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Archive for September, 2011

PhotobucketI had a wonderful day yesterday resting. I did not rest the entire day, but I rested enough to feel rejuvenated this morning.

I have been working too much lately, and this will continue for two more weeks. One of my three part-time jobs ebbs and flows. I am teaching students how to study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which is offered four times a year. The next one is on October 1, so I am very busy teaching a class as well as tutoring. Feast or famine is the nature of the job. I might not work again for this part-time job until 2012, but right now, I am completely slammed.

I worked 9.5 hours for this job on Tuesday PLUS an hour for job #2 PLUS an hour for job #3. Other than short breaks for meals, I did not stop. A month ago, I had not seen a paycheck in weeks. Again, nature of the beast.

I had worked all weekend (am covering a class in another state on Saturdays, which requires five hours of driving), all day Monday, and then this insane day on Tuesday. By Tuesday night, my brain was no longer able to process the formal logic required in class on Tuesday night. I made jokes about it with my class and pointed out that I, like them, needed to take a little time off from the LSAT.

So, I rested yesterday. I had three hours of work that had to be done for my other jobs. I did one hour before breakfast and the other two hours from 1:30-3:30 p.m. The rest of the day, I nurtured myself. I went to the gym and read my book while doing 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. I then did weights before coming home and doing yoga. I took a shower and then camped out in my bedroom.

I kept a scented candle lit all day (lavender/vanilla), and I watched the season premieres of two of my favorite TV shows. I ate what I wanted for lunch. Then, I took a three-hour nap. I was so relaxed that my body actually RESTED! (I continue my struggles with insomnia at night and awaken each morning around 5:00 a.m. with my heart pounding.) After I woke up, I watched a comedy.

Next, I picked up my kid from school. (It was an early release day.) He relaxed in his room for a couple of hours (he is wiped out as well because he won’t sleep when I am not home, and I don’t get home until 10:00 p.m. on Tue/Thu) while I did my other two hours of work. It seemed so easy because I was so well-rested.

Next, my son and I took our dogs for a walk. Then, we met friends for dinner at my favorite restaurant. (Hub is out of town on a business trip.) By the time I went to bed, it seemed like three relaxing days had passed.

I cannot believe how quickly a busy day flies by, whereas a relaxing day seems to take its sweet little time. That is exactly what I needed.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Taking the day off

This week has been super busy for me. I am juggling three part-time jobs (just until the end of the month), and I worked from 9:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. last night, only breaking briefly for meals. In sum, I’m pooped. So, I am going to model resting today. Rest is an important part of taking care of yourself, and I am going to do that today. :0) ~ Faith

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On my blog entry entitled Adaptability and Living Life after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

but.what do u do when u find anxiety overtaking so much of your life..?i find the more i delve into all ive learned i want only the reasonable safe nest i hv created for myself at home.agoraphobia would a relief by far if i cld afford it.sadly not kidding ~ Malanie

I come at this question from two directions – the early stages and the later stages of healing.

In the early stages of healing, I needed to find ways to manage my anxiety because feeling anxiety was a “normal” part of my existence. What worked for me was learning how to do deep breathing, yoga, and meditation. Some readers have told me that these methods did not work for them and had other suggestions, such as Pilates. (Readers ~ Feel free to jump into the comments with what worked for you!)

I also had to discover ways in which it felt safe to “be present.” For me, this started by being out in nature, such as taking a walk along the beach, and from being in safe groups, such as my Sunday School class. Being present is the opposite of anxiety.

When you are truly present in your life, you are “being.” I didn’t even know what that was like when it happened the first time. I felt like I had been beamed into my life and was an active participant, not someone watching from the sidelines. It felt peaceful – the opposite of anxious.

In the later stages of healing, it is time to let go of the anxiety crutches that got you through the early years. I have chosen to stop drinking alcohol or taking Xanax during the day and, instead, allow the waves of anxiety to come when they do. (While I am still not drinking, I am battling insomnia right now and sometimes using Xanax to help me sleep, but that is a different issue.)

What I have learned is that there is no way to “shut down” the “bad” emotions while still experiencing the “good” ones. If you numb yourself with Xanax, wine, or whatever your numbing agent of choice is, you interfere with your ability to stay present, which is the way out of the anxiety. It takes a leap of faith to do this because you have to face the anxiety head on. That’s where the fire hose analogy comes in – no matter how strong the wave of anxiety is, I am the fire hose (the body), not the water coursing through it (the feelings or emotions).

You cannot prematurely move from one place to the other, so follow your therapist’s advice. There is nothing wrong with using a crutch, such as Xanax, to help you get through the early years of healing. However, don’t allow yourself to believe that you cannot survive without it. As you grow stronger and discover the beauty of presence, you can let go of the crutches and step out into life. Anxiety won’t kill you, and behind the anxiety is joy!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I had my last regular session with my therapist last week. We both agreed that I have processed all that I need to process from my hellish summer, and I can always schedule another therapy session as needed.

At my last session, we talked about my adaptability in comparison to my husband’s inflexibility. I said I found it ironic because I am the one who grew up in an abusive environment while he did not. (His upbringing was dysfunctional but not abusive. His parents loved him, and he knew that they did.) I would expect that someone who grew up in abuse to be less flexible and more distrustful of the outside world.

My therapist said that the opposite actually tends to be true. Because I was surrounded by abuse, I had to look outside of myself and my surroundings to engage in life. My pain drove me to therapy and to reaching out toward others. This resulted in me learning that there is life outside of my pain.

Contrast this with my husband, who grew up in a loving but dysfunctional bubble. He learned that safety was found by staying in the bubble, which moved him toward being inflexible in his life. He needs the bubble to stay intact, and any change threatens the bubble.

I find it ironic that experiencing much more childhood pain through abuse has actually served me better in living my life in adulthood. Another therapist says that the most emotionally wounded are often the most successful and healthy in life because their pain drives them to seek therapy. Through therapy, they learn how to live life in a healthier manner. My therapist points out that we learn to live life, not just exist.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have worked far too hard to settle for merely existing. Just having food on the table and the absence of abuse in my life is not enough for me. I want to make a difference in the world. I want the fact that I exist to matter. I want the world to be a better place because I am in it. I want meaning and purpose in my life.

Additionally, I want to experience life. I want to know what it feels like to walk along the beach in Hawaii. I want to visit different places and see how people live in other parts of the world. I want to feel … to experience … to **be** …

I also want to heal as much pain as I can. I know I cannot take away another person’s pain, but I can walk alongside him and show him a way out. I can listen and truly “hear” as another person unburdens herself. I can make a sick person’s day a little less hard by dropping off lunch or groceries. I can babysit a single mother’s child so she can have a much-deserved break.

Existence is not enough. I want to live!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Changes in Overprotectiveness Based on Your Own Child Abuse History, a reader posted the following comment:

There’s another level to my healing that I do not know if others struggle with. Because I was ‘ritually abused’, there are many things that were used to ‘program’ me (though I still find it hard to describe what programming is to anyone else!). Those things, like your Russian dolls, were usually childhood items, especially popular Disney and other musicals, some toddler games. I find it really hard – even if not ‘triggered’ – to let my child play with or watch those games and am still really wary of them. ~ A x

I, too, struggle with this. I try to achieve a healthy balance. If something is triggering to me and will cause me emotional harm, my child simply cannot play with it. Let’s face it – children today are hardly deprived in the toy department. I can say yes to 100 things to compensate for the one no.

For example, I absolutely cannot handle seeing my son wearing a black robe. He tried on a “Scream” Halloween costume at a Halloween store. That one glimpse triggered me so badly that I was out of sorts for a week. That means no black robes for him. I don’t see this limitation as something that is going to cause him long-term damage. There are hundreds of Halloween options that don’t include a black robe.

I am age-appropriately honest with my son about why – I have told him that when I was his age, people dressed in black robes hurt me. When that didn’t satisfy him, I shared the additional information that people dressed up in black robes killed my dog. My son loves his dogs, so that made an impression, and he stopped asking for a black robe costume for a while.

My son has never had a Connect Four game because that triggers me, but we have a closet filled with other fun games for children. My son has never played with a Russian nesting doll, but he has had plenty of action figures to play with. There are age-appropriate substitutes for just about any particular item that triggers me.

I try to view this as honoring my inner child while also honoring my son. I am not going to let my son do something at the expense of my inner child’s emotional health, but I am also not going to limit my son for something that is simply annoying to me. While I do have a lot of triggers from childhood, there are many more things out there that do not trigger me. My son is welcome to play with any of those.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Changes in Overprotectiveness Based on Your Own Child Abuse History, a reader posted the following comment:

Most of all, I worry about handing on negative behaviours to my child, because of the lack of role models to show me appropriate ways of behaving (though I do try). I also worry about the impact of my PTSD, with periods when I am very preoccupied by memories, or depressed, or feel shameful and angry. I know I do my best and love my young child, and actually his presence is the main motivation for me to heal stronger, he guides me. ~ A x

I, too, have struggled with the fear of how much my history of child abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms affect my parenting. I love my child with all of my heart and don’t want to hurt him. I want to keep him safe and would do anything to keep him safe.

In fact, when I first entered into therapy and learned that I had dissociative identity disorder (DID) and “lost time,” I told my therapist that I would commit suicide to protect my child from me if I discovered that any part of me was hurting him. My therapist assured me that my passionate desire to protect my child told him that I was not capable of hurting him – I would never do something so fundamentally against my own value system.

There is no question that my history of child abuse colors my parenting. In most situations, though, I don’t think it is a bad thing. For example, I don’t let my child have a sleepover unless I trust the parent(s). To me, that is being smart, not overprotective. He does have sleepovers at his three closest friends’ houses, so he is not missing out on anything.

I never learned how to process emotions as a child: I had to learn how to do this as an adult through therapy. I model the healthy expression of emotions and explain to my son how to do it. I don’t impose my own likes and dislikes on my son – I give him the freedom to explore his own interests, which is something that was denied me as a child. I remember how it felt to be treated like X, so I make sure I give my son the room to be his own person.

There have been times when I have worried that having me as a mother might harm him in the sense that he has seen me banging my head when triggered, etc. I decided early on to pay for anything therapy he might need as a teenager or adult that is a result of any of my actions.

What I have grown to learn, though, is that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Parenting is not defined by one moment, such as the moment of my son walking in on me banging my head on a pillow. Our relationship is defined by the hundreds of thousands of moments we have had together, most of which have been positive.

I also talk openly with my son about how everyone has problems and that everyone can benefit from seeing a “talk doctor.” He knows that when I had a rough summer, I started seeing my “talk doctor” again. My son sees his own “talk doctor” (a child psychiatrist) to prescribe his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication. He knows that it is OK to talk about how he is feeling and what is going on in his life. He also knows that if he cannot talk to me, there are other adults in his life who love him that he can talk to.

I have had moments of feeling sad for my son for having “damaged” me as a mother, but I have come to realize that he is actually blessed because he has me. As a child, I had no one other than my baby sister, and it wasn’t her job to be my parent. My son has **me** — a mother who loves him unconditionally, who enjoys his company, and who supports him in being the man he is growing up to be, no matter where that journey leads him.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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CaveOn my blog entry entitled Overprotective Parenting after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I have two children and shortly after they were born, the affects of the abuse I endured and witnessed, came crashing back to the surface. I found that I could not return to work as I could not fathom the idea of someone else caring for my child, and inflicting potential harm. It would leave me literally ill at even the thought. Now that they are older, I am trying to find that balance, but it is causing me to be so conflicted. I want to give my daughter (11) the social relationships she needs, but still have not been able to allow her to sleep over at another friend’s house. I let her friends stay here, but when the question comes up for her to stay elsewhere, I freeze. The boy (9) has stayed at a friend’s house, but only because the family is a close friend of my husband and trusted. I know no girl’s her age where I know the parents well enough to let her go. She is increasingly distant from me because of my overprotective nature and I know things need to change, but I just don’t know how to take that first step. ~ SH

I have been thinking about how much I have changed in regards to my overprotectiveness. I think that part is due to therapy, but a larger part is due to my own childhood experience.

My abuse started when I was a toddler at my mother’s hand. Things got much, much worse when I reached school age (around age six) as my mother made my sister and me available to a “cult,” which I now recognize as being a child pornography and prostitution ring. My elementary school years were very, very hard.

My family moved away right before my 11th birthday, and the severe abuse ended. I did experience sporadic abuse after that, such as when S&L, family “friends” who were my most sadistic abusers, would come by for a visit and a “reminder” not to tell. However, the ongoing severe abuse ended by age 11.

My son is 10-1/2, and his 11th birthday is just around the corner. As he nears his 11th birthday, I am finding myself letting down my guard and being much better able to let him be a kid and take some “risks.” I let him spend the night on a newer friend’s husband’s watch while the friend and I went out of town for the weekend. They have three children – two who are school-aged – and the 11-year-old daughter is one of my son’s best friends. I cannot imagine doing that a year ago, but I felt comfortable with it today. My son called me regularly to check in and say hi. He had a wonderful weekend and would very much love to do it again.

I have also given my son permission (at his initiative) to try a residential (sleepover) week of summer camp next summer when he is 11-1/2. He only wants to do it if his best friend will as well, and I have confirmed that the camp will ensure the boys get to room together. He has attended the summer camp as a daily camp for three summers now, and he LOVES it! The camp also has a residential program, and the residential kids get to participate in activities exclusive to them. My son feels ready to take the leap. A year ago, I would have said, “Hell no!!” Today, it makes me a little nervous, but I trust that he will be OK.

I think part of this change in me is that I know that my son has passed my own “danger years.” Yes, I know he could be abused today, but a one-time incident of abuse at age 11 doesn’t have the power to damage him to the degree that I was damaged. I still want to keep him safe and protected from child abuse, but I can also rest in knowing that I have done my job. It is no longer possible for him to experience enough severe and ongoing abuse to shatter him into dissociative identity disorder (DID).

My son is also not me, and I am not my parents. My son knows who he is. He is not afraid to stand up for himself, and he is nobody’s victim. He is on a different path from me, and he is old enough now for me to recognize that he is not an extension of the abused me – he is his own person. I am also able to recognize that I am partly responsible for this. I did my job, and I have raised a kid to age 10-1/2 who is confident and not a victim. I have broken the family legacy of abuse. It ended with me!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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