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


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

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.

Anxiety vrs reality

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

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

Here are some of the issues causing my anxiety…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be fine… I always am.

My dragonslippers

Four years ago, my abusive marriage ended.  I thought that the passing of four years was long enough, and that I would be “over it” by now… I was wrong.  Over the past couple of months I’ve been swept up into flashbacks, as well as experiencing anxiety and dissociation for no apparent reason.

The other day, I was feeling good, and thought that the storm had passed… but now, it’s back with a vengeance.

The good thing about the four years since the marriage was over, is that I can more clearly see how we reacted to each other to create the disaster that was the marriage.  It’s easy to say that I walked into the marriage because of old patterns… one therapist told me that I married a man just like my father, after all.  But that’s a nice square box to place the experience in… the reality is so much more complicated.  My childhood was my training for my marriage… it taught me how to ignore my own needs in favour of others, to consider myself worthless, and not expect to be treated with respect.  His training involved systematically having his self-confidence destroyed; suppressing his anger, to the point where it exploded without warning; and thinking that domination equated to power.

He needed control, but didn’t want it… and I didn’t want control, but needed it.

That one line is possibly the most accurate summary of the marriage.  How it presented was sometimes funny; but more often than not, painful.  Now that I’m a little further away from the situation, I can see the links between such things as his jealousy and my actions.  The best example that I can think of to describe this dynamic, is my fear of going outside – he once commented that one of our male neighbours always seemed to be going outside when I was; which was a huge red flag to me.  It meant that something was wrong, and that something needed to change, as anything that bothered my husband, meant danger.  I couldn’t stop my neighbour from going outside, but I could.  So began another layer of my social anxiety.

There are lots of little examples like that…

Reading this, people will wonder why I stayed with him for so long.  It’s a perfectly reasonable question… I lived in fear of him for eight years; he abused me regularly, and was constantly in trouble with his employers.  But that chaos echoed both of our pasts, so it seemed normal.  I didn’t go to work with visible bruises, and he acted almost childlike in public; so I would often be seen as the bossy one.  No one looking into the marriage would say that anything was wrong.

Probably the most obvious example of why I stayed within the marriage for so long, is shown by his reaction after his final attack on me…  The attack happened on a Sunday afternoon, and after his panicked phone call to my mother, he settled down as if nothing had happened.  When I went to get medical treatment the next day, he accompanied me into the examining room, where he laughed about the injuries and how he had caused them.  He repeated this laughter when he dropped my medical certificate into my workplace to say I wouldn’t be in for at least a week.  It wasn’t until later that day, when my brother arrived that any sort of reality started to creep into his awareness.  He hid the chair broken during the attack, and tried to pretend like nothing had happened… but my brother took him aside and said that he needed to move out for a while.

When my brother went home, and my mother arrived; there was a further dawning of awareness for him… he was always desperate for my mothers approval, and that was obviously missing.  Suddenly he couldn’t cope.  This is when the twisting of the story began in earnest.  Two nights in a row he took off in his car… on one night he threatened suicide, and on the other night he threatened suicide and then told that police that he was too scared to return the house.  This showed how he could act when faced with a situation he didn’t like.

On Valentine’s Day, he left me to return to his family.  It was then that his twisting of the truth became more obvious… suddenly there was no attack, but instead, I was making it all up.  I broke the chair and caused the injuries to myself.  This version of events is what he was going to defend the Protection Order with… thankfully, I had the medical report detailing the attack, and all of his documentation which included a letter to a former supervisor apologising for assaulting him…  When his lawyer saw the documentation, the Protection Order defence was withdrawn.

When I look at this incident, I can see why I doubted so much of what happened within the marriage.  I was dissociative, so often doubted my version of events anyway; but he encouraged me to doubt things by twisting them back onto me, and playing a totally different role in public.  This situation reminds me of a quote from the book Dragonslippers: This is what an abusive relationship looks like:

‘You know, it’s interesting…work…politics…. It’s really so easy to control other people. You just have to cause dysfunction. Once someone feels insecure, you can do anything you want with them.’

This was said by the abuser within Rosalind Penfold’s relationship.  I entered the relationship with my ex-husband already insecure… all he had to do, was to keep me in that place and he could do whatever he wanted.  That’s why my attending therapy was seen as such a threat, and why he enjoyed my dysfunction so much.

I’m glad that I’m now physically free of him… I just wish that I was psychologically free as well.

Now playing: Headless Chickens – George
via FoxyTunes


I’m often curious how others perceive me.  At work this past week, I’ve been used as a manager, mediator, problem-solver and substitute therapist… yet every night as I left work, I had to fight the vivid thoughts of suicide.  Am I really that good at hiding my internal chaos, that people don’t see the stress that I am under; or do they not care?

The nature of my dissociation, means that I can compartmentalise and hide the chaos.  Just like everyone else, I have a “work face” that I present to those around me.  But even with each “face” we present to the world, things show through.  Over the last three months, my eating has become more of a problem… to the point that my jeans are now, literally, falling off me.  Isn’t that a visual clue of the chaos that is going on behind the scenes?  Yet, no one mentions it… making it like a dirty secret that exists in plain sight.

I became curious about this, after reading We must see past what it seems… a post about Melody’s struggles after her husband suffered a brain injury, and they were forced to sell many of their possessions.  When they put their farm equipment up for sale on their property, a neighbour complained about the eyesore it created… Melody’s husband response –

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

When did society, as a generalisation, stop caring about the people around them?  I know the research behind the disintegration of the community, and the individualisation of the population… I get that… but it also makes me sad, and more than just a bit frustrated.

In her blog post, Melody asks what would happen if we each wore a sign which told of the struggles and fears we are facing.  Would seeing such a sign change the way in which we act towards each other?  I’d like to think it would, but would it?  For a start, would the signs we wore be honest?  Part of the reason why we have a “work face”… “party face”… “school face”… etc, is so that we can protect ourselves a little from the harshness of the world, and to fit into the group that we find ourselves in.  So would you want to wear a sign saying “I’m going through a painful divorce” (one of the signs on Melody’s blog post), in all of those situations?  I doubt that many of the signs we would wear would be G rated, or appropriate in all situations.

So what is the alternative?  One of the big things for me, is something as simple, and complex, as respect.  If we respect each other, then we don’t need to wear any signs, because we’ll be treating each other as individuals with unique needs, wants and problems.  We’ll be seeing each other… really seeing each other.  Seeing past the protective sarcasm, to the hurt underneath.

Of course, if we did this all the time, or were particularly empathetic, then our emotional reserves would be constantly running on empty… but I do think there’s a balance.  I think we can treat each other with respect, without losing ourselves in the process.  I once read a story about a domestic abuse survivor who used to go to her children’s weekly sporting events with evident bruises… she said that many of the people there would look at the bruises, and some would come up and ask why she didn’t leave her partner, even offer to help her leave.  But the one person who made the difference, approached her, and simply said “I’m here if you ever want to talk”.  There was no judgements or advice, just a respectful opening.  There was no promise of help, or saving the woman, but a respectful, gentle opening of a door.

It’s this sort of respect that can change lives.

How many times when you were a child, did an adult get down to your level, and really communicated with you?  I don’t remember one incident of that happening to me, and maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything… but maybe it would have… who knows?

Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Deciphering me
via FoxyTunes

Protected: An open wound

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below: