Tag Archive | counseling

Starting in vivo exposure, sort of

But I don’t want to start this stage and I’m not sure I even agree with what my counselor has assigned for homework this week. I’m trying to decide if I am fighting it because it will be difficult, or because I think it will be stupid. I am so annoyed right now it is feeling like the latter is more likely.

Counselor looked over my white coats distress list and said we should start with an item that has about 20-30 SUDS rating. It should also be something I can do daily for about 20-30 min to see a reduction in my SUDS rating with more exposure over time. Ok…makes sense in theory.

She selected my event of calling doctor’s offices to make appointments. Hmm…my first thought is I don’t have that many appointments I need to make, and how on earth is a phone call supposed to last 20-30 minutes? And my distress is not related to speaking on the phone itself, it is about the quick decision of committing to something on the calendar. And it is low distress, not something I avoid or even get too concerned about. This seems pointless to work on except I know it eases me into the process for tackling higher distress items.

So she actually recommended that I create reasons to extend my phone calls, like asking the receptionist to wait while I grab my purse or answer the door. I really can’t bother and annoy these poor people with fake situations. I won’t do that. I think it is silly.

She also recommended calling and making fake appointments, then calling back and canceling. This feels like lying and seems a waste of everyone’s time. How is my distress supposed to go down if I am worried about lying and the situation is not authentic? I don’t like this. It seems like she is force fitting this ill advised plan, and my confidence in her is considerably shaken.

I don’t see the benefit to her plan.

I will go ahead and schedule some appointments that need scheduling and document my calls, using my new skills and awareness while I call. I will complete a challenging beliefs worksheet for any stuck points I encounter.

But I refuse to make fake phone calls and stall while on the phone just to log air time. The science isn’t sound here…can’t connect the dots.

Consumed by fear

When did I begin to fear my world more than live in it? I don’t actually know for certain.

I just tried to take a walk outside, around the block in my quiet little town.

The further I got from home, the tighter my skin and muscles felt, the harder it was to keep my breathing slow. We made it down our street to the main street and  I jumped with every passing car as if it were gunshots. The wind in the trees sounded ominous even though it was actually a quiet breeze.

Everything in me wanted to go home. I could hear, see, feel, smell everything a million times too strong. Hypervigilance.

I was wishing hubby would make some conversation to distract me. I was struggling to keep myself grounded.

Then a dog jumped and barked. I screamed. A bloody murder scream. All the tension in me rose up and turned into full panic. I was done. I froze in my tracks. I needed to go home.

Hubby was actually clueless somehow, said something about how peaceful the evening was and he was enjoying the walk. I could barely talk, but said my anxiety was at an 8. Hubby said ohh, wow, he didn’t know, sorry we could be so different.

Again I was wishing hubby would help me. Help me focus, ground, breathe. We walked back home in silence and he says he needs a bath. Which means I’m left to recover alone. And get the kids in bed myself. I was tired from the panic, but also feeling foolish. I did not know I was so afraid to simply go outside. I was fine shopping and at the doctors, so I didn’t know I was afraid to walk on my sidewalk.

I will add this to my list for individual therapy goals, as well as discuss it during couples counseling tomorrow.

Empty

Ever look deep inside and realize there is nothing there? A vast hollow vessel full of only echoes but nothing of substance?

I’ve graduated from my cpt group. So now I’ve completed two intensive group therapies, one with a dbt focus and this recent one was cognitive processing. I’ll think about sharing some of the exercises we completed but not today.

Cpt has taught me to feel the pain. It taught me exactly how much is excruciatingly wrong with me and allows me to feel it, and name it. The counselor calls this progress, and I suppose I’d see her point if it wasn’t me having to feel it. Honestly I’d rather return to the nice even numbness I had going for nearly four decades. It was more tolerable than this awareness. Of knowing what’s wrong with me so clearly now. Seeing the path ahead, I’m not afraid, but I’m not motivated. I see no point. I feel like a car totaled in a crash…best to junk it and get a new one. Or a condemned house needing demolished. I no longer think its possible to grow roots in this emptiness. I don’t dare dream any longer. I continue through this treatment program asking them to do the impossible. I’m asking them to help me to want to live, for me, for my own sake, not only clinging to a thread for my kids.

I’ve realized I have no sense of self. This is worse than no self esteem. I actually think I’m talented, smart, pretty, good at many things. But I have no value because I have no existence. You’ll either understand or you won’t so I won’t try to explain much more. Just to say it is apparently a parents job to instill a sense of self in a child. Mine wasn’t stolen by abuse, it was never instilled at all. I was never a separate, valuable human.

Like a slave, outcast, an untouchable, an invisible ghost only used and abused.

I’m starting the individual portion of my trauma recovery program now that the group work is completed. My counselor seems to actually understand a traumatized brain and has a structured program, saying I’m not a lifer, therapy will end one day, and one day I’ll have less PTSD symptoms and more living. I want to believe her.

We established some goals and metrics to get us started so our sessions stay on track. I feel like I wasted so much time and money on past counselors not trained in this traumatic stress program. But I didn’t know, no one knew. I’ve absorbed so much knowledge its going to be difficult to relay it all here.

I’m not who I was a few months ago, my brain is changing.

Rehab and Serenity – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 4

1986 was very difficult for my family. My brother was living in a drug rehab facility, and we were attending weekly, all day family support sessions. It was intensive counseling to support every member of the family, which pissed off my Dad entirely. He did not buy into any of this psycho mumbo jumbo garbage, and didn’t think we should all have counseling and suffer because of his one messed up son. I do think he attended each week though, because my family was all about appearances, and would only show grace and charm to outsiders. I also think it was a condition of my brother’s release with no jail sentence.

The support sessions used a divide and conquer strategy. Each of us went into a different breakout group in the morning, based on age, and then back together to share in the afternoon.

I recall one breakout group, the counselor gave us little kids a paper and asked us to draw our family, but, and this is a big but, we were supposed to rank our family members in closeness and trust. I was in fifth grade. I drew my dog at the top of the page, bigger than anything else. Dad had let me pick out a puppy over the summer, after our old dog died (because my Dad poisoned it, but that’s a different story) and was threatening me daily to return that dog to the pound. I was not having much luck training my puppy (on my own as a 10 yr old), and she was wild, and growing bigger by the minute. I was so determined to save that dog’s life, not to have it hurt or abandoned by my Dad, so it was top of my list. My cats were next – I told them everything, and they hugged me anyway. And then my brothers, and then my parents. I still remember the counselor looking at my paper in shock, open mouthed. I asked if I did it wrong? He said No. But then he patted my shoulder and gave me a look I did not understand until many years later. He knew how messed up my family was, but could not say what he was thinking.

Mornings usually started with a video. Every morning I would struggle to keep my eyes open, as a video showed corny stories about families in trouble, but always coming together for each other in the end. I knew these weren’t real. Real families did not love each other or hug or talk openly. My head would nod as I struggled to focus, in the darkened room. I think that is when my sleep troubles started full force. I was staying up at night to keep my Dad out of my room, finally realizing at this age that he should not be touching me, and feeling like I was completely to blame for it. This was when I learned that sugar and caffeine helped me stay awake. We didn’t have time for breakfast at home, so I always brought some change for the vending machines and had M+M’s and Pepsi throughout that video to stay awake and pass the quiz on it later. I also learned to tap my finger nails into my thumb – a nervous act I still do today to remain present.

We always had one hour with my newly drug free brother. We would talk about how he wasn’t supported in the past, and how he needed our help to stay off drugs when he returned home. We learned how he was an invisible middle child, My oldest brother was the Super-Star, My other brother was the Angel, and I was the scapegoat. I thought it was all stupid. I felt insulted that they thought they knew anything about me. But I answered every question the way I knew they wanted me to. I noticed everyone else did that too. I don’t think any of us spoke an ounce of truth during any of these sessions. We all had secrets, and we all had years of practice keeping them hidden.

Each day ended with a group hug – for at least 30 seconds, ugh, stop touching me! – and the Serenity Prayer. I learned to hate that prayer. I still cringe when I hear it.

At the time, I felt this prayer meant I had to accept every terrible thing in my life. I felt powerless as a child. I did not gain the wisdom to know the difference until just a few years ago. This is a terrible prayer for an abused child from a dysfunctional family. My mom bought a plaque with that awful prayer on it and hung it up in our dining room. I would look at my brother’s empty seat, look at my abusive father who insisted I sat next to him, look at my mom, too afraid to eat in front of us because her husband called her fat, and then I’d look at that plaque and ask to leave the table. But I had to clean my plate or hear about kids in Ethiopia, so I ignored my urge to vomit and mechanically shoved in all the food. Each bite made me more numb, and numb became my status quo for years. Fine I thought – I may have to accept my life – but I don’t have to feel it. That’s when I started disassociating mind and body and mentally living somewhere else fairly regularly.

I assume my brother did the same, lived mentally elsewhere, or maybe the schizophrenia was doing it for him, now that drugs could not.

 

Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 3 – Drug Abuse

I remember answering way too many phone calls from the police station, asking for my Mom to pick up my brother. Speeding. Theft. Vandalism. Throwing bricks at moving cars on the highway-cracking windshields and causing accidents, but no deaths yet. Possession of drugs and drug Pairs of Fenala (I had to look up paraphernalia in the dictionary). My Mom searching his room after one of these phone calls, and tears coming steadily down her face,  and gathering all kinds of strange items, like pipes and vases (bongs) and bags of powder and grass from under his bed and in his closet. I would always just watch silently, trying to figure out what was happening in my house, but no one ever talked to me. Except to tell me not to tell anyone about anything.

Then one day, my Mom started packing my brother’s clothes into a suitcase and put it in the trunk of her car. Then she waited for my brother to come home and told him we were going out for tacos – something my brother still can’t resist. But we passed up Taco Bell. She said she wanted to try a new place, that we all needed a change. My brother said “whatever”. But he didn’t know about the suitcase in the trunk. I was so confused, but again, just stayed quiet. We pulled up to what looked like a hospital. Then she said to my brother, “They are expecting you. We want to help you. If you walk in there willingly, they won’t send you to jail. Please. Just walk in. There are guards that will catch you if you run. I don’t want you to get hurt.” I saw two huge men dressed all in white, but holding handcuffs. My brother turned around and looked at me in the back seat, a long, ghostly, searching look – but I had no answers for him. Then he looked at my Mom, and just got out and quietly entered the building. The two men grabbed his arms and escorted him away. My brother never looked back. Another man came out for his suitcase, and asked my Mom to sign some papers, but told her it was better if she just left. My mom took one last look at the door my brother entered and got back in the car to take me home. I hated her. I loved my brother. How could she give him away?

On the way home, we talked very little. We both cried – mine of out fear from not knowing, and her from fear of knowing her son had a drug problem. But all she said to me was, “Your brother needs help. They can help him here. We’ll come to visit him soon.”

The next day at school, my teacher asked me if I was OK. I was angry and embarrassed that she thought I wasn’t. Apparently my Mom had called her and explained that I needed to go to an intervention today and then will need to go every Wednesday to attend family counseling at the drug rehab center. I heard this from my teacher – not my parents. This teacher had taught my brother years ago and was “not surprised at all”.

I had no idea what an intervention was, but I was fairly excited to get to leave school. Although I was a perfect student, school was a long, tortuous, boring ordeal. My mom picked me up, and we drove, in silence, to that building where we abandoned my brother. This time we parked and went inside. My Dad was inside with my other brothers. We were all taken to a quiet room, and given instructions. We were supposed to convince my brother he had a drug problem, and to do this, we were supposed to list out everything he had done wrong recently. Things that were harmful, hurtful, or out of character for him. I didn’t want to get my brother in trouble, and I didn’t want to tell this stranger anything. The counselor handed out papers and pencils to write out the events, then left the room for a while. When he returned, he brought someone who looked like my brother, but seemed like only his outline, or his physical form. It seemed that his spirit had been removed. His eyes were cold and blank. He looked around the room at his family as if we were all strangers, and sat down in silence in the chair in the front of the room, facing the rest of us.

Then the counselor asked us to start reading our complaints. One after one, we all took turns listing his wrongs. Each comment made him flinch, like we were throwing knives at him, but stared stonily at the floor. My mom said “You stole money from my purse”. Flinch. My Dad said “You are failing your classes”. Flinch. My oldest brother said, “You kissed my girlfriend”. Flinch.  I didn’t want to read mine. I didn’t want to throw another knife. This seemed way too cruel. The counselor took my paper and read mine aloud. “You kicked our dog” That one was not just a knife, not just a flinch, it was like all his bones had been removed and he no longer had any structure in his body. He went limp and looked me in the eye with the deepest sorrow I have ever seen, and then looked away to blink away his tears. When he looked back at us again, the sorrow was gone. It was like he was gone. He listened to the rest without flinching at all. When all of our lists were complete, the counselor asked if my brother had anything he wanted to say back to us. He looked right at me, and whispered, “I’m sorry”. But he did not look at anyone else, just hung his head in shameful silence. The counselor thanked us for coming in, and escorted my brother back to his room. I watched him walk away, and saw the guard buzz the locked doors open for them to enter the residential hall. The counselor returned with a Doctor, saying they will start the detox tonight. That they will attempt to keep him comfortable and monitored for safety during withdrawals, and that the worst should be over in 3 days, but that they would keep him for a few weeks. Weeks – I was stunned. And then they handed Mom a bag with his belt and shoelaces, to prevent any suicide attempts.

I was in 5th grade. My brother was  junior in high school. I asked my Mom how he would make up all that school work? She just shushed me. No one told me anything, and no one answered my questions. No google back then, so I went back to the dictionary to look up everything I heard the doctor say. I went to the library and learned about drugs and detox. I was already in the habit of looking up my asthma medications and side effects, so I knew exactly where to go. I learned that detox was very dangerous, and that my brother’s heart could stop, and that it would be very painful for him to detox. That he would sweat and shake and throw up for hours. But I kept my knowledge to myself, as my mom read People magazine and pretended everything was fine. I prayed for my brother that night, prayed that he would survive the detox, that he wouldn’t be in so much pain, and that one day I would see him smile again.