Tag Archive | shame

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. 

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I forgot to get you up

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That’s what my daughter said to me this morning. “Sorry Mom, I forgot to get you up”

My heart sank into a pool of shame. My daughter should not have to get me up. I try telling her I am already up, try to fake it that I was up and that everything is fine, but she can see how slow I am moving, that I am speaking slowly too.

Some people ask if I am a night owl when they see me online late at night. I say yes. But in reality my sleep issues keep me awake at night. I have trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, trouble getting into deep sleep, trouble with horrific nightmares, trouble with sleep panic attacks, trouble with hypervigilance (I need all the lights on, lock the doors, close the blinds, tv on for grounding noise). PTSD tends to keep me awake until about 4am, so it is difficult to get up at 6am to help kiddo get ready for school and drive her at 7am.

I try to be gentle with myself. I know I am doing my best. I know I don’t sleep well. I know I am not out partying or something that should make feel guilty – And yet I still do – I feel guilty and ashamed and weak and stupid. I don’t want to be like this. I want to be strong and reliable, especially for my kids.

Driving this morning was extremely difficult and I am not even sure I should have been doing it. I felt like I was a bit drunk, like my thoughts were moving through molasses. I have to tell myself how to get dressed and drive, each step spoken out loud.

Seriously middle school starting at 7am is torture. This time of year is terrible and it will get worse with time change in a couple weeks. I will walk around even more zombie like. Doctors have not been able to help me with this. Therapists have not been able to help me with this. I feel better in the summer when I don’t have to get up so early. I have decided it is not SAD, it is not light deprivation or depression, it is sleep deprivation. My mom schedule is what wears me out this time of year. I do have depression, not denying that, but I don’t think it gets suddenly worse when school starts. I think I get physically exhausted.

I do nap during the day, but my hyperarousal only allows me to sleep for about 15 minutes at a time. If I do manage to sleep longer, the nightmares get me and I wake up sweating, screaming and the fear from those last for hours, while the images can haunt me for weeks, months sometimes depending how bad they are.

I am sleeping separate from Hubby right now, which helps a little to reduce the hypervigilance and multiple triggers and anxiety. Unfortunately we do not have a guest room, so we take turns who gets to sleep in the living room to spare our sore backs and necks from the old sofa or recliner.

Melatonin helps me get to sleep sometimes, but can make the nightmares worse. Keeping up on vitamin D helps. Too much of either makes me very hard to wake up in the morning. Exercise helps and except on very bad days I am doing my best to stay active and keep up on my physical therapy routine.

I don’t want any of this, but this is my battle to fight. I am so tired. I don’t feel like I am winning. Hell I don’t even feel like I am breaking even yet. Is this a winnable war? I am not so sure. I think I need to accept this is my life and make it work rather than keep trying for something impossible.

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.

 

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)

Shining Light on Shame Gremlins

 

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(Photo Credit: By carlos gonzalez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Shame is a powerful feeling that is not only an emotion but can also be a state of being – a form of existence. Shame results from comparison, when you look deep inside and evaluate yourself as not good enough. It can start from someone else’s criticism or from your own criticism directed inward. Guilt is when you feel you have DONE something bad. Shame is when you feel YOU are bad.

Huby and I spent two sessions discussing shame with our couples counselor now and my mind is blown. We both apparently have shame triggers, what the counselor calls shame gremlins, responsible for our patterns of arguments, misunderstandings, lack of intimacy, and poor communication over the years. Counselor said the only way to kill a gremlin is to shine light on it. (remember what happened in the movie?)

Okay, he had my curiosity, again. He was either crazy or brilliant, so I paid close attention because either way is interesting to me. He said shame makes us wants to hide, alone, in the dark. (ding, ding, ding – not sounding crazy) We naturally don’t confess we are feeling ashamed and may not even recognize it. Instead we go into defensive and self-protective mode automatically. (wow not crazy at all…) What are your automatic reactions? Do you get angry and yell? That’s what Hubby does. Do have an urge to leave the room, run away, hide and be alone? That’s what I do.

Shame is more likely to trigger anger in men and depression in women. Hmmm.

So here’s an example of how shame causes trouble in my marriage:

We’ve been preparing the house for a kiddo to have a birthday party here this weekend. You all know I hate having people here, but I worked through my fears with many worksheets and I’m feeling okay about this party. Even though I’ve spent 10 out of the past 14 days in bed or in the hospital bed with migraines, I’ve been able to let go of SOME of the anxiety. I still don’t want the party here, but I am resolved to do it for the kiddo, he deserves to have his friends here. I can do it for him. My illness is out of my control. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do. I’m strangely almost peaceful about this. I’m doing what I can and it feels like enough, almost. Its not terrible anyway.

So my role is to mainly manage and delegate to kiddos what to do and keep them working. We were all busy cleaning last weekend and I was having my 7 year old do some dusting. While we were doing this, Hubby came over and said something to me about how good we were all doing, and that we were “deep cleaning” not just tidying, so it was taking longer but worth the effort and really needed done.

If you’ve ever watched a 7 year old dust, there is no “deep cleaning” happening.

So I giggled at Hubby’s comment and said something like “I don’t know about “deep cleaning” but we are making good progress here”

Hubby instantly got angry and started yelling at me about how hard he is working and I’m so mean or not fair, and he’s sick of these nasty comments, and whatever he does is never enough…on and on and on…

Woah – I had no idea what happened. But now I do. Hubby was instantly shamed.  My comment wasn’t about him, but he interpreted it that way, internalized it as criticism that I don’t think he is doing good enough, and that HE is not good enough. So his automatic defense is to yell back in anger, anything to stop feeling that shame. Shame is intolerable, anger is easier to manage.

So then he yells at me, and I can’t figure out what I did wrong. Here’s the fun part. It then triggers shame in ME! But I don’t fight back and yell. I get quiet, slip out of the room, isolate myself alone in my room, feel like crying, maybe feel like dying for being such a terrible person and I don’t even know why.

Wow. OK. How many hours of my childhood did I spend in exactly that state of mind? Hiding, trying to be invisible, trying to figure out what I did wrong, how to be a better person, keep myself away from everyone to protect myself from the chaotic world. I felt safest when alone. No one attacks or shames me when I’m alone.

Here’s the crazy part. Neither of us actually ever criticize each other – intentionally. We’re not like that, we try to be kind and good, and over the top appreciative of each other. It’s why it is so surprising and confusing to have the shame gremlin show its ugly head in the middle of an otherwise pleasant conversation, and then AHH, teeth, claws, daggers, RUN.

Here’s another example of a shame gremlin the counselor wants me to shine that light on:

This one will actually be more difficult. I’m supposed to tell Hubby every time I have a flashback. Instead of trying to hide it. My method for coping with flashbacks has been to get myself grounded as quickly as possible, figure out if anyone noticed, make up some excuse for me acting weird if they did notice, pretend to be ok for as long as possible, then recover from it later when I’m alone, and maybe tell Hubby about it later, maybe not.

I’m ashamed to have flashbacks. I feel like a freak. I don’t want anyone to know or worry about me. I don’t want to talk about it, or what I just experienced. And sometimes I can’t. Sometimes there are no words to express what I re-experienced. (Why? Well let’s see, say we are going out to dinner and Hubby reaches for his coffee and I have a flashback about driving with AF, and I feel his hands on me, sliding up my thigh like he used to do while he drove and I would try to sit as far as possible by the door out of his reach but nowhere was out of his reach. So am I really supposed to share that moment, explain the memory, bring more attention to it rather than look away from it? And then Hubby and I are supposed to somehow continue into the restaurant for dinner then? Talk about spoiling the mood. Is it fair that I went through that alone? I guess not, but I don’t see how it is better for us both to feel the pain) Yeah, well, these counselors say I can’t do that any more. No more hiding. If I’m with Hubby I need to tell him about it, and if I’m alone I need to write it in my flashback log and share with Hubby later. Eeek.

Just writing it now brings up HUGE amounts of fear. I’m supposed to hide. I’m not ready. I’m comfortable in the dark with the gremlins. I’m afraid to shine the light. This fear is terror, throat choking terror. I have a few stuck points to work through about this and I’m still working on the phrasing. Here’s what I have so far.

  1. If anyone knows there is something wrong with me I will have failed
  2. I am worthless if I have any flaws
  3. No one will love me if they know the real me
  4. My secrets are too horrific to share
  5. Accepting help is a sign of failure, worthlessness
  6. It is pointless to try to explain myself because no one ever understands
  7. If people know about my problems…(I don’t know how to finish this one, it’s so strong, I’d rather die protecting my secrets than be exposed, but I can’t think of an ending that makes sense. I’m just “not allowed” to tell people about my problems and this core belief is hard wired)

 

 

Hold myself to higher standards

Discussed in therapy yesterday how when I quit my job 2 years ago and started entry level in a new company I was ashamed of its title “customer service”. I never told anyone that title which was easy since I don’t really talk to anyone anyway. I’m not exactly a facebook blaster or twitterer. I don’t really have a social network to impress. So why the shame?

Now that job was beneath my abilities and pay grade, that is a fact. But that doesn’t explain shame. Frustration, boredom, perhaps at starting over after a decade at the last company. I chose to quit, to make this new start. I left in good standing. So why the shame?

We dove into this feeling and deconstructed some possibilities. In the warped twilight zone world I grew up in as a child, AF raised me to feel ashamed of my mother. He told me she was stupid, fat, ugly, worthless, etc. My mom worked at a fast food place when I was little to earn some extra cash and we made fun of her for that too. I think my backwards career slip has made me feel like my mom, and triggered feelings of shame I used to have for her. It triggers the “SHOULDS”. I should have a better job. I shouldn’t have quit. I am an embarrassment to my family. they must be ashamed of me. So I must be ashamed of myself. This also fits with the “Unrelenting Standards” lifetrap/maladaptive schema.

I am struggling with this right now because I am currently unable to work at all. Typing this post is a huge effort of concentration and nausea as the vertigo of this constant migraine has me. I started a new med: zonegran. It will be a few more weeks of slowly dosing up on that to see if it reduces or removes this state of constant aura I’m stuck in. Good news is the zonegran has lifted my mood! I laugh easily and I’m enjoying silly time with kiddos, thankfully, since they are home for summer now.

Looking forward to first family counseling session in a few days.