Tears

Image from Wikipedia

It’s been a while since I posted anything because some things came up that kept me pretty busy recently. There’s too much for one post, so I’ll break it down into a couple of them.

I thought I was going to do a post right after Christmas reflecting on how well or badly I’d handled having so much family around me at the same time, but I never found the time to do it before I was flying out to a writers’ conference.

The first day I was there, my paternal grandfather passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. I was sitting in the hotel room I shared with another writer I know when I got the call. To my great surprise, I burst into tears when I received the news of my grandfather’s death.

I almost never cry unless I’m furiously angry.

I almost couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I didn’t shed a single tear when my grandmother died when I was in high school, though I thought the grief would burn a hole in me. But there I was, gasping and sobbing, streams of tears rolling down my face. And a voice in the back of my head was telling me to get a hold on it, as if I had no right to cry about losing my grandpa.

When I finally got it under control, I thought that would be it. I wouldn’t cry again. But I did, several times over the week while I was away. Once when one of my colleagues was talking about her own grandfather’s dementia with a tone of such disdain that it hurt my heart. And again when I got another call, telling me that the funeral was set for a couple of hours before I would be getting home from the airport. I’d figured that I was going to miss the funeral, but to miss it by a matter of hours was just too painful.

I still can’t believe that I cried. Ever since I was a little kid, about the time I was first molested, I haven’t been able to cry unless I’m angry, which used to happen a lot. Any feelings of helplessness, frustration, or fright would stir up all that anger that I could never be free of, and then I’d cry and get told to stop my “bellyaching.” Even now, at least until recently, it was that way. I hate that being angry makes me cry, and I hate crying. All my life I’ve been told that it was something I could control and that I just needed to get a handle on it.

I’m hoping that the tears I shed for my grandfather (well, for me really since I know I’ll miss him), will be a turning point for me. Maybe I can be more normal about what brings tears from now on. We’ll see, I guess.

Coping Method #2

I don’t know why I’m typing this method up so early in this series, since I don’t use it as often as many of the others, but it was on my mind, so here it is.

Go for a run.

There are several benefits to this one. First, it gets you out of the house so that your brain has to process less familiar scenery, thus tying up neurons so that they aren’t engaged in the mental negativity that’s going on. Second, getting sunshine helps your body balance your serotonin and dopamine levels, which is good when you’re going through hard stuff. Third, the physical exercise is good for you. Fourth, running cause your body to release endorphins, natural pain killers that make you feel better, and can help stabilize your mood.

If you have an IPod/MP3 player/phone that will double as one, I recommend taking it with you when you run (and earbuds/headphones too). Put on happy, upbeat music. Even though the music will feel jarring because of the mood I’m in, it always helps me change my mood. Playing sad or angry music only reinforces those emotions and won’t help you get things straightened out any faster. I learned this one the hard way. Abandoning my Evanescence et al. was one of the best things I’ve done.

If you’ve done any running, then you know that your brain will start to sync with the rhythm of your stride, or to the music your listening to. Often, I find myself going over a phrase over and over again, like a chant while I run. When this happens, If it’s a bad thought, I make myself change it to something like, “I can do this,” or, “this too will pass,” or “I’m alright,” or, “I’m not alone.” Anything that is positive, true, and comforting will do. Part of how I pick my phrase is the rhythm that I’ve got going. Sometimes I need a sentence with a particular meter.

Only run as long as you are comfortable running. Don’t push yourself past your limits. The run is to clear your mind and help control your emotions, not to punish yourself in any way, and not to train for longer runs. You need to come out of it with energy left over to help you continue to stay in control of your emotions, and to be able to complete all the other things you have to take care of (job, school, kids, cats, what have you).

I suppose you could use a treadmill or an elliptical if you have one, but I think getting out of the house is good.

Be sure to drink plenty of water when you get back. Your mind might be going through the rough stuff, primarily, but your body is being affected too. Take care of both these parts of you.

I personally find running to be one of the most effective turn-your-day-around methods. I’d do it more, but it’s hard to find time between work and class. My right knee also protests running vehemently, despite the fact that the rest of me likes it. I have to be careful not to over do it when I run.

Hope this helps!

Christmas Eve

Image from ChristmasStockImages.com

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

It’s early morning, and I’m getting myself mentally ready to help my mother with the flood of people who will be here in a few hours for breakfast.

Welcome to some of the most difficult days of the year. I understand that a lot of survivors struggle over the holidays, like I do. Even though they’re supposed to be fun, the holidays are also stressful. And that’s for folks who had normal childhoods. I remember some pretty bad Christmases. Coping with painful associations over the holidays is also compounded by being back in contact with family, or with being alone for the holidays, both of which can be painful.

This year, I’m going into Christmas with a different attitude. I mean to reclaim the holidays for myself. I deserve to enjoy them.

Instead of trying to avoid conflicts with my family, I’m going to enforce my boundaries. I’m not going to be bullied. I’m not going to be ignored. I’m going to hold tight to the knowledge that Christmas is about giving gifts, so the fact that I will give a lot more than I receive means that I win. Lol, okay, maybe seeing it as a contest isn’t entirely healthy either. Instead of saying “win” in my head, I’ll say succeed. 😉

Since I’m easily overwhelmed by having a bunch of people around me (I’m extremely introverted, thus get my fill of people a lot faster than most do), I will make sure that there is a clean, quiet space available to me so that I can take breaks from everyone when I need to.

I’m going to enjoy the food, the cookies, and the company of the people who want me around.

I’m also going to have as many of my coping plans in place ahead of time as I can manage.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Coping Method #1

IMG_1959

Image by Katie King

***Warning — Self Harm ***

A few days ago, I had a new, well not new, an old forgotten memory, pop into my head. This has actually happened a lot to me. Usually, I get signs that I’m remembering something before it happens. Often, I have bad dreams ahead of time, feel anxious and depressed. This time around, I was just kind of “down” for a few days. Being “down” or “having gray days” as I call them, isn’t uncommon for me, so without the other indicators, I wasn’t bracing for impact. And it hit me like a bus.

I’m not ready to talk about (read: type up) what came back to me. In some ways it wasn’t as bad as other things I’ve remembered, in others it was a doozy. It has me mixed up and conflicted, depressed, anxious, full to the brim with shame and self loathing.

Yet, I’m doing much better today than I was then. Over the last couple years, I’ve learned how to begin letting go of the negative feelings that come up with these hellish memories. But, before I get into the bigger process of how I started healing from all this, I want to talk about the more short term ways of coping with having one’s world rocked by the sudden retrieval of painful memories. I’m sure the list that I keep in my head would be good for other things too, but keeping myself from doing anything stupid right after I’m forced to relive moments of childhood trauma tends to be my reason for going to my list.

So, I shall talk about my short term coping methods in no particular order.

First:
Make a cup of tea.

It’s a simple thing, easy to accomplish even during a panic attack, shaking body, what have you. DON’T put water on to boil. Use the microwave. I say this for several reasons. First off, the microwave can get a single cup of water hot about eight times faster than heating up a kettle of water. The sooner you can be sitting down with a cup of tea to sip, the better. Second, if you’re at all like me, it would be easy to forget about a kettle on the stove (unless you have a whistling kettle, which mine isn’t) because of the torrent of dark emotions passing through you. Third, a hot kettle is a really great way to hurt yourself if you aren’t paying attention. I accidentally steam burned the back of my left hand a year ago, and still don’t have the feeling in it back entirely. Fourth, a hot kettle might be a very convenient means of self injuring when in such a state. Stick to the microwave.

Make a ritual out of preparing your cup of tea. Focus on every aspect of what you’re doing. Dip the tea bag up and down while it’s steeping. Add milk and sugar (i.e. make it taste good. I like maple syrup in my tea). Watch the milk swirl into the tea. Focus on what’s happening with what you are doing in the present.Then sit and sip your tea. Try not to dwell on what’s freaked you out/triggered you/stressed you out. There will be plenty of time for that later when you’ve calmed down.

I usually use an herbal tea during times like this. It seems like a good idea not to add caffeine to a freaked out, shaking, hyperventilating body. That doesn’t mean you can’t make coffee or a stronger tea. This is just what I do. I suppose you could even pour yourself a glass of milk or juice, or even some water.

I recommend against alcohol. My grandfather always says that the minute you drink for the way it makes you feel rather than for the taste, you’re entering into alcoholism. This makes good sense to me, so I choose not to use alcohol for anything that smacks of coping or self medicating. When I drink a glass of wine, I want it to be because I enjoy a good Merlot  and not because I’m hating myself.

I hope this helps!

Isolation as a State of Mind

***Warning — Physical Violence, Burn Injury ***

Image from FreeFoto.com

One of the things that I remember most about my childhood is the constant sense of isolation that I lived with. Even when I didn’t remember what had been done to me, I still felt like I lived in a world separate from everyone else’s.

I didn’t make friends easily, but even when I had a friend or two, I didn’t really feel connected to them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I made a good friend with whom I feel very close.

In some ways the feeling is hard to describe. It was like part of me was a terminal (sorry for the tech-speak, I can’t figure out a better analogy), the part of a public computer that users can access for certain functions. Part of me was the server behind the terminal, always monitoring what was going on, but not really engaging in the the interactions, and constantly making sure that the terminal’s outputs were correct and that the people interacting with the terminal couldn’t access any more than what the server made available to them, and couldn’t even know that there was more to the system than the terminal.

I still get this way sometimes, like there’s a dispassionate observer in my head that doesn’t get involved in what I’m feeling or doing. Until I started remembering the sexual abuse during my childhood, I always though this separate part of me was because I write (and have since I was six), that I’d somehow trained myself to be objectively observant of all events, including ones involving me directly.

Now, I’m pretty sure that it was a result of trying to live as if I were a normal kid when I was so thoroughly damaged. I remember lots of events — birthday parties, bike crashes, arguments with my parents — in a dual way, as if I had parallel cameras going that were recording different spectrums. One side of the memory just watched, the other side participated and felt.

I don’t get that feeling like I used to, but there are things that can set it off, and then it’s hard to get back out. I can also deliberately send myself into that state, but I don’t like doing that anymore.

Whatever it is I was doing, it was definitely useful on a few occasions. One was when one of the kids in our neighborhood (I think I was seven and this kid was probably about thirteen) liked to come into our yard and bully my brothers and I. One day, he brought a piece of rebar and went after my brother, A. lets call him. A. ducked the blow just in time, and I saw myself stand up, rush over to the bigger kid, and take the rebar. It was like watching someone else do it all. I’m still not sure how I took the bar out of his hands. I shouldn’t have been strong enough to do it, but I did. And then, I could see, not feel, really, but see that I was angry. I was going to kill the boy for trying to hurt my brother. I hit him with the bar, and he fell over. I hit him again, and again, and again. I only stopped when the observer part of me told me that killing him was a bad idea, and that I’d hurt him enough that he probably wouldn’t come back (he did, and I beat him up again, but that’s another story).

Even though this divided state of mind was useful to me sometimes, it left me feeling so disconnected from everything that I didn’t feel like I ever belonged anywhere. It kept me from connecting to people too. Worst, it messed with my ability to figure out what I was feeling about things. I often dismissed my own emotions as my imagination since clearly I wasn’t feeling anything, or was I? I had the same problem with physical pain. The more severe the pain, the farther I got from it. I burned my hand on the waffle iron one morning when my dad and I were making breakfast. It hurt right away, but nothing like it did later. Yet, I still made the decision to go play baseball in the park with my brothers even though I’d have to put that hand in my catchers mitt. Enough of me wasn’t feeling the pain that I couldn’t make safe decisions about my own health. The blisters all burst, bled a seeped clear liquid. It was hard to clean the glove out, and the burns took longer to heal because of that.

I pretty much lived in that state from about six years old until I was maybe ten. After that, it would fade out and come back depending on what was going on. When I started high school, I went back into that mode of living most of the time. I hated feeling that way, and it exacerbated the depression that had started when I was twelve-ish.

Now it only turns on if I’m triggered, or I have a memory resurface that I can’t handle right away. Living is getting easier. Though, some days, I have to remind myself of that.

Just Remembered Something Bad

It’s a cold, windy day here, and I was taking a hot shower before work, when I had another memory come to me. It was so bad, it had me sitting in the tub, rocking and gasping, feeling like nothing will ever be okay again.

Just like that, my day is shot. I can feel that I’m hovering on the edge of a panic attack. My chest hurts, breathing is hard, and there are sharp pains in my stomach.

By itself, the memory was bad enough. I’m having trouble handling not only what I was doing in the flashback, but the physical sensations that are coming along with it. Taste is a big one. I feel ill. I thought I was maybe ready to write about this stuff, but this one… I don’t know if I can do it.

Worst of all, somehow, is the fact that what I remembered doesn’t make sense with what I thought I’d figured out about what all happened to me. It suggests that my timeline for the partially remembered rape as a young teenager is either wrong, or that it happened more than once. Possibly once at eleven and once at twelve.

All the order, the pseudo-control that I’d given myself by working out when all this stuff happened just went out the window.

Why am I remembering this stuff? I know I wasn’t doing well before it all, but couldn’t I have just lived a screwed up life without having to relive this kind of horror?

I can’t do this. I have real life adult responsibilities, my job and my schoolwork to take care of. But I just want to curl up on bed and hide while the flames in my soul burn my heart to ashes.

I hurt.

Breaking the Silence

Image from Wikipedia

I don’t think there are any triggers in here, but read cautiously nonetheless.

There are a lot of reasons that talking about the abuse I suffered is very difficult for me. Actually, considering how little I’ve shared about it, “very difficult” is a pretty big understatement. “Nearly impossible” might be more accurate. This seems to be true for other survivors as well, from what I’ve seen on the few other blogs I visited before setting mine up (so I’d feel like I knew what I was doing).

The three deepest reasons that I never told anyone are these:

Fear

I was afraid that I would get in trouble if I told my parents that the neighbor boy was touching me inappropriately. I feared my parents’ wrath above all in life. Even the continued molestation seemed less scary than letting them find out about what was going on.

I was (and still am) afraid of telling people who know me because I don’t want to change the way they see me. I hate the idea of them picturing me as a little, abused child. I also don’t need people’s pity. Compassion is great, pity is bad. It would be nice to have people understand why I do some of the things I do, and why certain things REALLY freak me out, but I can live without pity.

I was afraid that people wouldn’t like me anymore. I had become a dirty person, defiled by what that boy did to me. What happened nearly every day was so disgusting to me, that I felt tainted by it. I was now a disgusting person. I couldn’t let anyone know what happened if I expected them to keep liking me. Paradoxically, I came to feel unlovable, and assumed that meant I was unloved so no one would care about what was happening to me and wouldn’t save me from what was happening.

Later, I was afraid that no one would believe me because I hadn’t said anything at the time. It didn’t help that I was a compulsive liar because of the emotional abuse from my parents.

Shame

I think that shame is closely tied up with fear. I was disgusted and ashamed by what was being done to me, so I was afraid that I was disgusting and shameful, and that if anyone found out, they would hate me. Even now that I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is nothing disgusting about me, I’m still afraid of what people would think if they knew about the times I was raped, or the sexual abuse that was inflicted on me for years.

I didn’t remember it happening

I’ve read that children under the age of seven have the ability to repress traumatic memories. I’m not sure if this is what I did (I was four when it started, and nine when it ended), or if enough time passed that the memories didn’t come up any more. I do remember a few instances when I was older of recalling something that had happened to me and being deeply horrified, but I “forgot” those memories too, so it seems likely that I repressed the painful incidents, and that once my brain had the knack for it, it just kept doing it even though I was older than the usual age for repression. This is just speculation, I know, but it’s nice to have logical explanations for why I don’t remember anything that happened after seven either, and why I don’t remember (even still) what exactly happened to me when I was twelve.

The first time I started to remember this stuff, not just in casual flashes like before, I was twelve, and I’m pretty sure it was triggered by being raped again (though I can’t remember the incident itself, there’s too much evidence to deny it happened). The timing was rotten. I had just learned about sex, what it meant to a husband and wife, and I couldn’t handle the idea of what had been done to me, and what I had lost. Within months, I no longer remembered any of it, but was so depressed and full of self loathing that I attempted to end my life.

The second time memories came back, I was seventeen (pretty sure I wasn’t raped again, but I can’t know for sure at this point). The results were pretty much the same. Again, the memories were buried. They didn’t come up again until I turned twenty-three. When they did, I didn’t think they could possibly be real. I thought that I was some kind of sick person to have fantasies of myself being raped as such a young child. I thought that it was probably physically impossible for a boy of that age to do what I remembered happening. I pretty much labeled myself as a psycho and tried to get on with life. I wasn’t about to tell anyone about what was happening in my head. I denied it to myself, and tried to repress the emotions that were being stirred up with the emerging memories.

There are other reasons, of course, that I’ve never said anything about this, but those are the main barriers that kept me from telling. Now the fear and shame dominate, especially the fear. I don’t want to confess and not be believed. I don’t want to be believed, and then have my confidant’s opinion of me and behavior toward me change. I think that’s part of why I can type it all out this way in my blog. No one I know in person will ever read it, and you, Dear Reader, are just getting to know me, from the ground up, so you have no opinion of me to change.

While the relative anonymity of the Internet means that I haven’t really overcome my inability to confide in someone about these painful things, I think it’s a splendid start, the first crack in the wall, if you will.

I know my experience is not unique. I know that there are lots of others out there who have held on to agonizing secrets, suffering in silence. I want to hear about why you didn’t tell what happened to you. Or, if you did tell, what were the results?

Please include trigger warnings if you post triggering material. I will do my best to make sure warnings are present where necessary, but it’ll be a huge help to me if you do as well. Thank you!