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

My neon sign

I’ve often joked about the figurative neon sign above my head that reads “Go away!”…  But, those jokes cover a variety of issues that I experience – an inability to trust, be vulnerable, and basically experience any emotion without dissociating.  My past has taught me that people were unreliable, likely to hurt me, and best be avoided.  However, I’m also very human; and as such, crave human contact; this creates a dynamic I experience over and over…  I do things which I consider to open the door to communication, but also look for any hint that the person isn’t genuine, interested, or able to reciprocate in any way.  Depending on the level of involvement that I am expecting to have with the person, I then decide how much energy, and risk I’m willing to take.

Sometimes this has worked out well… for example, my cynical work friend and I get on well.  We’ve formed a good working friendship/relationship, where we can share different aspects of her life, and I share more with her about my life than anyone else around me… it’s a very guarded sharing, but it’s still sharing.

Sometimes this has been a disaster… for example, when I was talking to a mental health nurse this week, I basically set her up to respond in a way that would encourage her to tell me all of the negative aspects of her job.  At the time it was almost automatic, but it was also something that I wanted to explore as a way of finding out her thinking and approach.  It sadly turns out as if my fears were correct.  It came about because my mother had a scathing attitude towards the “manipulative young girls with eating disorders” that she encountered while a nurse… so, when the conversation during my ED appointment turned to online support, it was easy to talk with the nurse about the “destructive, manipulative” behaviours supported through “negative ED sites”… To the nurse, this was probably a conversation about how I was not going to those sites; but to me, this was about her having the same disdain and lack of empathy for those young girls that my mother exhibited.  In my mind, that has totally changed our working relationship… trust is non-existent, and I am feeling the blocks of resistance when thinking of doing anything that she suggests…

I have basically set us both up for failure.  I will go back next week, having been unable to do either of the things that she took for granted were going to happen, and it will reinforce the notes that she has now read from the Mental Health Crisis Team, which say that I’m difficult.  She didn’t hear, or dismissed my concerns about expectations for this week… so it will come back to my difficult nature and resistance to treatment.

But, the situation where this dynamic is most challenging, is when old patterns of dysfunction are involved… for example, the relationship with my mother.  My mother has shown the willingness to be supportive… she has travelled to stay with me after the last attack by my ex-husband, and when I was hospitalised.  But, while she has done these physical acts, there has been a barrier to any emotional connection.  I realise that the barrier is our past… the hurts, misunderstandings, defensiveness, etc.  We continually seem to approach each other from a place of hurt and confusion.  Neither of us understands the other, and we don’t know how to begin a conversation that would ease that position.  A big factor in that, is the neon sign that I wear above my head… my mother helped me build that sign through her actions towards me in the past, so why would I want to change that now?  At times, I don’t.  I want to keep my distance from her, and everyone.  But, at other times, I see the vulnerability; the attempts to reach out, and I wonder if things could be better.

The problem, is that my pattern of taking care of those around me, has meant that I have often been the one to reach out first.  The flip-side of that, is that my “Go away!” sign, means that people often don’t see my distress, or don’t want to reach out first, for fear of being rebuffed.  My mother described this dynamic a few years ago when we saw Bob… Bob asked my mother what she wanted in regards to me, and my mother’s response was that she wanted me to let her in, to let her help.  I remember being stunned… she wanted to help now… after all these years… oh, please!  The thing is, she was genuine… she wants to help, but she doesn’t know how.  When you combine this lack of knowledge, with my defences, you have two people stuck, circling each other…

Last week, there was a small communication between us, which made me think about the dynamics with my mother.  I’m arranging to go to my hometown for Christmas, and the only day that I can arrive is my sister’s birthday.  Considering that my sister and I haven’t talked in over 10 years, I thought this might be difficult; so sent a number of texts and a phone call to my mother before making the bookings.  This small interaction made me wonder about the role, or power, that I play in the continued tenuous relationship with my mother…

A few years ago a very good friend told me that I would need to make the first move in rebuilding the relationship with my mother.  At the time I baulked at that thought… she’s the one who hurt and neglected me!  Why should I make the first move?  But now, I can see the position that has put me in… My mother knows that I am the child she didn’t see.  She knows I’m hurt in ways she doesn’t understand, and that hurts her.  Yes, her pain is about herself, rather than me… but, unless I communicate with her, she will never understand my point of view.  She may never be capable of fully understanding what occurred, and the implications… but the current situation isn’t working either.

There are situations where it’s best to remove yourself from the family group for your own safety… I’ve done that with my sister and father.  But there is a possibility that I could form a better relationship with my mother.  I don’t think it will ever be perfect, as she has so many issues of her own… but, it’s worth trying… I think.

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Now playing: REM – Everybody hurts

Eating disorder assessment

Note: This post will discuss disordered eating thoughts, behaviour and issues.

On Thursday, I was assessed by Eating Disorder Services (EDS).  To say that I was terrified, would be an understatement.  I have so many conflicting views about the assessment, and the reality of my disordered eating…  I constantly question whether I have an eating disorder, or not.  I hold up the evidence that suggests what I’m doing isn’t a big deal… my BMI is in the healthy range; I eat three “meals” a day; and I don’t do many of the stereotypical behaviours attributed to those with an eating disorder.

Then, I stand back a little, and look at what I’m doing… I have lost a substantial amount of weight over the last 18 months, to the point where people I haven’t seen in over a year, no longer recognise me; I’ve had an increasing number of people telling me that I need to stop losing weight; my diet has become narrower, and narrower over time; and my exercise regime has started to become a little obsessive.  Then, there are the physical issues… I’m losing hair; my skin is becoming dry; my fingernails are constantly breaking; fatigue hits me more frequently; I get sore muscles for little, or no reason; and my digestion is obviously compromised.

But, probably the scariest thing, is my eating disordered thinking.  I never really comprehended what people were talking about when they referred to the all-consuming thinking of an ED… now, I understand it a little more.  In the past, when I had issues with food, I would get glimpses of the odd logic and reasoning that I could come up with… I’d start to eat something, and then suddenly become repulsed by it… I’d look at food, and it would morph into something unpalatable and impossible to eat… or, just the thought of food would make me have a panic attack.  Often there would be no context for these previous issues with food, and they seemed like random occurrences.  I could attribute some of them to stress, but not all of them…  Now, things are different, it’s like I’m living in that space all the time.  I think of food, and become scared.  I’m not even totally sure what the fear is about… yes, there’s an element of “food = calories = weight = bad” to it; but, that’s not the real story.  That’s the veneer that is acceptable to describe, but there is so much more to it all.

I’m well aware that there is a mix of the past influencing my thinking…  My father was a butcher during many of my formative years, which has resulted in me always struggling to eat meat of any kind.  My mother has had many issues with her weight over the years… as part of her own issues, she would often make derogatory comments about my weight…  My ex-husband considered himself a chef, which has probably triggered one the most destructive of my food issues… an inability to eat salad.  Yes, I realise how silly that sounds… I mean, salad is good for you, right?  But now, I find myself frozen in front of the salad aisle of the supermarket, totally unable to pick-up any of the healthy food in front of me…  Part of the reason for this, is because my ex-husband made such a performance about making amazing salads; so there’s a negative association.  But, a bigger part of my issue with food, is an inability to touch it in order to prepare a meal.  To give you an idea, the last time I helped to prepare a meal from scratch, was last Christmas… I don’t remember the time before that…  I’m not totally sure how this fear developed, but I think it may have to do with touching raw meat, and the feelings generated as a result… associations with my father, and the butchery… flashbacks… fear… terror…

It’s for these reasons, that when I told my mother that I was going to be assessed for an ED, she commented that she wished them luck as the things that I eat are so limited.  It’s this sort of reaction that helps me realise that my disordered eating isn’t about trying to get attention from my family.  When my oldest brother was in his early 20’s he developed Bulimia Nervosa… the comments he received from our parents were hardly supportive… my father called him a skinny wimp, and my mother ignored it.  My brother managed to find his way through his eating disorder without outside help… but he still struggles with food 20+ years later.

With all of this baggage, I went into the assessment on Thursday… it was pretty much a disaster.  It was meant to be a 90-120 minute assessment, but the nurse called it off after 45 minutes.  I was at my tongue-tied best… staring at the carpet and becoming more and more anxious, despite taking medication prior to the assessment.  The only good thing, was that because EDS are part of the Mental Health Crisis Team, she had my notes which outlined my abuse history and diagnoses.

There were some harsh moments leading up to the assessment… having an ECG was a reminder of the physical damage that I could be doing to my body… the fasting blood tests were an odd contrast to what was meant to be achieved… but, the worst thing, was the terrible drive to restrict food as the assessment approached.  There were fears that if I wasn’t “serious/light enough”, they would call me an attention seeker; or, that they would force me to eat, so I had to counter that by going in as light as possible; and then there were the conflicting views about what being accepted, or not, by EDS would mean… all of these different reactions played out in my disordered eating.

I wish those fears, and behaviours had eased with EDS accepting me into their services… but, they haven’t.  The assessment ended with me being given the diagnosis of EDNOS, and being asked to add some cereal and milk into my diet.  The assessing nurse kept telling me that the changes would be slow, and about helping me to gain health, not weight.  But, I’ve been looking at the cereal in my pantry like it’s the enemy…  I wish I could just pour some in a bowl and eat it, just like they showed in those misguided made-for-tv ED movies of the 80’s and 90’s.  I guess real life isn’t like the movies after all… stink!

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Now playing: INXS – Beautiful girl

Protecting "marriage"

As a warning, I’m a bit (lot) angry today, so this may well read more as a rant, than reasoned discussion…

Late last month, Louisa Wall’s private member bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, was introduced for discussion into New Zealand Parliament.  I realise that the idea of equitable access to marriage for everyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, can be challenging for some people.  It’s a concept that can cut through to strong moral beliefs, and cause a reaction.  I realise that I could well be setting myself up for attacks, and misunderstandings because of writing about this… but, I’m a little stunned at some of the extreme reactions that I’ve seen… and amazed at the misinformation being disseminated.

If I was in a better head space, I’d do some research to counter that misinformation… but I’m not; so instead, I’ll tell you a little about my experiences with “traditional” marriage…

I grew up in a middle class, predominantly European neighbourhood.  My father and mother both worked; and to all outward appearances, we were the “ideal” family.  However, we were far from an “ideal family”, with psychological, physical, and sexual abuse being the norm.

Then, there was my marriage… again, a traditional arrangement between a man and woman… again, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse was the norm.

It would be really easy for me to say that “traditional marriage” is the problem within society, as my experience is that marriage between a man and woman is 100% abusive.  Thankfully, I’m a little more open-minded than that… I know that it’s not the gender or sexual identity of the person within the marriage that is the problem; but rather their empathy, relational skills, and so many other things that make a person who they are.  This is why statements such as  Colin Craig’s (Conservative Party leader) concern me…

Mr Craig rubbishes the argument that parenting is about loving the child rather than the sexuality of their parents.

“I disagree with that point of view. Love is not all that matters [emphasis added]”.

“Love is not all that matters”?  Really?  I grew up in a household where healthy love was scarce, so I respectfully disagree with Colin Craig.  If I had the choice between being raised within my abusive heterosexual led family; or one headed by a parent who showed me healthy, appropriate love… I’d pick the latter, every time.

The thing is, I also agree that love is not all that matters… people should choose to have children based on their ability to provide for that child.  I’ve seen heterosexual couples who would make great parents, struggle to conceive; and I’ve seen couples who aren’t able to care for themselves, let alone a child; have children on a yearly cycle.  So no, love isn’t all that matters… But, when you’re using that argument as a reason to stop marriage equality; I have a problem with it.

Marriage is about more than bringing children into this world… isn’t it?  It’s also more than the sexual orientation and identity of the people involved… isn’t it?  I’d like to think so… not because I want to marry; but, because marriage symbolises hope… hope that people can love, commit, and want the best for another person.  I know that marriage doesn’t always work out, and that people change, or don’t change, over time… but, it’s an important aspect of our culture, and to exclude people from that is wrong.

Note: I’m not including any illegal activities when considering sexual identity or orientation.

The fallout

In my last post, I sound as if I had “dealt” with the visit to my hometown… I was wrong.  What I’d done, is stuff it all in a rather large room in the back of my mind, and closed the door.  My main thought was that I’d gotten through the past two weekends, and that was all that mattered.  I had expected that once those weekends were over, then the anxiety and dissociation would magically disappear… because I wanted that so much, I started to live it.  The trip became a “good, healing experience”, and I couldn’t even remember the weekend of the conference… they became like another couple of headlines in the newspaper, nothing more.

On Thursday, the little fantasy that I had created for myself, came crashing down.  I saw Allison, and we talked about the trip.  She didn’t force anything, but it ripped open the door that I had firmly shut.  We talked about my family not recognising me as I got off the plane… my sister-in-law who talks about her abuse history as if it’s a badge that everyone has to see, and know about… the doubts created when places weren’t exactly as I remembered them…  The session was “intense” according to Allison’s parting words.  So intense, I had to sit in the car for over an hour, talking to a friend in order to ground myself and stop the shaking.

This was when the real fallout began… flashbacks; lost time; constant internal chatter about how bad I am; images of self-injury; and so on.  Intellectually, I decided that the main issue was the denial created when details of the pub weren’t exactly as I remembered; so decided to do some research.  The pub has a history page on their website.  When looking for old photos of the building, I found a photo of my father.  I also found out he’d been given awards for his input into the organisation.  Again, denial slammed into me… was I falsely accusing this man, who was respected in his community, of horrors that had never happened?  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t accusing him in court, or that I have no intention of doing so… all that mattered was whether it happened or not.  I’m used to the dance of denial… it’s one I’ve experienced throughout my life.  In some ways, it’s comforting to know that the denial and doubt touch every single aspect of my life… it’s not just the abuse that I doubt, but everything.  At times my life just seems to be a big question mark.

I realise that I’ve already glossed over the impact of seeing the photo of my father.  I remember seeing the photo as a child… one of my brothers is also in a photo nearby.  It’s disconcerting to see those two, who look so similar, so close.  To say that it’s disconcerting to see how much I look like my father, is an understatement.  I hate genetics.  I hate knowing how much I look like him.  That’s part of the reason I can’t look in the mirror… I see his face and the cross that he wore around his neck during my teens.  Yet another reason to hate how I look, and who I am.  When I see him in my reflection, I become him, and part of the things that he did – not just to me, but to the family, and community.  He is an alcoholic narcissist, and has left a trail of destruction behind him, fitting of such labels.

Sorry, I know this is becoming disjointed… I need to write it out.  I need to try to make sense of it.  But, I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore.

Thursday night, I decided to clean out my wardrobe.  During the clean out, I found jewellery that my father had given me, as well as the lingerie purchased for my wedding night…  I don’t know how these items had lasted so long.  But there they were… a cruel reminder of my doubts, pain and confusion.  If you’re wondering why I doubt the abuse from my father, yet still react to him… well, apparently I’ve always reacted to him.  My mother once told me that one of the factors which caused her to separate from my father, was talking to me in the kitchen when he arrived home… she said that as soon as I heard his car, I looked to confirm it was him, then my face changed, and I walked away to my room without finishing the conversation.

While my reaction to finding those items didn’t help ease any denial, it added another layer of stress and provided more fodder for flashbacks…

What does all of this mean?  Well, the short version is that I’m a mess… the long version is that I’m a total and utter mess.  I’m reacting to the slightest of triggers… unable to concentrate on anything for even moderate timeframes… want to go out and get totally drunk… the list goes on.  I’m trying to remember that the world keeps turning, and that means that this turmoil will pass… please, pass soon… please.

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.

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Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes

Protected: Balance, or lack thereof

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