No lunch,no problem

I defeated anxiety again. This story sounds trivial but it isn’t at all. It shows progress and healing.

My daughter packed a lunch for school and forgot it at home. Last year I would not have been able to do anything about it. The thought of walking into a school office would start the panic. I would rationalize, that it didn’t matter, that it taught them to be responsible, that they won’t really suffer they have money in the account to buy lunch…I had many more excuses for why I didn’t have to hand someone a lunchbox. I was terrified of a two minute errand because it was new, and required social interaction.

So this time I just did it. No excuses. Drove there. Shaking hands, deep breathing. Pause in parking lot for grounding and breathing. I walk up to front door, see a sign saying to use door 2C during school hours. I have never done this. Never gone to this school during session, I didn’t know where 2C was. I felt my heart racing faster, feeling stupid, I start pulling on locked door after locked door. None of them are labeled anything, let alone 2C. 

Then I see it! Painted so big I might be able to see it from home, if not from the moon, a huge 2C on a door by itself. I enter that one to find myself in a type of airlock, a secretary in what I assume was bullet proof glass with only a vent hole to speak through like at a bank or subway. Wow. Sad they had to design it this way, but I understand I guess. And I am the one with unbalanced thoughts regarding safety? Hmm.

Anyway, I waved the lunchbox, and managed a sheepish grin. She buzzed me in. I already had my girl’s name and teacher on a sticky note, so the secretary just said she would make sure she got it and smiled nicely. I thanked her and hoped my face smiled back and that she didn’t see the terror in my eyes.

If I could have ran I would have, but instead I walked back to my car, gasped for air like I had been under water, and drove home once I could feel my fingers.

So prior to last year, this task would not have stressed me. But at some point everything like this became impossible. So I am healing from that. But what is even more remarkable, is my understanding of my fear, because now I can hear my thoughts, my stuck points.

I was afraid to do something wrong, to be stupid, to be laughed at, to get caught making a mistake when I should know better, for someone to figure out I had never been to the school before and ask me why, for someone to figure out my secrets.

The thing is, no one cares. People in this world don’t mind when I don’t know something and don’t care about my secrets. They just want to do their jobs. People in this world are generally friendly or at least not the cruel enemies AF had created in his delusional world.

CPT Trauma Impact Statement:Why I think this trauma occurred

My homework this week is to write a more in depth impact statement. I did this already when I started CPT many months ago, but since it was a group, we were asked to be vague and not include any details of the trauma itself. Also, since I have endured multiple traumatic events over many years of my life, I am to focus on the sexual abuse for this portion. Here is the writing prompt:

Please write at least one page on why you think the traumatic event occurred. You are not being asked to write specifics about the traumatic event. write about what you have been thinking about the cause of the event. Also, consider the effects this traumatic event has had on your beliefs about yourself, others, and the the world in the following areas: safety, trust, power/control, esteem, and intimacy.

So let’s start with the cause. What caused AF to sexually abuse me? Seriously, what a question. Simple answer is he was as close to evil as a human can get. He was sick, a true pedophile, with narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies. My abuse started at birth, at day one he chose to own and control me to serve his personal needs. Why? It is actually very complicated. I like this site to explain the roots of pedophilia by Sam Vaknin, it sounds very much like the man(?) that raised me. I’ll add some excerpts below.

  • Contrary to media-propagated myths, most of them had not been sexually abused in childhood and the vast majority of pedophiles are also drawn to adults of the opposite sex. (I have no idea if AF was abused as a child. I do know he used the services of adult female prostitutes.)
  • Pedophiles seem to have narcissistic and antisocial (psychopathic) traits. They lack empathy for their victims and express no remorse for their actions. They are in denial and, being pathological confabulators, they rationalize their transgressions, claiming that the children were merely being educated for their own good and, anyhow, derived great pleasure from it. (I still hear his voice whispering, I know you like this…ugh, vomit)

 

  • Coupled with his lack of empathy, this recurrent inability to truly comprehend others cause the pedophile to objectify the targets of his lasciviousness. Pedophilia is, in essence, auto-erotic. The pedophile uses children’s bodies to masturbate with.

 

  • Illicit sex becomes the outlet for his urgent need to live dangerously and recklessly. (incest and prostitutes)
  • The pedophile is aware of society’s view of his actions as vile, corrupt, forbidden, evil, and decadent (especially if the pedophiliac act involves incest). He derives pleasure from the sleazy nature of his pursuits because it tends to sustain his view of himself as “bad”, “a failure”, “deserving of punishment”, and “guilty”.

 

  • In extreme (mercifully uncommon) cases, the pedophile projects these torturous feelings and self-perceptions onto his victims. The children defiled and abused by his sexual attentions thus become “rotten”, “bad objects”, guilty and punishable.  (In my case, it was emotional sadism for me, and animal cruelty for my pets)
  • The pedophile treats “his” chosen child as an object, an extension of himself, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs. He finds the child’s submissiveness and gullibility gratifying. He frowns on any sign of personal autonomy and regards it as a threat. By intimidating, cajoling, charming, and making false promises, the abuser isolates his prey from his family, school, peers, and from the rest of society and, thus, makes the child’s dependence on him total.
  • The pedophile is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his “partner”. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his child-mate. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline.
  • The child finds himself in a twilight zone. The pedophile imposes on him a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, “enemies”, mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted. The child is rendered the joint guardian of a horrible secret.
  • The pedophile’s control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines rights and obligations and alters them at will.
  • The typical pedophile is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.
  • The pedophile does not respect the boundaries and privacy of the (often reluctant and terrified) child. He ignores his or her wishes and treats children as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.
  • The pedophile acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the looks, talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the child. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.
  • Narcissistic pedophiles claim to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. They often lie and confabulate to support these unfounded claims and to justify their actions. Most pedophiles suffer from cognitive deficits and reinterpret reality to fit their fantasies. (AF was actually intelligent, definitely above average, however his claims would have him be Einstein working as a technician, he was always just about to change the world, he could if he wanted to…)
  • The pedophile believes that he is in love with (or simply loves) the child. Sex is merely one way to communicate his affection and caring. (He told me this often, that he was the ONLY one that truly loved me)

 

  • The pedophile intrudes on the victim’s privacy, disrespects the child’s express wishes and personal boundaries and ignores his or her emotions, needs, and preferences. To the pedophile, “love” means enmeshment and clinging coupled with an overpowering separation anxiety (fear of being abandoned).
  • Consequently, pedophiles react badly to any perceived rejection by their victims. They turn on a dime and become dangerously vindictive, out to destroy the source of their mounting frustration. When the “relationship” looks hopeless, some pedophiles violently embark on a spree of self-destruction. (Not self destruction, he was out to destroy me until the day he died, my rejection of him was too much)

I am guessing the purpose of this exercise is to see if I think I am the cause of the sexual abuse. I don’t think that, unless simply by existing, by being born into the hands of a pedophile. I believe he had a target or targets before me and that he had some after me. I did not cause any of that. His emotional instability, his sickness, his need for control and illicit sex as described above, caused the abuse. Do I have some guilt for not screaming, not running away, for believing him, for loving him, for trusting him, for allowing him? Yes I do. But that didn’t cause the abuse. He started grooming me to be sexually abused, started isolating me before I had a chance to make any choice. Even when I was older, none of it was my fault. I managed the situation the best way I could at any given moment, always fearful of his punishments and what might happen. So let’s talk about the effects, as they are extensive and life altering, and I fear I may never recover completely from the emotional trauma during my developmental years.

Safety: I often feel unsafe even when I know intellectually that I am in fact safe. I battle anxiety daily. I feel safest when alone. I am often on edge and vigilant. I do not often take risks, am highly protective of my kids and judge others harshly that do not protect kids (allowing their kids to ride ATVs, watch adult movies, wear skimpy clothes, have social media accounts…) I struggle to do anything outside of my comfort zone, plagued by panic or flashbacks, or what seems like rational fears of ‘that could be too dangerous’. I am physically weak, from a spinal injury, which adds to my feeling of inadequacy, not being able to run away or protect myself. I often feel powerless and helpless each day, waiting for others to help me.

Trust: I do not trust people much at all, and what I do give them can be yanked away at any sign of trouble. I keep everyone at arms length, a protective wall. I have learned to trust some people with some things. Most of my trust is actually sadly negative. I trust people to lie to me and they all do. Some of this is supposed to be socially acceptable and I struggle to accept it. I am always vigilant for scams, stalkers, other potential abusers. If someone is kind to me I first ask why. I trust professional relationships more, like doctors and therapists, though not all of them pass the intelligence and integrity test. I have basically no trust within personal relationships, and basically have never had any other than my marriage. I could never share my horrible secrets with my friends as a kid, and when the secrets came out, all my friends abandoned me. I think on some level I am terrified to be tricked again, to care for another psychopath, even though I know that is not very likely.

Power/Control: This is huge for me. I hate surprises. I NEED control. I need lists, to think ahead, to plan, to be on top of every detail. I used to excel at this, never forgetting anything, obsessively checking my lists and calendars. Oddly the migraines ended my ability to do this and may have done me a favor, allowing me to let go a little. I am only comfortable in relationships or events where I am in control or in charge. I enjoy teaching or public speaking, but not random social mingling. Feeling powerless so often, I try to regain it by being in command. I am good at it. I like order. I like labeling and alphabetizing and color coding and sorting. I married a chaos maker, a piler, a throw it anywhere, don’t clean it up guy. That was hard enough but then being a Mom has overwhelmed me, losing control of my house, losing order, has been difficult. The kids are finally old enough to help out and it is feeling better, less like drowning. I am 100% comfortable with my kids because I am in charge of them, I understand the relationship. I fear how this will change as they get older and I lose that, they will become like everyone else, in that fuzzy area that confuses and troubles me, where control is shared. My marriage is a struggle full of control issues. Many other situations I simply avoid if I can’t control them.

Esteem: I lack esteem. Period. I lack a sense of self. I grew up as property, enmeshed with AF’s needs and feelings, never allowed to have my own. I still struggle to have my own now. I was still in overachiever mode up to the day AF died. And then it slowly faded away, my purpose and drive was gone. I am empty inside. I feel horribly broken and damaged, like I can work my entire life to rewire a few neurons and never gain an ounce of normalcy. The isolation, humiliation, unrealistic demands, put on me by AF were total and prevented me from forming a sense of self or attachment. I was him and did everything as and for him. I don’t feel I exist, and if I do, I am bad, disgusting, rotten and worthless. I try to stop the negative thoughts and voices I hear and recognize the triggers, but there are too many.

Intimacy: You can’t have intimacy without safety and trust, without giving up some control, without feeling you are worth it. I am working on this with my husband, my sister in law, and on some level even my mother in law. That’s it, no one else even makes the list. If anyone reaches out to me in kindness, I cry. I don’t feel worthy, and I suspect them of foul play. Close feelings always bring feelings of betrayal with them, the fear is overwhelming, and I push everyone away. I isolate myself, both out of fear and punishment. People generally do not react well to my inner thoughts and feelings, so I have learned to hide them, to put on a fake smile. I have online anonymous relationships with more intimacy than in real life at times. There can be days sometimes weeks when I can’t be touched, not a hug or even brushing past me in the kitchen, hardly can look at other people, the distress is so high. This includes my husband – the isolation will be complete at those times, I let no one in. I am starting to recognize the triggers to emotional flashbacks that starts this isolation, but I still struggle to pull myself out of it.

 

Next stage of therapy

I want to run again. I want to quit and hide. The urge is so unbelievably strong. I did quit something, couples counseling. I decided I needed to focus on my individual counseling for a while, and I was never totally happy with that counselor, probably mostly because he was a he, but I think his style made it impossible for me to trust and connect wirh him.

 Why do I want to run and hide? Because my counselor wants to know what happened to me, what AF and my brother did to a little girl. She wants me to start writing and saying out loud my most horrific memories in high def detail. I have been to about 20 different counselors in my life. None have asked for this. We discuss events vaguely, generally. We would lump 16 years of sexual and emotional abuse together into non-specific phrases like “he touched me inappropriately” and “I would wake up with him in my bed”. Never have I gone into detail of who did what, what we were wearing, what else happened that day, what my blanket looked like, what he said to me, etc. 

My counselor is giving me the choice of moving forward with cpt (cognitive processing therapy) or pe (prolonged exposure). We discussed and I read about both and I am choosing cpt. I am already familiar and comfortable with the framework. And pe sounds like hell-repeating what happened to me over and over, recording myself telling an account then listening to my recording. I understand the point of desensitization, but I believe discussing it once will be enough for me. I have so many events, thousands of traumas to choose from to retell, I think I need to start with the ones that form flashback images often. 

I feel safe with my counselor. I am not afraid of my memories themselves, but reliving the content is distressing. So it is time to try this, because counselor says it will help, and because I have never tried this.

This first step is to write my memories down. I know which one I want to start with. I have decided to post it here once I write it. My memories are fuzzy but I will do my best to write a detailed account. I thought if I shared it here first it would give me confidence to read it to my counselor, maybe, without passing out.

So why retell a traumatic event? Shouldn’t we just let it stay in the past? Isn’t better as a fuzzy memory without clear details? Won’t writing and telling it make the memory stronger, reinforce it, make the flashbacks worse?

Counselor says no. She says by recounting what happened through cpt, I can process the event, add meaning, address unbalanced thoughts, add adult perspective and emotional capacity that I did not have as a child. I should be able to make these events less powerful, less overwhelming, by feeling the emotions now that a little girl simply could not. Hmmm. Not sure I buy that, seems hokey, but like I said, I will try it because I am curious. And because so far this counselor has been right. So what if it seems hokey if it works. I would try about anything to get my life, my brain, back from this cptsd hell.

You can’t force an uneasy mind

When anxiety takes hold, or even anxiety’s precursor of overthinking, the mind is in a dangerous system overload. A talented pilot can recognize the danger signs and possibly pull up out of the death spiral before stalling out and nosediving. But even the most talented cannot be forced through the anxiety, forced to overcome the fear, to get over it, or snap out of it.

Pulling yourself up out of the grips of anxiety takes awareness, self compassion, and plenty of practice. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to apply the brakes. At some point, it is a lost cause and all you can do is wait it out and breathe. 

The worst thing that can happen to an anxious person, is the addition of more stress by expressing frustration, disappointment, even anger. Yelling and asking the anxious person to rush, to do what they fear, will escalate the anxiety and cause further delay. An anxious person already feels like a freak and would love some gentle, quiet support, some sympathy and understanding, someone next to them so they aren’t so alone.

We feel so alone, so often, and we hate it.

Doing the impossible

Fear, anxiety, panic, triggers…these can make certain things seem impossible because you feel like you are dying or battling lions or jumping out of airplanes. We can’t do it because we have the stress chemicals in our bodies as if we are in a life or death situation. We can try reasoning, you will be fine, and it helps, but is not always enough to overcome how we feel. If you feel like your head is in the mouth of the lion already, you are sweating, heart racing, choking, about to scream, vomit or pass out…saying to yourself, or hearing someone else say “you are safe, you will be fine” seems like a lie. In that moment I have to trust my feelings, it is how our bodies are designed to keep us safe.

So I can wait out this response though, and try not to trigger it to level 10. If I approach something that causes this response in me very slowly, breathe through it, wait until I am calm again, I can keep moving forward.

I have successfully tackled a few items on my avoidance list using this method. I prefer to do it all in one day, but very slowly, rather than repeated exposures on multiple days as my counselor suggested. I use my ability to hyperfocus. 

There was an entire city I was avoiding. I completed an art commission there with an intimidating man. He fooled me and my name got involved with a lawsuit from another artist. I had huge amounts of guilt, shame, and overall feelings of failure. I have avoided the city to avoid seeing my art, avoid running into this man, and avoid confronting my feelings.

Last week I decided it was time to stop avoiding this. I headed to that city and got to my safe zone, about 5 miles away, and pulled over at a park. I stayed there about 20-30 minutes until I felt restless and bored instead of anxious. I drove a little closer until I felt like choking and pulled over at a Walmart. I went in and bought some cookies. I ate a few until I was calm and drove a bit closer. Next I stopped at McDonalds and got some coffee to go with my cookies. This stop took a little longer. I did some writing on my phone to distract me. I drove a little closer and stopped at a movie theater. I looked up the movies and considered seeing one, but nothing sounded interesting or worth the back pain of seats not meant for me. I drove closer and realized I was on the same street now as my art. I was feeling dizzy, so pulled over again and did some breathing exercises and texted my sis in law. I drove again and parked across and down the the street from my art. I could just see it now. I cried. I cried a lot.

I sat there for about 2 hours, looking at my art, crying, feeling hurt, angry, guilty, sad, whatever came up I allowed myself to feel it. I listened to the radio and wrote to online friends. Then another wave would hit and I cried again. Once it was dark and the place had closed, and I was sure I would not run into the owner that hired me, I drove across the street and into the drive next to it to really see my art close up. I have not been here for years. It was in bad shape. Many spots were damaged by weather and many were repaired by less skilled artists. Oddly, this made me happy. It brought me comfort that it no longer resembles my work and I can get some distance from it now.

I drove past it again yesterday with no anxiety, no hesitation, just a bit of sadness, no crying.

So I am learning how to process these huge emotions, stop avoiding so much of my life, and keep moving forward as I heal.

People keep expecting me to be normal

I am far from normal. I used to pretend really well. I used to smile and force myself through each day desperate to blend in, to hide my troubles, to appear normal. It used to be easier, with numbed out emotions, drinking too much, and dissociating. Now that I am present, the world continues to be terrifying and overwhelming. Triggers wait for me around each bend, around each thought at times. 

This is my new normal. I have complex PTSD. I have for many years, but I am in a different stage now. I know it is confusing. You and I both know intellectually this thing, whatever it is today, that I am unable to do is safe, totally not dangerous at all. And yet I have to do mental and breathing exercises to prepare for it. 

Sometimes I get hit with a triggering event or multiple events so fast I am not even sure why I changed my mind until I reflect and fill out ABC and challenging belief sheets later. All I know in the moment is I want to go home or stay home or get out of the room you are in and hide. The shame and fear chokes me.

All I do know is that if you keep expecting me to have normal reactions and act surprised, angry, hurt, confused each time I am triggered, like you don’t know me at all, then my shame is increased. You want me to be better, but I am not. I am sorry.

Same house, worlds apart

I’m here, he’s over there, same house, same room, same sofa, worlds apart.

confused and lost in translation. what are you talking about. I don’t understand. Give me an example.

We know it hurts to use certain words like “you always….” and yet and we always use those words

Sometimes I’d rather say nothing at all in stead of risk you misunderstanding me and having to get on the wheel of pain round and round we go again

but nothing is ever on your on mind

everything is fine??

 

 


Wow – I found this draft in my folder, dated “a year ago” sometime. Sadly the words are still true.  We are not being good to each other. We barely tolerate each other. We attend couples counseling every week but nothing changes here at home. We are so on edge, so impatient, we can’t listen to each other. At some point I stopped looking in his eyes. Sadly I can’t recall when, and when I pointed it out last night, sadder yet, he hadn’t noticed. I stopped because the intensity of looking in eyes, anyone’s eyes, is too much for me to bear, and his are the worst. Too much stress, tension, pain, anger. Too much history there. I actually wondered if I became autistic with all of my eye avoidance, but it reflects my fear of intimacy, I understand it now. I glance at faces to get a quick read on expression, then away again or I get sucked into those emotions, it is too powerful without my shield. The counselors stole my shield, I used to be numb and now I feel it all. But I feel it less if I don’t look directly at others. And I feel protected, like I am hidden in plain sight, if my eyes are not making contact. I feel in control. I need that now, whatever and whenever I can get it.

I try to hope that one day Hubby and I will talk openly with one another, but I really don’t believe this is possible, not completely. I am too afraid to trigger his defense mechanisms and have him lash out at me. Or almost as awful is when I share something and get back silence or a grunt. I know he is trying. I am too. We care about each other. Why is it so hard to just talk?