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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.

 

Core Safety Beliefs

Cognitive Processing Therapy taught me that PTSD has affected my core beliefs in many areas. The first module we covered was safety. Below is the worksheet we discussed in class and an example of the challenging beliefs worksheet completed with a safety issue. This is the one provided for us, not my own feelings. I’ll give my own example a bit further down.

safety

I was not aware until I completed this course how many fears I was/am carrying around. I was not aware that I feared for my safety. I had gotten so used to this fear, grew up with this fear, it was simply a part of me, and nothing I had ever named or examined. I thought I was careful, methodical, a good planner…and did not know these actions were in place to keep me in control and feeling safe. Planning each day and event down to the minute, knowing each route, mapping grocery store trips before entering, making sure I knew everything and no detail escaped my radar. This hypervigilance was normal to me and in place to keep me safe. I preferred to be home alone because I cannot control the behavior of other people and I do everything under the sun to reduce the possibility that I will not be in a situation where my control is taken from me.

safety2

My experience growing up was that those that say they love me are out to harm me. So I developed a defense of never getting close to anyone. I have no fear of strangers. Strangers come and go every day, passing by. I only get hurt by those I allow to get to know me. My wall went up decades ago. None shall pass. I’m trying to let Hubby, my kids, and my in-laws in first. But damn if the alarms don’t keep sounding no matter how much I try to silence them. This isn’t something I can simply decide to do one day. I built this belief slowly and reinforced it my entire life. It will take some time to rewire this one. Once people know the real me, they either have ammunition to truly hurt me, or I’ll be hurt when they leave me. Either way is devastating and seems too high on the probability meter right now. I still feel safer alone. My strongest safety concerns surround my children now, more than myself. I keep myself safe by staying home alone, but I know I can’t do that to my kids. I have to challenge many beliefs to send them out into a world that I know is not safe, but somehow it has always been easier with them, than with myself. Like in my mind they have better chances, or it’s not pointless for them to try. Before this CPT class, I’d never thought about that conflict in thinking before. This new counselor doesn’t allow me to get away with anything. Grrr.

safetychallengeairplane

This airplane example seems so simple because I’m not afraid to fly. As soon as I fill in column A with my own event I get stuck for quite some time, battling my own thoughts, digging deep into analysis, and mostly just “sitting with myself” to figure out what I might be feeling. My safety fears usually center on the fact that I can’t run, can’t walk quickly. I have a huge fear of being chased, needing to get away from someone, or out of a burning building. There are many activities that are dangerous that I don’t do because I can’t do them. I might fear them if I had any chance to do them but my bad back and leg have made it possible to avoid so much: no horses, skating, ziplining, atv riding, motorcycles, hang gliding, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing etc for me.

A. A safety fear I do have is walking alone to my car in a city parking lot at night. I’ve avoided a few outings with friends because of this fear. It’s not every parking lot, only certain ones “feel” dangerous and I’m not sure why. I know part of it is the distance I have to walk, I’ll already be tired and limping. My fear is heightened when I can’t hide my limp, which I try to do always. I have a secondary stuck point related to people knowing what is wrong with me, keeping my secrets hidden, making it impossible to ask for help or let my friends know of my concern.

B. It is dangerous to walk at night, I’ll be an easy target, I can’t protect myself or run away  – 100

C. Afraid-100, Helpless – 100, Alone – 100

D. Evidence against – It is a safe area, no one has ever been attacked in those parking lots that I know of, I wouldn’t be alone it is always busy when we go out, I have never been chased or attacked EVER

low probability – I could be attacked anywhere but it is a very low chance, no reason to fear those lots over other lots

E. emotional reasoning-feeling fear does not mean there is any actual danger

F. I can use my wits and caution to keep myself safer – 80,  and the chance of being attacked or chased is very low or non-existent – 90

G-H. This should be lowered now, but I still don’t feel like this is resolved so there must be another issue to examine and challenge. When I picture myself driving and walking by myself to that lot, it seems impossible, still 100% against it but it seems like it isn’t all fear of safety. I’m also feeling inadequate, like I can’t do it, and ashamed. I would have to do separate worksheets for those. When new emotions come up, it is likely because one event can trigger multiple stuck points, and they can work in levels and layers, one triggering the other in a lovely dysfunctional cascade.

 

Are you Stuck? I am

CPT introduced the concept of ‘stuck points’ to me and at first I was completely lost, confused, skeptical, and thought I could never figure it out. I was amenable to the idea that I may be stuck, that my brain may have automatic thought patterns that get me in trouble with unwanted symptoms. I reluctantly admitted that FINE I do have mental illness, that my anxiety/depression from this c-ptsd is no longer something I can hide or want to hide and I’m willing to listen if these new counselors SWEAR, I mean, cross their hearts and hope to die swear that they know how to help me out this hell hole I am trapped in, well then I will fess up.

I am a mess. I am stuck. I have always been a mess. I’ve pretended and avoided and dealt with pain and panic and terror all of my life.

They say there is another way to live. They say I can get UN-stuck. Hmmm. Yeah right, I think. But I’m curious. So I listen.

Here is what they explained to me about stuck points.

“Basically, stuck points are conflicting beliefs or strong negative beliefs that create unpleasant emotions and dysfunctional or unhealthy behavior. Stuck points can be formed in a couple of different ways: 1. Stuck points may be conflicts between prior beliefs and the traumatic experience. 2. Stuck points may also be formed if you have prior negative beliefs that are confirmed or reinforced by the traumatic experience.”

That’s where the confusion set in. Prior beliefs? What does that mean? I bravely asked my counselor in front of the group, and she explained that this means our beliefs prior to the traumatic experience. We were supposed to be comparing our thoughts, feelings and beliefs from before and after the traumatic experience. Ohhh…wow. OK well that would make sense if I had only one, and if I could remember a life before or without trauma/abuse. But I can’t. My youngest memories at age 3 already include sexual and other abuse. I have NO PRIOR beliefs. All of my beliefs were formed and shaped during trauma. I expained this to the counselor, and saw the room react. Even in a room full of trauma victims, I managed to shock them, and invoke pity, yay me.

So my counselor had to explain stuck points differently for me to understand.

“Stuck points are thoughts that keep us from recovering.  Unbalanced, extreme thoughts we say repeatedly, automatically to ourselves everyday, often in times of stress, and usually when we exhibit avoidance or otherwise self-destructive behaviors.”

I asked her if she meant negative self-talk? Like, I’m a freak, I’m worthless, I can’t do it? She said those can be good places to start, but that stuck points can be about anything and anyone, and we may not recognize it as negative self-talk, but only as self-talk. Hmmm. So I was sent home with a blank stuck point log and told to start listening to myself and which phrases pop up often. It was difficult at first, these phrases were so ingrained that I did not know I was even thinking them. It is getting easier to hear myself now, pull out my log and jot another down. And then sigh. Before I’m so stuck its difficult to see how to get past any one of these let alone this entire sheet of them. A list like this, showing you exactly how messed up you are, is not an easy thing to own. This is not a perfect score and I no longer have any way to run or hide. I get angry and nauseous every time I look at it, and yet I keep somehow looking at it. Because I want to start crossing them off. Blasting them away with maniacal laughter and awesome laser sound effects. Some day…

Well, Here’s my own personal list so far, this is still growing and being refined:

  1. People will eventually hurt me
  2. I can’t get too close to anyone
  3. No one will understand me
  4. All doctors make mistakes and may make it worse
  5. People live double lives and can’t be trusted
  6. Everyone lies
  7. I can’t experience my feelings until its safe
  8. Its not safe to feel emotions until I’m alone
  9. They will think I’m a freak if they see or hear me
  10. No one will accept the real me
  11. I’m a burden to others
  12. I make others uncomfortable and cause them too much pain
  13. I can’t do this by myself
  14. I can’t protect myself
  15. I’m not good enough
  16. I am too flawed, damaged and broken to be mended or ever fit in and have a normal life
  17. Everyone I love leaves me
  18. I’m no fun unless I fake it
  19. I can’t count on anyone
  20. I’m better off alone
  21. It’s pointless to try, it doesn’t matter anyway
  22. If I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, bad things will happen
  23. If I don’t control the environment someone will get hurt
  24. If I don’t think of everything no one else will do it, and something bad could happen
  25. If let others know what I’m thinking or feeling they could use it to hurt me

I’ve found great resources online that helped me when I was confused on my homework, I’ve included some excerpts below from this link Stuck Point Help Sheet from Ryerson

Below are examples that are commonly misidentified as stuck points:

Not a stuck point:  “Trust”
Why not?   This is a concept, not a thought.  It is not specific, and you need to identify what the person thinks about trust.  In this example, you might ask him/her what about ‘trust’ is a problem.
Possible related stuck points:  “I can’t trust anyone.” “If I let anyone get close to me, I will get hurt.” “I can never trust my judgment.”

Not a stuck point:  “I am nervous whenever I go on a date”
Why not?   This is describing a feeling, not a thought.  In this example, you might ask what patients are telling themselves about the date to help them identify potential stuck points.
Possible related stuck points:  “If I go on a date, I will get hurt.”  “People always take advantage of me.”

Not a stuck point:  “I fight with my daughter all the time”
Why not?   This is describing a behavior, not a thought.  In this example, you might ask more about the client’s thinking before, during, and after a recent fight with her daughter to identify possible stuck points.
Possible related stuck points:  “I don’t mean anything to her.”  “I must be in control to keep her safe”

Not a stuck point:  “I witnessed people die”
Why not?   This is describing a fact, not a thought.  In this example, you might ask for the client to describe the impact of witnessing others die.  What thoughts did he have at the time, what thoughts does he have now? Or after that statement asking – And, therefore?
Possible related stuck points:  “It was my fault that people died.”  “I should have done something to prevent it.”

Not a stuck point:  “I don’t know what will happen to me” or (“What will happen to me?”)
Why not?   This is a question about the future.  In order to find the stuck point in this example, you might ask clients when they ask themselves that question, what is the answer they come up with?  What is the meaning of that answer?
Possible related stuck points:  “I will not have a future.”  “I am not deserving of good things in my future”

 

A few reminders about good stuck point structure: 

  • If you are struggling, put a statement into the “If…., then…” format if possible and fill in the blank. For example, “If I had seen the mine, then Joe would not have died”. On the impact statement, you can underline stuck points and put into “if/then” format on the Stuck Point Log.
  • Stuck points are typically black/ white statements, and use extreme language. Extreme language can sometimes be hidden, for example, sometimes when a patient says “It was my fault” they really mean “It was ALL my fault” – the second can be easier to get some movement on.
  • Stuck points are harder to challenge when they are too vague. Make it more specific by asking, “How did you come to this conclusion?  For example, “I trust no one” can be refined to “If I trust others, then I’ll get hurt.”

Examples of Stuck Points

  1. If I had done my job better, then other people would have survived. (assimilated)
  2. Other people were killed because I messed up. (assimilated)
  3. Because I did not tell anyone, I am to blame for the abuse. (assimilated)
  4. Because I did not fight against my attacker, the abuse is my fault. (assimilated)
  5. I should have known he would hurt me. (assimilated)
  6. It is my fault the accident happened. (assimilated)
  7. If I had been paying attention, no one would have died. (assimilated)
  8. If I hadn’t been drinking, it would not have happened. (assimilated)
  9. I don’t deserve to live when other people lost their lives. (over-accommodated)
  10. If I let other people get close to me, I’ll get hurt again. (over-accommodated)
  11. Expressing any emotion means I will lose control of myself. (over-accommodated)
  12. I must be on guard at all times. (over-accommodated)
  13. I should be able to protect others. (over-accommodated)
  14. I must control everything that happens to me. (over-accommodated)
  15. Mistakes are intolerable and cause serious harm or death. (over-accommodated)
  16. No civilians can understand me. (over-accommodated)
  17. If I let myself think about what has happened, I will never get it out of my mind. (over-accommodated)
  18. I must respond to all threats with force. (over-accommodated)
  19. I will go to hell because of the things that I have done. (over-accommodated)
  20. I am unlovable. (over-accommodated)
  21. Other people should not be trusted. (over-accommodated)
  22. My hypervigilance is what keeps me safe. (over-accommodated)
  23. If I have a happy life, I will be dishonoring my friends. (over-accommodated)
  24. I have no control over my future. (over-accommodated)
  25. The government cannot be trusted. (over-accommodated)
  26. People in authority always abuse their power. (over-accommodated)
  27. I am damaged forever because of the rape. (over-accommodated)
  28. I am bad because I killed others. (over-accommodated)
  29. I am unlovable because of [the trauma]. (over-accommodated)
  30. I am worthless because I couldn’t control what happened. (over-accommodated)
  31. I deserve to have bad things happen to me. (over-accommodated).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenging beliefs, cpt example, social anxiety

Saturday was a doozy of a day. One of those days that takes me days to recover from and process it all. I used to recover by disassociating, stuffing the bad feelings down as deeply as possible, distracting myself and moving on ahead as if nothing happened. Like whatever, its fine, it doesn’t matter.

After attending my group therapies, 3 dbt followed by 3 months of cpt, I have new skills to use when these doozy days arise. First I use breathing and mindfulness to stay grounded and present to avoid disassociating. I tune into the bad feelings instead of run away from them. Well mostly. I’m not quite an expert at this yet. Some are still overwhelming and all I can do is bring myself back to the moment later. Next I fill out my challenging beliefs worksheets. If I’m out somewhere, I write a note in my phone and work on it later. Or like today, the events were so big I need no reminder, I know I need to do a worksheet. So I thought I’d do it here and share my thought process.

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Saturday morning started with an argument with Hubby, quite painful and ugly. That will need a separate post and worksheet and I’m not ready to delve into that yet. But it sets the stage for huge amounts of tension between us. It was his only day off this week and he was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of tasks he had to complete. I thought I would get the kids out of his hair and take some tasks off his list.

I decided I could handle taking them to the library and to a playground, it was a beautiful uncharacteristically warm and sunny day. I thought I could also go to the pharmacy and pick up my meds refill. I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t want to shower. I didn’t want to leave home. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want to see anyone. I slowly prepared myself, as I do, calmly getting ready, bracing myself, doing breathing and grounding, not thinking too far ahead to get panic, but far enough ahead to do pre-coping skills. I had not showered in a few days again, this is always hard for me in this depression to get the energy and to simply remember to do it. So I was headed for the shower when Hubby asked me if I could pick up some stamps at the post office.

Apparently my face said no before I did, because he reacted so quickly. He pushed his chair back abruptly and slammed his hand in his lap watching me. My throat was closing and my heart was racing as I felt the panic. I had to breath and count before answering, and telling him I don’t want to. He got angrier. He said something like, Fine, Whatever, ya know do what you want to then, I just thought you could help out, but everything is always on your terms, and I don’t understand. Nevermind I’ll get myself after work sometime. Thanks a lot.

My heart sunk. I felt so misunderstood. I didn’t want to hurt and disappoint him. I wanted to be normal and run normal errands and be helpful. I haven’t been to the post office many years. It is a place I avoid. I’ve never admitted this before because then I would have a problem. I don’t want to have social anxiety. I hate places where you have to stand in line and then tell someone behind a counter what you want. Especially when I don’t know the rules, like where the line forms, what the stamps are called, how much they are, will they need ID, will they ask me for anything else, how long will I have to wait in line, will the other people in line start talking to me, I won’t have a grocery cart in between me and the other people…my mind races with these questions and the anxiety takes over before I have a chance to counter it.

I cried in the shower. I do this often. No one knows, and it is such a great release. I also figured out that I could send my daughter in for the stamps with some cash. She is old enough and would actually enjoy it, feeling like an adult. I did attempt this, but turns out the post office was closed when we got there, it was closed when he asked me to go, so the whole thing, all that stress for nothing.

I could do a worksheet on that event, but that’s not the most distressing, so not the example I’m choosing. It does build up to the other one though, so it was needed for backstory.

The library was similar, I send my daughter in with my youngest to help him pick up new books and return the old. I’m walking so slowly these days, they actually offered to save me the pain, and to save themselves the time of waiting on me. win-win. my kids get me.

The pharmacy was uneventful. I have no anxiety in there. I know the rules. I know where to stand, I give them my cards, I tell my birthday, I sign the form, I pay. No chitchat. In and out. Easy.

Now the next part is complicated. Next was a playground. If Hubby was working I would be taking all my kids to a playground together. But since he was home I thought I would give him the option to join us. He likes to play tennis with the girl sometimes. But with our earlier blow ups, and him seeming so busy he would not commit when I left and he asked if I would check in with him after my errands and before the playground. So I did. I sent a kid in to check if he wanted to come. I should have gone in myself because the message got all confused and I ended up waiting forever. The problem here is that the youngest wanted to go this big cool playground and that park did not have tennis courts, so if he was going to play tennis then we had to go separately and I had no reason to be waiting, he could go when he was ready with her.

So he comes out and tries to get in the van and I try to tell him this, and gets upset thinking I don’t want him to come with us. Sigh. I’m just trying to balance needs and make everyone happy and get out in the sunshine. Why is it so damn difficult? He stomps off to his car ending our conversation, I was going to discuss options. He motions for me to go, so I do, and I make to the stop sign and one of my boys decides he wants to play tennis too. OK, fine, hop out and go with dad. So now it is just me and youngest boy off to the cool playground.

Cool playground is crazy busy. I’m happy to see this so kiddo will have someone to play with now. We start walking towards it, and I see that all of the benches inside are full of parents. Here comes the panic again, damnit. I spot a bench on the outside where I can still watch him but sit alone. I send him inside and sit down. Less than a minute passes and kiddo returns in tears. He says he can’t go in there…He doesn’t know anyone.

Oh for the love of mud!! I just want to go home!! Seriously?? Little dude is afraid to be by himself in there without his big brother and sister. Of course he is. This is the first time he has ever been asked to go in without them! But I can’t comfort him. I am angry. I am angry because I can’t help him. I SHOULD be able to go in there with him and run around with him, push on the swing, chase him a bit, help him feel at ease until he meets a new buddy and forgets about me. But the pain in my back means I can’t climb that structure or push him on a swing. And the anxiety means I can’t even go in there anyway, not with the swarms of people today.

Its not fair. I felt like a horrible mum. I failed him. I was able to do this for the other kiddos, but this youngest guy has gotten a defective mum. I couldn’t even hug him. I put him back in the van – by himself so I didn’t hear him cry. I closed the door and stepped outside and sat on the bench next to the van. I couldn’t take it. It was unbearable to be this helpless and defective. It was all my fault. I caused him this pain. I caused all the problems today. All the confusion. All the extra work for Hubby. I was a miserable excuse for a human and I didn’t know what to do to fix it.

I called Hubby. I tried to explain. He was very confused and thought kiddo was being bad, and having some sort of tantrum. I told him he was afraid, and Hubby said I was projecting my own feelings onto kiddo, and that I should tell him he has to go in or I have to take him home. I knew that was wrong. I recognize fear, and it was natural and developmentally correct for his age. Its me that has it wrong for my age. Emotionally my age is the same as this child – I see it so clearly now on days like this. How much I needed my mom to hold my hand and help me.

I couldn’t do it myself that day, but I wasn’t about to let the day end like that for him. I explained to him that it was ok to be afraid but that my back hurt too much to go in with him today. I told him that after my surgery, we would work on him feeling safe there without his siblings, but not today. So I drove him to the other park, where his siblings were, and let him play there a little while. I explained he would not have much time to play now, once I drove there, and he understood, no more tears, and none when we left, even though he only had about 15 minutes of play time.

My sweet little boy is always so happy and friendly,  I had no idea he had any social fear, and that his strength came from the security of his siblings.

So back to the worksheet now that you know the story.

A. My son (and I) are afraid to go in the busy playground
B. It’s pointless to try, bad things will always happen
I will never be understood by others
I should be able to do more
I am defective, broken in too many ways
I am a freak, I’m not like those other people
C. anger-100
helpless – 100
ashamed – 100
sad – 80
confused – 80
guilt – 90
D. Most of column D is usually a duh for me, of course my thoughts were extreme, exaggerated, unbalanced, based feelings not facts, habits, have much more evidence against than for, but these are my automatic thoughts and reactions that need to be challenged and rewired
E. Again when I look in E, I can see the problems easily. I am aware and understand them. I know how many problems I have at this point. I jump to conclusions often prethinking outcomes and conversations that have not yet happened.I exaggerate effects of my actions making them life or death, like I may have ruined kiddos life at that moment by not going into a playground.I don’t think I ever oversimplify, I tend to overcomplicate as I analyze. I’m often mind reading, assuming I know someones thoughts based on body language, like that I already know I’m so different from EVERY parent in there even though I have not spoken to any of them. I’m often guilty of emotional reasoning too, meaning that since I felt helpless I thought I actually was for a moment. Or feeling ashamed does not mean I have anything to be ashamed about – it is a remnant of my past and the ptsd.
F. This is the most difficult and most powerful part of this worksheet. you take your unbalanced thought, what you say to yourself in B, and rephrase it so that you believe it and its negative power is reduced. My first thought ” It’s pointless to try, bad things will always happen” could maybe be “Sometimes when I try my best, it doesn’t turn out as I hoped, but we can all get through it”. The idea is not to be over the top PollyAnna but to use realistic, coping phrasing.
G. Now revisit those first thoughts, are they still so powerful and believable? No, I suppose it does not seem pointless to try. I did not curl up in a ball and give up and abandon my kid. I may not have handled it as gracefully as I would have liked. I may have other problems preventing me from being the mom I want to be right now. But I’m still his mom, and I still found a solution that worked. When I let go of perfection, I’m able to move forward and feel less defective, less helpless. He is ok, he is safe. we have time to work on his fears together now that I know about it. Hubby said he would take him to play without siblings some time. It was good we identified an issue. He may not have to suffer like me, we have time to help him.
H. anger – 60
helpless – 20
shame – 100
sad – 100
confused – 0
guilt – 90
hopeful – 50

So this worksheet can help sort it all out, reduce the power of the confusing, overwhelming, negative emotions, and introduce some empowering ones like hope by reducing helplessness. I’ve noticed my guilt and shame tend not to go down. Need to work on that in therapy with something else. I also feel sad today, it seems to come after the anger passes.

I did this one without my counselor, so it may be missing something, she usually adds really important insight that I don’t have. Next time I’ll share one that I completed with her help.

When Teaching Goes Beyond Theory

simple yet profound. What if more people were like this mom and like the professor. The mom for not giving up, not staying home, for working hard to get a degree. The professor for understanding her situation and loving his job so much, he will do what it takes to help his students learn. I am truly moved.

Positive Outlooks Blog

The picture says it all! This story just makes you believe in humanity again. Read the short but powerful story below. This was originally posted on Imgur.

prof

“So one of the students came with her kid, because she didn’t have a babysitter. The kid starts to cry in the middle of the class, so his mom, all embarrassed gets up to leave, and the professor took the kid from her, calmed him and continued teaching.”

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On Being Brave

Eloquently written, deeply meaningful. Re-read it to understand. Thanks Zoie, I had to share this

TouchstoneZ

water bowlI have a wild pool of water that has beautiful unpredictable ripples. It reflects a golden light that is more beautiful than anything I have ever seen. The patterns it creates are always changing and endlessly fascinating. I gaze at it with love.

I found the perfect bowl put the pool in. So I scooped up the water. But, my perfect bowl was too small to fit all the water in the pool. Some of it spilled out and was lost. In horror, I poured the water back into the pool.

There is a little less light reflected. There are fewer ripples.

Every time I look at the pool, I see the lack at the sides of the pool. The light and the ripples are a little less and always will be because of my own lack.

I made a mistake that I can never entirely fix.

I mourn for…

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I’ll never be Norm

I have friends now. This fact should be comforting, but it often cause me great distress as I navigate unchartered territory.

I’ll never look forward to joining my friends and living at the bar with them. Although they do often shout my name happily-I will never be Norm. (From cheers in case you are not in US)

One friend planned a surprise birthday party for another friend and invited me and many others in her friend circle. I was happy to get invited, really happy. I made arrangements for kiddos to go to MIL so Hubby and I could both attend.

As the date drew near though, the typical inner hell began to plague me with questions and doubt and anxiety.

What should I wear? Does my hair need colored? Should I get a gift, and what kind of gift? What if I’m late? What if I wear the wrong thing? How late do I need to stay? Am I expected to know something that I won’t know? Will I look like a hermit or a psycho if I don’t know the latest news? What if I don’t recognize someone I have met before?

It was planned to be at a wine bar. OK good, I like wine.

The wine bar is a bit fancier than the bar we usually hang out in, and this friend always makes a fashion statement. so I decide I need some new clothes. All of my dress pants are too tight (curves has given me a bigger waist so far, but not panicking yet, as my metabolism adjusts and I get stronger. It must be muscle it must be muscle. Acually I think I’ve been wearing my sweats and baggies and have not tried to wear dress pants in about a year. Lots can happen in a year) and all my jeans have holes in them or paint splatters. Hubby decides he wants to go shopping with me and get new jeans too. I am annoyed by this but not sure why.

I tell hubby I am feeling anxious and irrationally worried. I tell him I want to stay home. I tell him I don’t feel good enough and I want new clothes but I also don’t feel good enough to deserve spending the money. The last time I bought a new blouse was well over a year ago. And for craps sake I am shopping at jcpenneys. Not nieman marcus.

So there I am. Feeling fat, frumpy, dumpy, cheap and wasteful simultaneously, anxious about being late yet too anxious to make quick decisons.

I look up the wine bar online and check out th
Scene and what people wear. Yup. Def cater to business woman with taste and money. I dont have either.

We arrive at the mall with only 2 hours until go time. I get angry. Now I am afraid I will find nothing and will also be late to the party and ruin the surprise, or miss the surprise if not entirely ruin it. I am angry at hubby for working this morning though I could have gone shopping at any point in the last 3 weeks since getting the invite.

I send hubby to look over there to look for jeans and get annoyed when I have to say my size out loud. I hate my size and pretend I am shopping for my fat aunt. I get the large and am disgusted how my belly pushes the fabric.I get a larger size. Then I want to ask hubby something and he isn’t back yet. I get angry that he didn’t look at anything on his way over there, so we have to walk back to see what is there. I mean really, he should have memorized every item by walking through, right?

I see nothing at the first department store and panic, making me see nothing. I want something cute but not sexy, pretty but not fancy, like business casual, like I care but not too much. And nothing too loud, but also not too plain. I keep seeing crops and capris, and no jeans in sight. I scold myself for not knowing this was the wrong time of year to shop for jeans. I like the capris but it is a very cool day and I already have nice capris.

we go to the other end of the mall, and find nothing there either, but because everything there started at $44. for a t-shirt. sorry no can do. I tried on 6 different pairs of jeans, all the same size, and they ranged from barely making up to my knees to being so baggy I could do Hammer Time. Why don’t they use measurements in women’s clothing like they do in men’s? Now I start hating clothing manufacturers too.

I get upset and yell at hubby that we shouldnt be at a mall.

He asks me why I’m yelling at him. I yell some more and tell him i already explained that I would and I know it doesn’t make sense but I’m scared and angry right now.

Telling him how I feel made it seem normal. I was still fat and had nothing to wear but I was feeling less like a freak.

We go back to the first store and really start looking this time. None of those clothes were there 10 minutes ago. Really. I see clearance racks full of all kinds of cute items. I find my jeans, a bit stretchy to make them soft and comfy but not too much. I find a cute blouse, black and white so I can mix/match easily. A pushy sales lady tries to convince me I really do like this skirt that I attempt to put back on the rack, and I keep saying thank you, that’s ok, I’m fine. ratio of sales ladies to shoppers is 4:1 and I go into evasive action and avoid eye contact.

Now I panic again and feel selfish. I spent all this time shopping for my own clothes and did not get a gift for the birthday girl. This is all Hubby’s fault. Why didn’t he look for a gift while I was trying on clothes? I get angry and sweaty. He looks scared, but he says he saw some pretty jewelry over there . . .Yes! of course! My dancer friends love big jewelry. I pick out a pretty silver bracelet with concentric squares, also on clearance. Woot!

So we get my jeans and blouse, 2 pairs of jeans for hubby, a polo for hubby, and a bracelet for $100. I am extremely happy for about 2 seconds.

I see the time. We are supposed to be leaving home, not leaving the mall at this time. We’re going to be late. I hold back vomit and get blurry vision.

We rush home, I take a college shower, get changed, quick makeup and hair brushing. Hubby prepares gift while I get ready (I didn’t even ask him to! he is thinking efficiently now! I am happy for another 2 seconds.)

Do I wear cute summer shoes? How far do we need to walk? my cute shoes make my limp stand out and I usually lose a shoe with slightly less than Cinderella-like elegance. If I walk slowly and not too far, I can wear cute shoes. But I can’t find the cute ones, so sensible it is.

We arrive at the wine bar 10 minutes later than I wanted to, but before the birthday girl! I am so happy! for 2 seconds. Everyone else is there, and they expect hugs. I make the rounds of awkward hugs – I don’t think I will ever enjoy that – and see the only open seats are next to people that I don’t know. Gulp. So thankful hubby came along so I don’t have to pretend to play with my phone.

Birthday girl arrives, is completely surprised to see so many of her friends there and squeals in delight as she opens her cards and gifts. She loves the bracelet and puts it on right away. I get extra hugs. I am happy that I made her happy and shared this moment with her. And then I don’t know what to do or say. Everyone is chatting and laughing and I have nothing to say. I’m not interested in what I overhear, and pretend to laugh when everyone else does although nothing seemed funny to me. I check my face often to make sure I am smiling – because parties are fun, dammit!

We order tons of wine, which helps some, and we order an amazing dinner, which helped a bunch, and then I counted the minutes to when it was too early to ditch. I caught up with everyone I already knew (Yes the new job is going well, yes the kids are happy school is almost over, did you hear from that guy you liked, I really like your shoes, blah blah blah on and on), met new people (oh you’ve know her since high school, how great, oh you have a job too? how great, oh you have kids too? how great, oh we have so much in common being human and all and friends with the same person, wow)

I admire the metal ceiling and read the wine list a hundred times. I admire the artwork. I see everyone laugh so I join in again.

I really do like people, and care about them. I just don’t understand what is supposed to be fun about ‘hanging out’.