Positives within the chaos

This year, one of my constant refrains has been about not being connected – to myself, and others. This lack of connection has been most glaringly evident in the minimal activity on this blog; withdrawing from my online network of friends; and my disordered eating. I consider all of these things symptoms, because they are outward signs of the internal turmoil that I’ve been experiencing. The problem is that the symptoms – especially the disordered eating, has become so all-consuming and dysfunctional, that it is easy to use it as a distraction…

I use the word “distraction” cautiously here, because in many ways it has distracted me from the real issues that I am facing… but, in other ways, the dysfunctions tell their own story about my past and present.

Through my disordered eating, I’ve learned how I felt abandoned in the past – by others and myself; massive amounts of confusion about my life and it’s meaning; isolation; and feeling so dirty that I doubt that I will ever be clean, good, or “healed”.

I’ve also learned about many of my fears… fears of being seen; being invisible; doing damage through the disordered eating; and not doing enough damage through the disordered eating… There are always so many contradictions… I used to get lost within these contradictions, and become so overwhelmed by them, that I would turn away from trying to understand what was happening… but now, I’m beginning to see the meanings inherent within them…

Those contradictions hold so many truths about my past. They revolve around issues that are hallmarks of a dysfunctional childhood (abandonment, perfectionism, disconnection, etc); yet, they are being enacted out because I am so very fearful of what I’ll see when I really look at my past, and it’s impact on me in the present…

This fear has been ramping up over the past year, and coincides with an increased awareness of the emotional impact that my past has had on me. It seems as if the closer I come to connecting with the emotions, the more dysfunctional my present day behaviours become. This became obvious when I was showing Allison some of my art… her comment was that the extreme pain that was evident in the artwork, was not being seen in therapy, or any other area of my life… except my dysfunctional behaviours.

It feels as if there’s a cycle happening – I’m terrified of giving a voice to those emotions… which leads to the required emotional outlet being shown in dysfunctional behaviours… which causes confusion, desperation and resentment… which means that I again turn away from the emotions… and so the cycle begins again.

The thing is, I know that healing happens within an emotional context… but, I know that on an intellectual level. I find it difficult to transform that knowledge into practice. Despite this, there have been connections made… I’ve started to take photos again, renewed my efforts to draw, and sometimes have been able to understand the impact of my dysfunctional behaviour through the eyes of people who care about me. This last one is possibly the hardest to cope with, but also the most vital… it’s easy to get lost within dysfunction, and lose touch with the reality of the impact those behaviours have on myself, and those around me. But then, I see the look on a friends face when I tell them the results of my blood tests… My cynical co-worker asks what she can do to help me with my eating… These are reminders that I’m not as invisible as I’d like to think I am, and that my actions have consequences.

It may not seem it, but this realisation is possibly the biggest healing step that I’ve made in a long time. I grew up with the idea that if I was only invisible, then things would be perfect… I would be safe from harm, and no one would miss me if I was gone. That idea has been challenged on several fronts… one of the most noticeable can be summed up in a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ~

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

I’m now trying to navigate a world where many of my core beliefs are being challenged… I’m not invisible, and my actions do have the potential to affect others… There is a huge discomfort in that knowledge… but, it’s also healing. I’m no longer that awkward kid that the teachers turned away from when things were obviously wrong… Instead, I am able to make choices that were denied me when I was that awkward kid… Positive choices…

Positive choices, like going to the zoo and taking a photo of a Spider Monkey whose body language mirrored my own…

Spider Monkey

In all of the chaos that has eventuated this year, it’s been easy to forget the things that have helped… Connections matter, no matter how fleeting they are… so a moment of connection to the external world through my camera is huge… it gives me a voice, an outlet, and lessens the sense of isolation that I seem to foster at times. It’s been a difficult year on so many levels, but also a good one on so many levels… yet another contradiction that I’m learning to live with, and understand a little more.

As a note, this post is for the December edition of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse… There is still time to submit a post of your own, just fill in this form.

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Now playing: Dave Dobbyn – Welcome Home

Fathers Day awareness

Sunday was Fathers Day in New Zealand.  As the day was approaching, a friend asked me how I reacted to the day – whether it needed to be something on my radar of potentially rough, or triggering days.  My response was a rather confident and nonchalant…  “Oh, it’s no big deal.  I usually hide out and withdraw, but am fine”.  I wasn’t minimising anything with my response; I was answering from a place of honesty, based on what I remembered from previous years.

This year however, was different…  Very different…  I was swept away by overwhelming emotions, lost great chunks of time, and felt the need for demeaning forms of self injury.  On some level, I remained functional… I tweeted, cleaned the house, did some gardening, and finished some chores.  But, I also had flashbacks that left me curled up in terror, I easily became disorientated as to time and place, and experienced an emotional roller-coaster that left me shaking like a leaf.

I say that this year was different, but I wonder if it really was.  Did I react differently to it; or, was I just more aware of my reactions to the day?  This is the question that I’ve been asking myself… I wonder about it because if I’m more aware, then that indicates a level of healing that is positive in the long-term… But, if this year was bad purely because I approached it in a different way, then that could indicate that I’m back-sliding by “looking for triggers”.  Either option is possible, but the latter seems more likely.  I feel less connected to everything and everyone than I did at the start of last year, so find it difficult to believe that the awareness is about positive healing…

As soon as I type that, a voice of dissent that speaks up… Allison has seen improvements in my functioning, and being aware of the chaos has to be a good indicator, doesn’t it?  And so it goes on… this continual to and fro.

Then, I see the internal arguments for what they are… another form of distraction.  If I get caught up in an internal argument over my progress, or lack thereof; then I can avoid reflecting on the weekend…  Instead of paying attention to the pain and associated feelings, I can start intellectualising.  Climb back into my comfort zone of internal debates about what constitutes healing, defines progress, etc…  That’s one step away from beating myself up for not being “healed” yet (whatever that means).

Ahhh Distraction Land, I know you well…

I know that we all need to distract sometimes; but, I need to learn to face my experiences as well.  No matter the reason why I had such a rough weekend, it was rough.  I need to learn how to cope with that… to learn how I can manage those times better… to heal…

In this instance, it was my emotional reaction to Fathers Day.  It would be really easy to now put that event in a box within my mind, label is as a triggering day, and store it away.  Yes, that plan of action would help me prepare for next year, but what can I learn from it to help my everyday life?  I think that’s where my healing will come from… I’m already really good at compartmentalising things, and what I really need to learn, is how to ease those compartments so that they blend into my everyday existence.  I’m always going to experience triggers – that’s just life.  I need to learn how to cope with those triggers better every single day, not just on triggering days…

An indication that I still have a long way to go in my healing, is that I deliberately chose to go to the lake on Fathers Day to take photos… On one level, this was a good decision, as I often feel a sense of calm by the water; but, on other levels, it was such a bad choice…  It was Fathers Day, after all… that means families playing together, and in particular fathers being the centre of attention within those families.  At times these images can be positive, and act as a reminder that not all fathers hurt their children… at other times, they can cut like a knife through my wounds.

Was it wise to go to the lake?  Probably not.  Another friend once told me about looking for the windows of opportunity in a situation… the windows where there is the possibility for you to choose a different option, or way forward.  I had one of those windows when I was deciding where to go to take photos… I could have chosen somewhere less triggering, but I didn’t.  This was reflected in the photos I took… Some reflected my pain…

While others reflected my ability to be in the moment…

Sparrow

I’m not so good at being in the present moment…

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Now playing: Eddie Vedder – Don’t be shy

Path to self-destruction

Every now and again, I stand back, and wonder what in the world I’m doing.  This is one of those times.

I’ve just made it through the first of the two stressful weekends that I have previously mentioned.  I don’t remember much about the past weekend… just the noise (a group of librarians is very noisy), the suffocating crowds, the alcohol, and the panic… the ever-present panic.

People laughed during my presentation, but apparently it was because I was funny… go figure!  I was even congratulated afterwards by my bullying ex-manager… although, I always wonder what her motives are for anything that she does, doubly so when it seems positive towards someone else.  Yes, paint me suspicious.  She did seem genuine though… it was a little unsettling, to say the least.

I tried so hard to stay safe… I went back to my room early, I went for a walk to take photos… I avoided obvious triggers.  But, by Saturday night, things were starting to crumble.  The drive to get hurt was incredible.  The pressure of presenting to a large group of influential people; trying to act sane; and having to eat dinner in front of others, was too much…  The only thing that kept me safe, was an inability to access methods of self-injury.

People have tried to tell me that getting through the weekend uninjured was an accomplishment.  So, why does it feel like a failure?  A part of me is very confused, and feels rejected by the lack of pain… in some warped way, it’s almost as if I wasn’t “good” enough to be hurt.  Allison tried to explain the theory behind the feelings to me, but that brought little comfort.  Instead, it has upped the stakes for the coming weekend…

This weekend, I’m returning to my home-town for my birthday.  There are positive plans, such as wanting to see the ocean, and taking photos of some of the parks around the city; but there are also plans to go to the rugby club, and school where I was abused.  I need to go alone to these places.  I need to see what they look like… are they as I remember them?  Have they changed?  Will being there trigger any memories?  Will I see any of the men who abused me?

I read that paragraph, and realise the insanity of it.  What do I hope to accomplish?  Nothing positive can come from it.  If they look the same, what will it prove?  I know that memory is influenced by a variety of factors, so it wouldn’t ease my denial, or magically resolve my questions… so, what is the point?

All I can think of, is that it is a futile bid for acceptance over the past.  But, it’s unlikely that the men who abused me will be willing to sit down and reminisce.  It’s not really a fit topic of discussion to have over drinks on a Saturday afternoon, is it?

Strangely, the part of me who wants to go back to the club, doesn’t want to see the abusers.  I want; no, need to see the building, that’s all.  I want to see the men’s toilets, the changing rooms, the downstairs bar, and the office.  The place must be empty.  If there were people there, it would make it too real.  It would give faces to the shadows, and that isn’t wanted.

There’s a clinical detachment in knowing their names, without seeing their faces.  A form of safety… denial.  I’m a librarian, I could find their pictures if I wanted… but, I destroyed all of my childhood pictures, so why would I want to see their faces?  Seeing their faces would be like having proof that I remembered them for something… that they mattered…

I know that so much of my thinking is a study in contrasts, as well as a dash of very young logic. It’s becoming a constant struggle to stay grounded in the present…  The past and present seem to be merging more often.  I’m losing more time.  The intellectual part of me is struggling with the infirmity of it all… there’s a need to get back on solid ground now, and ignore all of these diversions… The thing that is so confusing, is that I don’t know what is the diversion anymore… is it work, the dissociation, or the past?

I know I’ll be fine this weekend.  I know it will be a jolt to be back in my hometown, but I do have many good memories there…  It may feel like a path to destruction, but that’s my anxiety talking… I need to listen to it, understand, and acknowledge it; but also reality check it all.

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Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Shadowfeet
via FoxyTunes

Anxiety vrs reality

One of the ways that anxiety manifests for me, is the fear created when I imagine the worst case scenario that could happen when facing a situation.  It feels all-encompassing.  There is no relief from its control.  This morning, all of my distraction techniques, grounding methods, and even my prescribed “emergency” medications haven’t helped ease its grip over me.

It feels like I’m in some invisible tug-of-war between reality, and anxiety related scenarios…  Anxiety is winning!

Here are some of the issues causing my anxiety…

Scenario 1:  My abusive ex-husband will be in town this weekend for a special event.

Reality tells me that he will obey the Protection Order that I have against him, and will not approach the house.

Anxiety shows me (in great detail), all of potential scenarios where he will come to the house… He might want to show the people he’s with, where he lived with the “fruit-loop”… He might want to see if I still live here…  He might be curious as to what the house now looks like…

Within my mind, the anxiety scenario becomes bigger, and badder.  I see him driving up and sitting outside in the car.  I see him standing at the door.  I hear the taunts that I know he can throw at me.  I see him in the house.  I see him hurting me.

My imagination weaves abuses from the past into the potential scenario, making them seem all to real.  It becomes more and more difficult to reality check what my imagination is creating; and anxiety hits in wave, after wave.


Scenario 2:  Next month I have to present at a weekend conference in another town.  There will be several people going from work – including the co-worker who has sexually harassed me on a couple of occasions.  Everyone from work will be staying in the same hotel.

Reality tells me that my presentation will be fine – it’s a small conference, and the topic of my presentation is interesting.  The co-worker will not do anything to harass me at the conference.

Anxiety tells me that the presentation will be a total disaster.  The person following me in the program, is my former bullying boss, and she will take great delight in telling everyone how bad my talk was, before starting into her own presentation.  I will lose all of the respect that my former team leader has for me, and the audience will try, but fail, to smother their derisive laughter during my presentation.

It also tells me, that I’ll be harassed by my co-worker in a more direct way.  It will evolve from verbal harassment, to physical.  I won’t be able to stop it, and I’ll end up dissociating in a strange town with no access to my usual support network.  I’ll end up self-injuring, badly.

Again, my imagination weaves images that I’ve seen in the media, or my own experiences, into the scenario.  It becomes bigger, and badder than any known reality.


Scenario 3:  I’m going back to my home-town for my birthday. 

Reality tells me that it’s only for a couple of days, and everything will be fine.  It might be a shock to return there, and possibly disorienting; but, it will be fine as long as I remember the skills I’ve picked up in distraction and grounding.  It’s all about staying in the present.

Anxiety tells me that I’ll be swamped with memories.  My mother will invade my space by going through my possessions – I have proof that she has done so during her latest visit.  I’ll be forced to interact with my sister, and my sister-in-law… both people I would rather avoid.  I’ll be overwhelmed, and end up self-injuring.


I know that my fears are driving these anxiety scenarios… fear of failure, being hurt, humiliation, and being seen.  At times, I can step back from those fears, and reality check them; but, at the moment, they are all I see.  I was hoping that by writing this out, they might ease their grip over me… that I could intellectualise the scenarios, and put the fears into the boxes on the shelves in my mind.  If there was only one of the scenarios happening, I would try to feel the emotions, and ease them that way.  But, with all three, it feels too big…

The first scenario was talked about with Allison this week; but it was more a process of giving voice to the fears, rather than establishing any action plans.  I’m going into the weekend anxiety filled, and unable to remain grounded.  I’m experiencing derealisation, and panic attacks.  Yet, I’m sitting here at work, as if I’m fine…

I’ll be fine… I always am.

Murmuration

I came across the word “murmuration” today, and stumbled across this video.  I don’t know if it’s the music, the dance of the starlings, or both… but I found it calming, so thought I’d share it.

Thanks to Frank and the @postsecret team for the tweet that piqued my interest.

Late edit: If you hadn’t already tried it, it’s great to watch in full-screen 🙂

Asking for help

I’m told that asking for help is one of the strongest things that a person can do.  There is a strength in the vulnerability that comes from admitting that you can’t do something by yourself.  It’s an indication that you’re not perfect… not the self-sufficient island of invincibility that you’d like to think you are.

It stinks.

It hurts.

It feels impossible.

Over the last few months, I’ve had the urge to cut off my hands during therapy.  I know that this is about wanting to reach out for help, and not being able to do so.  It’s about punishing those parts of myself who want to reach out.  It’s about not allowing weakness.

I learned early on in life that weakness was not acceptable, and made life difficult.  Any sign of weakness could be used against me.  If I was scared of something, then I could be taunted with it.  If something hurt, then it could be prodded.  I was confused by being hurt by people that, five minutes earlier, had been laughing and teasing me.  All of this meant that I saw my only option as being to draw inward, and showing no outward sign of vulnerability.  I was often called stuck-up while I was growing up, mainly because I did everything possible to keep myself separate from those around me.  I didn’t think that I was better than anyone else, I just didn’t trust anyone (including myself); so my only protection was to withdraw and project a veneer of invincibility.

That veneer of invincibility is now being threatened.  There’s a needy part of me wanting to reach out to others for help.  But that is being resisted.  I’m showing more signs of dysfunctional coping.  I’ve withdrawn any meaningful communication with everyone.  I’m having to take medication every morning, just to face the prospect of work.  I’ve withdrawn as much contact with people as is possible.  All I’m doing, is trying to fly under the radar.

This is the contradiction that I’m living with – needing to fly under the radar, which by definition, means being self-sufficient and invisible; and parts of me needing help.

One is seen by society as being strong; the other weak.

One has kept me alive for the last 30 odd years; the other is what led to so much pain in the past, that I don’t know if I can go there again.

Even if I wanted to ask for help, I don’t think that I know how to do so.  The stumbling efforts that I’ve made towards asking for help, have been a disaster.  I’ve sent emails which have been misread and caused more pain.  I’ve called crisis lines, and not been able to communicate how badly I’m coping, or ended up in the Police holding cells.  I’ve gone online to talk to friends, but ended up being unsafe instead.  So I obviously don’t know how to ask for, or accept, help.  I don’t know what positive help looks like, and I’ve lost all sense of safety.

But, I’m still turning up to work everyday.  I’m still playing the game.

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Now playing: Adele – Rolling In The Deep
via FoxyTunes