Sunday, January 30, 2011

Working Harder Than I Ever Have Before.

Yesterday, I woke up with a flicker of an image in my mind. I saw a foreskin being retracted. It was disproportionately large compared to me and I felt nauseated. I feel certain that this was a memory fragment. I am not aware of any personal experience in my adult life with an uncircumcised male, although as a nurse, I have taken care of male patients like this.
I believe this is a memory for two reasons. The first reason being how large the penis was and how close it was to my face. Even though it was only a flash of an image, there was movement and it was quite detailed. Which leads me to the second reason I believe it is a memory; the way it made me feel. I felt repulsed, nauseated and disturbed. I held my breath and I winced. Clearly, this would be the reaction of a child being sexually abused and not the reaction of a registered nurse caring for a patient.
You might think that as a survivor, I’d have difficulty dealing with people’s personal hygiene and handling various body parts. However, I have become very good at compartmentalizing. The “me” that goes to work has had absolutely nothing to do with the “me” that was sexually assaulted. These parts are distinctly different and until recently, they had never even met.
This really got me thinking about the part of me that functions out in the world. The one that raises a family, manages a home and goes to work. I realize now how much mental energy is required to pull that off and that I have always struggled to find balance in my life.
Of course I don’t do “balance” well in my “black and white” world. I have one foot in the past and one TRYING to stay in the present. I’m like one of those Irish River Dancers jigging around trying to stay here and function while simultaneously trying to run from the past AND the present. All the while, not moving anything above my waist in an attempt to look “NORMAL!”  Honestly, it’s exhausting...and not very attractive!
I have spent a great deal of time living in my head completely detached from my feelings and my body. This has served me well in my work life in so far as being able to work 12 to 16 hour shifts on my feet, running from patient to patient, (often without a break to eat or go to the bathroom). In true “care giver” fashion, being detached from myself has allowed me to put the needs of my patients above my own.
This worked well for me throughout my professional career EXCEPT, while in therapy recently, I cracked open the Pandora’s Box of feelings and memories. Having used up every drop of mental energy trying to stay in my head so that I could function at work has really taken a toll on me. I started dissociating more and found myself being triggered badly at work. What used to invoke compassion, concern and empathy now caused me tremendous anxiety, lots of non-hunger related eating and sometimes overwhelming rage. I have always been the type of nurse to sit with my crying patients, holding them and praying for them. I now found my heart racing and imagining I could cover my ears and scream to drown out my patients moans and cries!
I just couldn’t STAND it anymore! Something had to give. I had a choice to make. Therapy or work. For now at least, I just can’t manage to do both. For two decades, I put the work of healing on hold in order for me to function but now I found myself depressed, dissociated and barely existing. I want to live my life. I want to heal and feel and the only way to get there is to do it.
I have had to take some time off from working so that I can focus on the excruciating work of feeling and healing. I am working harder now than I ever have, but this time, I’m working on myself. I am so grateful to have my husband supporting me and encouraging me through the fight of a lifetime. I want to make him proud and I won’t let him down!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grieving the loss

I read something on one of my favorite blogs today that really got me thinking. 
This is from  Overcoming Sexual Abuse on Facebook:
“As a survivor of child sexual abuse, you have a lot to grieve for. You must grieve for the loss of your feelings. You must grieve for your abandonment. You must grieve for the past and grieve for the present, for the damages you now have to heal, for the time it takes...You grieve the opportunities lost while you were too busy coping.” ~ The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis
I realize that today I AM grieving. No differently than I would if someone I loved were to die. 
I see that I haven't allowed myself to grieve before now. I think there are several reasons why not.

1- Denial. Flat out, "I don't know what you're talking about" denial. Why grieve something that never happened? Even after I started having flashbacks, nightmares and body memories, I was STILL in denial. I doubted everything I was remembering. I didn't DARE believe it could be true.

2- Fear. "My father would kill me!" This message played over and over in my mind whenever I even thought of talking about it. The fact that he had been dead since I was 19 never entered into the equation! I was still so terrified to tell anyone.

3-Doubt. "What if I'm wrong?" That one has been the toughest one to let go of. I still worry about that. One thing that helps me to believe myself is knowing that people aren't born with dissociative disorders. I have D.I.D. because I was traumatized over and over again from the time I was born. Being raped by my father and unprotected by my mother caused me to dissociate. I don't do it because I'm mentally ill. I'm not mentally ill; I'm traumatized.

4- Lies. The truth hurts. I need to believe that I was loved and protected by my big, strong, handsome police captain father and my compassionate, loving special education teacher's aide mother. If I allow myself to grieve the loss of that fantasy, then I have to admit the truth. The truth is that I was of no consequence to either of them. They didn't HATE me, they just didn't really notice me one way or the other. Except when I could meet their needs. That was my purpose in the family. I was an object; a thing that my father used to make himself feel powerful and good about himself. I was a reflection of my mother's identity as "a good mother". When I looked good, she looked good. People would look at me and think how lucky I was to have such a good family.

5- It's in the past. It happened so long ago, I think I should be over it by now. "Forgive and forget." A good Christian honors their mother and father. A good Christian forgives. I want to be a good Christian AND a good daughter. I suppose I might be "over it" by now if I had EVER been validated. If I had EVER felt the sadness and rage I have buried for so long. "Nobody stopped it, nobody talked about it, nobody believed me and nobody wants to hear about it any longer." Unfortunately, part of me still believes the part about nobody wanting to hear about it. Which leads me to the last reason I haven't allowed myself to grieve until very recently.

6- Shame and guilt. "Nobody likes a complainer." "If anyone KNEW, they would hate you." "You had it so much better than some kids do." "You have so much to be grateful for." How dare I feel sorry for myself? I have a lovely home, an amazing husband and 3 beautiful, loving children. I was never a drug addict, alcoholic, a cutter, a prostitute. It could be so much worse. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me when I count my blessings and I end up riddled with shame and guilt instead of gratitude. Shame and guilt drive me right back into denial and the whole vicious cycle starts again... but not today...
Today I'm giving myself permission to grieve. 
Today I'm allowing myself to feel the overwhelming sadness and the molten hot rage that boils up inside of me. Today I grieve for my husband having to wait in the wings for 22 years paying for the crimes of my father. I grieve for the loss of the fantasy that my parents loved me. I grieve for the what I could have been if incest, abuse and neglect hadn't murdered my soul before I even knew how to walk, or talk. So much loss. My loss. My pain. My grief. Nobody can take that away from me until I decide I'm ready to let it go.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gaye and the Little Ones

    Almost every morning I wake up with a phrase, a word, a name or a place in my head. I either hear myself saying it or another voice saying it. Sometimes it relates to a dream I had or sometimes it seems arbitrary. Sometimes it’s familiar and other times it’s something I’ve never heard of before. Often it leaves my mind quickly but sometimes it sticks with me and I find myself replaying it throughout the day or even longer.
    Yesterday, I woke up to my own voice saying, “I met myself last night”. That statement haunted me all day yesterday and it got me thinking about my most pronounced, developed alter part of myself, “Gaye.”
    My therapist thinks "Gaye" is about 14 now. She was about 8 or 10 when we first became aware of her last summer. It seems as if her role has primarily been my protector, my “go-to girl.” The “boss.”  That describes her really well.
    As I thought about that, I had a very clear memory of being a small child with my babysitter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy. I don’t know how old I was, but I had to have been less than 8 and I’d guess much less because I was standing up in the back seat of their car leaning up against the back of the bench seat. So, maybe I was about 5.
    I remember the white leather interior with red trim and it smelled of cigars, (I HATE the smell of cigars). Mr. Murphy was driving and Mrs. Murphy was riding in the passenger seat and we were talking. I think I said something cute or funny and he turned his head to look at me. I was a VERY shy little girl, so what came out of my mouth would have been unexpected and surprising I’m sure. I boldly, precociously said to him “keep your eyes on the road!” Based upon his response to me, I must have sounded like I meant business because he replied, “OK boss!” They both found it amusing but he did turn back and kept his “eyes on the road.”
    I think that’s my first memory of “Gaye” as a separate, protector part of me. Something about being in his car and the way he looked at me scared me subconsciously and she stepped right in to save me. I don’t have any memory of anything bad ever happening to me while I was in the care of the Murphy's, but I think I was triggered by the way he looked at me and by being in his car. Maybe that’s when I figured out “Gaye” was the boss and she could handle what I couldn’t.
    I will always be grateful to the parts of myself that took the abuse so that I wouldn’t have to. They allowed me to go up to “the attic” of my mind, to live in TV land as one of the Brady Bunch, to float away to wonderful places and to “sleep” through it. Without “Gaye” and the little ones, I surely would not have survived. They allowed me to get up and go to school everyday, to make friends, to go to college, date, meet my husband and raise a family. The blessings I have in my life, I have largely because of them.
    The challenge I face today is in discovering, reconnecting and putting my “pieces” together again. What once saved my life, now gets in the way of living that life. I had no awareness of this internal family of mine and because I was oblivious to it, I abandoned those little parts of myself. You can imagine how hurt, scared and angry little ones might feel about having to “stay and take it” without any thanks; about being left behind and forgotten and finally, about being rejected and resented once they were noticed. I owe it to them to come back for them. I owe them my gratitude, acceptance and nurturing. I'm trying to earn back their trust and get them to share memories and feelings with me. Today I need them to help me remember who I was and what I've experienced. I need them to help me heal. I want to help them too and I promise to never forget them again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Resolving to Keep My New Year's Resolution!

So I took the first public step towards keeping my new year's resolution. Along with a link to this blog; I posted this as my Facebook status: 

"This is my New Years resolution. I will be real. I will not lie to protect someone's reputation. I will not pretend to be who others want me to be. I will be genuine no matter how much it scares me."

 I "outed myself" on Facebook for all the social networking world to see! Since then I have put into practice the notion of being "real" and not pretending to be what it is I think others want me to be... and it has NOT been easy! It is a risk that I'm finally ready to take. 

As an incest survivor, I learned very early on, not to believe what I see, hear or feel. I learned that it isn't safe to tell the truth about myself or my life. I learned that you cannot believe people and I learned that I am not OK as I am. I have believed that my purpose is to fulfill the needs of others and to be what people want me to be. As a child, I dissociated so much that I created different parts of myself to meet those needs and to keep me from knowing the terrible truth that was my life. Shame permeated every fiber of my being. I was bad- period. 

Unraveling truth from lies and re-learning four decades of false teachings is a daunting process for sure. Like poor shattered Humpty Dumpty, it's time to start putting my pieces together again. Telling the truth seems to be the place for me to start. 

I know all too well the lies I was taught by my parents. Lies that were reinforced time and time again by teachers, cruel children, the church and abusive relationships. Even therapists and doctors unwittingly participated in the perpetuation of the facade. I didn't even know the truth about who I really was and what I've experienced. I bought it, "hook, line and sinker." I've been drowning for 46 years.

So, what IS true about me? I haven't got it all figured out yet and I'm learning more and more as time goes by, but there are some truths I do know. I am God's girl. He is my perfect father and He loves me- just as I am. When I was a tiny helpless child being violated and shamed in my own little bed in my own little room in our little house, God was right there with me. He was crying with me and for me. He has always been right here with me and I could not be brave enough to do what I'm doing without Him. 

I know that the Lord has a plan for me and that He is using my pain for good. I can help others who are going through this. With the statistics that tell us that as many as 1 in every 3 children have been, or are being sexually abused; odds are that a child I know needs help. I want to be that safe person to whom a child can turn. If I were to remain silent for fear of embarrassing my family or making people uncomfortable, I might miss that opportunity. I cannot imagine what might have been different in my life if I had someone to turn to. I wish I would have known that I wasn't the only one. Even that knowledge would have made a difference to me.