MED COMPLIANCE

At night, the monsters come out. Since my dentist appointment last week, I’ve been having dreams of disembodied hands. Creepy and unsettling. I wake up in a cold sweat, and don’t want to go back to sleep. So I stay up and read. Or listen to books on Audible. I’m acquiring a collection of un-listened to books that will rival my to be read stack of paper books. But that’s ok. Somethings to look forward to.

Am struggling with med compliance again. I’m tired of feeling flat and numb, and blame it on the Abilify. I’ve been reading up on it, and apparently it’s a common side effect. Right away she was concerned that I was still taking them. She was genuinely concerned that I would quit it cold turkey. Given my history, I would have to say that her questioning me is warranted. I started at 2mg, and now I’m up to 20. That’s a big dose. Especially since the last p-doc I saw stated that I don’t even have bi-polar. I understand that I might need a mood stabilizer, as anti-depressants alone never work properly. I do question, however, the need for an atypical anti-psychotic. At such a high dose. The last p-doc I saw was just a consult, but she said I could see her in a year if I wanted to discuss a med change. So I need to call the hospital and find out if I can make an appointment through them, or if I need to go through my doctor. My therapist is all about getting it done. I hem and hawed and will be doing it in the new year. I may bite the bullet and call this week, so it’s not hanging over my head. But I hate talking on the phone. I have real anxiety about it. So much so that even my therapist only contacts me via email. Even if it’s the day of an appointment, she knows I’m on my email, but if I don’t recognize the number, I won’t answer the phone. I’m so glad she’s willing to work with my limitations and foibles, without making them a focus or a big deal.

I have a feeling, since last week we didn’t really touch on anything big, as I’ve been pretty stable, we’re going to do some EMDR on Thursday. Just in time to do three weeks before she takes her two weeks off over Christmas. She is also planning on taking a week off in the middle of January. I’m just glad she’s not taking all three weeks off at the same time. Three weeks is a long time when you’re used to weekly sessions. She asked me how I’m feeling about the two weeks off. I replied, “Besides feeling abandoned?” Then I laughed and told her I was joking. “You’ll be holding seminars on how to yank your therapists chain.” I have mixed feelings about starting EMDR again. I’m scared of how it’s going to go now that I’m having visual flashbacks. My flashbacks have always been somatic, meaning feelings only. Recently, I’ve been having some pretty severe visuals. Not just feeling his hands around my neck, but seeing them. His cold, cold eyes. The collapse when I tried to stand up and he grabbed me by the neck and threw me back on the bed. Instead of just feelings of dread and sensations, I’m full on remembering. Which sucks.

I have my protocols. Babette Rothschild has saved my sleep. Her “8 Keys To Safe Trauma Recovery” has provided some very solid protocols on dealing with flashbacks and nightmares. So much so that I wrote them down for easy access at night. And I’ve passed them onto friends. They’ve been so helpful. I recommend that book to everyone I know with a trauma history that impacts their daily lives. Even if only sometimes.

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.

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.

STAYING PRESENT

It’s been a difficult couple of days.  Completely lost it with my therapist yesterday.  I had such an overwhelming somatic flashback that I couldn’t speak.  For at least 30 minutes, if not longer.  I know this is approximate, as my appointment was supposed to finish at 2:00 and I didn’t get out of there until 2:40.  It was as though my young self hijacked my being and was so lost she couldn’t speak.  Couldn’t articulate how lost and hurt and sad she was.  I’m still struggling with my words over 24 hours later.  And with connection.  I feel completely detached from everything and everyone.  I do feel some relief that the kids are at their dad’s this week, so I don’t have to fake feeling anything but numb.

This disconnect is disconcerting.  Touch is nigh impossible to feel.  And when I do feel it, it feels weird.  As though there’s a barrier between my skin and the rest of the world.  My homework this week is to stay present and connected:  when I hug a friend, let myself feel the hug.  To stop living from the neck up, as my therapist says.  Easier said than done, my friend.  Easier said than done.

My Feldenkrais practitioner, Fariya, taught me to gently rub my fingers in a corkscrew motion.  This helps in grounding.  Fingers are very ennervated, so they are very sensitive.  But it feels… odd… to me.  Touching myself in any way is foreign.  I am an alien nation unto myself.  Vera, my therapist, aims to change that.  So much to work on, she says.  Even after the trauma stuff is sorted out, there’s my borderline eating disorder, my gender/body issues, my self-hatred.  As we work on the trauma, the other pieces will slowly fall into place, but I believe they are going to need to be addressed individually, once stability has been achieved.  If.  No, when.  Positive thinking is a must.  It’s so hard to, today.  Today, I even went out and bought a pack of smokes.  Something I haven’t done since Christmas.

Today feels like a day to stay in bed and wish for death to come upon me.  Instead, I am out at my friend’s cafe, eating poutine.  Reaching out.  Keeping safe where I am loved.  Not isolating.  Which is all I want to do.  Vera would be proud.

I BROKE HIM

I had a major epiphany this weekend.  Life-changing, send my world on it’s head epiphany.  Fifteen year old me, trapped in an abusive relationship with a 32 year old man.  Very abusive.  At seventeen, when he removed my collar, he told me I was “too old.  I have nothing left to teach you”.  I’ve spent twenty-eight years feeling rejected, broken, not good enough. But then I had a thought, ‘what if I look at his uncollaring me as freeing me, instead of rejecting me’?  Which opened up the flood gates.  He always called me a Brat, which is a type of submissive in the BDSM community. Which, I have to admit, I am.  Always have been, and likely always will be.  Now here’s where things get crazy:  what if he released me, not because he was feeling altruistic, but because he couldn’t break me.  What if I broke him?

He could never beat the mouthy out.  I always maintained that little spark of me.  I remember the way his wife was: never spoke, never looked up, never complained.  I don’t even remember her name.  That is what he wanted from me.  Complete odedience.  My dad tried to beat that into me till I was eighteen.  He didn’t fair any better.

I was sharing my new found outlook with my best friend, Jen.  And her reply was priceless, “You broke a paedophile!”  Which made me happier than it should have.

And on that note, good night.

REHABILITATION

I’m re-writing history
Changing the ending

Rejection turns to freedom
My bonds broken

Released into the wild
Free to rehabilitate myself

Who am I?

and

Where do I go from here?

GONE THE INFECTIOUS SCAB OF MEMORY

Hello again. For those following, you know that I spent two years in an unhealthy fake BDSM relationship. I was 15, he was 32. I was young, naive, hungry for love and acceptance. He was a pro at what he was doing. And next week is the anniversary of him callously removing my collar and throwing me out, stating I was too old. Two weeks shy of my 18th birthday. I was 17 years old, and had spent the previous two years as his abused sex slave. “You’re too old. I have nothing left to teach you,” indelibly written in my brain. I have spent the last twenty-eight years spending this month in great emotional pain, feeling rejected and not good enough, and all the other fun psyche damaging negative self talk. That ends today.

Today I pull off the infectious scab of his memory and forge a new narrative. Freeing me from his slavery was the best thing he could have done for me. Gone the beatings, the gang rapes, the honeyed lies. No more living in fear. Free to heal, to discover who I am without being coloured by him. It’s been a long, long climb to get here. But here I am. FINALLY! Slowly, painfully, learning and accepting it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t deserve what happened. I didn’t ask for what happened. And then he set me free. FREE!!! Too bad it took me so long to figure this out. That he was a paedophile, an abusive paedophile. As if there’s any other kind. And now I’m free. Free to re-write my narrative. Not my fault. And he set me free. He didn’t reject me. He set me free.

Here’s to a fresh new look on painful old wounds.

Alone in the Dark

Fortunately, most nights the prazosin does its job and my nights are nightmare free. Which is a relief after years of constant bad dreams and terrors. Unfortunately, it can’t stop the terrors. Or the somatic memories. Which are coming in full force. I always forget the body keeps track of the changing seasons, and the associated traumas that come with them. I ignore the tightness of the chest, the trouble breathing. The tightening of the body that indicates a collapse response. But to what? There is no reason for this sudden onset of dark memory. Until I look at the calendar, and realize this is the time of the great uncollaring. Two years a sex slave. There is no way to soften those words. The acceptance of the reality of the years I spent from 15 to 17 has been hard to swallow. The depravity, the cruelty, the bones of affection that kept me coming back. The collar that was supposed to indicate a commitment from him to me, me to him. In some ways, that collar was more symbolic than a wedding band. It meant my total submission to him. My mind, my heart, my soul, my body. And a promise to take care of all of me. To cherish that submission. Instead, I was trafficked, used, abused, and, jsut shy of my eighteenth birthday, he took the collar off. “You’re too old. There’s nothing left to teach you,” summarily dismissed. No contact ever again. Thirty years later, I’m still dealing with the aftermath of that cold abandonment. So much of how I see myself shaped by those cold, calculating hands.

And I lie awake at night, woken up by the spectre of his presence. Even now, there are times the agony of the missing collar hurts worse than the missing wedding band of a failed marriage. I swallow hard, expecting to feel the hard leather around my neck. It’s absence a hard thrust into reality. A reality where I feel my failure keenly. Even though, really, I didn’t fail. I was trapped. And even though the method of my escape was brutal and cold, I did. Not unscathed. Not whole. But free.

And yet I wake at night. Cold sweats. Rapid, shallow breathing. I feel his breath on the nape of my neck. The touch of the lash. The cuffs. As I type this, I need to practice my grounding techniques. The touch of the floor on my feet. I’m safe. I’m where I chose to be. I can leave. I’m alone. That’s the big one. I’m alone. I’m all alone. By choice. No one around to hurt me. No one to pin me down. I’m free to be the best self I can be.

SECRETS

Secrets kept since childhood. A cousin who molested me. A rape at fifteen by a thirty year old man. Another rape three and a half years ago. The moments of terror blend together, sometimes. And I’ve carried this trauma by myself, for so long. I just recently started opening up to friends about it. And the support has been unequivocally amazing. My friends are amazing. My family, not so much. So much so, that when the rape at fifteen happened, and I tried to tell my mom, the minute she heard “I had a date go bad,” she gave me a look of pure disgust and turned away from me. Bodily turned from me and walked away. The kind of betrayal that runs deep. So I’ve never trusted her since. Never trusted anyone since. If the woman who birthed you and is supposed to be there for you turns her back, where is there left to go?

This week has been hard. My mom went in for surgery on Tuesday to have a complete hysterectomy as they found a cyst on what they thought was her ovary. Turns out it was a growth on her bowel. So she is in the hospital and my sister has flown in from PEI to help out around the house. My sister and I have a very strained relationship. As the baby of the family, she was pretty coddled as a child. And she never suffered at the hands of dad like I did. I was the black sheep, and she always sided with both dad and my brother. So the line was drawn, with the family on one side, and me on the other. Is it any wonder I don’t do “family” with them?

Tuesday night my dad and brother had a fight, and my brother drove off drunk. So my sister had a good cry on my shoulder. We talked about Mark, (my brother) and how he was the golden child and how much of an asshole he has become. She asked what made me start getting into feminist literature and poetry, and I told her the #metoo movement flipped a switch. When she responded with, “it did for a lot of women. They no longer felt alone,” I almost spoke up. But instead, I just nodded and said, “Yeah, it did”.

So today we’re driving to the hospital, and talking about the J Dubs, which is what my sister calls Jehovah’s Witnesses, the faith we were raised in the and the faith my parents still follow. I took a chance and told her that I struggle with my sexuality, as I’m bi. She said that really doesn’t surprise her. And then she really surprised me, “You know, no matter what, I’ll always support you.” At this point, I go out on a limb and tell her what I’ve never told a family member. I told her about my rape at fifteen. I did not tell her about the subsequent relationship that developed, or the depths of depravity he brought me to. And she just held my hand while we walked into the hospital.

So now I’m in knots wondering if I did the right thing. I hope she doesn’t tell mom. I don’t think she will. She won’t want to worry mom about anything while she’s recuperating. The only thing she asked is why I never told, and when I told her mom’s reaction, she just said, “Oh.”

Secrets are hard to bear, but the spilling of them, after so long, isn’t any easier.

HOPE

Hope: n. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen
v. Want something to happen or be the case

Hope is a very pregnant word. Pregnant with promise, with desire, with expectation. A feeling of better things to come. A small word with big meaning. When things are black and stormy in my life, I hope they get better. Sometimes I feel this hope is misplaced, especially when I’m deep in the pit; when it’s hard to reach out a hand and ask for help. It’s getting easier these days. When my therapist says to hang on, the depth of these feelings in transient, I have faith in her word, and trust and hope she’s right. And she always is. I always come through. And lately I can say I come through unscathed. Weary, oh gods, am I weary. But it’s been months now since I’ve self harmed. Even the most recent scars have faded to pale lines, no darker than the rest of them. She tells me that self injury had a place in my toolbox of survival long ago, BUT THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW. And she is correct in that. I’m different in my body and being. I see the urges for what they are: lying monsters.

The monsters wail
Begging to be fed
Promising light after the blood
To slumber in the post pain haze

I know the truth
Of their existence
Never sated, always begging for more
The cravings deep

Alone in the night
With the monsters in my head
In my heart
In my soul
Filling the cracks with blood
In the place of tears

SOMATIC MEMORY

The past couple of days have been really really tough. Stuck between hyper and hypo arousal constantly shifting back and forth. Moments where I’m overwhelmed by fear and can’t breathe, and then moments where the slightest sound makes me jump. Even though my mind finds no connection between the here and now and this feeling of doom, I have a full blown fear reody response. My therapist did get back to me today, (YAY!) and she said it sounds like I’m having somatic flashbacks. I should have recognized this right away. What is a somatic flashback? It’s your body remembering, not your brain. “Memory is reminding you about the state of your being all those years in childhood and adolescence when you were in danger” is how my therapist worded it in her email to me today. I lived in fear growing up. Beatings from my father were a daily, consistent thing with him. The only thing that was. And I had a real rough session this week. Last week brought up a lot of history, how no one noticed the sad little me acting out and begging for attention. And this week brought more of that to the fore. And just like I did in adolescence, I’m living a double life of sorts here at home again. My parents don’t know about my cousin molesting me. They don’t know about the abusive relationship I was in at 15. They don’t know about my sexual assault three years ago. They don’t know I’m living with PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder. They think my therapy is for my anxiety. I have to keep so much hidden, while living in the house where I grew up abused. They say you can’t heal in the environment that broke you, but I am. Granted, things are different now. I’m a grown woman with a voice. My body and being are different. It’s now 2019 and I am no longer in danger from anyone.

So I orient to the here and now. I’m in my room, the room I grew up in, focusing on what’s different. My bookcases, the books in those cases. My bed. The decorations on the wall. The flooring. The sheets on my bed. All things that are from the present. Nothing in my room remains from the past except my bear, Bettina, who has been with me since I was six months old. She has been the one constant in my life. I have been struggling with the desire to self harm this weekend. That, too, was a constant in my life for many years. It had its purpose then. But things are different now. I need to remember this with the very core of my being. All my emotional parts need to recognize that we are no longer trapped in trauma time. I have so many new coping tools and a great support network. Parts of me may be trapped in the past, but I have the strength, courage and determination to show them a better future.

SAFETY CONTRACTS AND SELF HARM

I’ve been with my therapist for about three years now. One of the first things she did was put me on saftey contract. I am proud to say, in that three years, I have only intentionally violated it once. I say intentionally, because the things she considers to be self harming behaviour are myriad. Not using my seatbelt in the car, driving too fast on the highway, not eating right, even not maintaining good sleep hygiene. All of which I’m guilty of at some point. I’m finally at a point where my med compliance is no longer an issue, just a struggle. When I’m feeling good, I don’t think I need them. When I’m not feeling good, I feel what’s the point. So it’s a constant struggle. But the main focus of my contract is the obvious, direct ways I harm myself: drinking and cutting. And after yesterdays session, the struggle is real. I even reached out to her about it last night. She didn’t respond, but as I was in no real danger, I wasn’t really expecting her to.

Self harm. Two little words. The act of hurting oneself. Doesn’t really sound too bad, does it? I even managed to inflict a bit on myself while in her office yesterday, squeezing my hand too hard and leaving deep imprints of my fingernails, took a bit of skin off. She commented on how easy it is to fall back into old ways of coping. It left marks which still are there, though faint, today. It’s so deeply imbedded in my pysche as the only way out of emotional distress, be it feeling too much or too little. And right now I’m feeling too much. Way too much. I can’t even define all that I’m feeling. I tried to in her office yesterday, and last night when I was dying for a sharp to drag across my skin. Lost. Alone. Sad. Melancholic. Overwhelmed. Not present. Broken. Hurt. And a multitude more floating through my brain and body. And that’s what’s so damn hard about this. The feelings are so strong, they’re painful. My body hurts from carrying them. The release of a little blood seems a fair price to pay for the relief. But one of the last things she said to me yesterday was, “Remember your contract. A promise.” A promise to her as well as myself to stay safe. And there are days I curse that contract. That promise. If it was only with myself, it wouldn’t be so bad. I could live with that. But the shame I would feel going into her office next week, and having to say, “I fucked up,” keeps me strong. That and the fact that there are no readily available sharps that I can access. I have a disposable razor in the bathroom, one I keep for emergencies like this. However, the fact of the matter is, I would have to dig it out, dismantle it, and then carry through with the very act I have sworn not to. Many opportunities to pause and think things through. Which she would not hesitate to point out. Something I really value in her is her refusal to accept bullshit answers and provide clarity when things are muddy to me. So rather than face that, I stayed in bed, my safe zone. Except when it isn’t. I try hard to keep my bed a safe place. Injuring myself in the bath, where it’s easy to clean up, or on the floor of my bedroom. My bed is sancrosanct. Not to say I haven’t used an x-acto knife that I forgot to put away while sitting there, focusing only on the imminent relief. That pressure valve which causes immediate and tactile release. But word is my bond. So I suffer. Like Tennyson wrote in Ulysses, “All times I have… suffer’d greatly, both with those/That loved me, and alone… One equal temper of heroic hearts,/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM

After suffering harrowing nightmares nightly for many years, the p-doc I saw briefly prescribed a wonderful drug called prazosin.  It’s a heart medication, an alpha-blocker, but it’s been proven to stop nightmares in some patients.  Fortunately for me, I am one of those patients.  It doesn’t stop the flashbacks; nothing will stop those.  But for the first time in years, I’m sleeping without the nightly terrors that come with closing my eyes.

Now comes the fun part.  Teaching my brain and body that it’s safe to go to sleep at night.  For years I’ve been a night owl.  My therapist isn’t so sure that it’s my natural state; she believes it’s a learned response to fear.  So how to unlearn it?  I’ve started working on my sleep hygiene.  Trying to go to bed at the same time every night.  Being more active during the day.  Meditating.  But my body still feels that same anxiety when my head hits that pillow.  Shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, that sense of impending doom.  I’ve practicing Babette Rothchild’s Keys to Trauma Recovery for months now.  It has definitely lessened the impact of the flashbacks.  But I can’t convince my body that it’s safe to sleep.

I recently had to move back home due to circumstances not within my control.  My anxiety and other mental illnesses have made it impossible for me to work and difficult to care for my children adequately.  So I’m back in the room where I spent most of my childhood, being beaten and hiding.  It’s hard to heal in the environment that made you sick, but I’m doing it.  My room is now inviolate.  My dad doesn’t enter it, he doesn’t open the door when it’s shut.  He leaves me alone when the kids are visiting their father.  There’s no more violence, or even threats of violence.  He is a gentler man now than he ever was.  And yet, and yet.  The specter of years past hangs over me like a miasma.  When he raises his voice, I become six  years old again, afraid.  I’m 45 now, and I still cringe from his touch.  He can’t sense it anymore, but I still feel it.  The awkward hugs, few and far between.  The sexual assault three years ago broke me in so many ways; exacerbated the damage done from years of abuse.  Since then, I can barely stand to be hugged by anyone other than my kids and partner.  And even that isn’t easy some days.  But you bear it, because the one thing kids need is lots of affection.  Abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, leaves scars that never really go away.

But back to sleeping, to dreaming.  Now that the nightmares no longer fill my time spent in Morpheus’ arms, I dream.  I dream of my therapist.  Of dragons.  Of transmuting myself into something other than what I am.  As if my me isn’t enough.  It never has been, why should that change now?  I’m working on the negative self talk, but my subconscious certainly has lots to say about it.  I’ve never had much luck with lucid dreaming.  When I’m asleep, I’m asleep, and no amount of wishing my way out of a dream has ever worked.  Now I no longer wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing, unsure of where I am.  I wake up perturbed, questioning what the hell is going on with my psyche.  My therapist tells me that when we dream of others, they represent aspects of ourselves.  So when I dream of dragons and squirrels, I’m living my hyper/hypo aroused parts of myself.  Squirrels are saucy little things, very vocal when unhappy, but quick to run away from confrontation.  Unless you are a red squirrel.  Then you will fight for that acorn and not back down.  But even they run from larger predators.  And dragons, well, they are the apex predator.  Everything runs from a dragon.  Even humans.  The only way to take a dragon down is from a distance.  And, unfortunately, a thrown acorn is not going to do too much to a dragon.

So am I a dragon or am I a squirrel?

SISTERHOOD

A year ago I attended a twelve week group for survivors of sexual assault. I was hesitant to go, as my experience with groups wasn’t very positive. With a lot of encouragement from my therapist and best friend, I decided to give it a shot. I am very glad I did. A year later, and I have a group of women I now consider to be my sisters. Bonded in a way I never imagined possible. A group of women I can share both my highs and my lows with, and everything in between. An amazing group of women who are supportive, loving, and quick to both laugh and cry with you.

It goes beyond our shared traumas. We are able to share the common, everyday things, the small tragedies and the big joys. And the seemingly small thing of being understood. Unless you’ve been a situation where your whole world is shattered, you never appreciate the comfort in sharing that trauma with people who have suffered in ways similar to you. We’ve all experienced different things, and suffered differently, but we all have been broken. The Japanese have an ancient art of mending broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum. Kintsugi. They are the gold in my healing cracks.

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

It’s time to say goodbye. To say goodbye to the old me. The stuck me. The unmotivated me. The me that sits on the couch all day, thinking about all the things I’d like to do, if only I could get up of the couch. The habits formed while in a severe depression slough slowly, not wanting to be given up. They certainly don’t go without a lot of will power. Something I have been short of my whole life. I have started seeing a Feldenkrais practitioner, who has done wonders for my extremely bad posture resulting in bad knees and a bad back. I’ve also started Qi Gong, which is also helping with my posture and joint issues. My therapist states that Qi Gong is all about fluidity, something my body is definitely lacking. It’s a Chinese standing meditation, so it’s good for my mind as well as my body. I’m not up to practicing it every day, but I’m up to three times a week. My goal is to make it to every day. I’ve started doing it twice a day on the days I do it. I tend to go back to bed after the kids have left for school, but my therapist wanted me to try to practice at that time instead. My circadian rhythm is completely out of sync. I tend to stay up into the early hours and sleep during the days. I’ve always been a night owl. No one there yelling at you, or hitting you, telling you what a screw up you are. Reading in peace. The world is a calm place. Something my young self needed desperately.

It’s time to embrace the daylight. And with it, life again. Spring is just around the corner, an excellent time for new beginnings. I never understood why we celebrate the new year in January, when everything is just cold and dreary. The spring equinox makes much more sense to me. The earth is waking up from it’s cold slumber, and everything is fresh and new. I always feel more energized in the spring, and this spring more so, as I have been in the depths of soul destroying depression. Thoughts of suicide have been a daily companion for so long that I now only notice them in their absence. The only down side is that with their disappearance, the sirens call of self harm gets louder. It has been months since I caved to their voices, and I don’t intend on doing so again. I quit smoking just after Christmas, now to give up vaping, the lesser of two evils. I am slowly decreasing the amount of nicotine in the juice I vape, so it will only be a matter of time before I completely nicotine free. Another step to the new me. Saying goodbye to old habits.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORDERLINE?

I’ve been thinking about diagnoses and what they mean to the one receiving them. Usually they come with a sense of relief: I’m not crazy. These symptoms do mean something. But what happens when the diagnosis means you are crazy? What does that mean? I’ve been fighting the BPD diagnosis for years. Never had a therapist agree with it, though I’ve received the diagnosis from more than one psychiatrist. Recently there has been a movement in the trauma treatment community to change it to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My current therapist, who is a gift sent from wherever such things come from, explained it to me in a way that made me feel a lot better. It’s not that I’m not fixable, which is the prevailing feeling among most old school practitioners; it’s just that my brain needs a different way of fixing it. I’ll never be neuro-typical. But I can learn to adapt and rearrange the way I process information.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder) is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape. (wikipedia) The resulting symptoms closely mirror that of BPD. The key difference between BPD and C-PTSD is that symptoms of BPD stem from an inconsistent self-concept and C-PTSD symptoms are provoked by external triggers. The inconsistent self-concept happens as a direct result of the early childhood trauma or ongoing trauma with no escape. Combine the two, you end up with a very fractured sense of self. Typical therapies for BPD used are DBT (Dialectic Behaviour Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), neither of which address the underlying trauma.

I grew up always afraid of my father. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t. That’s how early the abuse started. He was never physically violent to my mother, but he was very much emotionally and verbally abusive. In typical abuser fashion, he never started until after they were married and she was “trapped” with a baby. My therapist explained to me that babies can pick up what’s going on around them, so if my mother was anxious, sad, or afraid, I would’ve understood something was wrong. When asked why she stayed, she recently told me she couldn’t admit to her mother that her mother was right. So her pride ruined my life. Well, my life up to this point. I’m taking charge of it now, and learning to say no to the shit I don’t have to put up with.

Add to the mix a cousin who taught me things no six year old should ever be aware of, a very abusive relationship at a young age with a much older man, and a more recent sexual assault, is it any wonder that my sense of self is fractured? I’m now learning that I matter, that what I want and feel are valid. Novel concepts to be learning at 45. I wish I had the confidence of my young sons. They know they’re important, they understand body autonomy, and while they may not yet know what it is, they live their lives with a purpose.

I long for the day when I can live beyond the day to day, minute to minute, second to second it takes to survive sometimes. But everyday I’m getting stronger. A solid therapist with strong boundaries is key. I’m very fortunate to have found one. She holds the space while I try to feel whatever emotions are coming up. She holds it without judgement and without forcing it. Which is what someone who has suffered much trauma needs. I am doing EMDR, (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) along with a combination of other modalities. I take a mood stabilizer to boost the effect of my anti-depressant, and I take an alpha blocker, which helps prevent the nightmares. Being taught coping mechanisms (Babette Rothschilde is an amazing source for this), I can even manage my panic attacks and flashbacks. I’m in a stable relationship, I’m a pretty decent parent, and a damn good friend. None of which should be possible if I was truly only suffering from BPD.

So what does the diagnosis mean to the one receiving it? In my case, nothing at all. It bothered me at first, and if I had received it years ago, before I started working with my current therapist, it might have destroyed me; taking away any hope of ever getting better. Now, it’s a label that might help my disability claim, but that’s all it is. It doesn’t define who I am as a person. It changes nothing. My trauma work is the most important thing I can do for myself, and in doing it, I will free myself from the bindings of a difficult diagnosis with a less than helpful prognosis.

BIPOLAR OR NOT

Last year my doctor sent me to see a psychiatrist for an assessment and med adjustment. He’s generally a decent general practitioner, but we’ve been struggling for years to get me stable. I have a history of needed to take three months or so off of whatever job I’m doing because of stress. My previous therapist thought I might have a type of bipolar. No one was sure, so off for an assessment I go. PTSD, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and cyclothymia. Which I didn’t understand. I get depressed enough that I’m suicidal, and I’ve made an attempt in the past. That being said, a mood stabilizer in conjunction with my anti-depressant has made all the difference. That, and I’m now working with a trauma specialist. Doing EMDR. This year, I went for another assessment. A different psychiatrist this time, who read the notes of the previous one. Saw me three times, instead of just forty minutes. No bipolar diagnosis this time. PTSD, persistent depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and general anxiety. Says my symptoms of BPD overlap a lot with the BP, and that the meds often work in tandem together when the antidepressant isn’t enough even without the presence of bipolar. We talked about the BPD diagnosis, and the main reason for the diagnosis is history: self injury, suicide attempts, and, most telling, the feelings of self-loathing and feeling empty and numb. She said with the amount of trauma I’ve experienced, it was inevitable that I would wind up with BPD. So now I’m struggling with yet another identity, one that I have avoided for years. I remember my ex yelling at me, at one point, “I’m not the only borderline here”, yet I was the only one actively seeking help. My therapist told me not to worry about the diagnosis. It basically means I have C-PTSD, (Complex Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder) and I’m doing the hard work to get better. So that’s something at least. It explains these long, empty nights where I feel so numb and the siren call of self-injury is so strong, even though I’m not feeling depressed. Just numb.

A BLACKNESS DARK

In the dark
Defenses are thin
The monsters howl
Begging to be let in

The rain falls down
A staccato beat on the roof
Echoing the tears in my heart
That will not fall

Access denied
Feeling aloof
To the pain in my soul
A blackness dark
Coats my very existence

The monsters wail
Begging to be fed
Promising light after the blood
To slumber in the post pain haze

I know the truth
Of their existence
Never sated, always begging for more
The cravings deep

Alone in the night
With the monsters in my head
In my heart
In my soul
Filling the cracks with blood
In the place of tears

HOLDING MY OWN

How good it feels to be away from the edge of The Pit. Despite being mostly housebound due to inclement weather, I have been feeling pretty good. Maybe because I haven’t had to be social. Who knows. I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Can’t help but wonder, though, if this is a shift toward hypomania. the pdoc I saw didn’t see a bipolar diagnosis. Borderline Personality Disorder, Complex PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and, finally, Persistent Depressive Disorder. She said there is a lot of overlap with BP and BPD, so sometimes it’s hard to get a clear diagnosis.

A new year always brings with it some reflection. I’m not the type to make new years resolutions,; my goals change as I grow and change. And I wanted to take the time to give thanks to the woman who led me through the darkness to the light. I wrote a poem for her, and gave it to her just before we broke for the holidays. She never said anything about it, so I should probably not be embarrassed by it. I thought I’d share it with you.

A ship with a broken compass

Tossed on the waves

Hither and yon

Sinking slowly

Trying to find my way

By a North Star

Lost in a sky

Of darkness and despair

The clouds thick

Ever present

Blotting out the light

Along came a guide

Showed me how to mend

That broken compass

To fight my way

Back to the light

Behind the clouds

The siren song

Is still loud at times

But I have a gift

A toolkit

Cobbled together

Patiently guided

With grace and skill

To heal the wounded

Children within

WHO AM I

Numb

An emotional lockdown
Fearful
That once the walls crumble
There will be no relief

Sorrow
Runs deep
Permeates my very essence

If I allow myself to feel
The full depths
Would I ever recover

Fear of getting “better”
Of never getting “better”

I’m not sure I could bear
That this is the way
It will always be

Yearning
For a family that doesn’t exist

For what worth have i
If I’m rejected by those
Who share my blood

That nameless ache
Undefinable
Intangible
Pervasive

Both physically
And in my pysche
A part of me

Steadfast
True

Who am I?

HYPOMANIA!!!!!!!! 

As many of us bipolar bears, I have been on a cocktail of numerous psychotropic drugs.  While keeping me from being actively suicidal, they have definitely left me feeling numb.  No severe lows, but no highs either. This feeling flat has robbed much enjoyment out of my day to day existence.  So after being on it for two years, and my blood levels getting lower and lower with the same fairly high dose, we started titrating it. Once down to 600 mgs spread out over two doses, my doctor let me quit it completely. And within days my mood skyrocketed. Hypomania for the win.  After being disinterested in everything for so long this has been a welcome change. 

Of course, there’s always a downside, isn’t there.  Impulsive behavior. Reckless reckless thoughts.  Knowing the outcome is always the same doesn’t make not giving into them any easier. Thankful for a solid support network and an understanding, yet firm, therapist. Who is letting me email her through the holidays if necessary, as I’m in a “vulnerable place” right now. 

So happy holidays to all and may you stay safe. 

Squirrel

THE RAIN

I feel the rain
Cold against my skin
A counterpoint to the tears
Rolling down my cheeks

Thunder crashes
In the skies above
Echoing the tumult 
In my heart

Lightning jaggéd
Against the sky
Bright flashes of pain
Reverberating 

Through,my soul

THE AIR

I’ve recently started EMDR for my PTSD. And it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Going back into the memory while tracking your therapists hand movements. And the fact that those memories that you have tried so hard to bottle up now run rampant through your brain. Through your waking hours. Through the few hours of respite you get a night. And the worse time of all, that gap between wakefulness and unconsciousness.

Laying in bed
Your ghost beside me
Sucking the air
Out of the room

I remember your hands
Your body

Taking what you wanted
Not what I gave

Memory
Continues to suck
All the air
Out of the room

I couldn’t breathe then
I can’t breathe now

Here alone
Laying in bed

Violating me
Over and over again
Sucking the air
Out of the room

Tears I couldn’t shed then
Pour now down my cheeks
Torment and despair

Sucking the air
Out of the room

INTO THE LIGHT

My therapist has been assigning me art homework over the past few months as a different way to approach my healing from assorted traumas. This week I have to create a supportive greeting card to send to myself. The homework requires a letter or poem identifying the losses from said trauma and offering strength and support. I, obviously, opted to a write a poem. Let me know what you think. If it is supportive.

Cruel hands
Cruel heart

Laid waste your innocence
Your tender soul

The days are dark
The nights darker still

The light shall rise again
To dry your tears

Come take my hand
I’ll hold you through
The black storm raging
And come together

Into the light

POWER OF WORDS 

Power of words
Assault rape
Shared with gang raped
Gang raped trafficked
Too rough boundaries violated
Play abuse

Every word
Used to gentle the experience
Dashed on the rocks
Like the waves along the shore

No minimizing
No sugarcoating
No gentling of the
Power of words

Bi-Polar, C-PTSD, and Me

Are we our diagnoses, are they us, or is there some sort of medium where we can be us, certainly shaped by our illness(es) but not defined by them.  My diagnoses came late in life, after being treated, inaccurately (and thus with a resounding lack of success for almost 20 years), for major depressive disorder.  I recently found an old book of poetry I had written back in high school, and one of the poems from when I was 16 could have been written by me, today, in a hypomanic phase.  I prefer phase to state, it seems less foreboding and permanent.

I used to pride myself on the fact that my past may have shaped me, but it didn’t define me.  Someday I might share with you the rough history that is mine, but not today.  Suffice it to say that my therapist used the term “very horrific” to describe my legacy.  Unfortunately, I have had to accept that fact that it did do more than shape me, it did, indeed, define me and the numerous ways I see myself.

But that’s ok.  Language evolves.  Definitions change.  And the me that is today, defined by my experiences, does not have to be the me of tomorrow.  I can learn to make better choices, do things differently.  And when the siren’s songs come, I can make choices toward the future, as opposed to reacting from the past.

Mindfulness, being aware of what you’re doing and WHY you’re reacting a certain way, helps to create new habits, new understandings, and new approaches.  Am I there?  Not even close.  Do I believe?  Yeah, today I do. It’s damn hard, but somehow, some way, I will find the strength to overcome.  I have to.

The alternative is untenable.

Breathe In

The past week I’ve been living in flashback hell. And not really coping well.  Three therapy appointments in one week and I’m finally breathing.

I find it interesting how breathing is the key to everything regarding recovery. Breathing and mindfulness.  And with the techniques and tools I’ve been taught,  I’m learning how to manage and stay present.  Drifting has been a huge problem for me this week   I’m hoping to be able to bring it back on more this week.

Breathe in
Against the tightness
Breath in
Against the rising tide

The Black fog’s
Tendrils reaching deep
Breathe in
Against the panic

Shallow
Breathing so shallow
Like a scared squirrel
Heart racing against hands
That cradle
But feel like traps

Lightheaded
Fear keeps the breath rapid
Respiration without depth
Unsafe the only thought
Breathe in
Against the urge to run

Abject terror
At nothing
Breathe in
Against the need to self destruct

The stars beckon
Come fly between
Soar up into space
Become one with the cosmos

Breathe in
Against the desire
To escape and never come back

Breathe in
Against the waters siren call
Breathe in
Against the invitation to sink
Embraced by the blanket of
Seaweed and foam

Breathe in
Against the ne’er-ending pain
Breathe in
Against the desire to give up
Breathe in
Against the exhaustion

Breathe in
The knowledge of your battles
Breathe in
Acceptance of how far you’ve come
Breathe in
And  continue the fight

Breathe in
You’ve made it through so much
Breathe in
The aftermath can’t kill you
Breathe in
Don’t let the aftermath kill you