all. Perhaps the symptoms are caused more by the parts inside rather than dysfunctional brain chemicals. 

As I share this, I wonder whether this blog serves anyone’s needs. Please comment to let me know whether you want to me to continue and perhaps we can walk down this path together, though it is different from what I expected. I don’t want to continue posting if no one finds my words of comfort, encouragement or value, and my posts may be infrequent as I’m struggling to have the energy to write or the ability to think and communicate clearly.

Thank you for your caring and sharing.


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!

 

 


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.


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.


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.


Anger Management

When I started in therapy for my abuse, one of the first symptoms to be addressed was my flat affect (lack of emotion). I talked about the abuse as a matter of fact, as if I were discussing data from a marketing report. I just couldn’t “feel” about it. I couldn’t get angry about what my parents had repeatedly done to me. My doctor and therapist asked me how I’d feel if my parents abused my children in the same ways they had abused me. I think my reply was something like, “The first thing I’d do would be to take a shotgun to my dad’s balls.” In other words, I had no trouble getting angry at just the thought of my children being hurt. That certainly helped me understand the problem I was facing.

When I was hospitalized, I was on the Trauma Unit, which deals primarily with people who have been abused, I attended the Anger Management group. It sounds like it’s for people who have a problem keeping their anger under control, and that’s true. It’s also for people like me, who couldn’t get angry. After attending a few groups, I discovered that one of the problems I faced was that I was afraid of being angry at my parents. I had seen the consequences of expressing anger with my parents. It wasn’t pretty to say the least. In one situation, my dad took a bullwhip to my brother. The fact that my parents were hundreds of miles away and had no idea I was even in the hospital, let alone what I was discussing didn’t make a difference in how I felt. Facts often have little to do with emotions.

Facts are, however, where we have to start. Fact: I was sexually abused. Fact: My father did it. Fact: My mother knew and did nothing to stop it. Fact: I was now royally screwed up because of it.

I started by getting angry, because my husband and children had been hurt: by being separated from me every time I was hospitalized and by my suicide attempts. In Anger Management we threw balls of clay at a sheetrock “board.” The first few times I just threw the clay as an exercise in connecting my body to my emotions. Sound strange? I was only able to acknowledge the possibility of anger toward my parents in my brain. I needed to reconnect with my body, and throwing the clay helped do that.

After a while I could feel a little anger, call it frustration or annoyance, and I tried to let those feelings connect with the clay and fly out of my body onto the board. The feelings gradually and slowly grew into appropriate feelings, and I got angry. Really angry. I was encouraged to yell or scream if I needed to as I threw clay at the board. The point is connect with the anger, feel it and then leave it there with the clay on the board. I had to practice staying with it while I was throwing. I would approach the anger, then run away out of terror of the feelings.

I learned about healthy anger that alerts me to the presence of a problem that I need to deal with. Now, it also took practice to know where, when and how to express it. Sometimes, outside the hospital and the Anger Management room, I’d get angry and express it inappropriately. Caused some embarrassment for my family a few times, which I regretted. Eventually I learned to get it right, at least most of the time. The old adage, “Practice makes perfect,” is not really true, as my daughter’s orchestra conductor taught her. Instead, “Practice makes permanent, and perfect practice makes perfect.” So when I’d get angry, I’d slow down before just acting on it. I’d think about where, when and how to best deal with it. I’ve gotten better with it over time. Occasionally I still express anger inappropriately, which means I’ve gotten really good at saying I’m sorry and asking for forgiveness.

I’ve learned a lot about anger, and I’ve had to admit there are other ways to deal with my anger at my dad besides shooting his balls off, though once in a while, I admit it is a somewhat satisfying visualization.