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.

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?

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.”

MED COMPLIANCE

It’s kind of cool, at the end of the week, to look at your weekly pill box and realize that you haven’t missed a day, and it’s been a few weeks since you missed a dose. For someone like me who struggles with med complaince, this is huge. And I’m still struggling. I’ve been feeling pretty stable the last little while, so the first thing I think of is, “I can go off my meds!” Of course, my therapist,the wonderful grounding presence that she is, immediately responds with, “Maybe it’s your meds making you feel this good.” So, of course, I bring it up to my GP, who handles my meds. “I want to see you stable for a longer period of time. And back to work. Maybe once you’ve been at work for a year we can look at tapering back a bit.” Talk about feeling deflated. Stupid brain. Can’t make it’s own feel good chemicals. And I know, I know all about the comparisons to heart medicine or diabetes. The brain is just like any other organ that can, and does, malfunction. And there is nothing wrong if your brains happiness needs a boost from the wonders of modern medicine. But I have to wonder, if treated today with our vast assortment of chemical bliss, would Van Gogh have painted Starry Starry Night? Would Byron and Poe have been so eloquent and prolific if their fits of melancholy were treated with modern medicine? Would Shelley have written oh so beautifully? Byron was well aware of the connection between madness and creativity. He wrote, “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.” Sure, there are many examples of people being medicated and having successful careers. A quick google search provided me with the names of ten poets currently living with mental illnesses. I wonder how/if they’re all medicated. My medication makes me dull, and creativity is hard. When I’m unmedicated, the words fly to the page easily, too easily I’ve been told. Those words are hard to follow, syntax becomes strange. Even given the free nature of verse, mine becomes difficult to embrace. Kay Redfield Jamison writes quite freely about her battles with bipolar disorder. She knows the dangers of not being med compliant. Yet she wrote a whole book, “Excuberance”, about the very thing lacking in my life with my meds. I tried lithium, but the amount I needed in my system to keep it at therapeutic levels was too high, and the side effects too great. So I’m on the mood stabilizer aripiprazole, to help boost the anti-depressant that I’m on. And I can’t tell which one makes feeling deeply and passionately difficult. So for the sake of my mental health, my creativity suffers. Some days I have to ask myself is it worth it. Then I look at my two boys and realize a subdued mom is better than no mom.

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?

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

LIGHT AS THE BREEZE

it’s been so long since I’ve felt the pull of hypomania. And right now as I sink ever deeper into the pit, I find I’m missing the ethereal highs. Right now all I feel is despondency and despair. And I can’t even cry about it. The freedom to cry has been locked down so tight for so long that the tears won’t flow freely. Oh, my eyes, they water, and I get a lump in my throat, but just silent tears running down my cheeks. Not satisfying at all.

I wrote this while coming down from a hypomanic high. Back when I was undiagnosed and, or rather, misdiagnosed, with unipolar depression. One day I may lose myself in the upward pull, but today is not that day.

LIGHT AS THE BREEZE

Free at last
Running soaring
Leaping flying
Unburdened by despair

Hope no longer
Just another
Four letter word

Light as the breeze
A leaf on the wind
Blowing where it takes me

Whirling
Spiralling
Up and down

Disintigrating

Into

Nothing

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

THERE

Reach deep
For something
That may or may not
Be there

Reach deep
For that ever elusive
Sense of self
That may or may not
Be there

Reach deep
Deeper still
For that kernel
That yearns
For the light

That may or may not
Be there