Gray Days

I’ve been struggling to keep my chin up for the last week or so. Everything’s been harder than it should be. I just can’t shake this downheartedness.

I’ve tried to write a couple of posts, but found that my head’s in too much of a fog to get anywhere. Once I’m through this, I’ll be back. Maybe it’ll be tomorrow. I sure hope so.

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Coping Method #3

Image by InsEyedout

This one is big for me, though I didn’t start doing it until recently. It’s not as much an immediate way of handling the feelings that come with a flashback or after being triggered, but it helps when a memory just won’t leave me alone.

Write it out.

For a long time, I was in denial that the memories coming back to me were real. It took having a bunch of them slot together into a disturbingly clear picture of what had gone on before I finally allowed myself to acknowledge that I’d been sexually abused.

After that, the specifics of it all were too painful to think about in an orderly way. Now, after several years of this, I can write/type about some of it, and I get a certain amount of relief from doing so. I think that relief comes from putting the memory into a more ordered, logical form which helps me process the emotions. I also think that it helps that I’m in control when I write it down. The memories and the way that I express them in words are totally under my power. Last, and most dubious, I feel like the memories lose an aspect of their reality when I write them down this way, like I’m telling someone else’s story,  as I often do in my other writing. I don’t know if that’s entirely good, but it helps, so I don’t mind it.

Alas, I’m not to the point that I can have a flashback or recover a memory and then immediately write about it. Usually the shame and self loathing are too strong for a while. I have to wrestle myself out of that state a bit before I can handle writing. It gets easier every time.

Just yesterday, I woke from a nightmare and there were a few lines of writing in my head. I got them down on paper, not thinking that anything else would come from it. I ended up pouring out the story of what caused the nightmare onto six sheets of paper. I felt so much better after that. Usually, those kinds of nightmares ruin my mornings as I feel sick and vulnerable after them. Yesterday wasn’t like that. Just writing it out made all the difference.

I do recommend that you be careful about where you keep or how you dispose of this writing. I’m not ready for my family or friends to know anything about this, so I make sure that they can never stumble across any of it when they’re around and learn my story before I’m ready to tell them. Some of you, who are in therapy (not an option for me just now), might find that what you write could be really useful for your therapist, and that you can relate certain things that happened to you more easily that way than by telling them out loud.

Coping Method #1

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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!

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!