Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wait, which one of us is in charge?

    My little ones live in the attic of my mind, under the eaves in the shadows in the back of my head. Each one is contained within a bubble, oblivious to one another and to me. Some of them have bodies but others only heads. Some have words while others only have feelings. It’s dark in there and the only light is what comes in through the windows of my eyes. They are small, lonely and afraid.

    The one I am most familiar with is Gaye. She’s about 14 and she is my fighter, my NJ girl, the boss. She has been in the driver’s seat much of my life-I just didn’t know it. With her, it’s like I’m the co-pilot. I see what she does and I hear what she says and I know how she feels, but I can’t always do anything about it. She’s a scrapper and she can be scary-even to me. I went by the name Gaye until I was about 12 when I took back my legal name. Just because we share the same name doesn’t mean that she is anything like I was when I was young. I think she’s more like what I WISH I was. She will go toe to toe with the best of them and believe me, she has!
    It was Gaye who 'threw down' years ago with that old drunk when we were at Wal-Mart. That big, nasty, scary man shoved my 6 year old son. I was scared, but Gaye stepped right out, getting in his face. She wasn’t backing down either. Unfortunately, I was pregnant with our youngest daughter and could have gotten hurt if security hadn’t come along when they did. Gaye didn’t seem to notice me or the fact that I was very pregnant but even if she had, I don’t think she’d have stopped. She is my constant protector and I love her.

    Having an adolescent in charge when you’re an adult can be problematic, especially when it comes to marriage. My little ‘go-to-girl’ loves my husband in the same way any little girl loves her father. She doesn’t recognize him as my husband, she relates to him like he’s her Daddy. The good kind of Daddy; not the kind of Daddy that has sex with his daughter. Not the kind of Daddy I had.
    You can imagine how this complicates my marriage. Gaye is very strong willed and she gets so mad at my husband for wanting to be intimate with us. From her perspective, that makes sense. Of course she gets mad! Fourteen year old girls want their daddy’s to love and cherish them. They want to be nurtured and cared for. They don’t want to be thought of “in that way” by the man who’s job it is to protect her. Gaye believes that my husband is her Daddy and as long as sex isn’t a factor, she likes him. She loves him, but she puts up one heck of a fight whenever we think about anything sexual-especially where he is concerned. Within a nanosecond, I can go from thinking about the possibility of being intimate with my husband and starting to believe I can do it, to a raging teenager smashing the windows in my mind!
    Shutting down is what I have learned to do best to avoid the her wrath. Shutting down is how I avoid the mixed up emotions; the guilt, shame and sadness. Unfortunately, shutting down has caused the man I love more than life itself, so much pain. I can hardly bear to think about it.

    A couple of weeks ago, my therapist made this simple, factual statement: He said, “ You know you’re not a virgin.” Any rational person with any intellect whatsoever, would seed that point without question. The indisputable fact is that I have been married for 23 years and have 3 kids. Of course I’m not a virgin!
Let me tell you though, Gaye was pissed! She glared at him, clenched her teeth and didn’t hear much of what he had to say after that. Those words replayed in my head all week and I felt her raging and then sulking about it. Gaye ranted  about his observation; “What kind of sick thing is that to say to a child?!” “I am SO a VIRGIN!” “P-I-I-I-I-G!” She hated my therapist for a few days.
I felt really confused by it all. I felt sad. I vacillated between sad, angry and confused. I’m not sure which one of us was feeling what feelings, but it all left me kind of queasy and embarrassed...and guilty...
...Always so ashamed and guilty.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Courage to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Our youngest daughter got a pair of hermit crabs for Christmas.
As much as I hate the little buggers, I can really relate to them!
If you pick up a hermit crab and wait long enough, it will start to emerge from it’s shell. Slowly, one claw peaks out. Then another begins to show itself. However, the instant you being to touch one of these tiny appendages, the cautious little crab retreats back into the safety of it’s traveling home. In an instant, the crab is gone! All that's left is a shiny red painted shell with a pair of jiggling plastic eyes glued on. Creepy, yet effective!
It reminds me of being a child, eyes closed and hands over my ears, chanting, “I can’t hear you, I can't hear you...”
If I had one, I would have hidden myself away inside the safety of my shell too!
I didn’t have a fancy painted shell Per Se, but I certainly knew how to retreat into my own metaphorical shell! I spent a fair amount of time curled up inside pretending nobody could see me. Hoping that if I were still enough, I could become invisible.
Peeking out of my shell was a risk that I rarely took and I paid a price for it.
Although it may be safe being hidden away in here, it also gets lonely.
As an adult I have found that I am able to take risks,
and in many ways, I know I am brave.
I find it frustrating though, that there are still areas of my life where I am just as fearful as the little hermit crab. There is a part of me deep inside that, like the crab, is small, fragile, tentative and ugly.
I keep a proper looking shell, so nobody knows I’m in here if I don’t want them to. Unfortunately, I’m so accustomed to hiding that sometimes people don’t know I’m here even when I wish they would!
I can imagine that the fear of making myself vulnerable by sharing my real feelings is something like what the crab might experience when it ventures out of it’s shell. These days, it’s the hermit crab’s sudden retreat when threatened that I relate to most.
I catch myself doing an about face when I begin feeling vulnerable.
On Valentine’s Day, I made my husband a card and inside, I wrote a note. It was real, honest and not particularly well written. I felt uncertain and embarrassed about sharing these genuine feelings.
What I had to say seemed childish and I felt stupid. I thought about starting over, but I stopped myself from rewriting it. I had made myself vulnerable and as always, my husband was loving and didn’t judge me at all.
I do enough judging on my own!
We exchanged cards, candy and even stuffed animals and we had a lovely dinner at home with the family. Seems like one of those “Hallmark” moments, right? Not to my scared little parts hiding inside. I took a big risk and even though I am safe and loved, my fear was too much for my little ones to handle and I retreated back into my shell. I got angry with my kids and at my husband. I felt ashamed and exposed and like those ugly little hermit crabs, I was gone! Nothing left but a shell; an angry shell.
I did catch myself and I was able to reel it in before I did any harm or hurt any feelings, but I still felt small and angry. I was scared and defensive, but I was able to recognize it.
I am starting to understand that I am safe and I am slowly learning that it’s OK to be me.
These days the good news is that I am putting myself in the position to feel this terrifying feeling much more often as I continue doing the work of healing.
I know that I am brave because I am choosing to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Setting Healthy Boundaries

I was reading one of my favorite online blogs today and the topic was
“Setting boundaries with abusive family.” This was my comment:

“My parents are dead. 
They are buried about one and a half hours west of where I live. 
My aunt is angry with me for not tending to the grave. 
This is just about the only boundary left for me to set. 
My father stole my innocence, my sexuality and very nearly, my soul. 
My mother did nothing while it was happening. She refused to help or believe me when I did disclose to her. I can think of NO good reason why I should drive an hour and a half to a town that I hate to pick weeds and plant flowers for them. 
I will NEVER get on my knees for him again! 
PS-I think I'm starting to get in touch with my anger.”
I started thinking about the way that my idea of boundaries has changed over the years. As I was growing up, I thought people who were clear with their boundaries were mean, scary or selfish. I had absolutely no idea that it was OK to say, “No!”  The notion that I didn’t have the right to set limits also extended to the emotional. I didn’t even have the right to FEEL what I was feeling! 
I had to say, “Yes” and I had to LIKE it too. Well, I didn’t like it. As a matter of fact, I hated it! I hated that I wasn't allowed to get mad. I hated that I had no right to privacy, individuality, safety or my own feelings.
Even the air I breathed was contaminated. I was subjected to all manner of pain and humiliation and I was subjected to a house and car filled with cigarette smoke. I couldn’t protest my abuse, (in fact, I couldn’t even THINK about it.) However, I did do my very best to protest the stinging, suffocating air I had to breathe.
What happened when I did speak up? I was ignored at first, and then belittled and called “a pest.” When I was in the fourth grade, I presented my mother with materials I got from school that talked about the dangers of smoking, but I was laughed at. I begged for an open window in the car and sometimes they would crack it open about half an inch or so, hoping to shut me up. Eventually, I would be punished for continuing to complain about the smoke.
Smoking remains a big issue for me to this day. For me, it symbolizes the years of abuse and rejection I endured and how helpless I was. I didn't even have air! My buttons are pushed and I recognize how I am triggered right back into the role of that helpless child when I’m near a smoker. I absolutely hate it! I remain militant about not allowing anyone to smoke near me or my children.
As an adult, I have gone overboard in setting this boundary.
Never learning healthy boundaries can be very confusing when it comes to setting or keeping them today. Like so many things in my life, I have been very “black and white” with boundaries. I have often found myself vulnerable with no limits whatsoever, or locked into an unbending ideal with no room for compromise. I was angry, but didn't know that I was allowed to feel that way. This has led to depression that comes when you are not allowed to feel your feelings. Rage that has been buried, now needs to come out.
Several years ago, I took a class at the Baptist church called “Boundaries.” It was good for me and I learned a lot; but one thing really stayed with me. Healthy boundaries are loving and necessary. It is loving and kind to say, “No?” Wow! Now there’s an idea! Children need healthy boundaries to feel safe and secure. They need loving limits to know who they are and where they fit into the world. I never got that growing up. I’m learning how to be real with people and speak up about how I feel and what I think. I am finding that the clearer I am with my boundaries and the sooner I set them, the easier it is to navigate through the twists and turns of life. I'm starting to get in touch with some of that repressed anger. I can see now that I have a right to be angry. It feels good to be real and I like myself better this way.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I paved the way for us

Recently, someone I love disclosed a history of sexual abuse to me.
Once I got past the tears for her and the outrage at the abuser,
my next thought was about how I could help.
I thought about all that I had been through in my search for healing.
The multitude of failed attempts.
The litany of treatments that cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and two decades of my life.
Neither of these things will I ever get back and none of them helped.
There was no way I could let this person whom I love so dearly suffer as I had and lose what I did. I want to be there for her in her hour of need. This will no doubt be a painful and difficult journey for her, but if I can make it even a little bit easier for her, I will. My experience is like a "what not to do" in the search for healing. I pray that my ordeal will be an example of perseverance but also that it can help her to get to what does work sooner.

Over the years, I have done everything in my power to get help. 
I have attended workshops and 12 step groups.
I’ve bought motivational tapes, listened to subliminal C.D.’s.
I've done guided visualizations, role play, inner child work. 
You name it and I’ve done it!
I went to therapy alone, in groups and with my husband.
I prayed, hard and often.
I sat under a full spectrum light for half an hour a day, I took prescription medicine, vitamins, herbal remedies. I used creams and gels. I went on special diets. I exercised.
We went on marriage retreat weekends. I tried “tapping in” with EFT.  I looked into the mirror reciting daily affirmations. There were chakras, auras, crystals, contacting the dead and even the Ouija board.
I was broken and needed fixing. I was desperate.
I have been treated for dysthymia, post-partum depression, adult A.D.D., multiple medical issues, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, dyspareunia, seasonal-affective disorder and bi-polar disorder. Many of these were outright misdiagnoses while others were merely symptoms or aftereffects of abuse.
I ended up having a total hysterectomy at thirty-nine after a lifetime of endometriosis, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts. I had a gastric bypass at forty after a thirty-four year struggle with obesity. I had multiple plastic surgeries to correct damage done to my body after gaining and losing 180 pounds. None of these things ever dealt with the real issue.
Every practitioner was aware of my history of sexual abuse, but none of them ever really put two and two together. I saw counselors, social workers, family physicians, gynecologists, an endocrinologist, a uro-gynecologist, a psychologist, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, my priest, a marriage counselor, a Christian counselor and finally, the right therapist.
At 46 years old, I found Robert, a masters level social worker who is also a Christian man. Robert is EMDR level 2 certified and a gift from God. Robert and I have covered more ground and made more progress in 7 months than I ever did or would have done without him. E.M.D.R.- eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is an amazing therapy.
With this therapy, we have gotten down to some long buried feelings and thought patterns. We’ve even uncovered some memories with it.
The real turning point for me though, was when Robert spoke the words, “dissociative identity disorder.” That’s when it all finally made sense to me. I still have a way to go, but the end is in sight now and although it took twenty years to get here, I’m here and that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Letting Go of the Fantasy

Today I am forever changed. 
Today I no longer have doubt. Neither do I have “hope.”
For 22 years I have lived under a cloud of doubt. 
I was in a tug of war between believing and disbelieving 
that I REALLY was sexually abused. 
What started out as a hint of the truth 
that I had been abused, had grown over the years 
to a solid 90% certainty that it was true. 
Oh, but that 10%... How I clung to that bewildering 10%...
Was it “hope” or just wishful thinking? 
I now KNOW that my father raped me...100%. 
Up to now I had a sliver of “hope” that I was 
wrong, crazy or that I had made it up. 
There was still a shred of “hope” that I was loved. 
In some strange way, I would have rather been wrong, mentally ill or a liar than to admit that my own father would 
force himself on and into my little body. 
I would rather be crazy than to admit that my Daddy was evil. 
I would rather be a liar than to admit that my mother 
would choose her status as the captain’s wife over 
the desire to protect her daughter. 
I wanted to be wrong because I wanted to be loved. 
Now I know I am not crazy but I also know that I was not loved. 
I have lost my grip on that tiny piece of “hope” 
and that’s a good thing; a VERY good thing. 
That tiny sliver; that 10%; that fantasy that I desperately 
held onto was just an illusion of love and protection.
That illusion kept me sick and kept me stuck. 
I've been stuck here for 22 years and painful as it is to lose that dream, I am finally free to move on now. 
The time has come for me to heal. 
This is the defining moment of my life. 
Today I am changed because today I am ready. 
I’m ready to remember. I’m ready to rage. I’m ready to grieve. 
It’s time and I’m ready.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Be Careful What You Ask For

    Before I fell asleep last night, I talked to the little ones again. As has become my custom, I thanked them for protecting me all these years and for enduring the pain so that I wouldn’t have to. I told them "It’s 2011 and We're all grown up. We live in a safe, loving home with people who love us and would never hurt us. We are big, strong and safe. We are loved now."
    I asked them to talk to each other and to me and share what happened when we were abused. I asked them to use all of my senses to get the information to me. I always ask them to let me: “know it, see it, hear it, smell it, taste it and feel it.” I need to know and since some of them don’t have words, I ask them to tell me in whatever way they can. I know it will take time for them to trust me enough now to share the very thing that I have needed them to keep secret for all these years.
    It really is a lot to ask of these wee ones and I’m trying to be patient and kind to them. They have seen what no one else has, and that’s TORTURE for me. Even though I know it’s not their fault, I sometimes feel embarrassed, frustrated and resentful towards them. Today, I’m feeling especially grateful to a brave little one I’ll call “Wednesday.” 
    I woke up and dozed off several times before I finally stayed awake. I was dreaming but I’d forget each dream as it was replaced by the next. I find that VERY frustrating. The last time I awoke, I realized that I was having a conversation with a little girl in my dream. The conversation carried over into my waking. I was lying in bed with my eyes closed but I was fully awake by now. This little girl looked like Wednesday Addams, the character from the old TV show, “The Addams Family.” I’d say she’s about seven and has long dark hair pulled to the sides in braids. She’s pale but very cute with a devilish little grin and big dark eyes. She was telling me how much she enjoys “playing jokes” on people. She was funny and engaging as she giggled mischievously, telling me how she likes to be silly, to trick people and make them laugh.    
    I don’t like practical jokes at all, so it really strikes me, how different we are; Wednesday and I. This is the first time I have ever been aware of her and I told her that I was glad she came. I thanked her for responding to my request last night by coming to meet me and telling me a bit about herself. I knew I had better not miss this opportunity to ask her about the abuse. God only knows when or if she’ll come back and I don’t want to miss the chance to hear from her. Cautiously and as gently as I could, I began to ask her about what she knows. “Can you tell me what was done to us?” “What did he do to our body?” Again I asked for the information in whatever way she could give it to me. She looked me in the eye and I leaned in, preparing to hear her response.  Just when I felt we were getting somewhere, I was zapped into an old episode of Law and Order, Special Victims Unit.
    “NOOOOO! Come on!”  Why would my mind wander to some TV show when I was so close to getting what I needed from Wednesday? The snippet of the scene that played in my mind was from an episode where detectives Benson and Stabler are interviewing a witness to a rape. This witness was from the Congo and she herself had been raped and tortured by soldiers there. In this scene, she bravely tells the detectives in her best broken English, “He put his gun in my sex.” That’s the snippet that popped into my head.
    “He put his gun in my sex.”  OH MY GOD! My eyes sprang open, I gasped, my heart raced and I realized that my mind hadn’t wandered at all. In the only way that she could, Wednesday had given me what I asked for. She answered my question, “What did he do to our body?” In an instant my mind was flooded with images and memories that, like random puzzle pieces, finally fit together.
Suddenly... I KNEW...
    Almost in a panic, I realized that I had forgotten Wednesday in the shock and confusion of this new information. I had to go back for her. She had trusted me. She had done what I asked of her and I ran away. I re focused and went back to look for her but it was empty and quiet. I called out to her but she hid in the shadows in the back of my head. I apologized and thanked her for giving me what I had asked for. “I’m sorry I ran away. I was just startled. I got scared but I’m OK. You did good sweetie, you did real good! Thank you for trusting me. I came back. I promise I will never forget you and I will try harder to stay here and not run away again. Please come back...” She never did and I am sorry about that.