Being “evil”…

A couple of months ago, I agreed with Allison that it was time to focus on my disordered eating… Little did I realise, that by agreeing to talk about my eating, it would open the floodgates to my past. Almost as if the agreement was an acknowledgement, or the permission needed, to really start addressing what happened to me…

I’m still trying to comprehend what I’m learning… and it’s not that what I’m sharing in session is necessarily new information, but it’s from a different perspective… I’m not sure how to describe it, other than that there is an emotional connection to those events… That seems like a simple line to read/write… but it’s not… I’ve been left at the end of sessions reeling from the emotional impact of what I’ve just realised…

Some of the realisations are heartbreaking… like discovering that part of the reason I doubt my abuse, is because the different abuse survivor biographies that I have read in an attempt to understand what I experienced, described certain abusive events in a similar way… but, that wasn’t how I experienced them… The literature talked about “fearing death” during the event and provided enough detail that there is horror for the reader; but, it didn’t capture my experience… I wished for death… my body shook, no matter how well I managed to stop the tears, I couldn’t stop my body shaking… There was such confusion over the disconnect between what I read and what I experienced, that I took it as a sign that what I experienced didn’t really happen. I realise that if anyone attempted to publish a book with the details of an abusive event from a visceral perspective, that it wouldn’t be published… no one would be able to read it… the trauma involved in the act of reading the details would be too much…

One of the realisations that I’m really struggling to make sense of, is what it means for me to be evil. I was told from a young age that I was evil for making my abusers do these things to me… so young, that the word became part of my identity… I saw myself as being evil in the same way that I had blonde hair… But, whereas I could see and understand what having blonde hair meant, I couldn’t understand what it meant to be evil, other than it was really bad…

Throughout my childhood, I became more familiar with what being evil meant… Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot… were all examples that I learned about at school. I’m still struggling to comprehend what that meant to my young mind, but I seemed to link the idea of being evil to the ability to “make” other people do bad things… This makes sense, from the perspective that I was “making” the abusers do things, seemingly against their will… I know it doesn’t cover so many other areas of logic, but I was young and trying to make sense of the world around me…

When the rather warped religious messages that I was taught about evil are added to the mix, a huge source of confusion is created… I now wonder if this is part of the reason that I slowly withdrew from people over time… Why I can’t touch anything that is clean, new, or “perfect”… Why I need to have a clean house… I know it’s not a simple cause/effect relationship, and that there is a myriad of factors which influence my actions; but, are these attempts to combat the dirty evilness that is considered to be within me?

In many ways, I see how I’ve attempted to reject the evil label from my identity, and that I don’t really see it as “fitting” with my identity as a whole… But, the label has been a part of me for so long, that it feels like it will be there forever… A part of me strongly identifies with the concept of being evil, and wears the label like a badge of honour…

This conflict seems to be driving so many of my actions and reactions within the context of my disordered eating… the need to rid my body of the evil… the problem is, I’m trying to rid my body of something that is considered to be part of my identity…

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Now playing: Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars – Safe & Sound

Street

I recently came across a video by James Nares called Street… What struck me about the clip wasn’t its beauty – although it is visually stunning; instead, what hooked me into watching it, was how well it describes a state of dissociation that I sometimes experience.  I consider it a form of derealisation, but this might be inaccurate… it’s a disconnect from the rest of the world… feeling as if I’m there, but standing back from my eyes, observing.  At times it can be a little scary, as it feels as if I have no control over what is happening, and that my actions are running on auto-pilot… other times, that lack of control can be calming, and serene…

If you look at the clip, you’ll notice that there is little connection between the people being filmed, and the camera… no one seems to look into the camera to meet your eye.  This is also an important aspect of my dissociation… an inability to connect with the people around me… a feeling almost as if I’m gliding through the world, totally invisible, even when in plain sight… It feels as if no one can touch me, and I can’t touch anyone…

The slow motion effect shows how it feels as if the world is slowing down, and yet speeding up at the same time… It seems as if everyone is walking around, totally oblivious to the disaster that is about to happen, or the pain that I’m experiencing.  What’s worse, is that I’m incapable of expressing that pain, or imminent disaster, in any meaningful way…

It is often this state of being, that would often lead to the worst of my self-injury…

Self-injury could break through the derealisation, and make the world seem real again… make me seem real again…

The problem is, the self-injury added to the pain that created the derealisation to begin with… it became a self-fulfilling cycle of dysfunction, pain, and confusion.  Thankfully, I’ve managed to stop that form of self-injury… I just wish I could say the same for the disordered eating.

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Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Scarlet

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…

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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.

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Now playing: Seether – Remedy

Forays to the edge, and beyond

You’ve probably heard the sayings, or some variation on them… “healing happens when you go beyond your comfort zone” … “you’re pushing your boundaries” … “you’re working on the ‘edge'” …  They’re phrases that have always been a little eye-roll inducing for me…  I’m not really sure why I find them a bit trite, but I do.  Well, I did…  until I had a bit of a rethink around the whole “edge” concept, mainly because I seem to be hanging out there a little too much lately.

At my workplace, we have an issue with people gossiping, back-stabbing, and generally putting others down.  It’s a fairly equal opportunity activity, where even the two main instigators of the talk, will turn on each other when they’re apart.  As you can imagine, this creates a really welcoming, friendly, and inviting work environment to look forward to every day…

I’ve always known that they’ve talked about me… I mean, if they’re willing to turn on each other, they’re definitely going to talk about me.  But, what I didn’t expect, was to be sitting in the office, when one of the main instigators started talking at the top of her voice… “You know how she can be helpful one moment, and not the next… well she was in one of ‘those’ moods…”   It was obvious that she was backstabbing, and I was pretty sure that I was the target, but I wasn’t certain.  If she hadn’t been talking so loudly, I wouldn’t have heard, or wondered… If we hadn’t interacted earlier in the day, which ended with her walking off in a huff, I wouldn’t have worried… But, I did hear, and I was aware of our earlier interaction; so, I asked her if she was talking about me…  I could tell from the change in her body language, that she was.  As she walked towards me, she asked if we could talk outside…

We talked for about half an hour… it was awful.

I’ve told a couple of people about what happened, and they’ve said that they were proud of me for asking her the question, and then continuing to talk to her… My view is slightly different…

I hate that I spoke up… I hate that she wanted to talk outside… I hate that I had to rush from that talk, to an Eating Disorder Services appointment… I hate that I was seen… I hate it; and as an extension of that, hate me.

How dare I be so bold as to ask such a question?  How dare I think that I deserved an answer?  How dare I even exist!

Haven’t I learned anything by now… the only solution, is to be invisible!!

This was me going beyond my comfort zone, or working on the edge.  It was uncomfortable and destabilising.  What was interesting, was my reaction to being in that place… When I was talking with my co-worker outside, I placed all of the blame on myself; and then after the incident, I waited for the repercussions.  When I was young and dared to speak out, or tried to defend myself; the consequences could be catastrophic… parts of me still expect similar negative results today.  I found myself becoming more and more anxious as the days went by… I kept looking for the consequences.  I began to think that the only solution was to self-injure, in order to get the consequences “out-of-the-way” and get everything firmly back within my control again.  I know that may sound counter-intuitive, and even silly; but, it seemed the only way to ease the tension that kept building.

I realise that this was me challenging different aspects of my reactions… I would usually remain silent, rather than ask a question; and I would do almost anything to avoid a confrontation.  But this time, I acted differently.  I wasn’t aware of doing it consciously, practising what I would say, or any of those other things that are often talked about when “working beyond your comfort zone”…  Instead, it felt like I was driven to pose the question.  I think a part of me was hoping that she wasn’t talking about me…  I really don’t like to be thought of in a negative way, and to hear it vocalised so loudly, was awful.

The thing is… even if I’d stayed silent, I would have beaten myself up.  A part of me assumed that I was the target, and felt the resulting wound.  As I assumed it was about me, I would have felt the need to self-punish anyway… So, I was in a no-win situation in the short-term.  But, if I look at it from a long-term point of view; challenging those boundaries, edges, or whatever you want to call them… is where the healing is going to happen.  I asked a question; and while there was short-term awfulness, there wasn’t the catastrophic consequences that there were in the past…  That’s a really positive challenge to those old beliefs.  I know it will take more incidents similar to this before I really believe that the punishing consequences won’t suddenly happen again… but, that’s about learning by experience.

I know that is a positive thing… but, I also feel sadness about having to relearn so many things…

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

Connections and control

During the past week, I’ve had periods of feeling “good”… I’ve felt as if I’m together, emotionally consistent, and as if I can do this thing called life.  It’s at these times, that I wonder what all the fuss is about regarding my mental health.  I don’t remember the periods of disconnect, and everything seems to be going really well…  But then, someone tells me of something that happened a few hours previously, and I have no recollection of it.  I sort of know the event happened, but I have no connection to it, and don’t remember it as something “I’ve” done.  This throws me into confusion… am I being consistent now, or then?  Am I in denial?  Am I attention seeking?  I’m left wondering what’s going on…

It seems more and more as if my life is becoming a series of sound bites.  Each bite is disconnected from the previous one; but could be connected to one that occurred yesterday, or last week…  It’s all very confusing, and yet not.  That’s the odd thing about it all…  part of me thinks that there should be some panic about my functioning, but I don’t feel it.  Sometimes, I’ll feel a sense of confusion… but, its minor.  The disconnect seems to be minimising the emotional impact of it all, thereby increasing my apathy.

Yet, despite saying that I’m disconnected, I’ve had times of great connection.  Last Friday, there was a major rugby game played in town; because I talked to a friend, I left work a little later than usual, so met the rugby-bound traffic, and people walking to the stadium.  I was blind-sided by terror and flashbacks… memories of the past overwhelmed me.  I immediately started to look for ways to escape, and self-injure.  But then, I thought of the potential impact my actions might have on others… how would the friend that I was talking to after work react if they found out that I got hurt?  Would they connect my staying after work to talk to them, with my self-injury?  Would it hurt them to know that I was hurt?  I’ve often thought of the implications that my actions might have on others, so this line of thinking isn’t new… but, there was a different impact this time.

While thinking of my friend had an impact, the bigger realisation came by looking at the crowds walking to the stadium.  There was a high number of families amongst the crowd, many with children aged about 10 years, and above.  As I saw these children, I realised how small they were… walking in amongst these crowds, they looked so defenceless.  The adults were watching the children… making sure that they stayed with the family, that they watched traffic as they crossed the road… “normal stuff”.  But, that “normal stuff” is something that I don’t remember as a child.  I remember being alone.  I remember being taken places.  I wasn’t interacted with,  I was just “there”, left to my own devices.  Some would say that this encouraged independence, resilience, and all those good things… that may well have some merit, but it also taught me that I was alone in the world, that I couldn’t ask for help, and that no one would protect me.  The children in this crowd were different… they had families who seemed to protect them.  But the thing that continued to affect me, was their size… so small and defenceless… how could anyone that small stop the abuse?  I realised that if I self-injured, ones within the system who were smaller than the children amongst the crowd, would be hurt.  No matter how tough these ones say they are, and act… they are smaller than these children in front of me.  There’s no way that I would allow any of these children in front of me to be hurt, so why was I willing to allow myself to be hurt?

I decided that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, allow the self-injury.  Anger towards myself, and my friend, hit…  I was removing the only way that some within the system get relief from the confusion and pain.  It’s now a week later, and I’m still feeling the impact…  There is a need to isolate and escape from the emotions stirred up last week.  Those emotions have been fuelled by the weekly stresses occurring within my life (work, family, etc).  When I look at it like this, the sound bite life, makes sense…  it’s the old way of coping with events that are beyond my control, or ability to deal with.  I know that a large part of my current state is due to a sense of control, or a perceived lack of control.  When I was a child, I felt the illusion of control through my solitary, insular existence… part of me is so very desperate to get that feeling back.