TSA & choices…

This past weekend, I flew to America… It sounds surreal to be writing that… but, I did… I flew internationally for the first time in about 20 years… and I flew alone…

I was incredibly anxious about the trip… I worried that I’d get lost; not be able to cope on such a long flight; and the big one… I was terrified of the authority figures associated with the trip – in particular the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I have seen the videos, and read the blogs about some of the horrific encounters that people have experienced with TSA over the years… The inappropriate pat-downs, the x-rays, and the arrogance of the officers were all mentioned to varying degrees… I’d managed to reality check some of these stories by talking to Allison and the friend that I was going to visit; but, the fears still lingered.

My trip started out really well… I made the trip to Auckland easily, making it through customs and the departure process as if I’d done it before… It’s easy to forget that the process is set-up to keep the flow of people moving, so there were lots of signs and people available to help. The flight from Auckland to Los Angeles was great… I watched movies (The Intouchables was brilliant), and I even managed to get a bit of sleep. When I got to Los Angeles, things again went smoothly… I cleared customs, found the area to forward my luggage to the next flight, met my friend, and took some photos…

Theme BuildingThen, it was time for our connecting flight… We found the terminal, and despite the best efforts of a very slow elevator, we arrived on the right floor for our departure… All we had to do was get through a TSA checkpoint… The queue of people seemed to be moving fairly quickly, which gave us hope that this would also be an easy process… I cleared the identity check, and emptied my gear into the trays to be x-rayed… It was all going smoothly… The person in front of me had to go through the scanner twice, but that didn’t bother me, as I knew I had nothing to hide… Then it was my turn… I stood on the foot markers, raised my arms into the air, and was scanned… I exited the machine, but was immediately sent back into it due to some “anomalies” that were detected… the scan was repeated… Again, there were “anomalies”… Then I heard the words I feared the most… “We need a supervisor for a female pat-down…”

I couldn’t believe it… I stood in mute terror… My friend gathered my gear from the luggage scanner and stood waiting on the other side of the barrier… Then, we waited…

And waited…

And waited…

My anxieties sky-rocketed… I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking…

My friend asked what the problem was… but, all the TSA officer would say, was that there were “anomalies”…

What seemed like hours passed… but, I now know that it was about 20 minutes before the TSA supervisor arrived. Two female officers escorted me to a small curtained area in what appeared to be a staff locker room. They asked my friend if he wanted to go with us, and he thankfully agreed…

He mentioned that I experience anxiety and didn’t like to be touched…

We both repeated that I experience anxiety when the supervisor asked me if there was anything that they needed to be aware of… I think they were wanting to check if I had anything on me… but, I knew I didn’t…

I was told to face the wall and hold my arms out… She explained what she was going to do, just before she did it…

Did she pat down my arms first? I think so… I don’t remember her touching near my neck, but I think she did… I think that’s when the tears started…

She asked me to turn around…

She patted down my legs…

I remember looking straight ahead… trying to stay present so that I didn’t make things worse…

I remember my friend telling me that I was doing really well… that it would soon be over…

It seemed to go on forever, but I know it was quick and efficient…

After she finished, I followed them back to the check point where the supervisor tested her gloves for substances…

It was only then that I was given the all clear…

I was vaguely aware of the other people in the queue looking at me… all I could manage to do was pull on my shoes; and, at my friend’s insistence, sit down on a bench nearby…

This is where I finally collapsed… I couldn’t stop shaking… I took some anxiety medication and waited for that slow easing of the pain wrapped around my chest… the tingling in my face and hands… the hell of the panic…

I don’t know how long we sat there… I remember being doubled over, worrying that my obvious agitation might make the TSA people uncomfortable… I didn’t want them to feel bad for doing their job…I didn’t want anyone to feel bad… all the while, the internal chaos kept escalating…

I felt so violated… I had been touched against my will… my friend had told me that I was doing well for allowing that touch…

It triggered memories of the past… of people touching me against my will… of people who should have protected me, ignoring what was happening… It was all too much…

I questioned my friend… a part of me felt betrayed by him… lost… confused…

It wasn’t until the next day that I could stand back from the situation and look at what really happened… In the past, people made the choice to hurt me, others made the choice to turn away from my pain, and I became lost within their choices…

In the TSA situation, the officers were doing their job without the intent of hurting me… they did everything possible to make the process easier for me… My friend did everything within his power to make the process easier for me by reassuring me… by standing with me… by being present with me during my chaos…

He was my anchor…

I lost that distinction for a time… my hurts overwhelmed me… the pain was too great… But, the motivations of the choices that the people who hurt me in the past, were very different from those made by the people around me in the present…

For that, I’m very thankful…

A day of clarity

It feels as if I woke up this morning with a sense of clarity and grounding that has been missing for months…

In some ways today has felt no different – there are still urges for disordered eating, and there was a dissociative panic when I went out for a walk… But, in other ways it has all felt very different – I’ve managed to resist those urges to engage in disordered eating, and I went for a walk during the day (I usually walk at night so no one can see me).  This may not seem like much, but it’s so different from what has been happening over the last few months.

I know that one of the reasons for the clarity, is the passing of Christmas and New Year.  These holidays are particularly difficult for me… they’re associated with triggers from the past, and societal expectations in the present day.  That potent combination has meant that for the last few months, I’ve been a dissociative mess.

Adding to my anxiety, has been the knowledge that I would be staying in my home-town for Christmas…  For the last few years, my mother has come up to stay with me for Christmas and New Year; but this year this somehow got reversed, and I travelled to her.  I know that when I made the arrangements, it was with the thought that being in my home-town would be safer than being alone.  I say “safer”, but I realised that the balance between the safety provided by being with someone during the holidays (with all of the associated structure that provides); and the potential triggers of being in my home-town, were debatable.

It was an “interesting” visit home… being around someone else for such long periods of time provided a stark reminder of how much I dissociate – for example, I apparently went for a walk at 2am one night… I found that if I didn’t sit in the aisle seat at the movies, I become so anxious that I basically shut down and nearly fall asleep… I proved to myself that I could go for days on end without one form of disordered eating; but there seemed to be a trade-off to other forms taking over… When I did engage in the disordered eating, I hit new lows – something that I’m not proud of, but am trying to learn from… I found that I could cope being in my home-town, as long as I didn’t visit the satellite town where I spent most of my childhood… I found that I liked the peace associated with living in a retirement village – although the residents do tend to be in everyones business! … I discovered that I could sit with my aunt and mother, and we could talk about real issues…

In the past, my relationship with my aunt has been strained… She seemed to see me as this “perfect” person, who never did anything wrong, and resented me accordingly… considering how much I strived for perfection, I find this rather ironic.  But after we’d been to see the movie Quartet, we had a rather raw and honest conversation… my aunt was in an abusive relationship for several years, and my mother was married to my father (enough said).  We didn’t talk about the respective abuses we experienced; but instead talked about its effect on us… how my aunt tried to encourage her abuser to take responsibility for his abuse, by forcing him to pay for the plastic surgery on her face after he pushed her through a pane of glass… how my mother has purposefully forgotten chunks of her life, just so that she can cope with it all… how the abuse caused all of us to doubt ourselves, our truth, and devastated our self-esteem… and one thing that my aunt observed, was how much my behaviour is defined by my abusive past.  I found my aunt’s statement to be interesting, as she is not aware of my childhood abuses, just my marriage.  It was also a little scary… is my dysfunction that obvious?

As for my relationship with my mother… well, that had its ups and downs.  She was incredibly accepting of my odd habits, and even suggested ways that I could do things in a similar way to I did them at home – I’m still not able to do simple things like hang clothes out on the washing line.  But in other ways, she showed how unaware she was… I was talking to a friend via video on Skype when she came home, and she basically took over the video call.  My mother can be larger than life, especially when she’s trying to impress someone – and she was trying to impress my friend.  I get so overwhelmed by her personality when she is like this… I become this small, vulnerable being, who is unsure of how to react, except to play along… So I smiled, laughed, and played the game… anything to make sure that my mother doesn’t get her feelings hurt…  The call ended soon after my mother walked away from the computer… but what was interesting, was that while my friend also played along, and interacted with my mother; they noted my distress… a distress that I wasn’t aware of showing. They asked me how I was, and I admitted that I was close to tears… it wasn’t that I feared my mother trying to “steal” my friend, but that I felt so overwhelmed by her personality, and became so lost as a result… who was I???  I no longer knew…

Despite these ups and downs, I do think that my visit home was a positive experience.  I learned new things, made connections (internally and externally), and was able to keep promises that I’d made with myself – including attending Midnight Mass…

I’m not sure how long this clarity will last… but, I’m glad I experienced it…

And now for a random photo I took while away…
Sweet pea against the sky

—————-
Now playing: Tracy Chapman – The Promise

Losing the illusion of control

Please note that this post will discuss self-injury and disordered eating.

Control is a tough subject for many survivors of abuse… I desperately search for control, as it feels as if my life has been so out of my control for most of my life. As I grew up, I thought that if I could just get control of things and make everything perfect, then the abuse would stop. In my world, control and safety became intertwined… if I had control, then I would be safe… but, I could never gain the level of control needed…

I’ve often thought that my disordered eating has been about control… this is supported by the inner dialogue that accompanies it – an inner dialogue that has mentioned traits such as strength and cleanliness. But, the events of the last week have shown me how little control I have regarding my eating…

It started last Thursday, and was triggered by a number of stressors… extra workload; a minor conflict with a co-worker; November 18 is my ex-husband’s birthday; and a psychiatric assessment with the Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) on November 20… All of this left me feeling overwhelmed, and as if there was no way to escape. It also coincided with the idea that my weight was now “ok”, that I didn’t really need to lose any more, and that I needed to start stabilising. This last thought about my weight was seen as “weak” and a threat against the drive to control things through the weight loss, and towards the “end number” that comes from the disordered eating thinking… So, in what I now consider to be an addictive, self-injurous move; I started to binge.

I became obsessed with food. Periods between binges were consumed with planning the next episode… I binged at work… I binged with the curtains pulled… It felt so shameful and disgusting; but, this is what I thought I deserved… what I needed…

Looking back, it all seems so surreal. I can see some of the actions as making sense – as a response to the stress… but, so much of it was senseless.

I mention that there was a self-injurous aspect to it, and this was evident in the foods chosen… all of them were ones that were previously seen as “treats”. It was this “treat” aspect of the bingeing that gave me a clue as to the motivations behind it… As part of my early experiences of abuse, I was often given a treat afterwards for being a “good girl”. These treats were usually food. The treats were given to one in the system who was/is unaware of the abuse, so they were always accepted with a smile… Meanwhile the ones who had just experienced the abuse were there, watching the treats being gladly received…

This negative aspect of being given treats and presents is one that I’ve mentioned in therapy before… But, I only talked about it in a detached way, and only from the perspective of how “awful” it was to be given treats after the abuse… What I failed to talk about, or even acknowledge; was that in order for the treat to be given, something horrific happened before it. I failed to connect those dots in a meaningful way. I’m still not sure that I really have connected the dots… but, I’m more aware of them. I’m more aware of the ones within the system who hold the abuse…

I don’t think it’s any co-incidence that the final act of bingeing happened with potato chips and raspberry fizzy drink… It was like a final assault, and it worked…

On Tuesday things began to shift… I stooped to what I considered a new low, when I binged at work. Then, by Wednesday there was starting to be more internal communication about the bingeing. Since the previous Thursday I hadn’t been out walking, but decided to make an internal agreement… if I finished the walk by 11pm then another episode of binging was going to be allowed; but, if it was after 11pm, then I would draw.

The walk was “interesting”… internal chaos, at times walking faster to try to beat the 11pm deadline, at times walking slowly to make sure that the deadline passed…

I arrived home right on 11pm. It was agreed that this meant that 11pm on the dot had passed, and therefore drawing was the agreed upon plan of coping…

Abstract drawing

It’s been so long since I’ve drawn anything! I always think of it as being too messy, and pass judgements about my ability… I forget about how connecting and emotional it is…

On Thursday there was still a desire to binge, but instead I went out and took photos… meaningful, healing photos…

Ones representing direction…

Direction

Others representing the system…

Roses

It was emotional, positive, and what I needed to try to ground myself in the present. I’d become so immersed in flashbacks, that I’d lost all track of time, place, and location… These seemingly simple acts of creative expression eased that feeling… It was hard work, but worth it.

It’s now three days since I last binged. The desire is still there, but it’s manageable… The problem, is that the weight gained by the bingeing has ramped up the need for my weight to keep dropping… In the space of a week, I’ve gone from thinking that I might be able to ease the weight loss to a maintenance level, to having weight loss goals again. I know that this was going to be a possible reaction, but I still feel at a loss as to what to do…

So yes, the illusion that I had control over my eating, has been destroyed…

—————-
Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Scarlet

Power of shame

I live a shame based existence… the shame that I carry impacts on every aspect of my life.  I say that I “carry” shame, but that’s not quite right… I don’t carry the shame, it walks beside me… crowds my thoughts and actions… looms over me… drives my actions… fills my being… it is me… I am it.

I’ve always had difficulty understanding what shame is… All I knew was that I hated myself; but I thought that was because of my shyness, and low self-esteem.  In some ways, it’s about my perception regarding acceptability of the terms… in some sort of odd way, I thought it was “better” to hate myself, than to feel ashamed.  All you have to do is look at the talk surrounding shame, in order to get the idea that it’s not a positive thing… The Wikipedia entry on Shame mentions words like dishonour, embarrassment, humiliation, chagrin, etc; while the types of shame listed include “secret shame” and “toxic shame”…  Who wants to be part of anything that sounds so negative and dramatic?  Whereas self-hatred, and low self-esteem sound pretty bad; but, for some reason, I didn’t link them with so much negativity… possibly, I didn’t link them with the abuse that I have experienced, and considered them part of my personality, which would have been present, whether there was abuse, or not.

What I didn’t realise, is how closely shame is linked to the shyness and self-hatred.  In reality, they are just another manifestation of shame.  The self-hatred acts as a shameful check on my behaviour, while the shyness tries to hide the shame and self-hatred from the rest of the world… So, it’s all interlinked, and has become a pattern of being that’s developed over time.  It can both be incredibly logical; and yet, totally illogical.  In my moments of functional clarity, I wonder what I’m ashamed of… I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?  But then, the denial slips, and the shame hits like a tidal-wave.  I’m not sure that I can really describe how the shame “feels”; but, I can describe a recent example of how it caused a dysfunctional reaction that was off the scale in reaction to a situation…

As a warning, this mentions Halloween.

In New Zealand we’ve slowly adopted some of the American events such a Halloween.  They’re not big, but there’s usually decorations in the stores, and trick or treaters who roam the neighbourhood on the night.  In the 10 years that I’ve lived in my current accommodation, there have probably been less that five visits from trick or treaters… so, not a big deal.  This year, for some reason, I became excited at the idea of possibility of handing out sweets… I think as part of my current eating disordered behaviour – I can hand out the sweets, but not eat any of them. I had them in the house for days leading up to Halloween as a type of  punishment, and taunt.

On the night, I was both scared and a young kind of excited… I wanted to see the children having fun, and smiling… I wanted acceptance within the community…

But, no trick or treaters knocked on my door.  As the night wore on, the internal voices of self-hatred and shame, amplified… the main message was that everyone in the world knew how crazy I was, and therefore didn’t want their children to take lollies from the “crazy woman in that house”.

As the internal talk of hatred became more intense, there was a drive to punish myself for being so crazy that no one wanted to go anywhere near me…  The method of punishment? Well, that was easy…  There was this nice big bowl of food that I’d been punishing myself with for the last week… why not make the most of it?

So I did…

I had never understood how violent, and self-abusive eating disorders were, until now.  I look back on what happened with a stunned, rather hollow feeling.  Did I really say those things to/about myself?  Did I really do those actions?  It all seems so surreal now.  But, I know it happened…

Another layer of shame…

Shame… such a simple looking word, yet it is so very powerful.  It can destroy you… totally and utterly destroy you.  It comes from within, so knows which buttons to push to play with your head and emotions.  Once it starts, it’s almost impossible to reality check back into any sort of reasonable context.

Last night, it reared its head again… I found I’d been unfriended on a social network by someone I thought was a friend; and found out through a public forum something that in the past the person involved would have talked with me about, but didn’t…  That was enough for the messages about the world seeing my craziness to kick in again.  I went for a hard, fast, punishing walk as a result… but encountered so many people, that I was constantly panicking.

When I returned home, I had to comfort my mother, who had lost a good friend earlier in the day… always those demands to care for others… make sure that others are ok… make sure they see the socially acceptable me, rather than the well of darkness, evil and shame that I truly am…

I described some of this to a shocked Alison on Monday… she had no idea how extreme my self-hatred was.  She asked me to do something interesting… to put aside the shame, and self-hatred for a second to see what would happen… I tried, and memories and images came flooding through…  So, it seems as if my shame and self-hatred has a protective element to it.  They help keep me “safe” from the overwhelming aspects of my past… I honestly don’t know which is worse.

—————-
Now playing: Seether – Remedy

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…

—————-
Now playing: Eddie Vedder – Don’t be shy

Visiting the past

This past weekend, I visited my hometown.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in over five years. Being back there was awful, healing, confusing, and so much more.  I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but need to write something down in order to start the reflective process, and ward off it being lost in the dissociation.

There were some beautiful moments, such as going down to the beach near sunset.  There was humour, with my mother, brother, and I talking about movies we’d seen… it soon became obvious that our respective approaches to movie going is very different!

But, there were also endless triggers…

On Sunday morning, my mother met my sister to go to church.  I had never connected it before, but this reminded me of when my father decided to “find God” when I was a teenager.  This was the final trigger that prompted me to visit places of importance from my past.  The main place I wanted to see was the bar associated with my father… the place where I have different memories that are so disjointed…

As I drove out to the bar, I passed a factory filled with bad memories… or rather, where the factory once stood.  There was a wave of relief to see that it was now totally different, filled with various industries and businesses.  I passed my old high, and middle schools… and again, so much had changed.  They were still recognisable, but it was obvious that 20+ years had passed since I walked across those fields.  Even though the suburb that was my home for so long has changed dramatically… new roads and malls; it still has the same feel.

Then the bar itself… The first thing that threw me, was that the entrance had changed.  I can now see where the extensions were added; but at the time, I was totally disoriented.  As the place was closed, I could walk around and peer through windows undisturbed. I started off by looking through the main entrance windows, and saw the short corridor that had the toilets going off each side…  That was enough to create a sense of panic, and an immediate free-fall into dissociation.

I walked around the building in a depersonalised state… looking at the different parts of the building and clinically ticking them all off on my internal check-list.  When I got around to the changing room entrance, things shifted… it was locked, and I was unable to see down the corridor.  I could tell each room based on the windows outside, but this wasn’t enough… I needed to see down that corridor.  But, it was impossible.

I looked into the main hall, and saw so many changes… some of them were about perspective (the hall looked so much smaller than I remembered); but other things such as the new carpet and different tables, were more tangible… But then, I saw the kitchen area, and it acted as a grounding moment.  I snapped back to some sort of awareness, and started taking pictures… I took pictures of all of the areas that I remembered, then wandered around the streets, trying to ground myself.

During my walk, I found this mural…

At the time, I called it “Don’t Speak”…  There seemed something fitting about the red being painted over the mouth.

After the bar, I visited my old elementary school, the kindergarten, and a couple of significant houses… Again, there were so many changes.  I found one of the houses, only to see that the wood shed was being pulled down.  Another now houses a charity; and while it still looked the same, the entrance was totally different… where there was once an opening in the fence for the driveway, framed mosaics are now hung on a continuous fence.

In so many ways, these changes were disorienting… But, there was still enough of the old elements present, to allow me to see the historical context.

I know that memory is not an exact thing… I know it can be influenced, and change over time… So, in many ways, going back to these places was meaningless.  But, it was also healing, in that many things were confirmed, and I could also see how time had changed the places which once housed so much pain for me.

As for the rest of the trip… well, it had its ups and downs… I had a panic attack in McDonald’s, and had to go for a walk to try to calm down… I did some dissociative shopping, and had to return some rather odd clothing choices…  I had a fun birthday evening with my brother and mother…

But, probably the most important thing happened on my last morning there…  My mother and I went to have a coffee, and started talking about my sister.  It seems she has moved past the idea that I had the best childhood known to mankind, and has instead started seeing things in a different way.  My mother relayed how much sorrow (guilt?) my sister feels for “abandoning” me when she moved out at the age of 16.  This seemingly simple admission stirred so many emotions… a feeling of validation, that I wasn’t imagining how bad it was growing up in that house…  compassion for my sister, who was burdening herself with responsibilities that aren’t hers to hold…  compassion for my mother, who was obviously now looking back on the damage done by the past…

There is nothing simple about a trip down memory lane… but, it can be healing.  It helped me to see that, although I live with the effects of those events every single day; the events were a long time ago.  That doesn’t make what happened right, nor does it allow me to forgive, or forget… but, it does mean that I can help ease those fears when I’m caught in the flashbacks…  If nothing else, that knowledge made the trip worthwhile.

—————-
Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes