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Timeline

Last week’s homework for therapy was to create a timeline of my entire life including anything major, stressful, traumatic, or highly memorable.

Umm yeah this was not fun. I went back through forty years, year by year and filled in the events. It left me feeling drained. And sad. So much pain there.

We started going through the events together, and my counselor asks questions or for more details about certain events. So far we made it to age 5. I was already tired going into the session. This format is particularly troubling. I feel like I can’t hide anything. Like every secret is coming, and that timeline is the roadmap of doom.

We spent some time discussing the molestation by my brother when I was 5, he was 12. Counselors have never focused much on this, because of my dad’s abuse taking center stage. But it seems I have considerable amounts of shame and guilt surrounding what happened with my brother. I think I have not been able to shift blame onto him like I did for my dad, so I still feel responsible or accountable. We were both kids, more equals than with dad. It is not simple. I want to forgive us both. But I don’t. It makes me feel like a bad person.

So yay, we uncovered the next topic for cpt retelling exposure. I am not sure if I should post that story once I write it. I feel much more protective of my brother than my dad. Or is it my own shame that makes this feel wrong? Have to think about it. 

CPT trauma retelling 1

I feel so unsure about publishing some of the actual details of my past, not for me, but to spare my readers from having to read it. Because I am not there to comfort you, to gauge your discomfort, to see your face as you read, to how disgusted, revolted, terrified you may be.

But for whatever reason, publishing helps me do my homework for therapy. I don’t know if it is the accountability, the knowing it is out there forever, out of my brain and into the world now. And that someone somewhere will understand perhaps. Some silent reader will read my words and not feel so alone. Because as children – we were so horribly alone. And even now, I write these now for strangers online, no one in my real life wants to hear the truth. No one can bear it. I guess I don’t blame them.

So please heed this warning, the next part here is a highly triggering account of child sexual abuse that my therapist has asked me to write as a story. I have never done this before, not like this, not like I am a character in a book. I am supposed to pick one day and describe everything, every sense, sights, sounds, feelings, my thoughts, who was there, and what happened. My counselor helped me pick the first event to write about, one with a high level of emotions attached to it, one that is particularly disturbing.

So here goes. You do not have to read this. But I do have to publish it.


 

I was 12. It was a hot summer day, probably in July, because my spinal surgery was near the end of June. I was released to go home against the doctors’ advice. My father had to sign forms to get me out, he said two weeks was long enough to be in the hospital, it was costing too much to be in there. The surgeon wanted me to go to a rehab place that specialized in physical and occupational therapy and my dad laughed, saying any idiot could do exercise. NO, he would take me home and work with me himself.

So I went home. At that time my left leg had returned to 80% function and my right was 20% nerve signals. That meant I could bear no weight on it and if I concentrated I maybe get my toe to twitch. I was fitted with fiberglass leg brace from to toe that made my jelly leg solid to stand on, like pirate peg leg. It was heavy and painful. I used a walker and dragged my peg leg using my left leg that was not entirely great either.

My back was fused from T3 to L4. I had no pain pills or ice packs or anything. I tried to lay very still. But the pain my leg was worse than my back. My limp leg had a crushing, squeezing pain that gnawed at me endlessly.

We did not have central air in our home, so I would often hide out in my parents’ room, the only one with a window air conditioner. The big bed was also firmer and easier for me to lay on more comfortably. Using a walker on our thick carpeting was extremely difficult, each step had to be carefully planned and was agonizing. I would be sweating and shaking by the time I crossed a room.

I had made it to the big bed, unclamped and removed my brace, no easy feat to do when you can barely bend forward, and sat on the edge of the bed. Then I had to maneuver myself into position. I would put my left leg under the right to help lift it. I would grab my thigh with my hands and at the same time roll myself over into bed trying not to bend or twist my spine while carrying the dead weight of a limp leg.

I would usually have a few silent tears from pain at that point, sweating from exertion. I remember the cool air blowing on me and feeling so good on my bare skin. I usually wore night gowns at home to keep pressure off my spine from any waistbands. I remember how the material would stick to my back and then loosen as the cool air dried my skin. I would lose track of time that way, just being there, trying not to hurt, maybe I slept, maybe my mind created imaginary worlds.

My memory is fuzzy, of course, 28 years later. And I am writing about multiple events that may merge into one, so what happens next may be the same day, or it may be an amalgam of memories from that summer. It did happen multiple times in some way.

Dad came home from work and found me lying on his bed. He was always happy to see me. He would say hello, there’s my girl. And then some stupid joke about me laying around all day and being lazy and laugh that horrible laugh that still haunts me . And then get more serious, like I would never get stronger that way so good thing he was there, time to do exercises.

I never said anything. I tried to smile for him.

He closed the door and came over to the bed. He would start at my toes. Moving impossibly slow, touching every part of my skin, moving them up and down. I was laying on my back and legs were flat out straight. He was at the end of the bed, standing there. He would would move up to my ankles, half caressing, half massaging, rotating, exploring like he was fascinated.

I tried to tense up like I used to do…but I couldn’t. My limp leg let him do anything. I was trapped and he knew it. He lifted my limp leg and cradled it in his arms, caressing and kissing while he bended it up and down at the knee. Each time his hands moving so impossibly slow and higher up my legs. He would comment on how soft my skin was.

I was horribly embarrassed, ashamed, tortured, helpless. I knew he could see my underwear under my night gown when he lifted my leg like that. My face burned despite the cool air in the room. I stared at the dresser or the door, never at him or what he was doing. It would be over soon. That was all I could think.

His hands felt so big and warm on my skin on left leg or arms, but I could barely feel him on the right. It made it easier to disappear and pretend it wasn’t happening.

He was always standing next to bed, hovering over me, looking at me. He would bend my legs up and my night gown fell up onto my belly, exposing my underwear and hips. He didn’t lift it up, always like an accident from the exercises. He continued up rubbing my hips, cupping my hipbone, pressing his fingertips deep into my flesh, waiting for a reaction. He told me about ligaments, and lymph nodes, and why he needed to massage me. He asked “Does it feel good? I know you like it” I never answered. I never said anything ever. He never cared.

He would stand and caress my face, brush my hair back with one hand while the other is on my hipbone and moving towards my underwear. His hands were gentle, touching me on the way to the other leg, was it an accident? Did I imagine it? This isn’t really happening. He would tell me to relax, that my muscles were very tight, and good thing I had him to help me.

His pants would be bulging and hard. He would rub that along me too, my arm, side, leg, pressing hard into me. The feeling sickened me. I would try to squirm away, but it was so hard to move, and he scolded me in his whispering voice too.

Eventually my exercises would be done and he would leave. Just like that, he would just leave me there with my night gown up and me all terrified and not knowing what to do. I would pull my night gown down, roll over with great pain and effort, put on my leg brace, and go have dinner with everyone, seated next to dad, across from mom, next to my brothers. They must have all been home? Was mom busy making dinner? Was I supposed to say please pass the mashed potatoes and oh by the way dad is a pedophile, thanks. No. I think I thought they all knew and didn’t care. I hated them all and myself more. I was so angry and ashamed. I wanted to burn up and disappear.

 

Discarded

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I’ve been thinking all day yesterday, all last night, and I finally figured out the word I need to describe how I felt  when I was 16. Discarded. Like trash.

Here is my attempt to process this event using ABC format – Event – My thoughts – My feelings.

I’ve been thinking for years I made a horrible decision in telling my mom about the abuse and asking to move in with her.(column A) I have thoughts like – I should have kept my mouth shut, my life would be better if I stayed quiet, I was stupid for thinking people would help me, my reality is too terrible for other people to handle… (column B)

I feel angry at myself still for this decision to speak up, to get myself out of AF’s home. I am thinking I only had one more year of high school, it would have been better if no one knew and I finished with my friends instead of losing everyone. (column C)

I feel angry at all of the adults in my 16 year old world that mishandled the situation. I should have been protected. They should have known what would happen socially and emotionally, but they were doing their job to protect me physically, that’s it.(column C)

I feel ashamed when I remember the looks of everyone who suddenly knew my secrets.(column C)

I feel guilt for keeping the secret, and also for not keeping it, for betraying AF. (column C)

I feel overwhelming sadness for that girl and what she endured, how alone she truly was. (column C)

There is no part of me that believes my mom did not know about AF’s abuse, that he was touching me all day, leaving her bed to come to mine at night. But denial is strong and she chose not to believe it or act on it until the day I said to her “He touches me”. That’s all I said, she did not ask for details. Because I am sure in heart she already knew.

My boyfriend had encouraged me and said I had to do it – He is the reason I spoke up at all, not for myself, but for him. He couldn’t stand the thought of me living with him any more. I was so confused and conflicted. I was trying to build a relationship with this boyfriend but it was impossible, all these barriers that I didn’t understand then but I do now. I fell for this boy, deeply, painfully, and so I wanted to do the right thing  – for him. Of course he broke up with me after all this happened, after he pressured me to sleep with him. He was a year older and said he wanted to be “free” at college. Lucky him. Getting to be free.

Here is the part that may be difficult for anyone other than an abuse survivor to understand. I didn’t want to leave AF. I didn’t want him touching me, but he didn’t do that much any more – I was hardly ever home and I think he preferred younger girls (gross, vomit, but I think true). I also think I was more difficult to control now, as I grew older and gained independence he lost some of his power over me and tried less often to exert it. But listen closely – I loved AF. I needed him. (I feel the worst guilt, the worst torment over this, how will I ever forgive myself for needing what this foul creature offered me??)

He was the only human connection in my life – he designed it that way, remember? We were actually very close and talked about everything with no boundaries. I understand this now, the enmeshment, but back then it felt like he truly cared about every detail of my life. He needed to know everything to control me…but it felt good to tell him everything because there was no one else. Above all I wanted to make him happy, to please him, to make him proud of me. My overachieving was an effort to escape his punishments but also to gain his approval because sometimes he did show me warmth and those moments were amazing. People will do anything for a few moments of warmth, to feel connected to another human, to feel accepted – we are wired this way – and AF  took full advantage of this my entire childhood. Anyway, I am trying to explain that I did not want to move out of AF’s home and into my mom’s, I did not want to leave the only person that accepted me, that talked to me. I feared my mom, I feared that she did truly hate me, and only met me out of obligation from the court order. Our conversations were always surface level, like strangers discussing the weather, we were not a part of each other’s lives. Until I said those words, “He touches me”, then suddenly she was to be my mom, my actual mom, and life was never the same. Sadly I cannot say it got better, and in many ways it got worse.

Child Protective Services came to my school and pulled me out of class, in front of everyone, to interview me, no, to interrogate me in the principal’s office, where he looked at me with such pity. They asked me to tell them exactly what AF had done to me. I froze, unable to speak. So they asked me a series of disturbing questions to which I could say yes or no. “Did he ever kiss you?” “Did he ever put his tongue in your mouth?” “Did he ever take your clothes off?” “Did he ever take pictures of you?” ….you get the idea. It was horrible, humiliating, traumatic, terrifying. I think I answered honestly but I don’t recall, I think I dissociated at some point to avoid passing out.

Sent back to class, kids asking me what that was about, I think I told them it was a custody battle, that my mom wanted me to move in with her. At some point that week, everyone knew. I don’t know how. I don’t know who told my secret. My mom? My best friend? My best friend’s mom? A teacher? Did someone overhear a conversation in the office? I just don’t know. All I know is that at some point, the hallways became easier for me to walk down, because the other kids stepped aside as if I had the plague. They stared, they made nasty comments, they laughed, they stopped sitting with me in class or lunch. Some of my friends’ parents actually yelled at me for not speaking up sooner, angrily scolding me, publicly shaming me, for endangering their kids, for allowing their kids to come to my house. No one was allowed to come see me or talk to me any more even though I was now at my mom’s. This sent me the message that it wasn’t AF, but me that was bad, disgusting, damaged and might somehow hurt their kids. I absorbed that deeply on top of the message AF had already planted there. None of those other adults reached out to me and said AF was horrible, not me. Some actually said they knew AF for years and I must be lying, he wouldn’t do that. Others said nothing, but looked at me from a distance with such pity that I wanted to melt and disappear.

So I did. I disappeared. I withdrew from everything. I stopped trying to talk to anyone. I brought headphones so it seemed my choice to not talk when I sat alone. I worked in the art room during lunch to avoid no one wanting me. Then I found the program to attend classes at a local college. I had completed my high school credits already, I was in all AP classes anyway, so this was perfect. I left. I disappeared and no one noticed.

I have never had a friend, other than my husband, since then. 24 years of isolation to both protect myself and punish myself – simultaneously. Again, a duality that only a survivor understands.

Great ABC sheet handouts with explanations

Dizzy means its working

When we approach tough topics in therapy, I get this odd dizzy feeling, like right before you pass out. I guess digging up old memories and reconnecting the feelings is so overwhelming, like system overload. If we go slowly and tackle topics I have tackled before, I almost enjoy the tingly, dizzy, disorienting feeling I can now recognize. It must actually be neurons forming or firing, or something, I have no idea, no science for this feeling. I may research it one day. Or I may not I don’t know. But I do know if we tackle topics that hit me unexpectedly, my head actually hurts. The dizzy is more like a fiery wave of hammers expanding in my skull. It gets difficult to see and to sit upright, then I struggle to breathe, and then I lose control. My emotions break free, I shake, sweat, cry, moan, twitch, try not to vomit.

This happened today when we explored a thought I still have, that I would be better off if I never told anyone about AF and finished high school with my secret in tact. I felt the shame I felt as a 16 yr old, ostracized, hated, alone. My therapist asked me how it felt when kids that used to be my friends looked at me with disgust and fear and pity…I felt today what I was never able to fully feel then. I thought I might die a moment, but I didn’t. I did stifle it though, it was too much. Way too much. So we get to explore this topic again next week. She said I am not done feeling it and have more to process.

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.

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.

What exactly is a good person

L0003666 An apothecary praying for a host of illnesses to descend on

Ever stop and think about the line between good and bad? I have been struggling with some stuck points of mine related to unbalanced thoughts regarding bad people, and being bad.

I have a strict moral compass, super strong unrelenting high standards, and a clear sense of right and wrong. This is not what I am questioning here today. What I’m thinking about is how many times can a good person do bad things before that person becomes a bad person? Is it a spectrum and a matter of degrees? Does it depend how bad the bad thing was? So a quality issue? Or how many, a quantity issue? Or a combination?

I’ll give some examples here.

The picture above shows a man praying, which appears to be a good thing, until you get an inner glimpse that he praying to ask for illnesses to befall his neighbors so that he will make more money selling medicines.

People are not always what they seem. All I know is what I aim for within myself, and that I try to be so good, that I actually strive for perfection, although I know this is not possible, but I can’t seem to stop striving. My stuck point, and core belief system tells me that if I do something bad, that I am now a bad person. And I don’t want to be a bad person, every cell in my body wants to be good.

So when someone tells me, for example, that I have hurt their feelings, I am sent into a shame and self loathing cycle that forces me to withdraw, to isolate myself, to remove my disgusting self from all humans rather than continue to subject humanity to my horrible self.

Extreme? Unbalanced? Yes. For sure.

But I didn’t see it that way until my counseling session today. I was explaining to my counselor this particularly stressful dynamic I have with Hubby, that I have mentioned here before. How he has a strong defense mechanism, his own trigger, to anything that he may perceive as criticism and he suddenly yells and lashes out angrily usually with harsh words to me. I always used to say he had a hot or quick temper. I always used to blame myself for saying something wrong. Now I understand it is his own stuck point and automatic reaction for feeling he isn’t good enough. Problem is, his lashing out then triggers my shame response and has me thinking I am a bad person and trying to figure out what I did wrong so  I don’t do it again.

It is only recently that I am seeing that I am not doing anything wrong. He is highly sensitive in this area and his reaction has nothing to do with me personally. OK I get that, but I can’t seem to stop this horrible shame response, which can last hours, sometimes days depending on how bad the interaction was, or how many we had in a row. I push him away, retreat to my safety bubble – to myself safe and OTHERS safe from me. While I’m in my bubble, Hubby feels the distance and feels rejected and like I am punishing him, when I am actually punishing myself. And round and round we go.

So my counselor said the most beautiful thing to me today to get me a little unstuck. I have completing my challenging beliefs worksheets but not getting movement on this cycle. I am trying to be self responsible and work on my reactions rather than waiting for Hubby to change his. I said I keep getting stuck because it feels like he is blaming me for something I didn’t do, so I feel like a bad person, but then it seems unfair because I can’t find the error, I can’t find what I did that was bad.

My counselor said to me, “It may be possible that sometimes you have said or done nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ to trigger his reaction and that no matter what he was going to be triggered. It is also possible that you communicated something nonverbally, in your tone, facial expression, or body language. It is also possible that you said something ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ FOR HIM. However, what you are missing here, is that sometimes, actually often times, good people do bad things. Actually good people often do really shitty things, and still remain good people. Are your children bad people when they behave badly?”

My jaw dropped. I twitched. I cringed. I almost cried. “No they don’t – good people don’t do bad things…and kids are still learning, adults should know bettter” I heard myself say immediately. Um yeah. Stuck point city. In my unbalanced world, good people do good things and bad people do bad things, so whenever I venture even a toe, even accidentally onto I have done a bad thing property, I am a bad person. I crossed the line.

This happens for me for other people too. Red flags go up quickly with alarms bells. You lied to me – you might be a bad person.  You didn’t follow the rules – you might be bad person. You are selfish – you might be a bad person. You talk too much – you might be a bad person.

I have always known I was judgy, that I push people away quickly, that I am intolerant of their mistakes as I am of my own.

I guess I made that line awful strict to protect myself, and it may be time to erase the line and build a spectrum with fuzzy edges. I was hurt, no devastated and crushed by a bad person, so I have been on the lookout ever since in case I encounter someone like him again. But I am beginning to realize, that all humans are seriously flawed and do stupid things that are not necessarily bad things. I will try to accept the next step, that even if they do bad things, it may not outweigh the good.

People (including me!) may lie, break some rules, be selfish, rude, annoying, whatever. Most people are just trying to get through each day just like everyone else. They might do some bad things on occasion as they sort through life’s ups and downs. I need to apply my understanding and patience that I have for children to everyone. Because everyone is still learning how to navigate through life, there is no magical age where we ‘get it’ and everything is suddenly clear.

(photo credit: See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Fighting job hunting worthlessness

Unemployed. Isn’t that a nasty word? It is to me. Synonyms could be lazy. Good for nothing. Moocher. Freeloader. Waste of space. 

Worthless.

I know those aren’t my words and as much as I don’t apply those beliefs to others, I still do for myself. My own standards are higher. I still feel driven, this need to impress and succeed, or I feel like nothing.

I have started job hunting and I’m trying to be realistic and gentle on myself. My energy is not high. I need something flexible with minimal stress and hours. I tell myself this is temporary. That one day I may apply for those more ambitious and desirable jobs again. But I’m not so sure I’ll ever be ready. So I try to focus on me now, to process the unbalanced thoughts of needing to be perfect, comforting my sadness when I feel worthless.

I keep trying to tell hubby, but he doesn’t get it, and I stop, too ashamed to continue. I tell him I don’t like job hunting. He says, yeah its frustrating. I sigh. I have no way to explain the depth of this pain. How much it hurts to be triggered by my failure stuck point with each job post I am not qualified for, or worse, so much worse, when I apply for a job I didn’t really want but get rejected.

This hurts. Frustrating would be much more manageable. 

And hubby doesn’t know how much it hurt when he asked if the job boards were full of the same sh*tty jobs as usual. Because I am applying for those crappy jobs…and not getting hired. Which means I’m even crappier.

Hubby also doesn’t know how difficult it is for me to contain my jealousy as he talks about work. I try to be supportive, but some days I don’t want to hear his hero, he saved the day at work stories. Because all I did was scrape cheese off the dishes here at home. I know I am working in my trauma recovery program, but it doesn’t feel the same. I don’t feel like a hero or a problem solver. I think I am guilty of applying the stigma to myself. Hmm. Because I don’t feel proud, or even share with my family what I do in counseling. I don’t come home and say “I finally had some movement on a tough stuck point today…” nope. My kids don’t even know I am in counseling.

So I’m tackling this  job hunting like exposure therapy. I’m doing what I don’t want to do, every day, and experiencing every negative emotion slowly, then bringing myself back to center, slowly, using my new tools. 

I’ll keep at it. Eventually someone will hire me, and eventually maybe my self worth as a human won’t be connected so completely to my ability to make money. I am not going to go numb or put on a fake smile. This hurts. So I will feel the hurt and recover. I don’t have to like it. But I do need it to stop destroying me.

The White Coats are Coming

lab_coats

I mean Doctors, not mad scientists, because I’m much less distressed about scientists in general. But Doctors? Doctors offices, hospitals, Eeek, gulp.

OK, I sound like I’m kidding, because I do that to lessen the intensity for myself. But seriously this is the next stage of my homework for individual counseling. If you recall I had created a list of situations that cause me distress, and then rated the situations using the 0-100 SUDS, subjective units of distress scale. We noticed that I had some doctor related situations on my list with different ratings. I told my therapist I wanted to start with doctors because I view that as more of a necessity than some of the other social situations. I can’t ask Hubby to go to the dentist or gynecologist for me – I kinda have to do that myself, and it would be great if I could do it with less distress. I’ve always managed to go…eventually…if I have to…and then my heart is racing, I sweat through my clothes or the paper gown, I shake in fear, I can’t sleep for days, I can’t eat or binge eat…I don’t manage the distress well. And because these are not daily situations, I can build up loads of anxiety for the next time, never getting exposure and practice like I do for say the grocery store. Certain situations have never become easier – I simply (ha, simply, she says) grit my teeth and get through it without passing out somehow.

So I’m supposed to break down all of the situations related to doctors and make a new list with SUDS ratings, getting as specific as possible. I have a few ways I can think of to organize this list or it would already be done. I’m not sure if it is more helpful to group by type of symptoms and SUDS rating, type of doctor/situation, or by my fears. Let’s see what happens.

 

Before the appointment is made:

  • Deciding it is an important issue (50) – I get annoyed with the hassle, feel fear what if I ignore a really bad problem, don’t trust my judgment what if this isn’t a problem at all, what if no one believes me or understands me, probably no one can help me anyway
  • Calling receptionist to make an appointment for myself or my family (40) – What if I commit to a date and something else comes up or I forgot about something else or we don’t have the money that day or I don’t feel well and can’t drive that day
  • talking to Hubby about money/schedule (80) – How do I explain my concerns without blaming him or over worrying him but get his input and support, and I might need him to drive me and get a day off of work and I hate asking too much I feel like such a burden and a pain in the butt, why can’t I do this stuff myself, I should be working and not depending on him so much right now
  • Can’t sleep several nights before appointment as I start to imagine and prepare (80) – The nights are really long and I try to relax but it gets worse, and I have nightmares when I do fall asleep
  • Get ready very early and slowly, trick myself one step at a time to stay calm (80) – I can’t rush at all or the anxiety will overwhelm me. I learned to give myselm time to move slowly, dress slowly, check and recheck my pockets and purse so I don’t forget anything, check my map, do calming breathing, drive slowly, and arrive early

 

Stressors at the appointment

  • Driving to unknown location for first time (80)
  • Driving to known location (10)
  • Arriving Late to appointment (90)
  • Forgetting something (wallet, insurance card, phone, etc) (90)
  • germs in the office, signing in touch the shared pen, people coughing near you in waiting room (80)
  • public weighing (60)
  • confusing or triggering forms to fill out with history – how much to share? (80)
  • nurse/doctor might not understand my problem (60)
  • I might be asked to undress (80)
  • I might be touched without warning (100)
  • some touching can be triggering – dentist hovering over me, ob/gyn exam (100)
  • if they hurt me i lose even more trust, hard to speak up (100)
  • new doctor – I don’t trust them yet or know what they will ask me to do (80)
  • I have to share private details about myself (80)
  • I ask for certain tests/labs and feel frustrated doctor didn’t think of it – are they idiots? (70)

 

Types of appointments

  • family doctor in town (20) – 5 min drive, been there many times, low confidence in doctor abilities for anything complex but trust to monitor vitamin D and cholesterol
  • pediatrician (50) – 30 min drive, high confidence in doctors, rarely go unless kids aren’t getting better or I know they need vaccines or other issues discussed, high fear of other germs in the office
  • my dentist (80) – 30 min drive, high confidence in ability but feel they overcharge and attempt to oversell and I hate saying no, I hate laying down in the chair while they surround me, it always hurts no matter how much novocaine is used, I feel ashamed for having bad teeth and eating candy, one hygienist knows my neighbor so there is lack of privacy too
  • back doctor (40) – 2 hour drive, hubby always goes with me and usually drives so I don’t get too tired/overwhelmed, high confidence in doctor, they don’t hardly touch me, I undress in private for xrays, everyone is kind and professional
  • neurologist for migraines (30) – 2 hour drive, hubby drives me, no touching at all, no undressing
  • botox for migraines (80) – 2 hour drive, hubby drives me, triggering position as I lay down and doctor hovers over me, procedure is fairly quick but fairly painful with 50 injections in my face, neck, head, shoulders like many beestings
  • dentists for kids (20) – 1 minute drive, no one touches me, low stress
  • optometrist (20) – 30 minute drive, no touching, once every year or two as needed, ask for dilation instead of air puff
  • urgent care center (60) – do I really need to go? it is super expensive so I don’t trust my own judgment vs fear, can it wait. minimal touching depends on what is being examined.

 

Stressors after the appointment

  • I don’t trust diagnosis and do my own research before filling Rx or doing next steps (80)
  • I don’t schedule followup if I feel fine – waste money (30)
  • I feel guilty for not following doctors orders (30)
  • waiting for lab results creates anxiety and then I feel like a failure if something is wrong, like a bad grade (60)
  • feel guilty spending money on Rx (50)
  • pick up candy with meds at pharmacy (40)
  • might get frustrated with pharmacy if meds aren’t ready on time (40)

 

(photo credit: By Pi. from Leiden, Holland (Lab 15 – Lab Coats) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)