Goodbye Allison

Last week I had my final session with Allison. The person who has listened to my secrets, encouraged me to talk, tried to understand my experience, and connected with me on many levels; is no longer in my life. I’m not sure how to deal with that reality… or, if it’s even possible to deal with at the moment.

We departed on amicable terms, in that I’ve moved from the area; but, that leaving was oh so difficult. I’m not sure that I fully comprehend what it meant to work with Allison. We formed a therapeutic relationship that allowed me to explore my experience in a safe environment. There were times when we got frustrated with, or misunderstood each other; but there was a desire to keep working on that relationship and find out why things were difficult. This gave me a valuable framework for my relationships outside of her office. I came to understand that people could be frustrated with me, but not want to hurt me… I learned that people were affected and effected by my actions and my past… That realisation was incredibly difficult, and I’m still not sure that I fully accept or understand it.

Allison walked with me as I tried to heal. At times I lamented that I hadn’t made any significant changes in my healing or reactions… but, then we would discuss seemingly little things like now being able to identify and talk about things that are causing me anxiety. I say this is “seemingly little”, but it isn’t. To put it into context, a few years ago when Allison would ask me what issues were affecting me, I’d say “everything… work, neighbours, family, relationships, healing… everything”. I meant it… everything seemed so overwhelming and beyond me, that I wanted to give up… it was all too big to deal with… But, more recently, I’ve been able to break down that overwhelming “everything” statement into more manageable and accurate descriptions of the problems. I’d be able to name the issues associated with that stress; rather than bundle it all into this huge “everything” statement that wouldn’t be able to be addressed until much later – if at all.

Addressing the issues within a therapeutic framework is difficult. I’m not used to being the focus of a safe person’s attention… I’m not used to the empathetic responses that Allison exhibited… I often railed against her attention and response; but, that was about my inability to cope with my emotions. I’m still learning how to cope with that safety… I hope that one day I’ll be able to understand what safety is, and what it feels like to exist within a safe environment…

During my last session with Allison, I began to get an understanding of some of the fears about no longer seeing her, or going to her office… There was a young and vulnerable fear that everything I shared in her office would disappear… At the time, I thought that meant that there was a fear that the secrets that I shared with her would be forgotten. On one level this forgetting was considered an advantage, as it would mean that the pain the secrets held would no longer have an impact on Allison. Another advantage of the loss of the secrets, was that Allison wouldn’t be hurt or bothered by the people who hurt me – I was told that the people who knew the secrets would be hurt, or killed. Then, there is the flip-side to the secrets disappearance/being forgetten… Does that mean that the telling didn’t happen?? Does it mean that the events described within the secrets, didn’t happen?? Does it mean that we don’t exist??

The question “Does it mean that we don’t exist” is still the hardest one to contemplate. Allison bore witness to many of my secrets, and has reassured me that she won’t forget me or my secrets… A part of me doesn’t believe her reassurances, and another part is hopeful she will remember… But the fear that my time with Allison was all a fabrication and didn’t really happen is very present. I have a dissociative coping mechanism where I quickly forget people and places… especially if they mean a great deal to me. This dissociative coping, means that I’ve already lost most of my memories of being in Allison’s office. I can see glimpses of it, but nothing lasting or meaningful. It’s crazy-making… How can I so quickly lose something that was important to me?

This brings me to another of my huge regrets during my time with Allison… I can only remember looking at her face once in all my time with her. I know that may sound silly, or even impossible, but it’s true. I have so much shame, that I can’t bring myself to look people in the eye… especially someone, like Allison, who knows some of my secrets. I can usually look people in the eye at work, but rarely in any other setting. I tried to talk myself into looking Allison in the eye during our last session; but couldn’t do it. I wish I had…

So now, I find myself in a strange city without a therapist. I initially rejected the idea of finding a therapist soon after arriving here, as I wanted time to grieve my relationship with Allison. But now, I’m not so sure… I seem to be coming apart at the seams… Denial and dysfunction are high on my list of coping behaviours… So I’m struggling to look for ways to move forward within my new life…

Please let me find a way…

—————-
Now playing: Enya – Only time

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Perfection…

I used to define perfection as a set of behaviours that would allow me to be invisible.  I thought that if I was quiet enough; got good enough grades; was plain enough not to attract attention; and so on… then I would be free of abuse.  No matter how hard I tried, I never reached this perfection…  I didn’t realise that it was an impossible goal… Part of me still doesn’t…

During the past few months, I’ve experienced another kind of perfection…

  • Seeing a friend smile, and realising that I am part of the reason why they are smiling.
  • Laughing at a joke over dinner.
  • Watching a brilliant red sunset.
  • Walking on the beach, feeling the cool sea breeze, and tasting the salt in the air.
  • Swimming in the ocean for the first time in over 20 years.
  • Aimlessly walking around shops with a friend.
  • Playing on a park slide at dusk.
  • Talking with a friend over coffee about life, meaning, and reality.

These events were all perfect, not as “events”, but because of how they made me feel – seen, safe, at peace, alive, appreciated, loved, connected, … “worthy” …

None of the events were without problems… The dinner with a friend was a shared pizza, where my slice of pizza was more like the enemy, than food… I felt incredible anxiety on the beach, as I wore a swimsuit for the first time since my weight loss… After the brilliant sunset, I became so disconnected that it created a gaping chasm developed between my friend and I…

There were problems, and some of them were quite big… the thing is, I felt able to explore those problems – either through my own reflections, or talking about it with the people affected.  It became all about that old saying ~ “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”.  The quote is a bit eye-roll worthy; but, it also seems to hold some truth…  The problems became part of an ongoing conversation – with myself, and others; rather than the anxiety inducing, end-of-the-world events that they sometimes feel.

I’m not sure why things happened like they did…  Was it because of the friend I was with?  My holiday from work? That amorphous thing called “healing”?  Or, was it all of those things, and so much more?  I’m really not sure, and part of me doesn’t want to analyse it too much, in case I decide to make some rules around it all, or negate the positives that I experienced…

The thing is, even with those positives, I’m still struggling… I seem to have drifted through the last four months of my life, with little awareness of anything going on around me.  Yet, within those four months, I had these amazing experiences of connection…  It makes no sense, and total sense…

I wonder if the connection that I experienced, scared me…  Whether the visit to my home-town and ongoing work stress, has combined to create the need to compartmentalise even more of my life…

It’s funny, in a sad way… I started this post intending for it to be positive; but now, all I feel, is fear…

—————-
Now playing: The Fray – You Found Me

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

My world is crashing in on me

My world is crashing in on me, and no one sees. That’s ok, because I am one of many.

My world is crashing in on me, and no one sees. That’s wrong, because I am a person, and people are meant to matter.

Nine years ago today I wore red as I walked out the door to get married.  My future mother-in-law could barely contain her scorn at my attire.  I didn’t wear red by deliberate choice, but when you leave the preparations for the wedding until the day before, you get what you can.

Memories of the wedding are sketchy, at best.  We had a picnic the day before the wedding with the mother and two friends.  We did this because we were expecting my future husbands family to ruin the wedding day… they did.  One thing I remember clearly, is when the small gathering threw rose petals over us after the toasts, none of the petals went into my drink; so my mother-in-law picked some up off the ground, threw them into my glass, and made a smart comment about that being better.

Many weddings are about the expectations of the bride… mine were of dread.  In many ways, the wedding was not my own… my sister-in-law has such a dominating personality, that she overshadowed everything – my hair, the photography, directing people around, etc.  The sister, whom I hadn’t communicated with in over ten years passed sarcastic comments onto the mother about her not receiving a wedding invitation… yes, there was the double whammy of her sarcasm, and the mother’s need to inform me of that sarcasm… My future in-laws played games regarding whether they were going to attend, or not.  They only came because their other son paid for the entire trip.  Then on the day, my mother decided that her outfit was too similar to my only invited friends, so I had to help her find an alternative to wear…  Many of these things are run-of-the-mill issues associated with wedding days; but, they increased my anxiety, and therefore levels of dissociation.

The drama didn’t end at the ceremony, but continued through to mix-ups with the billing of the hotel room for the wedding night… We met several very nice police that day…

Did I mention that I didn’t want to get married?  I didn’t.  The only reason the marriage happened, is because he needed to marry.  He needed that security.  Later, as the marriage was falling apart, he often said that if we separated that it would be the end of us both… that I would commit suicide, and that he would be devastated with grief as he returned to the comfort of my mother – note, that he was wanting to gain comfort from my mother, not his.  That sentiment alone indicates his level of dysfunction, pain and confusion…

Marriage was never my thing.  During school, when introduced to the concept of debating, I was on the affirmative team arguing that marriage was an outdated institution.  It was rather amusing, as we drew a picture of marriage as a physical institution… the teacher changed the wording for the debate the following year.  We did get an A though…

I’ve usually seen marriage as a tie to someone who would hurt you.  My marriage didn’t dissuade me from that opinion.  Saying that, I have seen happy marriages… marriages where a combination of compatibility, hard work, and a variety of other factors, have meant that everyone involved has grown in positive ways…  At times, I wish I had that… But, I know I’m too broken for such things.

So yes, my world in crashing in on me… I have failed to work with Eating Disorder Services because I couldn’t meet the directives they established… I have failed at creating any sort of working relationship with my new team leader, and am now building a reputation as being difficult within the workplace… My continual poor communication skills have resulted in my withdrawal from my support system, and causing hurt to those who have braved staying around… Allison is left in the dark as to the reasoning for my behaviour, as I continue to withdraw and become less communicative… Then, earlier this week, the final straw, this chain email from the mother…

I remember the cheese of my childhood,
and the bread that we cut with a knife,
when the children helped with the housework,
and the men went to work not the wife.

The cheese never needed an ice chest,
and the bread was so crusty and hot,
the children were seldom unhappy
and the wife was content with her lot.

I remember the milk from the billy,
with the yummy cream on the top,
our dinner came hot from the oven,
and not from the fridge in the shop.

The kids were a lot more contented,
they didn’t need money for kicks,
just a game with our mates in the paddock,
and sometimes the Saturday flicks.

I remember the shop on the corner,
where a pen’orth of lollies was sold
do you think I’m a bit too nostalgic,
or is it….I’m just getting old?

I remember when the loo was the dunny,
and the pan man came in the night,
it wasn’t the least bit funny
going out the back with no light.

The interesting items we perused,
from the newspapers cut into squares,
and hung on a peg in the outhouse,
it took little to keep us amused.

The clothes were boiled in the copper,
with plenty of rich foamy suds
but the ironing seemed never ending
as Mum pressed everyone’s duds

I remember the slap on my backside,
and the taste of soap if I swore
anorexia and diets weren’t heard of
and we hadn’t much choice what we wore.

Do you think that bruised our ego?
or our initiative was destroyed
we ate what was put on the table
and I think life was better enjoyed.

I realise that she is reminiscing about her childhood… But, she also knows that I experienced sexual abuse within the environment that this poem glorifies… Oh, and yeah, she knows about my eating disorder too…  The irony is that her childhood wasn’t perfect… if it was, she wouldn’t be this unaware of the potential impact of this poem on me…

So yes, my world in crashing in on me…  Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s going to hurt.

—————-
Now playing: Audioslave – Doesn’t remind me

Venturing out

Today, I ventured outside for the first time in months.  Yes, I’ve been going to work, and doing the bare necessities in the way of chores; but I haven’t been outside for anything other than that for a long time.  It was also the first time I’d picked up my camera in months.  These are some of the photos I took…

Duckling
Duckling

Ducklings
Ducklings

Waxeye
Waxeye

Lion fountain
Lion fountain

They mean different things to me… from the cuteness of the ducklings, through to the almost desperate stance of the lion.

—————-
Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Lifeline
via FoxyTunes

Expressive Arts Carnival: Mrs B.

I remember sitting on the mat, near the front, and to the left of Mrs B.  It was the first day of the new school year, and I’d just been moved into “The Unit” – two classrooms joined into one, in the middle of the junior primary school.  Possibly because it was the first day of school, everything seemed so noisy.  Other children were talking to their friends they hadn’t seen since school got out the year before.  A couple of boys were running around the large room, while one of the younger teachers was loudly telling them off.  But, I looked straight ahead, blocking out everything as I looked at Mrs B. talking.

Mrs B. started to called out the role.  My name wasn’t on it.  I continued sitting there, frozen in fear… confused as to what this meant.  I thought that if I stayed quiet enough, no one would notice that I wasn’t meant to be there.  What was one more child to a teacher, anyway?  I didn’t like the look of the other teachers, they were younger and didn’t have the kind eyes of Mrs B.  So I sat there, trying to sink into the mat.  Then, the inevitable happened… a boy from the group I was meant to be in, came looking for the me.  In a daze, I followed him to the group I was meant to be in.  I didn’t look over my shoulder, I’d learned not to look back…

I sat with the rest of the class that I was assigned to be in, dazed and unsure.  I didn’t like this new teacher, she was the one who had been yelling at the boys.  Her face was full of harsh lines, nothing like the softness of Mrs B.  She told me to sit at the front… possibly so that I wouldn’t escape from her again.  That is all that I remember of that teacher… her harsh face and voice.

Throughout the year, the classes intermingled to some extent.  If you needed something, you were to go to your assigned teacher first, but could ask one of the others, if yours wasn’t available.  My main memory of this class, besides the noise, was the writing we were asked to do.  This was the first time we were asked to use our imagination to write a story.  We were to then take our story to a teacher to have it checked.  I hated having my work checked… my spelling has never been stunning, and creativity was never my strong suit.  On one occasion, I took my story to be checked by Mrs B.  She read it through, and showed me how each of my sentences started with the same word.  She suggested that I go and re-write it so that it wasn’t all the same.  I remember being crushed by her criticism, because I liked Mrs B., I wanted everything I showed her to be perfect… I saw perfection as the only way that anyone would like me.

I don’t remember how long it took me to re-write my story, but I was one of the last to go and get it re-checked.  I felt numb as I approached Mrs B. a second time.  I bit down on the inside of my mouth as she read my story.  I stood silently, waiting.  When she raised her arm, I flinched… I remained like stone as she draped her arm around my shoulders, pulled me up against the side of her body, and hugged me.  It was only as she started praising me, that I relaxed… I still remember her voice telling me that she knew I could do it.  She gave me one last gentle squeeze, before releasing me and writing an A on my paper.

As I walked back to my desk, I was beaming… I’d finally done something right.

These are the main memories I have of the first teacher who showed me kindness.  Other teachers since Mrs B. have shown me kindness, but I’ll always remember that hug.  I don’t know if she hugged other children, I imagine she did…  I don’t know if she realised the importance of that hug for me, I doubt it.  I imagine that for Mrs B., it was something she did as a reward for good work… for me, it was about being touched in a safe way, acceptance and kindness.

Thank you Mrs B.  Thank you for showing an awkward child that there was such a thing as safety in this world.

The Expressive Arts Carnival this month is to provide three words, and a hex colour code to contribute towards a healing word cloud.  My three words are: safety, acceptance and kindness.  I chose purple as the colour for my words, because for me, it represents protection and safety.

Thank you Paul… I needed the reminder that healing doesn’t always have to be painful.

—————-
Now playing: Counting Crows – Rain King
via FoxyTunes