Adult Attachment and Survivors (or – how to have a secure relationship when your childhood sucked) – Part 1

This is a huge topic. Here’s the short version for childhood sexual abuse survivors.

When you had parents who severely abused or neglected you, it messes up your ability to be close to a romantic partner. Oh yay, another thing being a survivor has messed up, you say? Well, yes, but the good news is, it’s fixable. Also, and this is a big thing, knowing about attachment theory is very useful for settling down and reparenting our own inner abused children. Happy inner children (or dissociative parts) mean a more settled, healed and calm life.

Attachment theory basics for survivors

lara and saskia
Here are the basics. All humans need someone to be their go-to person. Ideally, a baby has a parent who is their go-to person, the one pays attention to the signs baby needs something and makes it happen. This ‘attachment figure’ who is usually a close caregiver, is supposed to be reliably there, so that the baby and then child, feels safe. Ideally baby / child can then do more independent things like crawl across the room, try something new, ride a bicycle or go to school, knowing that their attachment person has their back if they need it.

So if you’re reading this blog, this probably wasn’t the case for you.  I’m sorry. It’s worth grieving about this.

What kind of Attachment Issue Do I (or my parts) have?

All of us childhood abuse survivors have attachment issues. It’s a sure thing. If the abuser was part of the family, it’s doubly sure. Knowing how that affected your attachment style can help you figure out how to heal it. Having a more secure attachment style makes it easier to have happy relationships, and can help calm down your nervous system, making a lot of things work better.

Basically the type of attachment disorder you have, depends on how much your parental figures were there for you emotionally and physically. Also, people often have qualities from more than one type at different times of their life, and in different relationships.

Anxious

If you had at least one person who was solidly there for you some of the time, but then was completely awol at others, you’re probably anxiously attached. This means that if you find someone you get connected to, you are always waiting for something to mess it up, and super sensitive to signs the person might be pulling away. You might even throw a bit of a tantrum if they seem to be doing that, or chase after them more than most people are comfortable with.

Avoidant

This is the attachment style you probably have if your parents were so neglectful that you couldn’t rely on them at all. A kid in this situation learns to be hyper-independent and to suppress any feelings of needing help or support. In studies with babies, they learned that even if the baby appears to be fine with being left by an attachment figure, sensors on their body detect just as much distress as an anxious baby. Its not that they aren’t freaked out mommy has left the room, they’ve just learned not to show it.

As adults we often suppress the recognition that things were really that bad. This kind of survivor will not remember much or anything about their childhood, and will say that it was basically all right. We pride themselves on not needing anyone, being low maintenance, and don’t want their partners to get ‘too clingy’. They might be more concerned with looking okay, and good to others in all ways than usual.

Disorganized

This type of attachment is caused when the caregiver scares, moves away from or ridicules the child when the child needs comforting.  The caregiver may seem ‘helpless’ in the face of the child needing help, and only eventually comfort the child if the child is persistent. Over time the child may turn into the one that takes care of the adult. They may become an adult that either takes care of others at the expense of their own needs or who is impatient and hostile about both their own needs and those of others.  Since most adults in relationships want a partner who is sensitive to their needs, and who is able to ask directly for what they themselves need, this makes it hard to connect and stay connected.

So what do I do about my attachment style as an adult survivor?

I’m going to devote a whole post or posts to this because it’s also a huge topic. But in brief form, you heal attachment problems by having close relationships with people who are able to have close relationships.

Oh, right, how the heck am I supposed to do that?

While most attachment books, being for a non-survivor audience, will say you have to find a healthy person to be a partner with. However, this can be too high a hurdle for a survivor. Some good ways to start healing attachment is to have supportive relationships with a therapist,  a higher power / god / goddess, and maybe eventually a best friend. You can also heal this by having a good and supportive relationship with other parts of yourself, and strengthening your inner loving parent. This last I have found particularly powerful.

Once some of the gunk is cleared from doing the above, a healthy romantic or life partnership will become more possible.

The type of close relationship you have is important, though. it needs to be reliable and supportive. The other party has to be reliable, safe and consistent, and if it’s a partnership, you have to be reliable, safe and consistent too.

I know that those kinds of relationships with other people are hard to come by for survivors. This is why you can get started on the ones that are most accessible to you – relationship with a higher power, or your own inner parent are ones you can put energy into without having to find another person. Trusting relationship with a therapist, is also a good place to start.

Now that I’m into this topic, I realize there is way more to cover. I haven’t even talked about how I’ve cleaned up my attachment style (I’m doing pretty well there). More on this in future posts.

 

Coming out as a survivor part 3 – Intimate Relationships with Bystanders and Civilians

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Source: US Army http://flic.kr/p/5FHaHE

The story I wrote about in my last post, where I’d come out to a potential lover as having an injured vagina and she’d reacted in an odd way, has been puzzling me. What was it about that which was so triggering?

I figured it out when I was trying to write her an email to explain why I couldn’t be her lover, despite some flirting and making out we’d done. Continue reading Coming out as a survivor part 3 – Intimate Relationships with Bystanders and Civilians

Coming Out as a Survivor Part 2 – Friends and Lovers

http://flic.kr/p/d9a74Y
Source: http://flic.kr/p/d9a74Y

In my previous post on this topic, I covered coming out to yourself, your therapist and your support or therapy community. The final two really difficult steps are coming out to friends and lovers (level one and two) and coming out to or confronting your family. The family piece might come before the friend piece, so these are not necessarily the order in which they are done, but perhaps are the order of complexity and potential for pain.

Continue reading Coming Out as a Survivor Part 2 – Friends and Lovers

What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

#ds450 - Closet SpaceI’m trying to write a chapter on coming out as an incest or child sexual assault survivor for the book.

There are a lot of reasons to come out, and a lot of reasons not to. I’m not going to say one is always better than the other. You need to decide for yourself what you’re up for and what you need. What I believe is that the situation, persons involved, purpose and your own tolerance for social isolation all have bearing on when and to whom you should disclose you are an abuse survivor. Continue reading What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

Holidays for Incest Survivors

Yule CandlesTonight is Christmas Eve. I am grateful to be spending it with my spouse and  my dog, in a warm, safe house full of light and love. I am happy. I’d like to share some holiday coping tips and recommendations as I’ve learned them over the past 20+ years for myself and from other survivors of incest I know. May your winter and new year be blessed and full of love, peace and gentle healing. Continue reading Holidays for Incest Survivors

Care and feeding of the unconscious

scorpIf you believe in astrology, I can sum up my experience this morning with one phrase:

I am a Sagittarius with a moon in Scorpio.

This means that my inside and my outside aren’t always on speaking terms. My super open, transparent, honest to a fault Sagittarius outside persona is at odds with an inner Scorpio emotional self that would just like to keep all that sh*t secret and close to the chest. If it lets the information out to tattle-tale Sagittarius, she’ll want to be all open and authentic and sh*t, which makes the Scorpio part of me very unhappy.

My sneaky Scorpio moon fights back against all this dangerous openness by just neglecting to tell me how I feel for long periods of time, then suddenly wakes me up at 5 am on a weekend to tell me all about it, like the girlfriend who wakes you up in the middle of the night to ask you where your relationship is going.

This morning went down like this:

Uneasy dreams about being in a house with doors and windows that won’t even close properly, let alone lock, on a windy night on the third story or so of a low rise building with outdoor terraces.

This is Scorpio code for “your boundaries suck, dude.”

Then I wake up gradually ruminating about the dream and my jazz piano lesson, which I suddenly realized had been dumbed down for me because I didn’t really get the previous lesson. No wonder practising hadn’t sounded as good the night before, all the fun jazz stuff had been stripped out of the exercise after I complained I couldn’t remember it when I got home. I felt shame and frustration.

My Scorpio moon whispered to me. “What are you going to do about it?”

Well what can you do about shame in a darkened bed with a sleeping wife and chihuahua on a Saturday morning?

“You wanted to know how you feel.” Says the Scorpio moon nastily. “Now deal with it.”

But that wasn’t even the main course. As if pulling on the edge of a big knot that had suddenly come loose, all my week’s shame and anger came unravelling into my heart, spooling out from some place I hid it without knowing I’d done so.

The meeting I’d had yesterday with a team I supervise hadn’t gone well. It was the yearly review and while I’d collected feedback, I hadn’t given any.  A key member is moving on, and the remaining team, a performance troupe, isn’t up to the quality I need. I may need to cut some underperforming members and add others, which I need to do without completely demoralizing the group.  Complicated, murky and targetting the very area I feel insecure. The people I supervise are working musicians, and I am an amateur. What the hell do I know?  I know what I need them to accomplish and that sometimes someone has to be the heavy.  I feel a sense of my own incompetence in failing to address this at the time, my unease, and anger at my team.

Then I noticed the birds singing that “you’re up way too early in the morning” song they do when the sun is rising in the summer and I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep.

So what did I do? I got up and wrote about it here. Because shame doesn’t go away by ruminating on it in a dark room at 5 am. It goes away by shining light on it. Even if that has to be early morning on a Saturday.

Take that, Scorpio moon.

Rules of kvetching: applied to CSA survivors

The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times
The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

My neck has been particularly seized up since I found out about the appointment with the gynecologist. Coincidence? Not likely. Since the assault that caused the tearing in my vagina also caused a neck injury, the two are definitely linked.

I believe in the saying “trust in God(s) but tie your camel”, which means to consider both the practical and the mystical in life and cover both. So I did.

I went to both the chiropractor and massage therapist. The chiropractor assessed my neck and said my alignment was fine and that the issue was muscular. She referred me to the massage therapist and wrote down what muscles to work on. They both gave me exercises to do.

I also did a very powerful cleansing and healing ritual in my bath, praying for help from my matron and patron gods, in the journey of restoring the damage to my body from the abuse. I metaphorically let the gunk fall from me, and my body be whole.

And I told/tell myself that my emotional processing system is likely to be taking up a portion of my mental and physical space, even when I’m not aware of it, between now and the appointment, and of course afterwards, until I sort out what there is to do. This is completely normal.

I’ve been a lot more open about my injury in the past several months, which gives me a larger pool of people who I don’t have to ‘come out to’ about it when things get more intense in order to have some support. The isolation of having an injury that it freaks people out to discuss just makes things more difficult, so creating some pockets of awareness is part of my support system. However, it does come with risks. There is always the risk of people negatively stereotyping me because of my injuries and experiences and treating me like ‘damaged goods’ in one way or another. I’d prefer people see my considerable strengths instead.

I found this image and explanation online and thought it was an excellent resource when applied when survivors disclose or are going through PTSD related gunk. It’s called ‘how not to say the wrong thing’. The idea is that you draw a circle around the survivor/person with cancer/bereaved person etc… and then a circle around that that contains the the person who is next closest to the trauma (spouse, for example), then a circle around that that has the people next farthest out and so on till you get out to the level of coworkers and acquaintances. The authors called this circle the ‘kvetching order’. Everyone is allowed to both complain or vent but they can only do so to people in a larger circle than them. To people in a smaller circle than their own, they can only offer comfort, not advice, emotional venting or complaint. Comfort in, kvetching out. The person at the centre can kvetch to anyone about the issue. It is apparently called the ‘silk ring theory’.

So let’s see if I can imagine applying this to myself…

I’m in the centre – I had the sexual assault that ripped my vagina and healed badly, plus the strangulation injury that makes my neck vulnerable now. I’m the one with the scary appointments and needing to advocate for myself to try and assess the damage and fix what I can. I am at the top of kvetching order and theoretically can complain to anyone and accept support from everyone. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? In the circle around me is my wife. I don’t have any other partners, but if I did, she might be here. Around her is my close survivor friends, women and men who have experienced childhood sexual assault too, and get it but also might be triggered, and who I might share the more graphic details with because even though it might freak them out, they won’t judge me or say dumb things. Around that is maybe my Aunt and cousins, who know and are reasonably supportive, around that would be my non-survivor friends who know. Around that are nice people who care about me but don’t know the details. I would say that the perpetrator is always in the largest circle. Everyone can complain to him (survivor, her supporters, society at large), but he can’t complain to anyone.

Hmm… this is a lot different from a cancer diagnosis isn’t it? If I had cancer (Goddess forbid) my wife could put something out on Facebook about it for example, and everyone would know. Casseroles might arrive. People would still behave weirdly, and perhaps even blame me for the cancer if I was say, a smoker, but certainly it could be talked about. As a survivor, even accessing support about something heavy creates the risk of someone breaking the kvetching order and dumping their gunk/misconceptions/discrimination about child abuse survivors who disclose back on me.

The people who say dumb things to survivors are usually breaking the kvetching order now that I think about it. For my aunt to want me to take care of my mother’s feelings about my mother losing her idealized (and fictional) happy family is breaking the kvetching order. My mom has every right to complain to her therapist or friends, but not to me or my wife or my survivor friends. And my aunt has every right to complain about the impact the abuse has had on her family, but not to me or my wife.

Grief, when you least expect it

I went out to ‘Trouble with the curve’ tonight with my wife. This story of a relationship between a father and daughter and it’s impact on her life really touched me. Wierd eh? My father is a sociopath, Clint Eastwood’s character is crusty but quite beautiful actually.

There’s a scene where he beats a man into unconsciousness for pulling his daughter, then six years old, into a shed and touching her arm. It is obvious to us, and to him, that more would have happened if Eastwood’s character hadn’t found them. I just realized, that is what made me cry. To have a male relative that would defend me, who would beat the crap out of a child molester, is pretty potent stuff. Just seeing that, portrayed so compellingly by Eastwood’s character, must have opened up the grief. In my case, the molester was my father, so that kind of escape was impossible. My mom claimed once that if my grandfather, her father, had known, he’d have killed my father. I wish it were so.

I didn’t realize till now that that is what made me so sad. I walked out of the movie feeling sad and not knowing why. I felt a longing for the father figure in the movie, who in the end perfectly understood his daughter, who had finally gotten him to hear her about who she was and what she wanted.

My father may have groomed me, and I know my pre-rape self loved him, in such a pure, open hearted way that I don’t think I’ve experienced since, but I haven’t actually grieved the relationship with him on those terms for a long time.

Feeling that longing and sadness, I realize I have to listen to that part of myself who was manipulated into loving an evil person, but I don’t think that’s exactly who I’m grieving. It makes more sense to me, connects more emotionally, to miss the father I never had, the father who would have beaten my actual father to a bloody pulp for hurting a beautiful, pure-hearted kindergartener.

It’s wierd to have an emotional landscape that is so foreign, even to me, at times, so that I don’t even know why I am crying until the tears have run their course. I’m glad I’ve learned to let them flow anyhow, to trust that the truth will come after, perhaps much after. This is what it’s like to have experience in fragments, and to make those fragments whole.

Burning the Journals

Midnight ember
I just got back from a camping trip with my wife. With her support, I burned several boxes of old journals, dating back from my childhood through the present. It took me three days. Now that I’ve decided not to sue the old hopefully soon to be dead bastard, I don’t need them any more.

I flipped through each of them, tore out some poetry and things I wanted to keep, and then burned the rest. As a Wiccan, releasing ritual is usually done on the waning moon, but the moon was waxing so I needed to interpret what I was doing in that light, as accepting, increasing or making whole rather than discarding something unwanted.

What I came up with is that I am all of it. I am the woman who  wrote 30+ years of journals, writing mostly when I had too much inside that I couldn’t share. I am the teenage girl obsessing about boys and interpersonal crap with girls, even though I’m a lesbian. I am the young woman obsessing about guys, money and finding a job. I am the emerging lesbian obsessing about women, whether to label myself bi or lesbian. Thank goodness queer wasn’t a label in use then, that would have been way more confusing. I am the woman who lived with a man but knew she  preferred women, who fell in love with her best friend and was rejected by her.

I am the woman who saved her friend from committing suicide because I could read the signs and took a long cab ride out to stop her. I am the woman who stood up at a 12 step convention and asked a crowd of 300 people to tell me they believed me about the abuse. I cry even now thinking of how powerful that was, when they all unanimously stood and declared it in unison. I am the woman with a powerful and direct voice when she has enough social support and a hesitant, anxious and ruminating manner when she doesn’t. I am the girl who wrote poetry. I am the girl who counted in her head to keep from having intrusive thoughts and feelings about the abuse.

I am the woman who successfully pulled her mind away from abuse thoughts during sex, who once despaired of ever having an orgasm without some abuse fantasy in it, who took her sexuality back from the abuser. Who now almost never thinks or feels those things in sexual contexts.

I am the woman who chronicled her flashbacks – reading them I remembered when the memories of the abuse were more visceral, and am glad that has faded as they got integrated.

I accept all of my experience, power and knowledge into me. I integrate that girl, that woman I have been and am. Although I have changed and evolved, it is all me and I welcome that stored energy and passion back to me.

What I noticed as well, is that so much paper was spent agonizing over decisions, fretting and obsessing rather than acting. Some of this is my highly sensitive person nature, where I am cautious and slow to act. Some of it is the chronic anxiety I struggled with most of my life. Some of it is just that I had no one else to tell. Some of that has not changed.

If this ritual, this spell of release and transformation, has one goal, it’s to end that. I will write purposefully – envisioning the ideal future or in poetry, music or prose – or not at all. I will put my feelings into music or art instead. I have obsessed and ruminated enough. Now I will act.

My self-help book is underway. The working title is “It gets better: What I learned from 25 years of healing childhood rape”. I could use some ‘test readers’ to give me feedback on the rough draft – not about fine editing things and grammar, those are third or fourth draft, but about what parts seem most helpful, what might be missing, what’s unclear. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to review a copy of it and give me some feedback. A lot of it is from this blog, just organized in a different way with some added material.

Managing Cortisol Levels for People with Complex PTSD

One of the problems with having been in a chronic state of fear and anxiety for years and years while surviving the abuse, and then while healing from it, is that the cortisol levels in the blood get really high. High cortisol levels make it almost impossible to lose weight, and are linked to all kinds of diseases, as if we didn’t need more negative effects from the abuse.

Here’s some tips I researched to reduce cortisol levels. I’ve added my notes next to them about how they’ve worked out for me:

  1. Avoid caffeine, which can elevate cortisol levels. [I avoid cafeine, which does make me anxous, but still eat chocolate. If I feel the need for a latte, I have steamed milk, which is just as satisfying. ]
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Cortisol levels are generally lower in the middle of the night while you’re asleep, and sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels. [Hard to do if you’re already anxious. But I do modify my life to prioritize not having to wake to an alarm in the morning. ]
  3. Exercise regularly, but avoid intense or prolonged exercise as it stimulates cortisol release. [This is interesting, intense or prolonged exercise does make me really uncomfortable – I feel hyped up, anxous and emotional. When I work out, I now stop and take a walk around the gym if I get like that, and won’t do an exercise that doesn’t permit this kind of break when I need it. It’s really made exercise possible for me. ]
  4. Try music therapy, massage therapy, and dancing, all of which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. [I like all these things, interestingly dancing is one of the vigorous exercise types I can tolerate well without getting anxous or adrenalized.]
  5. Consider supplementation with vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, black tea, or phosphatidylserine. [I don’t know what this last thing is, but I have been taking more vitamin C and Omega 3 fatty acids. I take 6 or more salmon oil capsules a day, after reading how good it is for the brain, especially those of us with gunk.]
  6. Laugh and cry – research has shown that both reduce cortisol levels. [This must be why crying always makes me feel better. I’ve been looking for more opportunities to laugh.]
  7. Eat regular meals and stick to low-glycemic foods to maintain a constant blood sugar level. [Always a struggle, but I think this helps too when I can pull it off. I don’t like sugary foods anyways so it’s not as hard for me as it might be for others, and I actually like whole grain foods. ]

Since it’s been a while since I posted.

Update: Things are a lot better with my wife. We’re communicating a lot more, and she’s reading an excellent book “Pagan Polyamory” which is starting some good discussions. We had a lovely romantic weekend a couple of weeks ago, which went really well. I also read my Car Crash post out at a workshop I was at last weekend. Afterward I felt like I’d overshared, but my friend who was there pointed out that it was a similar time I thought I’d overshared that had resulted in our friendship, so I think it was okay.

Piano lessons and a gift of compassion

I’ve been taking piano lessons. I’ve got a great teacher and I’m enjoying it.  As I’ve written about before, I have a hard time learning to play musical instruments, despite being quite musical and not for lack of trying. I get anxious and frustrated easily when doing music, and have a hard time sticking with it.

Apparently my piano teacher has noticed this and asked me about it today, in a very kind way. He asked me if I’d taken piano lessons as a kid, and wasn’t surprized when I told him the teacher was awful. He said he gets that a lot and can usually tell if students have had bad experiences in the past.  He even disclosed that he’d had a difficult upbringing himself, I think to make me feel comfortable. He doesn’t (and probably won’t) know the half of it.

My literally psychopathic father played the very same piano I have in my living room. I asked it of him (indirectly through my mother) as an apology offering for raping me as a child. The one time I saw him expressing what seemed to be a sincere emotion in response to a relationship loss was when he played one song, moonlight sonata, on the piano well into the night on the evening he found out his father had died.  I think of it as my grandmother’s (his mother) piano.

I took piano lessons at age 8 with a teacher who lived at the top of a tall hill. She expected me to practice during the week, something I did not, at the age of 8, in a chaotic alcoholic home, have the organizational skills to do without support from a parent, something I didn’t get. She repeatedly berated me for not practicing.

When I was about 30, I auditioned for and was accepted into a professional music program at a local college. This program seemed to think it was a good idea to treat sensitive music students as if they were in some sort of boot camp. I got some good things out of it, and a lot of very painful ones. I dropped out after about a year. It broke my heart. It took me about a decade to recover afterward enough again to start creating music again.

I sketched the teacher and music school issues in rough terms for him and I really do get that I’m not going to be berated for not practicing, like my piano teacher, or for asking questions, like my music theory teacher in school. I’m very grateful that my teacher gets that I have issues and will practice as much as my issues will permit, but may learn slower than I might otherwise. Compassion that makes room for us to be as we are, and be supported in continuing regardless, is such a rare and beautiful gift for a survivor.  I am blessed.

Rape dreams and release

So I had ‘fending off rape dreams’ this morning, three consecutive ones. Not a big surprise, given how angry I’ve been lately. I tend to have ‘monsters/men are hurting me’ dreams when I’m angry. In my dreams I was successful at fighting the men off and not so successful at getting the police involved. My unconscious tried to solve my recurring dream problem of being unable to make phones work when calling for help by asking someone else to use the phone to call 911, which almost worked. Interesting.

I had another session with my massage therapist, who is working out great. Like everyone else does, she commented on how tight my back was (big surprise). I said, “well, I’ve had some, shall we say, ‘difficult life experiences’, which leads to a lot of stored tension in the muscles.” she agreed, good naturedly, and pointed out that I might have flashbacks or feelings after she worked on me. Yup, I’m aware of that. But her pointing it out gave me explicit permission to have feelings. Shortly afterward, I ended up having a good shaking cry while she worked on my back, feeling the anger “that bitch!” toward my mother and the little girl betrayal feelings. Worked beautifully. My back feels a lot better.  She also worked on my neck, which went fine as well. I kept breathing deep from my belly and consciously relaxing, which helped a lot to remind me that my breathing was not restricted by what she was doing. I realized there’s a specific place that corresponds to the memory of having my windpipe crushed, and she wasn’t touching it, so it all worked out nicely. She also moved around the bones in my head a little, which were apparently a bit crooked and out of place, which cleared the fogginess in my head a lot. Between the two of them, I’m not feeling so spacey any more. She thought perhaps the blood flow in my head might be a bit congested, which could have made it harder to think.

Anyhow, I feel a lot better.

My wife pointed out that the stuff I’m going through now is the same as what my mom did to me for about a year when she would tell me she was going to leave my father/abuser on such and such a date, and then not do it, and then set another date. Me waiting for my mother to do something, hoping she’ll come through for me (like give me useful information or a confession) has a predictable result, and is an old game of hers. At that time, she advised me to cut off communication with my mom until she actually left, which I did, and which worked nicely.  Alcoholics set up a pattern where they expect to get full credit for just promising to do something and not delivering, my mom, although a workaholic rather than an alcoholic,  plays the same game. She claims ‘good mom’ credit from her sister for ‘reaching out to her daughter’  but hasn’t actually sent the letter, and hasn’t even given a deadline for doing so.

I’m going to try and write some music today, I have an idea for a survivor mothers day song.  I need a ‘hook’ for the song that can’t be dismissed as generic mother’s day blaming. Something that makes it clear that some things are just too much, some things invalidate the social contract between mothers and daughters. Blood is thicker than blood, perhaps. Something about blood (the bleeding wounds) is thicker than blood (blood relations), a bleeding heart will never get it, a bleeding. Maybe look at all kinds of metaphors around blood. Blood of my blood, blood feud, blood oath, blood relations. Hmmm…. blood relations, relations being a  euphemism for intercourse. I’ll let you know if I write something worth sharing.

PTSD Spaciness triggered waiting for letter from mom

Lightning; My First TrySo I’ve been extra spacey lately since the news about the impending letter from my mom replying to the one I sent her three years ago. It’s not like I really notice the spaci-ness myself much, but my wife has noticed and pointed out a few things.

This morning I forgot to feed my beloved dog, and then when reminded, promptly forgot again until reminded a second time. My poor good doggy.

I’ve lost my favourite pair of glasses. No clue where they are. My wife can’t even find them and she’s usually very good at finding things I lose.

My wife tells me things and I forget them. What are they? I forget…

I ran a red light today because I got too distracted when my wife was trying to say something about what lane I was in.

I had a creepy dream where my father was my boyfriend and I was being all nice to him, behaving like his girlfriend. Creepy! The morning I went to the dentist too, as if being triggered wasn’t the last thing I needed before seeing the dentist.

What I did well was to let my wife know that I’m just going to be spacey over the next few days and there’s nothing I can really do about it.  I’m not sure if that’s true. Perhaps if I really grounded or something I’d feel whatever feelings I’m dissociating from and then I wouldn’t need to dissociate. That’s what I’d have tried back when I was a therapist and I was working with a survivor who was dissociating, although it’s harder to do for oneself. I’d book an appointment with my therapist, but really, what is there to say? I saw my brother and it went well, and my mother’s going to send me a letter, but I haven’t gotten it yet. What’s to talk about?

When the letter comes, I’m going to give it to my wife to keep in her locker at work, so it’s not in the house. I don’t know why I want to do that, but it feels better somehow. It will help me avoid the temptation to open it before I have enough support.  I’m likely to freak out afterward, so I need to make sure the timing is right.

On the up side I went to the dentist yesterday and had a filling. I’d avoided making an appointment for a couple of months, because I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but got up the courage. It was way in the back up near the gum and I was worried I’d be on my back with my mouth jammed open in pain for ages, with gunk going down my throat, something I figured would trigger me bad. I explained to the dental assistant that I was concerned I might be anxious with my mouth open for a long time, and that I thought it would help if I could close my mouth whenever  I needed to. She said that would be fine, and pointed out that there was one point in the procedure where the glue wouldn’t stick if I closed my mouth and saliva got on it. I asked how long that was likely to be and said it would help if during that time she explained what was happening. It turned out to be no big thing, ten or fifteen minutes all together and the dentist was told I was anxious and distracted me by chatting about our vacations. She didn’t even have to freeze me, which worked great. Kind of an incentive to make sure I don’t get any more cavities though.

Warrior WomanWhat do I think is at the root of my spaciness? Rage. Having contact with my stinking psychopath-enabling weak martyr of a hypocrite faux-feminist mother really fucking pisses me off. How DARE she want to have ‘a relationship’ with me? How can she really be this dense and want me to f’ing overlook that she didn’t help me at all when she knew that my vagina was ripped so bad I had two tears from one side of my vulva to the other!!!! Who the hell does she think I am? She hasn’t even admitted to the crime and I’m supposed to forget and forgive (ideally in that order)? I want to rip her apart with my bare hands, and I’m going to get words from her, words that will be full of bullshit as usual. I can’t even imagine what she would say that would be enough. If she goes on about how my letter hurts her or something I’m going to freaking blow up!

The parts of me that don’t want to pound her senseless with something heavy, are thinking that any information will be useful, and I don’t even have to respond to the letter, although, realistically I should or she’ll contact me again. However, I could wait three freaking years to respond just like she did and see how she likes it.

I may end up saying “I have now seen the scars on my vagina and vulva.  You knew I was raped. I was too seriously injured for you not to have known. You have lied to me for the last time. No, I will never have a relationship with you.  You can’t come back from this. You are dead to me. Go to hell. ”

Go to freaking hell, Mom!!

Visit with older brother – is the abuser dead yet?

My older brother called me on the weekend and we got together to watch his kid play in a sporting event.

All in all it went well. He made an effort to connect, I brought my wife, and we were on his home turf in a way (watching his kid play) so he felt comfortable and we had an activity to distract us.

At the end we were chatting and he casually asked if our father had died yet, in the same ‘I don’t care about the evil bastard’ way I might have. It must have cost him something to ask. I liked that he asked in the way he did. I told him I’d thought he’d be the one to tell me, but that no-one had told me so he probably was alive. My aunt, at least would let me know.  I filled him in a bit on what I knew about what the other family were doing, which I know he appreciates.

It was very human, if you know what I mean, we had a reasonable connection.

He’s still apparently a perfectionist, and demanding on his sons for achievement, which he comes by honestly, since my mom put an enormous amount of pressure on him. If I ever get close enough to him to point it out, I’ll make the comparison, as I know that that pressure was something he told me was harmful when he was younger. Or I’ll leave well enough alone. He’s not without insight into his own stuff and must already know.

He’s a doctor, and he told me that he thinks someone must have been making some of the medical info about our father up, that he couldn’t have survived all the things we’d heard he’d had (.4 blood alcohol, flail lung, flesh eating disease, liver cancer, plus a recurrence of cancer) in combination.  This makes sense to me, but I can’t imagine why they would make it up? Maybe to make us feel sorry and visit him on his deathbed?  I said it seemed unbelievable to me too, especially after I’d looked up the average survival rates for each of these and calculated he should statistically been dead several times over.  I said if it’s true, then I’m going to live to 150, so that’s all right. He said he thought at some point he’d get a funeral invitation and find out that way.

I told him I think that since mom’s still married to our father, the cops would notify her since she’s next of kin. He said he hoped she wouldn’t inherit his debts, and I said I thought they had a legal separation, so maybe not. My brother  said that our other brother would probably inherit everything then, which was only fair since he was the one still in contact with the old bastard and I agreed. My younger brother would give it all to mom anyhow.

It was good to have a conversation like this with no pretense. I also got to be kind, to support him in rooting for his son, and to speak briefly with my nephew.

I should find out what the rules are for death notification. If my mom is legally separated, do the RCMP notify her or one of his other relatives when he dies? If someone knows, I hope you’ll leave a comment here.

The spiritual thing about this was that on Saturday, after I visited with him, I ran into a friend and got talking for some reason about my mom, she asked if I was back in touch, and I said no, she was dead to me. She already knew about the scars, so she got it.

Then on the Sunday I went swimming in the ocean with some friends. It was kind of impromptu, so we didn’t have bathing suits with us. In Canada it is legal for women to go topless anywhere that men can, so we swam topless to keep most of our clothes dry. It felt like a purification, to be swimming in salt water against my bare skin, not feeling at all ashamed of my less than slender, less than young body on a public beach.

Then the next day I get the call from my aunt about my mom. Interesting how it all came together. It’s kind of like when you finally let go of an ex girlfriend and flirt with someone new, and they sense it and call you up. People sense when the connections are severed, I think, energetically. If so, that’s good, because the connection with my mom does feel severed – when I said she is dead to me, I meant it. I wonder how this will affect how I read her letter.

Survivor reaction after massage

Predictably, I felt vulnerable and emotional most of the week, after even a simple, tiny amount of compassionate work on my strangulation-surviving neck. It felt like pms. I cried easily and felt fragile, distracted and touchy.

Makes me wonder if I really want to get into this right now… Although I know there’s no time like the present for dealing with abuse crap – putting it off isn’t a good idea. We’ll see how I am after this weekends session. I think I’ll probably have her work on my leg first and get to know her better, after that, we’ll see about the neck, even though my inner kid really wants that area of me to be healed.

Massage

I had an interesting experience having a massage today. I had a sore hip due to what my chiropractor says is a tight ‘IT band’. The massage therapist was doing various things to loosen this and I was asking her what might have caused it to get so tight.

Between the two of us we figured it is probably due to my sleeping position, which not coincidentally, is as different as possible from the one I was raped in. She asked if I was uncomfortable sleeping on my back and rather than lying I said calmly. “Yes, but not physically. Trauma. Emotional. But it’s a lot better now.” Typical stock survivor response, acknowledge the facts as calmly as possible, combined with reassuring the listener I’m not going to fall apart on them. However, I meant it. I *am* fine. She said that was good, and continued on.

Now some massage therapists get uncomfortable when you say things like this, but this one didn’t. A woman would know exactly what traumatic event would happen when a woman is on her back. There was not much more to be said.

Earlier in the session she’d been working on the back of my neck and I said, “oh, one thing I forgot. If you work on the front of my neck, please let me know first please.” She’d also accepted this well.

When it came time for her to work on the front of my neck she warned me and was gentle, asking what types of touch to avoid. She got it.

I asked her how my neck was. I’m curious. I have no idea how being strangled has affected my neck. She said something like it was very siezed up and tense. I said, well it makes sense, the soul and body are connected, and she agreed.

At the end of the session we agreed that my IT band and leg needed more work and so did my neck. I said, if we work on the neck it will need a session just for that, and I’ll probably cry. I’ll need to have my car nearby so I can go to it to calm down afterward. I told her I look after myself just fine, but that there is likely to be emotion connected to the tension. She was great. She told me that it happens all the time, that people often have feelings come up during or after sessions and she considers it an honour to help people clear. Her energy felt grounded and sincere.

On the way home in the car I sang my scar song about the abuse to clear some of the built up emotion from having my neck worked on. I had an inner child reaction which led to me going to bed curled up in a quilt for a few hours, after which I felt more clear.

I have booked a session for next weekend. I’m not sure if we’ll work on the neck or the leg.  I’m proud of how matter of fact I was, and how well the interaction went. Unexpected. I’m used to being more guarded with health care folks, so they don’t treat me funny.

I’m looking forward to having body work done in a context that allows me to release the feeling. Not looking forward to cleaning up the reaction afterward, but hopefully if I can release fairly fully it’ll be more relief than triggering. One can hope.

The picture I chose to go with this post is of baby birds, who were rescued after their nest was blown out of a tree by the photographer. At first I rejected the picture, as it is not the strength and confidence I felt today. However, the vulnerability of the birds and their long necks resonates with the vulnerability I feel in my own neck and this situation. There are some very intense, fragile and wounded sensations locked away in my neck tissue and this picture owns that. Telling the truth, being as vulnerable and strong as I actually am is a far stronger and more courageous place to be in. [the photographer took down the photo I had linked to.]

semi-multiple identity moments

kids and 50mm 1.2
kids and 50mm 1.2 by limaoscarjuliet, on Flickr

Today I took the day off work (my hours are flexible) to have a ‘creativity day’. I had intended to practice my singing repertoire for my voice lesson tomorrow. I by early afternoon I hadn’t got to it yet, and couldn’t seem to. Finally I resorted to my journal.

It turns out my inner child got triggered by a funeral I went to this weekend for a coworker. His family were sincerely grieving and he was a genuinely good man. I cried a little too at the funeral and before, and supported one of my work-friends who was a lot closer to him and is in serious grief.

I thought emotionally, that was it for me that day, until today, when for some reason I just couldn’t make myself do what I’d planned to do with my day today, rehearse for my singing lesson tomorrow. Could not make myself do it. I was really resistant, like a tired toddler in a mall.

So I went through the usual suspects. Was I feeling shame? It was sort of like that but not exactly. An inner child thing? Bingo. I tried writing to her where I use my dominant hand and have her reply with my non-dominant hand, a technique for getting at unconscious stuff. From her responses, it turns out my inner kid was freaked out that I’d been talking trash about her daddy/abuser and was worried he’d come and attack her. I spent some time reassuring her that we were all right, that he didn’t care enough to come get us, and besides he already knows we told the police a long time ago and hasn’t done anything about it in all that time.

At this point my use of ‘we’ is freaking me out a little. Yes, my inner kid feels kind of like a different person, in that I only know how she is feeling by listening to my body and dialoguing with her. And yes, I am often surprised by what she says. So is she a separate personality? Perhaps, perhaps not. As far as I know, I don’t lose time to her, and my wife hasn’t noticed anything like that either. She’s ‘come out’ in therapy sessions, and I carefully think of her and describe her as my child self when that happens. I think I remember fully what gets said and done, but how would I know if I didn’t? I’ve never had a therapist label her as anything but my inner child.  It’s not out of the question, but I haven’t had any compelling evidence so far. I’m kind of agnostic about the whole thing. I respond to her as a separate child because it works at getting through these emotional roadblocks, and often I get information and access to feelings I wouldn’t have otherwise. So dissociative yes, dissociative identity disorder probably no.  She’s a part of me, stuck in that time, who holds information and feelings that for one reason or another aren’t yet integrated into conscious memory and awareness.

Back to my inner little girl. I decided that singing was not on for today and that she needed to feel safe, and mothered by me. I created sacred space (a Pagan thing, saying prayers that create a circular prayer area) and curled up with a blanket, which feels nurturing and safe, on the floor in my living room on a particularly nice carpet. I asked the Goddess and the God to protect me, and listened to what my inner kid had to say.

She was crying about my coworker and how he was good and dead and my dad/abuser is bad and not dead. I told her that our daddy is old and will die eventually, he must be over 70 now, and the most he could last is another 20 years, which of course  is far too much. I told her that daddy is a heavy smoker and drinker, and that’s got to knock some life off of him, so surely it won’t be that long.  She was worried he’d die and come get her spiritually, that he knows things that she thinks and would punish her, which is something I was afraid of as a child. She is mad and sad about my mother, who lied to us. I explained that even if he could come and haunt us, he wouldn’t because we just aren’t that important to him. He’s broken in the head and can’t love or care about anyone. I explained that she has me now to mother her, and I’ll always be with her, and that she also has the Goddess and God to love her.

The wording she uses is young, I’m not sure what age, but I just go with it and respond as if she is an external girl needing comfort and mothering. This connects me to the feelings, and they flow. I cry so hard and long that my dog comes and licks my face and offers me her belly to rub, then stands over me, looking solemn. Knowing she is there to guard me and watch for danger is comforting as well.

After the crying settles down she let me know that she wanted to go outside and get an ice cream. I decided to go with it, and went out and bought a nice big cone, and listened to an audiobook on my headphones while taking a walk to my favourite park. I framed it in my mind as nurturing her, being a good mommy to a child that had been scared and sad. The ice cream was delicious and the story felt like being read to as a child, something I loved. I spent time looking at the beautiful trees and walked home feeling a lot better.

Afterward, I feel more whole and could probably work on my music. When I was first healing I’d have a day like this where I was iether resisting, bargaining with or, eventually, comforting my inner kid a few times a week. Now it’s just once in a while, when something happens to trigger it. It’s a  familiar process, and it works. So much of my resistance used to be her digging in her heels and forcing me to stop working and look after myself. I wonder how much of it still is?

Eureka – take that, vulvadynia!

Okay, I seem to have it figured out.

The yoga is great, but I found something even better. Just becoming aware of how often I clench the muscles of my sore, rape-injured body was a big first step. Now I’m learning to train my body not to do it.

It helps that it doesn’t hurt much any more. The clenching was a reaction to the pain. My guess is my smart child self figured out that clenching restricted blood flow, which dampened pain. It does do that, but now, years later when the wounds have mostly healed, the restricted blood flow causes damage and pain of it’s own.

Heating pads.

The yoga increased blood flow thing worked so well at bringing the pain down, I’ve moved on to prevention. I’ve been sitting on a gentle heating pad, set on low, while watching TV with my honey. The constant gentle heat keeps reminding me to relax, and with that relaxation, I feel so much more grounded and safe, less on guard, which should be a paradox, but isn’t. The heat and a conscious decision to relax have allowed me to get familiar with the sensation of not-clenching, and helping me make it the dominant way my body is. I still clench, but not as much, and my vulva is a lot better.

It reminds me of training myself not to clench my jaw (TMJ) a few years ago. I’d do big yawns to loosen my jaw before bed and put heat on my jaw joint, consciously loosen the muscles and put them in a position where they weren’t as easy to clench, jaw hanging loosely. Over time, it gradually lessened, and although I don’t know if I never clench my jaw when I sleep,  I no longer wake up with a sore jaw, and the dentist doesn’t mention it when I go.

I’m thinking this is advanced-survivor stuff. Perhaps ten years ago, unclenching my muscles would have brought flashbacks that would have seemed too daunting to embrace. Perhaps they are still working themselves to the surface, although perhaps not since I’ve remembered the injury I’m recovering from. Perhaps I couldn’t have done it before I saw the scars stretching across my vulva from the rapes. Knowing is always better than not knowing, no matter how hard it is.

A good friend of mine from my teens got in touch recently. I hadn’t seen her since the first year of university, or perhaps before. She asked me how my parents were. I realized she must not have heard, that I didn’t tell her back then, at the beginning of my healing.  I wrote back that my parents had split up, and that I don’t see them, and asked how her parents were. There are many ways to tell, and which I use depends on my sense of balance between a strong certainty that I won’t lie about this any more against the need not to drive people away with awkwardness.

Complete and specific honesty is reserved for therapists, close friends and other survivors, who usually can take it without saying something stupid or hurtful or shrinking away from me, which is worse. This would be “My father is a sociopath and raped me starting when I was a preschooler. We lost touch after I reported him to the police. I recently found out my mother was actively complicit, so I don’t see her any more either.” Telling it this way is the best. It is a truth that prevents ever having to dance around the topic again. It allows my inside and my outside to be congruent and gives accurate context for things that may come up.

The other versions, for trusted non-survivors, are a lot less specific, such as “My parents were abusive and I don’t see them.” If the person accepts this, and leaves the topic alone, or says, ‘mine weren’t great iether’, we have a stronger friendship. If they say some rubbish about forgiveness or parents doing the best they can, I write them off.

If the person or situation isn’t important enough to get into it, I tell the truth, but not much of it.  I will tell strangers and acquaintances partial truths such as  “I don’t see my parents much” or “My mom is in X and my dad is in Y, they split up a few years ago.” A bland partial truth is usually enough to satisfy the question, and change the topic without lying.

I thought about telling my old friend more, but I decided to be more gentle. She knew my mother and father after all. This tragedy happened to people and in places that she is familiar with, that don’t have the distance they might otherwise have. She can read between the lines, and if she wants to know, she’ll ask. If she doesn’t, I have no need to tell her. Another thing that has loosened.