Warning:

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

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.

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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.

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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.