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Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’

My therapist (T) never ceases to amaze me in making sense out of what seems so “crazy” in my head. Short answer – I am going through a “transitional phase” of healing right now that is very positive.

When I was in my “crazy place” over the weekend, I sent my T an email where I poured out all of my “crazy” emotions. Then, I emailed him later in a much more logical manner when I had calmed down. My T said that the first email was actually the most helpful, which I took to mean showed him how “crazy” I am, but that’s not what he meant. He said it showed the most growth, and he was actually BEAMING when he said it!

My T said that, when I was in therapy before (several years ago) and working through the flashbacks, etc., I was just learning how to feel. I was not ready for what we need to work on now, which is how to manage and express my emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them or judging them. I am going to be seeing my therapist regularly again through this transitional period with a focus on learning how to handle my emotions without being swept away by them.

My “homework” until my next session is to stop explaining myself. My T says that I am a very functional person and that I make good decisions. I need to stop assuming that I am “wrong” whenever there is conflict in a relationship, and I do not have to explain to anyone else my reasons for what I do. He says that I am a good person who makes good choices, and I don’t have to let myself feel “put on the spot” or defensive in my relationships.

We also talked about relationships for a while. He said that most relationships have a beginning, middle, and end. That is the normal cycle of a relationship. Most relationships don’t last forever. They come into your life for a season, such as relationships with your schoolmates during college, and then they end as you move on to the next phase of your life. He said that I need to ask myself what purpose each relationship is serving in my life and make sure it is based on where I am today, not where I was in the past.

He also said that there needs to be room for me in my relationships. He pointed out that all of my intense emotions did not run off one of my closest friends, who also sees him for therapy. I was not “good” or “bad” by expressing my emotions. I was simply me, and my friend accepted that I was “being me” even when I wasn’t being “pleasant.” What matters is that, over the long-term, the give and take between the two parties balances out.

We covered a lot more ground, but that’s the basic gist. It was so helpful to hear a professional that I trust tell me that I am making progress and that this is an expected part of healing. I had not seen anything about this phase of healing in any of my healing books, so I was really questioning why I seemed mostly emotionally stable for six years and then so “crazy” out of nowhere. It helps to believe in his assessment of me when I am questioning myself.

Oh ~ I almost forgot … My T said that the reader who posted a comment about “compassionate awareness” is brilliant and really “gets it.” He loved that expression! :0)

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Dear Faith,

I am sorry that you are feeling so crappy right now. It isn’t fair. You did nothing to deserve feeling this way. You did nothing to cause it, and there is nothing that you are doing or not doing that would make it all better. This is emotional chemo. This is something that you cannot get around, over, or under. The way out is straight through the pain until you get to the other side.

I know that it feels like you have always been and always will be in this much pain. The truth is that this feeling will not last. The longest it has ever lasted was six weeks. You didn’t believe it would ever end, but it did. For four wonderful hours, the clouds parted, and you felt the warmth of the sun. You felt more alive than you ever had before. When those four hours ended, you kept the hope that this pain would not be forever. Hold onto that hope.

Don’t let anyone minimize your experience. The pain really is that bad. It’s not your imagination, and you are not just “being dramatic.” Your pain is very real, and you don’t owe anyone any apologies for not being OK with being in so much pain. You don’t have to get through this time with grace: you just have to get through it however you can.

This is not a situation that you can “fix.” There is no magic formula that is going to make the clouds part and remove the intense pressure from your spirit. This is all part of the “emotional chemo” process. Healing moves to its own rhythm, and you are just along for the ride. It will feel more endurable if you stop fighting it and, instead, express what you are feeling.

It is OK to cry. It is OK to get really, really pissed off about it. It is OK to take it easy. If you were going through physical chemo treatments, nobody would expect for you to keep the perfect house or get everything done. You would be given the time and space you needed to heal. This emotional chemo is no different. Take the time you need to nap and rest.

I know how hard it is to believe that this is survivable, but it is. You already survived your childhood, and you have already survived these dark places several times. You can do this, one baby step at a time. You don’t have to get through the rest of your life – you just have to get through right now. Do what you need to do right now, in this moment, to survive it. I promise you – the clouds will part.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have more ritual abuse memories coming, and I am not looking forward to them. However, I know that they are a necessary part of my healing, so I will deal with them as they surface.

One might be the memory that explains my obsession with my teeth. Both my sister and I have this obsession. I have always loved going to the dentist. I own my own dental tools for scraping away tartar between visits to the dentist. I brush my teeth a minimum of five times day – so much so that I have caused myself gum damage.

I have been experiencing body memories for a few days now regarding my teeth. It feels like my teeth are being sunk into something that is softer than flesh but much more solid than a liquid. The closest I can describe is the fluoride treatments that were used back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – that gooey plaster-feeling substance. I can feel that on my teeth – both the top and bottom teeth. That memory will probably explain why I found fluoride treatments to be so triggering when I was in high school and college, although back then I didn’t know what “triggering” was.

I also suspect that I will be recovering the memory that explains why splinters are so triggering to me. Splinters have always been triggering to me. As a young child, my son knew that mommy cannot remove a splinter. The family rule has always been that, if it isn’t bother you too badly, wait until Dad gets home to remove the splinter. If it is really bothering you, I will take you to the doctor now. So, I would meet my kid’s needs, but I absolutely, positively could not do it myself. I know this is not “normal.”

My kid had a friend spend the night last weekend who got a splinter in my watch. My husband was out watching a ballgame with his father, so he wasn’t around to help. My kid actually helped his friend get the splinter out. They would describe what the splinter looked like, and I got very triggered – very dizzy like I was going to pass out – and I could feel sheer terror in my thighs. (My yoga instructor says that we hold our fear in our thighs.) I am sure that memory is going to be a doozy.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Over the last week or so, I have been focusing on the healing process and have stated that the healing process has its own natural rhythm. If we can identify that natural rhythm and allow it to flow, healing happens naturally.

Of course, since I wrote this, I had to put myself to the test, and it has been a tough week. I am apparently working on healing a deeper layer of myself (or another alter part for those with DID). I keep finding myself feeling intensely sad, and I have been plagued by nightmares. The nightmares got so bad one night that I kept waking myself by whimpering in my sleep. I knew that if I got up to take a Xanax or clear my head, I would never get back to sleep. So, I kept falling right back into the nightmares and finally awakened in tears with my heart pounding and my bed sheets soaked with sweat.

Early in the healing process, I would be beating myself up for this. I would assume that I was doing something “wrong” because, if I was really healing, I should no longer be having nightmares. Adding negative thoughts, self-hatred, and shame would be an impediment to the natural flow of healing, and I have reached a place where I recognize that I am not doing anything “wrong” right now.

Another common reaction is for me to throw myself into compulsive busy-ness. This can be over-committing myself through volunteer work, taking on more classes at my job, or doing other things to keep me “too busy” to have to feel this lousy. The idea is to stay too busy to feel badly during the day and then drop into bed too exhausted to dream at night. Instead, I am choosing to slow myself down, building yoga and meditation into my daily schedule and moving at a slower pace. My therapist always advises me to “sit with” the pain and just allow it to “be.” It takes a lot of self-discipline for me to do this.

Another reaction that I used to do a lot is to attach myself to those feelings. For example, I started working through this phase of healing over the weekend, which is when I was receiving all of the comments to Friday’s blog entry in which some of my readers felt “judged” by my words. It hurts me to know that I have hurt another person, so I could have easily attached my feelings of sadness to that event, but I chose not to. I was able to recognize that one was not related to the other.

When I attach my life today to the feelings I experience that are really echoes of the past, I can go downhill quickly. I take the sadness from childhood and add my experiences from today, which is like pouring gasoline on a fire. So, instead of feeling a malaise, I can feel suicidally depressed, as if I were being sucked into a dark hole with no way out. My yogi gave me the advice to think of myself as the fire hose and the emotions as the water coursing through it. No matter how powerful those emotions are, I am not the “water” – I am the hose.

So, I have gotten better about what not to do, but I am still uncertain what I should be doing right now. Until I figure that out, I am choosing just to “be.” I am choosing to “sit with” this pain and recognize that this is part of my natural healing process. It is going to feel lousy for a while, but then it will pass. I just have to be very gentle with myself in the process.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have shared before that my sister graduated college in December. She is now working on her Master’s degree in biology. She managed to get through her undergraduate courses well for the most part except that her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms caused her to fail multiple tests. She applied for accommodations at the college to get her own testing room. A doctor diagnosed her with social anxiety disorder, which qualified her for this accommodation. As soon as she started taking tests in a private testing room, she went from failing her exams to acing them.

Her problem is hypervigilence. When she is taking a test in a room filled with people, she must determine the origin of each sound to assess whether it is a threat. So, every time someone drops a pencil or clears his throat, she cannot focus on the test questions. Her brain stops processing the test, resulting in a failing grade. However, when she is in a private testing room, there is no “threat” to assess, so she can focus on her exam.

My sister is now being triggered by some of the labs that she is taking. She had to remove animal skulls from boxes, which was very triggering to her. Interestingly, she is not triggered by skulls if she comes across them in the forest, but it wigs her out to have to remove skulls from boxes or jars. We both suspect that this is a trigger from the ritual abuse we suffered. Regardless of why, she fears failing out of the Master’s program because of her PTSD symptoms.

I have encouraged her to apply for accommodations through the university’s disability office, and she is following my advice with the support of her campus counselor. Federal law offers protection for people with disabilities, and PTSD qualifies. My sister can apply for an individualized education plan (IEP), which will provide her with modifications to accommodate her disability. For example, she is going to ask that the animal skulls be removed from the boxes by someone else and be lying on the table when she enters the lab. She is hopeful that this will be enough to remove the triggers for her.

If you are in college (or high school), you have protection if your PTSD symptoms are interfering with your ability to succeed in school. Talk to your school’s disability office about possible accommodations. You should not have to give up on your dream of a college degree just because you have PTSD. Don’t let your abusers take that away from you, too.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I am writing about my experiences in dealing with recovering a flashback as it happens. The series starts here.

It has now been a few days since I had the flashback. I am doing okay. I am actually doing well for the most part, although the pain is still a bit raw.

I shared the story with two friends separately. Both said the right things. One focused on the fact that nothing that happened in the past can change the person that I am today. The other pointed out that S probably thought I was drugged. He knew me before and after and saw how innocent I was. He probably figured I blocked that night out and thought it was best that I did.

What I am struggling with the most right now is coming to terms with the fact that the dissociative identity disorder (DID) really did affect me in adulthood. Up until recently, I believed it was just an issue in childhood. In fact, my therapist never gave me an official diagnosis of DID because I did not report losing time in adulthood. However, I clearly did.

A part of myself is mortified that I have memory gaps that other people could fill but I could not. How many times did I interact with my abusers after the fact and never even know it?

I am also angry that my abusers from childhood left me so vulnerable in adulthood. I was programmed to be a walking doormat for anyone who wanted to use and abuse my body. I fear just how many times I was exploited in adulthood because of my DID.

I am also in awe over how much I have changed. Going back to those times and seeing just how passive I was and then contrasting that person with who I am now is mindboggling. It is hard to believe that I am even the same person.

Overall, I accept that the flashbacks have been a good thing. I am reclaiming parts of myself that I have been pushing away for decades.

A friend worried that something that I had written recently triggered the flashbacks, but I don’t think so. I think I was ready to heal at a deeper level. Until I reclaim all of myself, I will continue to remain fragmented. While I am much more whole than I have ever been, I am still not fully whole. The price of finding wholeness is continuing to discover and heal these wounds.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I am writing about my experiences in dealing with recovering a flashback as it happens. The series starts here.

I wrote my last post the morning after recovering the memory (10/24/08). I am writing this one immediately afterward.

I typically recover my memories/experience flashbacks at night. That is the only down time I get throughout the day when it is safe for me to process the memory.

As I recover the memory, it is mostly in flashes (hence the term flashback). However, in the morning, the memory sits in my memory bank just like any other memory. If I want to, I can analyze the memory just as I would any other memory.

Here is my memory of the event this morning:

++++++ sexual abuse triggers ++++++

S (guy friend) and J (my date) picked up B (S’s date) and me from our dorm lobby. We walked together over to the party through the back parking lot. Neither S nor I knew our dates well, but we had been friends for a few weeks (beginning of my college career), so we mostly chatted on the walk over. This bothered B, but J did not seem to care.

We walked over to this house where the party was already going. When we got there, I did not know anyone other than the people I came with. I noticed a guy in the corner sizing me up. I knew he was a threat, and I dissociated. That is why I had no memory of the party – a part of myself was never there.

I don’t think I had ever met this guy before, but he was a predator. He saw the dissociation in me, just as I saw the predator in him, so he knew I was safe to exploit.

I clung to S, talking with him so I would not have to go with the danger guy. B got angry because I was monopolizing her date. She probably thought I was making a play for him, but I wasn’t.

Danger guy chatted with my date (J), and then they told me to come with them to another room. I knew it would be bad, so I tried to get B to come with me so I wouldn’t be alone with them. In retrospect, she probably thought I was a slut and trying to get her to do the same things that I did. She probably saw me as wanting to “be with” every guy at the party, including her date, which explains her animosity toward me after that night.

The predator was so cocky. As soon as we got in the room, he told me to “suck him off.” I did not protest a bit – just got down on my knees and did it. J was astonished, but predator was so d@#$ sure of himself.

It was a child alter part they were manipulating. She had seen her beloved dog die and knew that her younger sister’s life was at stake. She was not about to say no. In fact, she was not even aware that saying no or leaving was an option.

I still don’t remember how many, but it was definitely more than just those two guys. S did “rescue” me from that night. He continued to be nice to me the rest of the year (I transferred to a different school after freshman year).

I never went to another party my freshman year, at least not that I remember at this point. I do not recall ever talking to any of the guys from the party again other than S.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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