VULNERABILITY

Brene Brown, in Daring Greatly, defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. That useless feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or DO something that forces us to loosen control”. A quick google search defines vulnerable as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” Why this sudden interest in vulnerability? Because that’s my homework this week: trying to eat better and getting in touch with my own vulnerability. I think she’s tired of hearing “Eww” every time she says vulnerability. Just typing the word causes my anxiety to rise. I also realized that I don’t really understand what she meant by “get in touch with your vulnerability”. She didn’t mean being vulnerable with other people, she meant with my own. Which is a difficult thing to come to terms with. So I’m going to blather on about it on the internet. While researching vulnerability, I came across a term that DID resonate with me. Vulnerability Hangover: the rush of regret you feel after sharing your weakness (read vulnerability) with others. I am terrified of being judged, or not believed, or, worse, believed and mocked/ridiculed. That stems directly from my extremely judgemental parents. I remember when I tried to tell my mom about my first rape a few years after it happened. I started with, “When I was in high school I went on a date that went very badly.” She gave me such a look of disgust and then turned and walked away, so I never trusted her again. With anything. I remember telling her stuff as a teenager that she would relay to dad, and then dad would use it against me. Usually as an excuse to beat me. Betrayal runs deep in the family. So many betrayals and failures. Both by those around me and myself. I can forgive myself, as I honestly didn’t know better. If those who were supposed to love and care for me would treat me thusly, obviously I deserve it and will treat myself with the same disregard. That is still something I struggle with. How to love myself when my parents didn’t? Even now, the little innocuous things I share almost always garner some sort of criticism. Vulnerability. Maybe if I type it enough, the revulsion will dissipate. Vulnerability. This has been a huge trigger for my dissociation. It has taken me almost two hours just to write this much. I keep zoning out. So let’s approach it carefully. What is happening? Why am I so unfocussed? What is triggering my dissociation? Obviously the answer is the word vulnerability. But why? What about it is making it so difficult to stay present? And Rock gets huge. Why is this? What is going on? I’m writing this more like a journal entry than a blog piece. More stream of conscience type writing. Dammit. There I go again. Anything but the topic at hand. Vulnerability. Let’s personalize the definition. What does vulnerability mean to me? It means being open and susceptible to being hurt, used, and abused. My whole life I’ve been abused, it seems. Only the past few years, where I have made a conscious decision to avoid toxic people as much as possible, have I been abuse free. And this life of chosen celibacy has pulled me out of the dating pool for a while, as I focus on my healing, which means I’m not putting myself in positions where I’m open to betrayal and abuse. Some day I will again, but not right now. Vulnerable. Open-hearted. What does that even mean? Open-hearted. Definition of openhearted according to Merriam Webster: 1 : candidly straightforward : frank. 2 : responsive to emotional appeal. I am not unmoveable, but I am definitely guarded. I listen lots, talk less. I care about specific persons, but can’t stand people in general. So where does my vulnerability come in as it relates to me? I’m really struggling with this one. I am certainly not gentle with myself. Vulnerability. A few months ago I submitted some poetry for publication. That was being pretty vulnerable. When I open up to Angry Dude, Young One, and Squirrel, I guess that could be a form of vulnerability with myself. When I’m honest with myself with what I’m feeling, how I’m coping.

A NEW APPROACH

Last week we talked about about how my therapist recommended I start reading about Poly Vagal Theory. That was quite the rabbit hole to send me down. I learned a lot about myself. About my emotional parts, about my dissociative states. My therapists have always expressed awe over the mind’s ability to save itself. I have always looked at is as a failure. Every time I dissociate, I associate it with failure. My failure to stay present. I have never been comfortable with my EPs. They make me feel crazy. But you can only hear so many professionals say that it is an incredible thing your body does to protect itself, before it starts sinking in. And that it wasn’t a choice. That seems to be the key that finally got hammered home. IT WASN’T A CHOICE. My body/mind connection were threatened, and the option that led to my survival was collapse, or fawn. One that isn’t talked about near enough. Everyone knows about fight or flight. But the other two pieces, freeze and collapse, not so much. And when it’s your father that has you pinned to the bed, beating you until you can’t breathe, you can’t run, you can’t fight. Freezing does no good, so you collapse. And it happens so often, that you start shutting down at the slightest threat. And then you start shutting down all the fucking time. Talking about the weather? Shut down. Having a shower? Shut down. Playing with your kids? Shut down. Having sex? Forget it. Fucking shut down. You learn to fake it, but those closest to you can tell something’s not right. Your kids ask why you keep staring off into space. As for sex, why bother? You feel desire, but it’s never really sated because you can’t stay present for the act. So you become hypo-sexual. Which is okay, because the meds you take for your depression and C-PTSD kill the libido anyways.

But back to this new approach I was talking about. A new way of looking at my self. Appreciating how hard survival was. From a young age. And then the abusive three year relationship at fifteen. The date rape three years ago. All of which contributed to my C-PTSD. And now I have an appreciation for just how hard my mind worked to keep me safe. And that I didn’t out and out split, I just have different facets that need care.

And I can do that now. Start to take care of myself.

YOU KNOW IT’S GOOD WHEN…

You know it’s good when your therapist pinches the bridge of her nose and says, “Oh my God.” I didn’t think it warranted that kind of response, but then, what do I know. We were talking about early development, and how girls and boys get sexualized very young. “Who sexualized you?” I thought about it for a minute, and then told her how my dad was embarrassed by my developing body and made me wear baggy clothes. To which I got above reply, followed with, “He has a lot of problems”. I could only nod. Her reactions are usually not quite so abrupt: a sigh, a squeak, a gesture. But this must have really caught her off guard. I guess because my dad never sexually abused me. Mental, emotional, psychological, yes. Bare assed spankings with a belt, yes. But there was never a sexual overtone to it. It was about humiliation, not being sexualized. So it may have seemed out of character. But then, what IS in character for a narcissistic, over-bearing control freak? Other than the odd flashback, I’ve been having a fairly good week. Maybe because I’m relying on my tranqs more, I don’t know. Which really isn’t good, but it is what it is. I mentioned it at the end of my session Thursday, to say, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed this. I’m not abusing them, but I’m using them more than I’m really comfortable with.’ So we’ll see if she brings it up next week. Poly Vagal Theory is the next thing we’re discussing. How the Vagus nerve effects our affect and works with the sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems. I’ve just started reading about Stephen Porges, the father of the theory. Sounds fascinating so far. As I slowly start to get more and more control over my dissociation, we explore more and more things. My therapist knows I’m a reader, and that I really enjoy reading about neuroscience. And anything that helps me understand my body’s response to all it’s traumas helps me heal my mind and conquer my C-PTSD. I am sure that re-commencing EMDR is just around the corner. Just as soon as I can stay more connected. Which is happening, incrementally. The process is so slow, and it’s easy to feel discouraged. But this time last year, I was dealing with repercussions of self-harming from the memories. This year, I made it through intact. Which, if I’m being honest with myself, is huge. Every time I get stuck on how slow the progress is, my therapist helps me see just how far I’ve come. I’ve always described it as a spiral staircase, where even when it feels like you’re going backward, you’re still going up.

ONE ROUGH WEEK

It’s been a while since I’ve written. So much has happened. We almost lost my mom after her cancer surgery. She had two blood clots, one on each lung. And no one wants to tell me anything. I talked to my mom in the morning, and she was coming home the next day. An hour later I talk to my aunt and find out mom’s staying for a few more days. When my dad and my sister come home, I talk to her. Find out what’s going on. Also that my dad has a leaky liver, that’s why he quit drinking. My sister tells me that no one wants to tell me anything because they’re afraid of setting me off. Which means setting my anxiety and depression off. Like I have no coping mechanisms. It’s so frustrating. Mom could have died, and no one wants me to know. Sigh. It’s better to know where I stand, I guess, so I know to ask more direct questions.

Moms surgery was also the anniversary of my most recent sexual assault. The struggle not to self harm was so very very real. And then I found some sharps. Tucked into the staple box in my art kit. My world reeled. Fortunately, I have some very good friends who were able to talk me down from it. Three different text conversations with three very different foci, but all with the same outcome: I stayed safe. Something even my safety contract couldn’t guarantee.

It is so hard to articulate exactly what goes through my mind when the urge strikes. Relentless begging for release. But release from what exactly? Too many feelings? Not enough feelings? Release from memory, from thought? From the too too much. It all gets to be too much. Existing. Being. Living. Breathing. Feeling trapped in a mind that is malfunctioning. Emotions hi-jacked all the time. Never being 100% present in my own life. That’s the hardest part, I’m coming to realize. The fact that I zone out all the time. I don’t know if I’m zoning out more, or if I’m just more aware of how often I do. Vera, my therapist, says it’s fine tuned to happen so often, and that I’m just starting to notice. So I take her word for it. She’s the expert on all things dissociative and traumatic. And, more importantly, I trust her and what she says. It’s been a long time since I could trust someone so implicitly to always do what they honestly believe is in my best interest.

STAYING PRESENT; PROGRESS

I wrote a little while ago about needing extensive dental work. My dentist pulled two broken teeth, and had made arrangements to pull 7 more. Then fillings, then partial dentures. Last week I went in to get two teeth pulled. He decided then to pull all seven. Plus three more. Two for the aesthetics when I get my partials. To have his hands in my mouth for that length of time was brutal. I was, however, able to stay mostly present, much to the surprise and delight of my therapist. “How did you accomplish this?” It seems weird but I managed by focussing on the tools in my mouth. It kept it real, that there was nothing sexual or abusive about what he was doing, despite the vey real trauma being done to my mouth. It helped me to focus on the fact that it was a medical procedure happening. And it helped keep me from dissociating. Now if she had asked about this week with the pain and my refusal to take pain killers if I can do without, the answer would have been very different. Which is fine, I’ll take my victories where I can, no matter how small they seem.

This week I finally got the stitches out and was upgraded to soft food from liquid and purees. I was already eating soft food. And not so soft foods. Just cutting things up very tiny and chewing very carefully. And now I sound like Sylvester the Cat from Looney Tunes. My kids are trying to be supportive, but it’s hard not to laugh. I get it. I laugh with them. My friends, well, half of them pretend nothing is different and the other half are total assholes. Which is about right. What is most surprising to me is the amount of pain the inside of my ears are in. The nerves are all so very inter-twined. No tinnitus, but just a dull ache in the very depths of my ear canal.

Because of the amount of wrenching, my neck has been very sore. My therapist recommended something called Salonpas. It’s a topical analgesic patch from Japan. Salicylate, menthol, and camphor, it warms your skin as it penetrates. And it smells very good. We are working at me feeling more connected with my body; that I do exist below the neck. Because of the amount of abuse I have endured, I have a hard time touching myself. I was very proud of myself this week that I have been able to put hand cream on my hands. But that’s not enough. I wake up in a tight ball every day, with my feet cramped from being balled up. So now, every night at bedtime, I need to rub hand cream onto my feet. I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish this. But I told her I’d give it my best shot. I also really need to get back into doing my meditation app every night with the body scan. Kind of help release it. And I really need to get back into Qi Gong again. So much more I could be doing for my mental and physical health, but no motivation whatsoever. I’m giving myself until my teeth are healed and I’m not in any more pain from them, and really getting into it.

I’m committing to my physical health as I have committed to my mental health.

DISSOCIATION: A POEM

I feel the breeze kiss my skin
As it gently blows
Yet I am not present

I smell the pungent aroma
Coming off the lake
Yet I am not here

I taste the raindrops
Warm on my tongue
Yet I remain absent

I know I am here
Aware of all I hear
Sense, see

Yet I am away
Shut off from the world
Around me

Conscious
Not there
Not fully aware

I go through the motions
Like a machine
Robotic answers
That have no meaning

I know my heart is racing
I feel the blood surging in my veins
The nails digging in my palms
The pain a sharp counterpoint
To my lack of being

So distant
Watching myself
An odd sensation
To see yourself
As you really are
Not the facade you front

Not integrated
Knowing it’s not a good thing
But not sure
I want to come back

To the pain
The agony
The hurt

THE DANCE OF DISSOCATION

It’s a tricky thing, dissociating.  Especially when you don’t recognize that it’s happening.  One minute you’re listening to the conversation around you, and then you’re not.  Someone says something to you, and you realize you have no idea what the conversation is anymore.  Sure, this happens to everyone, once in a while.  Everyone zones out.  It’s the constancy that’s different.  The constant hijacking of the brain, where you no longer know where you are, or, even, who you are.  The black spaces where there is nothing.  Not knowing how you got to where you’re going.  Or why you’ve even gone there.

Then there are the triggers:  a touch, a frangrance, some random piece of conversation and you’re transported back to a not so safe place.  Staring off into space, in your own personal hell.  This happened to me at therapy this week.  We weren’t even talking about anything overtly triggery, and yet, there I was.  Gone.  And when I came back, my ability to talk was gone.  I couldn’t even really grunt.  My poor therapist.  I couldn’t even write down what I was suffering.  I could sort of draw stick figures, like a four year old.  Trying to communicate how lost I felt was impossible.  Fortunately, I had my art book with me, and could point out on my drawing of “The Pit”  who I was (which she had already figured out), and where I was in relation to everyone else.  Now comes the difficult part:  how to tell her one of my emotional parts (EP) self-harmed.  Not me, my skin is still intact.  But my EP did.  It’s a weird thing, to close your eyes to have a pep talk with yourself, and to see yourself with bleeding arms.  Obviously, this was very distressing to me.  But I had already gone over my session by forty minutes.  I wasn’t about to bring that up.  But I will this week.  Young One self-harming and Angry Dude drinking and smoking.  Sigh.  Doing what I really want to be doing.  It was so strong that Friday I even bought a pack of cigarettes.  Gave them to Josh Friday night, and was really craving them Saturday morning. So I’m glad to have given them up.