Warning:

This blog could potentially contain triggers. Please make sure you are emotionally safe before continuing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Emotional Vomiting

I really don't know what else to call it.  It's what happens when I am overflowing with emotions and I feel like they are going to consume me, devour me, if I don't get them out.  That's where I am right now.

I've considered some of the coping mechanisms from my past:  scratching a few deep lines into my arms, burning myself with the curling iron, taking something with a sedative effect (an extra Xanax maybe), as well as others I'm still not ready to talk about.

If I were a drinker, I would go out and get plastered.  That sounds pretty good right now.  Anything to stop feeling what I'm feeling now.

But I will try to do it in a healthy way.  I will face and process the pain, even while wanting to slam the laptop on my own fingers.  I will write.

It hurts so bad.  My heart.  It feels like a black hole, sucking and gaping.  Aching.  Empty.  But still so much pain.

I feel so unwanted.  So rejected.  So unvalued.  Like I mean nothing.  Like I am only good for serving others.  Like if I can't do what they want then I am a waste of skin.  Like I am selfish for wanting anything.  Like I don't matter.

I feel like I am standing in the middle of a high school gym full of people and they are all laughing at me.  Pointing and laughing.  Calling me names.  You're stupid.  You're wrong.  Why are you here?  No one wants you here.  No one likes you.  You are ugly.  You are worthless.  You don't belong here.  You are weak.  You are lazy and good for nothing.  We will use you, take what we want, and throw you back into the trash where you belong.

Look at you sitting there, crying like a big baby.  You're so thin-skinned.  You make such a big deal out of everything.  It's not all about you, you know?  Suck it up like the rest of us.  We have problems, too, and you don't see us whining.  We don't want to hear about your silly little problems.  You're world isn't ending so quit being so dramatic.

Pull your self together.  You're such an idiot.  Sometimes life is hard; get used to it.  Deal with it.

You're not worth my time.  Get out of my face -- you make me sick.

**********
Author's note (the next day):  Writing it out helped.  I am feeling stronger emotionally today.  I am feeling less vulnerable.  I am not going to hurt myself.  I am okay.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Husband's Feelings

I don't claim to know what he feels.  (Okay, sometimes I do; but just when we are arguing and he claims he isn't upset -- not here.)  But I would like to share what he has expressed.

If I were reading this blog, and someone else were writing it, I would wonder how the husband feels.  If he knows.  So I want to answer that question.

He does know.  He reads this blog and everything else I write and publish.  He knows I write about things from our past that are not pretty.

He supports me and is proud of me.

It's difficult for him to read sometimes.  He doesn't like remembering how ugly it was.  He doesn't like that he did those things.  I'm sure there is embarrassment, even though he hasn't said so.

But he also thinks it's incredibly brave.  He understands that it's important to talk about these things, to help others see.  Some of your comments have helped him see just how important it is, how it has touched your lives and helped you.

When I write something particularly offensive, like my last post, I talk to him first.  I do not ask permission; that would be going backwards.  That would be going back to when I was afraid to do something without his okay, when I was so worried about him and his feelings that mine didn't exist.  Or worried about making him angry.  Or representing him badly.

I tell him what I want to write about.  Then I ask him how he feels about it.  I tell him how I will approach it.  I ask if he is ready.  He shares any concerns he might have.  He tells me what he'd prefer I not share, which is usually what I wouldn't have shared anyway (you know, gory details).

And then I write as honestly as I can.  Before I publish I always look it over to see if I feel good about it.  If I feel I represented everything accurately.  If I stayed true to my promises to him.  Then I publish.

He does not read them before I post.

Then I immediately call or text him to let him know it's done.  I want him to read it so that he knows what others are reading.  So he knows exactly how it unfolded.  And, yes, I go into a little PTSD, worrying that I am in trouble until he signs off on it.  That's going to take some time to get over.

I feel that it's important to consider his wants and feelings as I do this.  I don't think it interferes with the process.  But I am working on my marriage and to just throw him under the bus would not help that.

I just wanted anyone reading this to know where he stands.  I have told him that if he ever wants to write a post here, he is welcome.  Writing isn't really his thing, so he doesn't think he will want to.  But the offer stands.

I hope this helps a few people understand a little better.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sexual Abuse in Marriage

This is a very difficult post to write.  For so many reasons.  My husband and I are in a really good place right now.  I have been able to function without any PTSD flare-ups for a while.  And my memories are sparse from this time period.

But it won't go away.  It needs to be written.  It is an area that I have just begun to process, so there is still a lot of pain; my heart is racing and tears are streaming as I write this.  It still hurts so much.

I do not intend to be offensive.  I do not intend to be descriptive.  However, I totally understand if you know me (or us) and don't want to read this. 

Sexual abuse in marriage is a tough thing to judge.  Only recently have laws changed that even acknowledge it.  For so long, being married meant consent -- no matter how it was taken advantage of.  Legally, there was no such thing as rape in a marriage.

Luckily, we aren't that blind anymore.

But abuse is a difficult thing to judge much of the time, no matter what kind.  When does it cross the line?

For years, I knew I was unhappy.  I knew something was terribly wrong.  I knew I was not being treated as a daughter of God should be.  I was not treated with value as a person.  But I wasn't sure it was abusive.  Now I am.

I have already written about how my husband was emotionally abusive.  How controlling he was.  And how I had no defenses against it.  I have hinted at other abuse.  But this time I am saying it.

For years, my husband was sexually abusive in our marriage.  To the point that I could have pressed charges?  I doubt it.  To the point that I should have divorced him?  Absolutely.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have.  If he were still like that now, I would.  Things have changed.

But I feel like I need to address this for others.  There are others who have experienced this or are experiencing this or are doing this.  They need someone to stand up and say it's not right.

I am standing up.  It is not right.

It's not about sexual practices.  It's not about whether or not to use toys.  It's not about location.  It's not about role play.  It's not about having a difference of opinion on what is appropriate and what is not.

It is about one person forcing their wants on their partner.  It's that simple.

Sometimes in a healthy marriage there is negotiation.  I don't really want to, but I will because I want you to be happy.  That's not what I'm talking about.

Honey, I am so uncomfortable with that.  I really don't want to.  Please don't ask me to do this.  Please don't make me do this.  Please don't do that.  No.  I said no.  Please, no.  Begging and pleading to be excused.  And so many tears.

That's what I'm talking about.

I am talking about becoming emotionally violent when he didn't get his way.  I am talking about refusing to speak to me for days until he got his way.  I am talking about being extremely mean to the kids until he got his way (men quickly learn that women will do almost anything to protect their children, even sacrifice themselves).  I am talking about withholding money until he got his way.  I am talking about punishing me and/or the kids in any way he could until he got his way.  I am talking about making me feel worthless for not meeting his needs; no, not needs - wants.  I am talking about expecting that it was my job to be the whore from porn movies.  Whenever and in whatever way he wanted.

I'm not talking about demanding sex.  Although, if one person is demanding it I think that is abusive.  I am talking about more than that.  I am talking about asking me to do things I found offensive.  I am talking about forcing things that were painful.  I am talking about taking away all of my value as a person and making me an object.

He had become my world.  He was the father of my children and the provider for our family.  He had become my lifeline.  He had rescued me from my life so he owned me.  Unfortunately, I think we both believed this.

I did not talk to anyone about this.  I was ashamed.  And it was taboo.  It was my problem to fix.

But he was my husband.  It was a mutual relationship.  What right did I have to say how the relationship would be?

It took me so many years to understand what was wrong.  I violated many of my principles for him, because he demanded it.  And then I felt so guilty.  I felt like it was my fault for giving in.  I felt so worthless for the thing I'd let him turn me into.  It's horrible to feel more like a whore than a wife.

We make the sacrifices we need to in order to survive.  That's what I did.  I used the only tool I had:  compliance.  Giving in.

It was the only way I knew to try to give my kids a normal life.  A life not filled with hatred and anger and fear.  A life where their dad loved them and loved their mom.

It's not like this anymore.  I have learned a lot about myself and my power to choose.  I have learned that in a sexual relationship it takes two yesses to make it right.  And only one no to make it wrong.

I have learned to trust and value myself.  He has learned a lot, too.

He didn't see it.  I have watched him grow to understand.  He will probably always be the gas and I will always be the brakes.  But I need that power to feel safe.

He knows that if that power is ever taken away from me, we will no longer be together.  I am worth more than that.

There is still a lot of pain.  Our past colors so much of our present.  Any type of anger in conjunction with sex can send me into instant PTSD.  We have a long way to go to heal this.

But I believe we can.  Because both of us have opened our eyes and seen what it was.  And we both hate what we see.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Almost Ready

I know I've been away from this blog for too long.  It's not that I don't have anything to write.  Or even that I don't have the time or energy.  It's that I know what I need to write next and it's a tough one.

I have been pondering how to approach it.  I think I'm almost there.  Soon.  Maybe even today.  But definitely soon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Clarification

I feel like I need to clarify my last post.

I appreciate eveyone's feedback.  It helps to see how others see it.  It's so easy to be too close to the situation to see it for what it is.  It also helps me see where I wasn't clear in my writing.

Since it's my life, and has been a part of it for so long, I sometimes don't see how bad it is.  Or take it really seriously.  When others comment it helps me see it differently.  As I write my story, I honestly can't tell if the things that bother me are normal and I should just shut up and deal with it or if they really need to be addressed.  That's part of why I write and why I tell my story.

But apparently something was unclear.  I was unclear about the fear.

I apologize to my husband for not writing again for so long.  I left things hanging.  As far as anyone knew he was still not taking responsibility and things were still horrible at home.  This isn't the case.  I got sick and have not been up to writing and finishing the story.

The day I wrote that post, he and I talked about it.  He didn't remember pushing anyone (and this wasn't a shove, it was a push out of the way; still shouldn't happen, but it's a degree thing).  Once I started telling him how it affected me and what happened he started to see it.  That's part of rage.  As I understand it, from what I've studied, rage is a whole different level to anger.  The thought processes bypass certain areas of the brain, the logic center.  That's why there is no reasoning.  That's why there is no memory.  My husband is a lousy liar; I know when he's telling the truth.  I see his face when I tell him what happened.  I watch the change happen as he goes from no memory to that-sounds-familiar as I describe it.  He believes that it happened.  He knows he did it.  He just doesn't remember doing it.

Things are not like they were for so many years.  If they were, I know enough now to leave.  I am strong enough now to leave.  I have enough support now to leave.  But why would I leave now?

He has worked so hard to improve.  He has taken full accountability.  He has had lots of therapy.  He takes medication.  He is willing to admit his shortcomings and try to see how it affects others.  He knows now that he sees the world differently and is willing to ask others if his behavior is okay, if his stand on something is out of the norm.

I love him.  The children love him.  Right now we would rather have him whenever we can (when he's not retreating from the family and hiding out in his room).  We know there are bad times, but comparison matters.  It's important to see where he came from and where he is now.  I'm not going to cut and run because he slipped up and made a mistake.  I make mistakes, too, and he gives me another chance.

There are limits.  He knows that.  There are absolutes that he cannot cross or we're through (to be addressed in a future post).  It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to get to this point.  The point where I am willing to say that the kids and I are worth sacrificing the marriage if it has to be that way.  I am there now.  And he knows it.

But I wanted to address the fear.  I talked about being afraid.  And I was.  But it wasn't current fear.  It was leftover fear.

PTSD is an interesting thing.  Emotions and memories come flooding back when something is similar to a traumatic event from the past.  It's especially difficult if during the initial trauma you attempted to suppress or ignore those feelings.  If you don't feel them during the event, you will eventually feel them -- when it's safe.  So that's the point.  The fact that I felt the fear intensely is important.  It means that in the here and now I felt safer than I did in the past.  Safe enough to acknowledge that I was so afraid.  Safe enough to keep my distance and tell him I felt threatened by him.  Safe enough to protect myself and draw my own boundaries.  Safe enough to begin to process the events from the past and start to heal from them.

Because in the past I didn't.  I ignored it and waited for it to pass.  I avoided the confrontation.  I asked that things change instead of demanding it.  I tried to make things better because I thought it might be my fault.

Not this time.

I took responsibility only for my part of the problem, which was small.  I refused to take responsibility for his portion or to excuse it.  I held him accountable for it.  And once he understood, he took responsibility.

It's a growth process.  The change doesn't happen overnight.  It doesn't even happen in a few months.  It takes lots and lots of time, and there will be mistakes along the way.  But as long as we are both still working, still making progress, I'm staying.  Because I want to.

Friday, September 17, 2010

One Step Back

I think it's safe to say I still have some unresolved issues with my husband.  If there was any doubt before, it was all cleared up over the last few days.

I've said before that things aren't the way they used to be.  And for the most part that's completely true.  But every once in a while we have what I could only call a relapse.

We had one this past weekend.

Emotions and tensions were building.  Why?  I'm not sure.  A multitude of things probably.

And Sunday night it fell apart.

The spark that started the fire doesn't matter.  It was a stupid thing.  But soon it was raging out of control.

He yelled.  I yelled in defense.  We went our separate ways.  He wouldn't let it go.  He came back again and again with the fight.  He dragged the kids into it.  He treated me with disdain.  He mocked me.  He contradicted my parenting choices with the kids.  He blew off commitments.  Everything in his approach with me that night said, "Screw you.  You're worthless anyway."

The children cried and/or got upset.  One left the house to avoid listening to the fight.  Another asked if we were getting divorced.  It rocked their foundation.

I think he forgot to take his pill that morning.  I can't confirm this, but from the way he'd been acting all day it seems pretty evident.  The kids even noticed.  One of them asked me why he was picking fights.  I had no answer.

Now, the pill was originally prescribed for his OCD.  I don't know how much it helps with that.  He says that it helps with the obsessive thoughts.

What I do know is that it helps with the anger.  When things got really ugly a while back and we were talking divorce, the medication was one of my bottom lines.  He can only stay if he remains on the medication.  He is a different person on the medication.

Sunday night he was the other person.  The angry person.  The person that hates me and sees me as the enemy.  The person who radiates hatred and a desire to destroy.  The person who is looking for war.  For blood. 

No, he didn't hit anyone.  He did push someone.  That was not okay.  I addressed it in the moment.  He probably doesn't even remember it.  He often doesn't remember his actions when his rage is flowing like this.

As ugly as it was, and it was so ugly, I also gained some important insight.

The next day he felt fine and thought it was all better.  This is typical.  He feels better so in his mind it's over and resolved.  No talking about what happened, what went wrong.  How to prevent it happening again.  No acceptance of his misbehavior.  It's just over.

And in the past that was often enough for me.  I was just glad the hatred was gone.  I was just glad the fire was out.  I could bandage my own wounds.  I could move on.

This time it wasn't enough.  Lines had been crossed, important boundaries.  I no longer felt safe in my home. 

But I didn't initially see it.  For the first day or two I was edgy.  I was still upset with him.  Any contact from him sent my anxiety through the roof.  When he got home from work and was near me or talked to me, I wanted to back away.  I wanted to hide.  I was afraid.

It was Tuesday or Wednesday that I realized he had triggered a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) episode in me.

The fear.  The holding my breath.  The claustrophobia.  The need to run and hide.  The crying at almost nothing.  The avoidance.  The defensiveness.  The snapping.  The tension in my body.  The explosion in my headache.  The extreme sensitivity to touch.  The desire to climb out of my own skin.  The desire to curl in on myself.  All of these things were a PTSD response.

And that's important for me to understand.  It will help me figure out where the triggers are.

I don't know yet.  I believe this triggered something from our past, earlier in our marriage.  But it's possible that it was something from before, from when I was a child.  I just don't know yet.

I've calmed down some.  I've done a little work on it, although not much.  It's scary work to do. 

I told him what was going on.

But I still feel threatened when he is near.  I still can't relax when he's home.  There is still work to do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The First Time I Hurt Myself -- Kind Of

***This post may contain triggers for self-injurious behaviors.  Please make sure you are safe before continuing.***

I need to write, but I just can't right now.  Another one of those so-much-to-say-that-I-can't-say-anything times.

But I'm hoping that by writing just a little I can clear away some of whatever's blocking me.

So I went back and looked at some things I have from when I was still in therapy on a regular basis.  This is a letter I faxed to my therapist, names edited.

*****
December 18, 2006


Therapist,

The session that we had scheduled for this Friday was cancelled due to a scheduling error. I am not scheduled again until January 24. I am now on your cancellation list.

I think that if I wait that long, I may not mention what I need to.

The only people who know what I’m going to tell you are my therapist friend (my boss) and my other therapist friend (my bishop). I have been struggling quite a bit lately and last week was having a lot of thoughts about hurting myself. I imagined slicing vegetables and purposely getting my finger in the way and just watching the blood drip from my finger. I imagined purposely spilling boiling water on myself. I imagined grabbing a hot pan or curling iron with my bare hands to burn myself.

These were frightening to me. But even more so was what I did on Thursday. My tension level was pretty high. I ended up scratching into my arm with a broken plastic spoon. I also held my arm over a candle and burned myself. By the time I was done I had three pretty solid red lines (that have now scabbed over) and a couple of first-degree burns. I scratched again Friday and Saturday.

I discussed this with my therapist friend. He asked me if I was planning to talk to you about it. I told him that I have several weeks until my next appointment and asked what he thought about whether I needed to make contact with you sooner. You and I have never really discussed what situation may suggest a phone call to you and you know that I do all that I can not to impose on your schedule. He said that if I thought I was done, then I could probably wait but if I thought that I was going to do it again then I should try to get in sooner.

I have been wanting to scratch for a while now today. I haven’t yet but I probably will. This is why I tried to schedule earlier.

I will leave this up to you now. If you think that I should go ahead and wait, I will. Otherwise, you are free to call me on my cell phone.

And no, my husband doesn’t know.

Thanks,

me

*****
Things were not good between me and my husband at the time.  I did not feel like I could trust him with this information.  He did not feel emotionally safe to me.  It was about a week after I first did it before I told him.  He did not react well.

Also, it turned out that my scratching hit an unresolved nerve in my therapist.  After a few sessions feeling like he was chastising me and doing everything he could to make me stop I called him on it.  I told him that I felt like he had some kind of issue that was making it impossible for us to work together.  I really liked him.  He is a brilliant man.  But the more he tried to control it, or my husband did, the more I wanted to do it.  I asked him if he thought he could help me or if I should go to someone else.  Our current relationship wasn't working for me.

Good man that he is, he owned it.  He acknowledged that he had an unresolved issue with self-injurious behavior.  A time when a patient had self-injured and later committed suicide.  He'd thought he was through it but realized he wasn't.  He said that he'd talk to a colleague to process it and see from there.  We agreed to try again.

It was work, but he got through it.

And I said kind of in the title because I realized later that there had been lots of ways over the years that I'd purposely hurt myself.  Never scratching.  Burning a few times and other things that hurt.  I hadn't known that's what it was until looking back.

It's amazing what things become clear looking back.

Monday, August 30, 2010

PTSD Leftovers

PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) leaves so many things behind.  The way you respond to various situations.  Fear, just waiting for its chance.  Memories you'd rather not have.

But there are other remnants.  Things you may not realize are part of PTSD.  Things like those is the lists below.

These lists are taken from an article, Three Levels of Victimization.  (I have no idea who the original author was; I've found it several places.  If you want the entire 9-page article, email me and I'll send it to you.)

Victim Thinking:
• I have to accept bad situations because they are part of life, and I can do nothing to make them better.
• I don’t expect much good to happen in my life.
• Nobody could ever love me.
• I am always going to feel sad, angry, depressed, confused, etc.
• There are situations at work and at home that I could do something about, but I don’t have the motivation to do so.
• Life overwhelms me, so I prefer to be alone whenever possible.
• You can’t trust anyone except for a few good people.
• I feel I have to be extra good, competent, attractive, etc., in order to compensate for my many defects.
• I feel guilty for many things, even things that I know are not my fault.
• I feel I have to explain myself to people so that they will understand me. But sometimes I get tired of explaining, conclude it’s not worth the effort, and stay alone.
• I’m often afraid to do something for fear I will make a mistake.
• I can’t afford to be wrong.
• I feel that when people look and me, they know right away that I’m different.
• Sometimes I think that those who died during the traumatic event I experienced were better off than me. At least, they don’t have to live with the memories.
• I am afraid of the future.
• Most times I think things will never get better. There is not much I can do to make my life better.
• I can be either a perfectionist or a total slob, depending on my mood.
• I tend to see people as either for me or against me.
• I feel pressure to go along with others, even when I don’t want to. To avoid such pressures, I avoid people.
• I am never going to get over what happened to me.
• I find myself apologizing for myself to others.
• I have very few choices in life.

Shoulds:
• I should be the epitome of generosity and unselfishness.
• I should be the perfect lover, friend, parent, teacher, student, spouse, etc.
• I should be able to find a quick solution to every problem.
• I should never feel hurt; I should always feel happy and serene.
• I should be completely competent.
• I should know, understand, and foresee everything.
• I should never feel certain emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
• I should never make mistakes.
• I should be totally self-reliant.
• I should never be afraid.
• I should have achievements that bring me status, wealth, and power.
• I should always be busy; to relax is to waste my time and my life.
• I should be able to protect my loved ones from all pain.
• I should not take time just for my own pleasure.

In other words, thinking errors that can really screw up our lives.  Like the original trauma wasn't enough, now we have behaviors and beliefs that lead us to contiue to wreck things for ourselves.

When I list these, they may sound common.  You may never have had what you'd consider real trauma and still experience these.  I'm not talking about occasional struggles.

I am talking about debilitating.  I am talking about constant.  I am talking about overpowering.  Most or all of them.  Most or all of the time.  They dictate your entire life.

And I don't know if it's possible to get rid of all of them entirely.  But it is possible to start to doubt them.  To start to see them as a possible lie.  To challenge old thinking styles.

And it's worth learning how.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My First Day of Therapy

The decision to go to therapy was a difficult one for me.  Although I'd long believed I needed it, I just couldn't make the decision to go.  It would be expensive.  It would take a lot of time.  Maybe I was making a big deal out of something that wasn't so serious after all.

So I waited.  I tried so many ways to take care of things myself.  But the pain was still there.  I still shut down because of it quite often. 

There came a time when my husband agreed to go to therapy.  Things had been really rough between us for a while.  And all of his issues were driving me crazy.  I was suffocating, trying to live my own life while being ruled by his illness.  In a good moment, a moment when we were communicating and could both see the problem, he agreed.

I knew we needed to find someone who specialized in OCD.  Even though, for me, the anger was more of a problem.  He didn't see the anger as really being an issue, but he could acknowledge the OCD.  If we attacked from that front I hoped we would find solutions to other problems as well.

We were very blessed in choosing a therapist.  I was working at a treatment facility and knew that the psychiatrist there worked with OCD issues.  So I asked him for a recommendation.  Who would he say are the best therapists for OCD in the area?  He recommended two.  One of them was on our insurance.  We were off and running.

He's a wonderful psychologist.  And really knows OCD.  But he was also able to help my husband with other issues.  He seemed the perfect fit.

Because my husband was okay with it, and his therapist recommended it, I attended therapy with him.  This helped my husband to have a support system and helped the therapist have an accurate picture of what was going on at home.  It also helped because I could keep track of my husband's assignments.  My husband also has ADD, so his ability to focus and remember isn't great.

One day, after we'd been going several months, something came up about my past.  Just a tiny hint.  But it was enough.  His therapist suggested that maybe I should see someone, that it could be part of my problem with my husband.

That was all I needed.  Someone to tell me to do it.

Most people don't know this about me.  For so many years, I couldn't do a lot of things without permission or instruction.  Part of it was him; part of it was my past.  I had spent so many years in trouble for my decisions.  I had spent so many years trying to appease the dominant male in my life.  I was frozen.  Unable to move without being told to.  It didn't really show in settings outside my house much.  A little at work maybe.  But for the most part people thought I was confident and in charge of my own life.  They were wrong.

So when the therapist told me I should talk to someone about my history, I obeyed.  Not just because I thought I was supposed to, but because I wanted to.  I was being given permission to do something I wanted to do.

I asked my husband's therapist if I could see him.  He already knew so much about my life I thought it would make it easier.  He told me the pros and cons of both of us seeing him.  He said that if we were in marriage counseling it wouldn't be a good idea.  But at that time we weren't.  We were both working very hard to get along and didn't really feel like our marriage was in jeopordy.

So he agreed to see me.

When I arrived the first day I was nervous.  Even though I'd been there a lot and talked to him a lot, this time it was about me.  And he would be judging me and my life and my choices.  That put me into a state of fear.  Too much like my childhood.

But I trusted him.  And I trusted the process.  So I went.

He knew I was nervous.  I didn't know what to expect or what to do.  So he laid out the plan for me.  He said that first day was kind of an evaluation.  To see how bad the wounds are.  To assess if I really needed therapy.  We take the bandages off and examine it.  See what we need to do.

He asked that I tell him my story.

And for the next 45 minutes or so I did.  I told him things I had been holding in for decades.  Things I hadn't told anyone.  And I only got up to about age 8 or 9.  Time was up.

He said you can tell how many times someone has told their story by how long it takes them to tell it.  It ended up taking me three entire sessions to tell my story.

He said he thought I should see him once a week.  That there was definitely an injury there.  And that we could work to try to heal it.  Just the validation that I was really injured meant so much.

He praised the hard work I'd done.  Said I'd done well.  And told me to celebrate.  To mark my success.

And I just stared at him.  I didn't understand.  I had no idea how to celebrate.  I asked for clarification.

He told me to do something I loved to do.  Or buy something I loved.  Anything to remind me of what a great job I'd done.

I was still clueless.  I had no idea what I loved to do.  Buying something for myself seemed ridiculous.  I hadn't been in charge of what I did or bought things for myself in so long.  Probably only for a few years in high school did I even come close to this.

He made some suggestions.  A pedicure.  A massage.  I laughed at him.  Not my style.  Okay, he suggested a sports magazine.  That was closer.  I told him I would try.

He also told me to let it go.  We would get back to it next week and I was supposed to be happy with my work and not think about it anymore until I came back.  Again, I told him I would try.

On the way home I stopped at Village Inn and ordered food to go.  Bacon, toast, hashbrowns, and a piece of coconut cream pie.  That was my celebration.  I took it home and ate it as I sat on my bed.  And enjoyed a few moments of peace.

I later got better at marking my successes.  As I worked through different issues, I bought a charm.  I wear these on a necklace.  A simple black cord with silver charms.  And each of them means something important.  Each of them is a symbol of strength.  Of doing the hard thing.

Because, apparently, that is worth celebrating.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Moment

This post contains possible triggers for self-injurious behavior.  Please do not continue unless you know you are safe.

**********

It was a moment.  It passed.

The last post was something I would normally not write.  But if I am truly going to share what happens to me so that others will know they are not alone, that includes the scary moments.  Review is one thing -- in the midst of it is quite another.

The emotional pain hit me today.  Out of the blue.  And it slammed me hard.  Like a body slam to the ground with 300 pounds on top of me.  I sobbed and sobbed and had no idea why.

When it hits like that, it is terrifying.  It is overwhelming.  It feels like a demon is pulling me into hell.

Those are the moments when I want to hurt myself. 

Yes, I know that makes no sense.

But this is one of the coping mechanisms.  A way to feel something and numb the pain that is out of my control.

People who indulge in self-injurious behavior almost always have a history of sexual abuse.  I'm not saying that is where this pain is coming from; I don't know where it's coming from yet.

But self-injurious behavior has been a part of my life. 
*  I have scratched; it's like cutting, but instead of using a blade I used a broken plastic spoon and sawed into my arms or legs until I got through the skin.  I have many scars because of this.
*  I have burned myself; with a flame is harder than with a curling iron.  I've also grabbed a hot pot on purpose.  I have scars from this, too.
*  I have taken various sedatives; over the counter and prescription (mine or someone else's).

All of these things were done in an effort to make the intense, overwhelming pain go away.  They were NOT suicide attempts.  They were, in fact, a way to keep myself from taking that route.  When the pain won't stop, won't go away, won't lessen suicide starts to look appealing.  Anything to make the pain stop.

I don't know if I can describe the pain.  It's emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual all at once.  An attack on my entire being.

I have had lots of suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) since I was a teenager, even a few plans.  But the likelihood of me actually trying anything is very slim.  Because of my beliefs, my connection to my children, and just who I am.  It is not, however, non-existent.

I had the desire to hurt myself today, to make the pain go away.  But I didn't. 

I am communicating my feelings to my support system, which includes a couple of therapists.  I am talking about it, letting people know that I'm having a hard time.  Because that's the healthy thing to do.

I used to think it was healthy to handle everything on my own.  To hide my pain and my struggles and put on a happy face.  It's not.

We are meant to rely on each other and help each other.  And true mental health is being able to ask for help.

I feel better.  It's not gone, but it's back under control.  And many people are watching over me.

The Monster

It's a monster.  A horrible, awful monster.  And it has me.  It's squeezing so tight.  I can't breathe.  I have no power.

It's pulling me under.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Place of Fear

Fear has been a common element in my life.  It's something I'm very familiar with.

And I usually know why I'm afraid.  But not always.

You see, when memories that have been lost to me start to return I feel the emotions long before I know the reason.  I am flooded with feelings and have no experience to connect them to.  And the primary emotion is usually fear.

I know different people have different ways that lost memories resurface.  It's not the same in every case for me either.  There are those times when it's a flash.  But they are rare.

When a memory starts to come back, and I become aware, I sometimes shut it back down.  Nope, I'm not ready for that right now.  And it goes away for a while.  But not for good.  The memory is there and it will not be silenced.

There are times in my life when I am more ready to deal with them than others.  If they surface during one of these times then I can do the work.  The really tough work.  I can let them come, examine them, process them, and let them be a part of me.

So a while back I awoke with fear.  Not fear from a nightmare or real life or anticipation of something impending.  This was a memory fear.  I don't know how to explain the difference but it is real and reconizable.

When I feel the fear, it is almost always most present in my shoulders.  They tense.  They become hypersensitive.  If someone touches my shoulders when I am in such a state it is likely to cause a panic attack.  An intense anxiety.  A desire to run.

Once the fear starts it rides with me.  It will sometimes slide to the background, but it is still there.  And it remains until I am ready to do the work.

I am carrying the fear with me now.  Waiting until it blossoms into what I need to see.  Waiting until my soul says I'm ready.

It is impossible to force it.  I can only prepare myself and wait.  In a place of fear.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Darkness

I have been doing well.  I have been up.  I have been happy.

I have no idea what happened.

Out of nowhere, the darkness hit.  Not with force.  It didn't slam me to the ground.  It came gently.  It coaxed.  It reminded me how good it feels.

I sensed it coming.  Like the feeling that there is a storm on the way before I even see the dark clouds.  A pressure in my body, an imbalance.

But I had other things on my mind.  I had obligations.  I had people to take care of.

So I denied it was real.  And I forgot about me.  Until it hit.

I know that I should choose the light.  I should want to get better.  But right now, I just don't.  I know lots of strategies to try.  People to talk to.  Ways to heal.

But it's so comfortable here, in the darkness.  Wrapped up all snugly in my warm blanket.  With only enough room for one.  Just for me.  No room for the world.

Sleep.  All I want to do is sleep.  But here it is after one in the morning and I'm not sleeping.

I want isolation.  I want quiet.  I want no one to need me or miss me.

I want to go back to being numb.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Numb

There is a pain so intense you don't notice it.

I know this doesn't make sense.  Pain is about feeling.  How can you experience pain if you can't feel it?  But you can.  This is the pain of sexual abuse.  A pain of the soul.

You feel it at first.  It hurts so much.  But eventually it escalates to a point that your body and mind are no longer able to process it.  Like a pitch too high to hear.  It's not gone; it just doesn't register.

I can only speak from my experience, so that is what I will tell.

Physically, this is dissociation.  The physical pain is intense.  So I pull away.  Not physically, as that would anger my abuser.  Things might get worse if I pull away physically.  So my spirit pulls away.  I leave my body behind until he is done with it.  And when I come back I don't know what happened because I wasn't there.

Emotionally, I go numb.  I quit feeling.  I know the feelings are still there, but I have severed the connection.  Like someone with a broken spinal cord, the sensations do not process.

There are other ways to cope.  I have heard others speak of them.  I have others.  But this was my primary coping strategy for years and years.  It took new levels of abuse and pain to get me to respond; I had grown numb to the old ones.

It's so difficult to explain this to someone who hasn't experienced it.  But those who have know instantly what I am talking about.

This is the numbness that leads to suicide.  This is the numbness that leads to self-injurious behavior.  This is the numbness that leads to alcohol and drug abuse.  This is the numbness that leads to dangerous behavior.  This is the numbness that leads people to do anything they can just to feel something.

More on that later.

It's a numbness that I wasn't really aware of.  I knew that I was very difficult to offend.  I knew that someone could yell at me and chew me out and I could logically process all they were saying and respond without emotion.  In fact, logic captures it.  I was completely logical.  Almost no emotion. 

And then I started to talk.  And heal.  And remember.  That's when things started to hurt.

You see, the emotion is still there.  The pain from various assaults is stored for later, when you can deal with it.  And it comes back.

It was not uncommon for me to go into shock in therapy.  To shake.  To be so cold.

When these feelings, this pain, comes flooding back it can be overwhelming. 

When I first started to experience this it was very frightening.  I would feel the flood start and I would shut down.  Put the wall back up.  Think about something else.  Refuse to do the work necessary to get the toxins out.

Sometimes I couldn't stop it.  The flood would hit.  The emotional pain that wracked my body and soul.  I would crumble to the floor and sob and rock with my arms around my knees.  So much pain.  So much pain.  So much pain.

No memories to go with it.  Just pain.  No understanding.  No way to stop it.  Just pain.

And when that much pain hits, your natural reaction is to try to stop it.  I tried.

But I have learned that pain is not a bad thing.  Pain is part of healing.  If I don't feel the pain, acknowledge the wound, it will not heal.  Pain is about growth.  Pain is about existing.  Pain is about the strength to see it and learn.

So eventually I learned to feel the pain.  To let the pain be and try to see what it was telling me, teaching me.  My therapist would explain what was happening, that I was going into shock, and wrap me in a blanket.  She would talk to me and help me discover the hidden truths this pain contained.  The more we examined it, the less it hurt.  The more I understood it, the less power it held.

And through therapy I have learned how to handle this on my own.  Well, not on my own really.  But with God.  I do not believe I could have survived my life without Him to carry the bulk of the load.  To walk with me when I was completely and painfully alone.  To carry me when I quit.  To love me when no one else in the universe did.

I still go into shock sometimes.  Things still hit me out of the blue sometimes.  I still shut down sometimes.  I still need the help of a therapist sometimes. 

I spent most of my life numb.  Learning to feel again has required great faith.  A belief that I am meant to feel.  That feelings are a gift.  And that I deserve to be happy. 

I have fleeting moments when I believe that.  When I understand.  But it hasn't really stuck.  It will take time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hide, Freeze, or Acquiesce

As children we have experiences that set patterns for our future lives.   

We have scary experiences.  Maybe you were chased and bitten by a dog.  Maybe your father hit you.  Maybe you accidentally found yourself locked in a closet or container and couldn't get out.  These things are frightening, more so the first time.  They come out of the blue and we have no experience to draw on to know how to deal with them.

But once we've dealt with them, we have more information.  If it happens again we know what we did last time and whether it worked or not.  This can help us know how to deal with it this time.  And if what we did to protect ourselves was successful then it is likely to become our first choice the next time something similar happens.  And sometimes what worked once doesn't work the next time, so we try something else.

Eventually, we have a collection of strategies for dealing with fearful situations.  My strategies were hide, freeze, or acquiesce.  These were the things that worked, that minimized or shortened my suffering and pain.

And while these strategies served me well in situations where I was powerless, they also put me in jeopordy in situations that I could have done something about.

I have heard people openly declare that they were not abused as children, that they've never been sexually assaulted.  This is difficult for my mind to process.  There has been so much in my life, it's been so prevelent, it's hard for me to imagine a life without it.  I cannot imgaine being an adult female and not having been sexually assaulted.  Or verbally abused.  I don't think these people are lying, I just can't imagine it.

So maybe your experience in junior high was different from mine.  But for me junior high was a time when it seemed like every boy I knew was exploring his sexuality and his connection with the girls around him.  Grabbing, groping, touching whatever he could get his hands on.  Dirty jokes.  Sex talk.  Mooning and flashing people.

Now put me in this situation.  I find myself alone with a boy in the high school dugout.  He starts to grope me.  Do I tell him to stop?  Do I yell?  Do I leave?  No.  I freeze.  Because I have learned that this is the best way for me to get through the situation.  It's just my body.  It doesn't matter what he does to it. 

And once I am out of the situation, do I tell someone?  No.  I avoid him.  I hide.

And then there is the time I am sleeping over at a friend's house.  I am asleep on the couch and wake up to find her older brother pushing his naked penis into my face.  Do I cry out?  Do I tell his parents?  No.  I push him back slightly and turn over to face the couch.  My version of hiding in this case.

And there were many times when someone wanted me to do something I didn't want to do, but I gave in because it seemed like the safest thing to do.  Just acquiesce.

I didn't learn to fight until I got married, but even then I often fell back on my earlier coping tactics.  Giving in to maintain the peace or protect my children.

It's what I knew.  They were the tools I had.  I did the best I knew how in an effort to protect myself.

Because that's all we can do.  The best we can with the tools we have.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prey

Another excerpt from my story Waiting to be Heard.

**********

There’s nothing like being prey. You never relax. You never sleep soundly. You startle easily. You have to identify every noise in the room you are in. You have to identify every smell. You never know where the danger is or where the attack will come from.

Have you ever been hunted? If not, then you don’t truly know fear.

If you’ve watched horror movies then you’ve gotten a glimpse of it. The way your heart races and you scream at the character not to open the door, go into the room, look in the mirror. And you are only watching it. Imagine living it.

Imagine being the one character that survives the first movie only to be brought back again and again in the sequels, living the same danger and fear.

That’s what it’s like.

You are constantly waiting for the hammer to fall. You know the time will come when you make a mistake that will cost you your life. As you get to the end of each day you are amazed that you’ve made it through another one unscathed. Well, sort of unscathed.

If you think that you can go through something like this without long term effects then you are very naive.

Friday, July 9, 2010

On Being Living Porn

While I am trying to keep this as non-graphic as possible, it requires some detail in order to tell the story.  If you are sensitive to sexual assault in any way please make sure you are safe before continuing.

**********

I was first exposed to pornography when I was six or seven.  While my memories of my childhood are scarce, I know it was this early for one simple reason.  In our religion we baptize at or after the age of eight.  We believe that eight is the age of accountability, the age where a child can discern between right and wrong.  I remember thinking as I approached baptism, shortly after my eighth birthday, that I needed to find a way to stop what was happening because now I would be accountable.

This was in the late seventies.  There was no internet.  There weren't even any home computers.  Access to pornography was not what it is now.  And in my small Utah town, I imagine it was more scarce than most places.  Also, I grew up in an extremely sexually repressed home.  No one talked about sex or nudity.  I don't remember seeing my parents show affection of any kind until I was a teen, and even then it was minimal and infrequent.

But not everyone in the neighborhood had this experience.  There were a couple of boys in the neighborhood who had a clubhouse.  This is where the porn was.  I imagine they stole the magazines from their father, but I really have no way of knowing.

Like I said, my memories are scarce.  So I don't remember exactly how it all started.

Somehow I ended up being invited to this clubhouse with some of the neighborhood boys, mostly older than me but not all.  They showed me the magazines, the images.  I do not remember my response.  I had no experience with what they showed me so I imagine it would be shock and curiosity.  Apparently, they were curious, too.  But in a different way.  Because it was around this time that I became their walking porn.  Their live porn.

There was one boy in particular who seemed to be the ring leader.  He was close to our family and two or three years older than me.  He was the one in charge of acquiring me when they wanted me.

Now let me make some connections here.  I felt completely rejected by all the men close to me, except my grandpa who died around this time.  A little girl wants to be loved by the people in her life, especially her daddy.  That's why there is the term daddy's little girl.  It's normal.  It's expected.  The bond between father and daughter.  I did not have this.

So when boys wanted to play with me it was nice.  It was nice to be wanted.  It was uncomfortable and they told me I would get in trouble if I told, but I needed some acceptance.  And once I started feeling bad enough about it that I wanted it to end they started threatening me.  They would tell what I had done and I would be in trouble.

I was so desperate for my parents' approval.  The thought that they would have another reason to reject me was devestating.  The thought of being punished was scary.  I felt guilty, I must be guilty.

For years psychological theory has said that when in a threatening situation people react through fight or flight.  However, recently they have added another perceived reaction.  Freeze.  This is what I did.

I had learned at home to obey without question.  I had learned that to do otherwise would incur punishment and rejection.

And through an earlier experience that I do not plan to write about, I had learned to dissociate.

Dissociation is tough to describe to someone who has not experienced it.  It's a withdrawl from your own body.  Kind of like, okay you can have my body while my mind goes over here where it's safe.  I will come back when you are done.

So when this happened, and I was too afraid to not participate, I left.  My body stayed there, but I left.  According to my therapist that's probably part of the reason that I have so few memories.  I wasn't there in a very real sense.

I wish I could say it was a one time experience or that it was innocent child exploration or that there was only one boy.  I can't.  There were many boys over the course of many years.  Off and on until I was fourteen.  It took me that long to realize that if they told on me they would get in trouble, too.  Isn't it amazing how hard that was to see?

I am fortunate that there was never any intercourse.  There was object rape numerous times.  Visual and manual exploration.  Lots of porn.

Sometimes it was done in a light manner as if it was just an everyday thing, sometimes it was kind of violent.  While I begged to be allowed to not participate, I do not remember ever flat out saying no.  The word no had been trained out of me long before.

I can't write much more right now.  My anxiety is climbing.  But keep in mind as you ponder this, I was six or seven when this started.  The boys weren't much older than me.  Maybe you will ask yourself the same questions I have asked myself a million times.  What happened to these boys that made them people who would do this?  Especially with force and violence?  How did little boys come to this place?

I struggled with accountability for many, many years.  They were so young.  How could they be accountable?  Something must have happened to them to turn them this way.  Does that change their accountability?  And if so, what about mine?  Is it possible for them to be accountable and me to not be accountable?  Is it my fault because I did not say no? 

I have processed these things through lots of therapy.  I am not looking for answers to those questions.  I am just sharing with you what my mind went through while trying to figure it out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chasing the Threads

Whoever first compared  life to a tapestry was brilliant.  So many threads.  Change one thread and the entire picture changes.

I spent so many years trying to deny the interwoven nature of my life's experiences.  I tried to believe that my life was strictly linear.  That now was now and the past didn't matter.  I told myself that I was over it. 

But those threads.  Those enigmatic, evasive threads.  Some threads are loose.  Some have faded.  And some are just plain missing.  There are holes in my life that keep the picture from being complete.  This has been tough for me.

Sometimes the missing threads find me, like when you find a thread stuck to your pants.  There are times when memories just seem to decide to come back.  Something in my life pulls them to me. 

When they resurface it's usually a tentative thing, a slow process.  They hang there like something just at the edge of my peripheral vision.  I know it's there.  I can sense it.  I can catch a glimpse of it.  But if I rush it and turn to catch it, it runs away.  It's like chasing a frightened animal.  Running after it just pushes it further away.  All I can do is be very patient and wait for it to come to me.  And they do.

I've tried to secure the loose threads.  To make sense of them so that they fit my tapestry again.  To slide them back into place so that the picture becomes more evident.  I feel like many of them are back where they belong.

And as I rebuild my tapestry I have needed help.  I am a novice weaver.  I am new to this process.  My tapestry is my only solo work.  I need the touch of those more experienced, along with the touch of the Master weaver.

The Master has sent me what and who I've needed when I was ready.  He knows better than I.  As long as I trust Him the tapestry continues to grow more beautiful, more complete.  It gains usefulness and purpose.

My next post will begin a new thread.  I understand that I haven't finished with the last section, but I'll get back to it.  That's the way tapestries are.  A little section at a time until the picture becomes clear.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Staying

I don't know if I've been able to capture well what it was like.  I don't know if anyone who hasn't experienced it can even see why it was abusive.  I'm sure that people who have been there know exactly what I'm talking about.

He was controlling and domineering in every area of our relationship.  And punishing when things didn't go his way.  That's really all I can say about that right now.

Trying to understand why someone stays in an abusive relationship is like being dropped in a country where you don't speak the language and trying to communicate.  Unless you've lived there, it is all foreign to you.  The customs don't make sense.  You don't understand why a person does something.  And each abusive relationship is like a separate tribe with its own unique qualities.  What works in one doesn't in another.

All I can tell you is my story.  Why I stayed.

I went into marriage believing that divorce was not an option.  I had my mind set on this.  Unless there was an affair or a crime I couldn't see myself divorcing.  Divorce was failure.  Divorce meant that I didn't try hard enough.

And failure is shame.  Failure is weakness.  Failure is unacceptable.  These are beliefs I have carried with me for as long as I can remember.  I am still working to change these beliefs.

Early on, before I believed divorce was an option, it was about love.  I loved him.  He wasn't always angry.  During those times that he wasn't angry things were good.  He loved me.  He loved the kids.

And as much as I've tried not to in my life, I need love.  I was relieved to learn in therapy that all people need love.  Needing love and acceptance does not make you weak, does not make me weak.  It is a part of who we are as human beings.  I needed love and he was the first person that I truly felt loved by that didn't have to.  If a parent or grandparent loved me it didn't carry the same weight.  They are kind of required to (which is funny because I didn't feel my dad did and didn't see the conflict in this statement).  But when someone outside of my family chose to love me, to value me, he won.

To this day I struggle with this issue.  If someone is kind to me and expresses value for me I am instantly their friend.  I trust them and forgive almost anything.  I will try to do whatever they want in order to keep them in my life. This is something I have learned about myself and have to be mindful of.  It has put me in dangerous situations before.

He loved me.  I'd waited so long to belong to someone who loved me.  Someone I could talk to about my feelings.  He was that person.

Until things got ugly.  When he raged, because that's what he did, he wasn't the same person.  He even had a name for the person he became.  When he was angry and vile and hateful the other person did those things.  Maurice did those things.  I guess Maurice had been with him for years.  His temper had gotten him into trouble before, such as getting into fights at school.

And he really was a different person.  I think that made it easier to stay.  It wasn't him, the real him.  The real him loves me and is kind.  If I can just figure out what it takes to keep Maurice at bay, we'll be fine.  I still felt it was my fault and mine to fix.

I don't know if he knew how much I craved his love, how desperate I was to have it, how badly it hurt to have him angry with me.  It seemed like he did because it became a tool.

When he was angry he withdrew his love.  From me and the kids, who also need to be loved.  He treated us with disdain.  It was like starvation.  Sometimes he would just not acknowledge our existence.  Other times he would push us away.  He wouldn't let the kids near him, even if he was only angry with me.

That was the other really tough part.  When he was angry at me he frequently took it out on the kids.  They had done nothing but they were being punished.  He broke promises to them.  He refused to hug them.  He yelled at them.  Because I had misbehaved in some way. 

And it was tough to abide by his guidelines because the rules were constantly changing.  That way, he kept the power.  It was about his whims at the moment regardless of what had been acceptable in the past.  I was frequently punished for not living up to what he expected without having any idea he'd expected it in the first place.

So, I did what most mothers do, I tried to protect my children.  I had no idea how, I just did what I could.  I tried many things until I found something that worked.  Usually that meant apologizing for not being or doing what he wanted and promising to do better.  Then performing whatever penance he required.

This was another reason I stayed.  If I left, if we separated or divorced, he would have opportunity to be alone with the kids.  He is their father.  I knew he would have visitation rights.  He would have his weekends when they would stay with him.  And I wouldn't be there to protect them.  No one would be.  They would be at his mercy.  That thought frightened me.  And knowing how he used them to punish me, I fear he might hurt them or turn them against me.

Even though I can say he didn't hit me or the kids, I can also say there were times I believe he would have if I hadn't stepped in the way.  There were many times that I physically interevened because I thought they were in physical danger.  There were many times I put my body on the line, in one way or another, to protect them.

Also, I was a stay at home mom.  I had no training.  I could not provide for me and my children.  I was at his mercy for the food and clothing that my children needed.  The only financial option I thought I had was to go back home to my parents and let my dad support us.  No way did I want to do that.  And I wasn't even sure my dad would agree to it if he didn't think my reason was good enough.  Knowing that he didn't believe in emotional abuse, I doubted he would relent.

All of these reasons are typical.  I believe many abused spouses would give similar reasons.  But there are other reasons.

I stayed out of commitment to my temple covenants.  I had promised God that I would give my marriage my all.  At that time I didn't fully understand what that meant.  I do now.  I know now that God would not want me to be treated that way.  That forgiveness does not mean staying in an abusive situation.  But I did not know this then.

I also stayed because I believed his anger was part of his OCD.  I believed it was an illness.  Having struggled with severe PMS since I was fourteen, I knew what it was like to have something chemical take over my mind and body, diminishing my ability to control my emotions.  I wouldn't leave him if he had cancer, why should I leave him because of his mental illness?  Again, this was twisted thinking.  If you are in danger it is your job to protect yourself, even if that means getting out when the other person is sick.  Yes, it is my job to protect and take care of him where I can but only after making sure I am safe, and that means emotionally safe as well.  I am my number one responsibility.  That has taken me years of therapy to understand; I am still working to convert myself to it.  It's still easy to get lost in my life and lose track of that responsibility.  It's too easy to serve and care for others at my own expense.

Learning that physical safety is not the only safety was also huge for me.  I could say he didn't hit me.  I couldn't tell anyone that he slammed my soul up against the wall with his words and his rage.  I couldn't tell anyone that he felt he had the right to punish me when he didn't get what he wanted or what that did to my psyche.

It's nearly impossible to descibe the wounds that develop as a result of this experience.  There are so many mind games.  I came to doubt myself.  Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing.  Maybe he is right.  Maybe I'm not good enough.  Maybe I don't remember it correctly.

Memory.  I do not remember most fights.  I do not remember a lot of things.  I don't know if others experience this or if it has to do with my childhood.  But I have a tendancy to forget these experiences once they are in the past.  If I don't write about it or tell someone about it, it leaves my memory.  This is a coping mechanism I learned as a child to survive the things I experienced.

This is how I see it.  There are only so many wounds a person can take.  You can be nibbled to death.  If it was a small wound, I ignored it.  If I didn't learn to ignore all the arrows shot in non-life-threatening places then I would die.  And I had to survive for my children.  So I let them go.  I pretended that they were in the past and so they didn't matter anymore.  And I ignored all the scars.  The many, many scars.

My marriage was a war.  My soul is a warrior and it carries the wounds of battle.

Survival Strategies

When a person lives in an abusive situation, there are a few classic ways to deal with it.

There are those few people who recognize it and find their way out.  Maybe there are more than a few, but from the amount of women I talk to who took years to find their way free it doesn't seem like it.  Yes, I know there are men struggling in abusive situations, too.  I have honestly not met many of them.  A few.

But for the most part the abuse stories I hear about are from women.  Who are victims of the men in their lives (or sometimes their mothers).  It always seems to come from someone who claims to love you or who is thought to love you.

As a child, I became a pleaser.  Anything I could do to make the abusers in my life happy I did.  I tried to be perfect, as defined by them.  Never arguing.  Never challenging.  After years of anger and yelling and punishing, I learned to read it and pre-empt it whenever I could.  Anything I said or did was done slowly.  That way, if I sensed anger or rejection anywhere along the way, I could back peddle.  I could find my way back to safety.  I didn't have an opinion unless it was given to me.  I was of the go-along-to-get-along club.  Make no waves.  This was not done because I thought it was proper behavior or to be polite.  This was done to stay out of trouble.  This was done to be safe.

Things got a little better in high school because I could be gone more.  I found some freedom that I hadn't known before.  I started to find myself.

I graduated, started college, and met a guy.

Our romance was a whirlwind.  Four months to the day after our first date we were married.  I would later learn that this is a big red flag.  A definite sign that the pursuer is a controller with instant gratification issues.  Someone who wants to win, to capture you before you find out who they really are.

Things were great for a while.  There were little things, little signs that showed it bothered him when I didn't do things his way.

When did it change?  Where along the way did he go from being my savior to my captor?  I wish I knew.

He pursued me.  It was nice.  It was so nice to feel wanted.  He said he loved me on our second or third date.  No one (almost no one) in my life told me they loved me.  My mom once or twice, maybe.  My grandma said she loved me.  Never my dad.  No one else that I can think of.

He loved me.  He told me he loved me.  I had no idea what that meant.  I wasn't sure what love felt like.  I knew I liked it when I was with him.  I knew I felt important to him.  Did I love him?

After a while I started to say it, too.  I said it because it seemed like I should.  It seemed like time.  I thought that maybe I meant it.  Before I knew it, we were married.  I was giddy, caught up in the event.  By the time we married I did love him.

We married in the temple, for time and all eternity.  I had finally found the dream that I had worked so hard for.

Plus, he took me away from my home.  I didn't belong to my dad anymore -- now I belonged to him.  A man who loved me.

And somewhere along the line things started to get ugly.  I don't know when it started.  It was such a gradual thing.  I didn't realize for a long time that he saw me as property.  When you feel something it's easy to believe that the other person feels like you do.

I adored him.  I did love him.  I wanted to be the best little wife anyone could have.

That meant that I did everything I could to fit into his mold.  Whatever he wanted me to be, I tried to be.

In other words I lost myself.  I surrendered myself.  Which isn't surprising considering my upbringing.  Being what the man in my life wanted was all I had ever known.  It's just that this time I felt I was doing it out of love instead of fear.

So subtle, so gradual.  And at first it was rare.  On those occasions I cried and cried, thinking I had done something wrong.  You see, my dad taught me that as well.  If something is wrong then it is my fault.  And my husband felt the same way.

Well, that's not totally true.  Sometimes he didn't blame it on me, he blamed it on other things.  Lack of sleep.  Stress.  Allergies.  Whatever.  But whatever it was, it wasn't his fault.  It was never his fault.  He didn't take responsibility.  Even after the blow up, when he had calmed down and was apologizing, he was sorry that he was so tired that it had happened.  He was sorry that he was so stressed that it happened.

And even in the apology there was justification.  A common theme throughout our marriage has been that if he doesn't feel well he can treat others any way he wants.  If people hurt his feelings or plans don't go his way he can be as angry and mean as he wants.  It's perfectly justified.

For a long time, I took it.  I didn't know what else to do.  I had seen it in my home so I didn't think it was that out of the ordinary.  I knew my parents wouldn't take my side; they wouldn't see anything wrong with it.  I doubted his family would do anything either if I told them, he was theirs.  I was an outsider.  Where would I go?  I couldn't go back to my parents.

And I was humiliated.  I was embarrassed.  My marriage was failing.  I was a failure.  I didn't want anyone to know.

One of the things that frequently happens in situations that are abusive is that the victim wants to strike back.  Not in any dangerous way, but they need to feel some sense of power.  Being abused or controlled is so demeaning.  I felt completely powerless so much of the time.  My life was not in my control. 

When someone works to control a person, the other person sometimes tries to counter-control.  I have done this many times.  Find anything and everything that I can control and use it against him.  Turn his tactics on him.

One of these things was the yelling.  It seemed to be the only way to get him to hear me, so I began yelling.  There was a time in our lives marked by screaming fights almost every night.  Each of us pushing for control over the situation.  The problem with this tactic is that he is more practiced at it than I am.  I almost always crumbled first.

To this day, angry yelling still makes me want to give in.  It makes me feel like a little girl in trouble who needs to be good and do what she's told.

Once I decided that I didn't want to be yelling all the time I tried to find another tactic.  I chose avoidance.  I would do everything I could to not be around when he was.  The kids and I would just happen to not be home when he got home from work, especially if there was something that I knew would upset him.  If the house wasn't clean or if dinner wasn't made, I would just be gone.  And I'd try to be gone until he went to bed in order to avoid the fight.  Otherwise I'd get in trouble.  And be punished.

I'd try so hard to go to bed long enough before him that I could pretend to be asleep when he came to bed.  Or stay up late doing something until he went to sleep.  Otherwise there would be confrontation when I was trapped in bed with him.

Being gone or pretending to be asleep were my best protective measures.  Were they noble?  No.  But they were what I could come up with at the time.  I felt avoidance was the better alternative because then the kids didn't hear us screaming at each other, or him yelling at me.

So my strategies over the years were basically yelling, avoidance, and giving him what he wanted.

I had no idea what I wanted.  I had no idea who I was.  Except that I was his.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not Talking

I'm not ready to write again yet, but want to keep telling my story.  This is another portion of  a story I started a while back, a fictional version of my story (Waiting to be Heard).  I'm afraid it jumps ahead to something I haven't written about yet.  But while telling my story it's tough not to jump around a bit.  I hope it will make sense when I finally get it all out.

**********

Can you believe that? She feels accountable. How is that possible? Someone else violated her like that and she feels accountable. It seems crazy. But it’s not. It happens over and over again.


You see, she had free will. She had the ability to act. She had the ability to not participate. Or did she?

This is something that is difficult for people to understand. If they have never lived with abuse and been controlled, they don’t get this. Do you get it?

There are people like her all around you, you know? You walk by them. You even talk to them. And you think they talk to you. Guess what. They aren’t really talking to you.

They are filling the air with words as a distraction. They use those words to keep you from finding out that anything is wrong. But they aren’t really talking to you.

How can I say this? Because I do this. Talking means something. What they offer you is just chatter. Those are not the same things.

Do you know why they won’t talk to you? I do. They do not trust you. You are not safe.

And besides, you don’t really want to know. You only want to know until you find out. You want the satisfaction of having won the challenge to get them to talk but you don’t want the responsibility that comes from knowing what they have to say.

How do I know? Because I have done this, too. I have sensed that someone had a story to tell and tried so hard to get them to tell me. Once they’d trusted me and opened their soul to me, my hunger was satiated. I’d gotten what I needed. And I left.

I’m ashamed of that. Are you? Since we are all connected I believe you’ve done this, too.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mental Illness Isn't Funny

Hollywood has made a lot of money portaying the quirky side of mental illness, making it funny.  In fact, What About Bob? is one of my favorite comedies.  Bob is silly and strange and quirky, which makes him kind of cute and cuddly.

But what you usually don't see is how difficult mental illness is to live with.  I've experienced it from both sides of the coin.

My husband has more than moderate OCD.  Sorry to keep using that descriptor (more than moderate), but it's tough to place it on a scale.  People with severe OCD usually can't function in society or hold down a job.  And he has not been 100% on those fronts; he has lost employment because of his obsessions.

But for the most part he seems pretty normal, maybe a little quirky.  Unless you live with him.

We see the side that has to throw his dinner away, his favorite dinner, because someone breathed on it.  We see the side that won't eat the birthday cake at a party because the child blowing out the candles didn't seem clean.  We see the side that scalded his hand, scoured away more than a single layer of skin, and wouldn't touch anything or anyone for days because he'd accidentally touched a dead mouse.  He wanted to cut his finger off.  He really did.  It took a lot to keep him from doing it, including a call to a therapist.  He wore a glove for a few days so that it wouldn't touch anything.  To this day he says it still feels dirty.  It happened a few years ago.

His OCD also led to something that I just learned about, although it happened many years ago.

I was in the kitchen rinsing dishes in the sink.  My daughter reached toward the water as if to rinse her hand.  I warned her that it was very hot water.  In fact, it was steaming.  She told me that she had a very high tolerance for hot water since her dad had taught her to wash her hands.

I don't know how old she was when it happened.  She was in the bathroom washing her hands.  He came by and checked the water.  It was warm.  He told her that she would never get her hands clean that way.  Then he turned the knob almost all the way to the hot side, grabbed her hands, and proceeded to help her wash them.  She told him it was too hot.  She told him it hurt.  He told her that's how she knew they were getting clean.  She laughed as she told me this story.  She'd spent years thinking that if her hands were bright red after washing them it meant they were clean.  I did not laugh when I heard this story.  I did not know that it had happened.  All those years I thought I was protecting my kids and he hurt them in ways I couldn't imagine.  It turns out she was not the only child whose hands had first degree burns after their dad helped them wash.  It makes me so sad to even type this. 

OCD is only funny when it's not part of your life.  It takes over.  It controls.

The way I understand it, from observation and converations with my husband, the anxiety is intense.  There is intense fear that may not make sense.  Imagine a fear you have, not something small but something you're really afraid of, something that makes your heart beat faster just thinking of it.  Now imagine purposely experiencing this thing over and over.  You are afraid of snakes so you stand in a snake pit.  Will it cure you?  Maybe.  Does knowing this make you want to climb into that pit?  Not likely.  It depends on how crippling this fear has been for you and what the payoff will be.

OCD is like that.  Refusing to act out the compulsion is like facing your greatest fear over and over again.  All day.  Every day.  The anxiety climbs and climbs.  The only thing that brings it down is acting on the compulsion.  But as soon as you do the obsessions start again and the desire begins again.  Acting on it feeds it, makes it stronger, gives it power.

That's what I've watched from the outside.

From the inside I've had different experiences.  I've struggled with depression, as I've discussed on my other blog.  I've struggled with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder, severe PMS), also discussed on my other blog.

But the one that I haven't written about is the PTSD -- post traumatic stress disorder.  The abuses that I've talked about so far each have their own PTSD.  I also have PTSD from things I will discuss in the future.

PTSD as I understand it and experience it is when something happens that reminds me in some way of a traumatic experience from my past.  It's as if I am living it all over again.  All the emotion comes flooding back, my body tenses, and usually I shut down and withdraw from life.  There is so much fear.  Sometimes I can work through this quickly, sometimes it takes several days or weeks.  Especially if it brings back one of those memories that has been hidden.

A certain smell and I am back at that place in the canyon.  A certain phrase and I am cowering from my dad.  A touch on the shoulder and I am  . . . sorry, I can't finish that one yet.

When my PTSD is triggered my anxiety climbs.  I am flooded with adrenaline and fear.  I have an intense desire to run and hide.  It's not unusual for me to pace or rock.  It feels like all my nerves are on fire.  If someone touches me, even lightly, I am in physical pain.  I am in such a severe state of aggitation that it's tough for me to function at all.  I can't feed my family.  I can't go to my appointment.  And I can't explain it.

All I can do is stay in my room in my bed, hoping to be alone.  If someone comes into my room I may yell at them or snap at them that they need to stay at the threshold.  If they cross the threshold I am likely to back into my headboard like an animal trying to skitter away.  I beg and plead that they back off.

My family has learned to work around this.  My children don't get it.  They know I'm having a tough time and need to be alone and they try to respect that.  It has taken a long time but my husband has learned to recognize it sometimes.  Unless things are really bad he is very respectful of my need to be left alone.  He doesn't understand it.  Unless you feel it there's only so much you can understand.  But he tries and that means a lot.

Enough for now.  My anxiety is high just from writing this.  It's going to take me a while to calm down and feel safe enough to sleep.  But it needed to be written.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Little More Info

Sorry for the delay in continuing my story.  This was harder than I thought.  I needed a little recovery time.

Please forgive me for my little moment of insecurity.  I have been called stupid and told I was wrong so many times, sometimes it's tough for me to trust my own judgment.  It's pretty hard not to buy into it when multiple people have told me this.

But I have grown.  I have had lots of therapy.  I have had validation.

And let me just say, unless you have been in a situation where the other person in your life tries to convince you that what you experienced is not what really happened, you have no idea how important validation can be.  A reality check.  Someone on the outside who can look at it and call it what it is.  I have been very blessed to find this.

I know I left a lot of unanswered questions.  There is so much more to this story.  There is so much more to my story.  It will take time.

I need to add a little info.  Please forgive me when I tell you that I probably won't give you all of it.  There are some things that happened that I just can't talk about yet.  Suffice it to say, when someone tells you a story like this you probably aren't getting all of it.  Such is the case with me.  I will be as honest as possible in what I tell you, but for now I must keep some things to myself.

A little more info on my husband.  Yes, he knows I'm writing this.  Yes, he claims to be okay with it.  I believe that he is right now.  When things get bad again he may not be.  We'll see.

I have to say when things get bad again.  It's not entirely over.  It is so much better.  He is not the person he used to be.  He's worked so hard to change.  But there are still ugly times.

He has more than moderate OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  While all of those things you've seen in movies and on tv are true for some people, everyone with OCD has unique issues.

I suspected he had this when we got married, although I didn't really understand it.  Society was just beginning to talk about it.  I knew things bothered him, that he needed to have things a certain way.  And I tried to make them that way, thinking that's what a loving wife would do.  If you love someone don't you do what you can to make their life better?  When I did what he wanted he calmed down, he felt better.

I mention this because I believe the OCD is part of the story.  If something is lost he becomes obsessed with finding it.  Not in the way you're thinking.  Obsessed.  And the anger that results because he can't satiate this need is strong.

I had no idea how to respond.  I didn't know what to do.

A story to illustrate.

He sits down to watch a movie after the kids are in bed.  But he can't find the remotes.  He starts to look.  The longer he looks, the more his anxiety climbs.  He throws stuff around the room as he looks.  He wakes me up to ask if I know where they are.  I can tell he's angry so I get out of bed to look.  His voice gets louder and louder.  He asks who was watching the tv last.  I say I don't know, hoping to direct his anger away from one of the children.  While I am looking he goes to their rooms and wakes them up.  He yells at them to get in there and find the *#%&! remotes.  They are probably all under twelve-years old.  They are scared.  It's late, probably after eleven.  He makes them look for at least an hour.  I am looking.  They are looking.  He is yelling.  Eventually we find one that has slipped behind something.  He decides this will have to do for now, tells us that both remotes had better be there when he gets home from work the next day.  He sits down to watch his movie.  I try to get the kids back to sleep.  And then I go lie in bed crying, hoping I can get it all out before he comes to bed so that I don't get in trouble for crying.  He thinks I cry to manipulate him.  When he comes to bed and I am crying he ridicules me.  I go into the bathroom, crumple to the floor, and cry silently.  Again.  My heart is breaking.  Again.

The skills and coping mechanisms I developed as a child serve me well.

After he has had time to calm down, maybe the next day or maybe a few, he apologizes.  As he laughs about how stupid it was.  I had better accept immediately or he will be angry again.  Or he doesn't apologize and stays angry.  If he stays angry long enough I apologize.  I hate doing this.  Not because I don't like to be wrong but because I don't think I was wrong and I hate lying.  But if I apologize he thanks me for it and all is forgiven.  Things calm down and the kids and I feel safe again.

That is, until next time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

As I Write These Things

As I write these things I wonder if I am being silly.  Do I sound like a whiner?  Am I oversensitive and making a big deal out of everyday things?  Is this more of my over-analyzing, my over-thinking?

Part of me believes it is.  To me, these things really don't seem so terrible.  They actually seem kind of mundane.  I think that's because the things that happen in my own life seem to be less important.  My pain seems to be secondary to the pain of those around me.  I'm tough.  I can take it.  It's easier for me to experience the pain myself than to see others in pain.

No one has commented at all on these posts yet.  I understand if you need to think about them.  Sit with them.  Process these things you've learned.

But if someone could just comment to say that you've read them and you don't think I'm an idiot, that would help right now.  Because when I write these things I become that scared, insecure little girl again.

My Childhood Home

I grew up in a house with plenty of yelling.  Was it more than average?  I have no way to know.  I do know that when I spent time at the houses of friends I watched their families.  There were a few like mine, a couple that were worse, but most of them were nothing like mine.

Sure, the kids fought.  The parents got frustrated and snapped sometimes.  But overall they seemed to like each other.  They seemed to be a unit.  A family.

I didn't really understand.  I saw and heard my parents fight a great deal.  I got yelled at a lot.  It kind of seemed like I was either punished or ignored.

Now let me be honest here.  This is very difficult to write.  I have a pretty good relationship with my parents now and I do believe that they did the best they could.  I believe they both had abuse in their pasts as well.  I believe they both had their own demons that they were dealing with at the time.  It's very hard to know how to raise your children differently than you were raised.  I know because I've spent the last twenty years trying and I still slip up way too often.  Also, I have a lot of holes in my memory.  I'll talk more about that on a future topic.  It's also very scary to write this.  I feel like I am breaking the famly code.  Maybe you have one, maybe you don't.  Often it's unspoken.  I actually remember having it openly stated to me.  We don't air our dirty laundry in public.  It's tough to rebel against the family code.  It's frightening to say that you want to develop your own code.  But that code just doesn't work for me anymore. 

Please try not to judge my family too harshly.  This is my perspective, and I'm the first to admit I'm a little screwed up.  This is my adult brain trying to make sense of things that happened to me as a child.

But in my mind, the way I remember it, my home was not a place of love and value.  It was not a place where I felt wanted.  I felt like I was in the way.  I felt like I was too much trouble.  Like I caused problems.  I wasn't good enough.  I know this is not an uncommon occurance.  I know that many children grow up having this experience.  But no matter how many others experienced it, that does not take away from what it did to me.  How it changed me.  The programming that went into my mind at a young age.

I think it's fair to say that my dad was a domineering parent.  He had very high standards and expected them followed.  He has a very strong personality.  Always in charge everywhere he goes.  Not very tolerant of childish mistakes, stupid mistakes.  Not good at dealing with emotion.  Not good at talking about how he feels unless he's angry.

My mom was more passive.  She wanted things done but felt he was too heavy handed.  I honestly don't know how my brothers saw it -- we don't talk about things like this in my family.  The way I saw it my dad was mean to me.  And my mom tried to intervene.

So dad would come home and get angry with me for a chore I hadn't done.  He'd yell; I'd cry.  I'd get the chore done as fast as I could and then go hide in my room until he left.  I don't remember ever having to be sent to my room.  I hid in there often.  Then after he left my mom would find me crying and ask what was wrong.  I would tell her that he'd yelled at me.  And when he came home I'd hear her lay into him, yelling at him for the way he'd treated me.  She'd yell and cry.  He'd yell.  Eventually she would leave.  Not too much time would pass before he was slamming my door open and yelling at me for upsetting my mom.  For getting him in trouble (it didn't take me too long to learn that it's better to keep my mouth shut about it, to not tell her anything, because then it would only get worse -- I'd get punished for telling).  And then he'd tell me that if I was going to cry he'd give me a reason to cry (I learned to hide my tears, to cry silently or into a pillow in my room, so I wouldn't be punished for crying and she wouldn't know it had happened again).

And this is where one of the holes comes in.  I don't remember how he punished me.  I remember getting the belt once, although my brothers got it a fair amount.  And I remember him pounding his finger in my chest.  But that's it.  Something tells me his punishment of choice was spanking, but I have almost no memory of it.

What I do remember is the fear.  I was afraid of my dad for as long as I can remember.  I didn't tell my dad no until I was an adult, until after I was married.  I learned to do what I was told whether I wanted to or not.

He's not like this now.  He has mellowed a lot.  I can't remember the last time I saw him angry.  He still shows disdain and disappointment.  He still has that way of looking at me that says, "You can't possibly be that stupid."  That was a phrase I heard several times growing up.

He seems to like me now, to want to be my friend.  And I am trying.  But it's hard.  I have chosen to be an emotional person again, to feel and to express those feelings.  I still can't do that with him.  I'm still afraid of being rejected.  He's just not emotionally safe for me.

Why do I tell you all this?  What does it have to do with my relationship with my husband?  So very, very much.