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…

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Now playing: Enya – Only time

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.

Sinking… no, sunk

Ever notice how easy it is to lose track of the days, weeks, months… years?  At times it scares me.  I know that the mother visited for three weeks.  I know that when she was here, we had several lunches at The Coffee Club; went to two 3D movies (I think Tangled was one of them); I brought her a new camera; and we went to a nearby town where I purchased a small gift for a friend.  The only reason I know all of that, is I have the bank statements to follow my trail.  I’ve no idea what happened on the days when I might have used cash – that’s one of the reasons I never carry cash on me.

According to my computer, it’s now 10.22am on Wednesday, 12th of January.  Isn’t that strange?  What happened to December and the previous 11 days of January?  I really don’t remember – I have some vague, disjointed images of that time, but not many.

I know friends have been struggling.  I know there have been bereavements, Christenings, excited moments over hope for new life, humour in odd things… yes, I remember more about the lives of the people I consider friends, than I do my own.  I don’t know if that is a dissociative feature, or just some weird thing that happens just to me; but sometimes it does my head in.  Sometimes, it acts as an anchor in my own life.  I use the theory that I can’t be insane, or totally stupid, if I can remember a conversation that was important to someone else.

This time loss, is one of the reasons why I have the next four days off work.  I’m sinking.  Well actually, I sunk a little while ago, and I’ve only just realised it…  I always was a bit slow on the uptake.

On Monday I went to work and said that I needed the rest of the week off.  My team leader and manager were supportive; so here I am, in the kiddie pool of life, getting my balance back.

I spent Tuesday sleeping… I went from getting 1-3 hours of sleep per night, to sleeping 8 hours straight, and then sleeping on and off for the rest of the day.

Today, I’m going to go take photos.  My aim… to reconnect with the moment.  I’ve lost too many moments lately.

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Now playing: Missy Higgins – Where I Stood
via FoxyTunes

Ties that comfort, ties that bind…

These are two lines from the song I will not let you down by Don McGlashan.  This song has been going through my head all day, just little snippets…

You must try to believe
That I will be coming through

I have carried my cross at each step
Upon my neck for you

There’s a tear in my eye
And an ocean of swallowed pride

Ties that comfort
Ties that bind

And I will not let you down
I will not let you down
That’s for sure

I will not let you down
I will not let you down
Any more

Today, these snippets mean a great deal to me.  I’ve just finished one of the worst weekends I’ve had regarding self-injury since before the ex-husband left.  I’ve done many things which I’m not proud of, or can even fathom.  I’m still shaking and trying to work through what happened.  But the lines “Ties that comfort, Ties that bind” got me thinking… wondering about how much I hold onto this self-injury, destructiveness and my mental health diagnoses.

The weekend of self-destruction started on Friday when I was triggered by a couple of incidences which lead to me to repeat the old patterns of needing to please people – in particular the ex-husband.  It didn’t matter that he is no longer present in my life, it was all about finding ways to repeat old behaviours and coping mechanisms.  But why did I do this?  The threat of him appearing in my life was minimal to non-existent.  I no longer want him in my life, yet he fills my flashbacks.  These flashbacks and the stress caused by the memories of him, have lead to me not being able to function at work, meant I’ve had to take an increasing amounts of medication and resulted in me losing huge chunks of time.  But I wonder how much of this I have brought on myself?  There is a certain comfort in being able to explain away my behaviour to his influence and abuse…  What if I’m using all of this as a convenient excuse to get away with inappropriate behaviours?

I read a comment recently from a fellow survivor, they said that they can’t stand those who aren’t actively working on their issues… Those that use the past as an excuse, rather than a cause for healing.  This sort of argument has always worried me – whose to say that I am doing enough in this healing journey?  What if I am wallowing in self-pity and excuses?  Whose yardstick am I being measured against?  What does the yardstick even look like?  It’s the sort of argument that I’ve heard several times, but it does my head in.  I’ve been judged all my life, now I’m healing and I’m still being judged?  When does the judging end?

Another comment that hit close to the bone, was a good friend saying to me that I wasn’t sounding like the survivor he knew.  He’s right (you usually are Paul), I wasn’t a survivor over the weekend… I was a battered victim… like an addict looking for their next fix of self-harm.  All adult knowledge of consequences went out the window.  At times I could hold it together, but these were short lived.  The nights were especially difficult… looking for the ex-husband in each shadow… looking for ways to hurt myself and undermine all the work that I had been doing.  It wasn’t a deliberate attempt by any one within the system to cause harm, it was me coping in the only way I knew…  But what if the only way I knew was perpetuating that tie that binds me to this place of being a victim?  I know the role of being a victim… there’s a comfort in fulfilling a role I know well… so how tied am I to it?  How much of my energy is spent in ensuring I stay there?  I’d like to say that it’s not a great deal, but I just don’t know.

I know that I’m bound to the past in many ways… flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms indicate that.  My healing is aimed at breaking these binds.  This weekend, I failed.  I failed myself, the dissociative system and the people around me who count on me to be a survivor.  My trust in those around me and myself has been seriously shaken.  I’ve come out of this weekend distrustful and scared of people again.  I hate that this has happened.  I hate that I’ve put a great dent in my healing.  I’ve come out questioning everything about my motivations and what I am doing…  Is this healing really working?  Why am I doing this?

I know these are all questions that I need to ask Liz… but I fear she will give me an answer that is meant to soothe, rather than be truthful.  I fear that I have become comfortable in the role of a victim and that those ties are keeping me in this place.  I worry that being a victim has become my identity and way of life… I know that my life is so restricted by the different triggers that I sometimes can’t see past it.  I know that some of the things Liz suggests to change in my life, I can’t do… or I explain that I’ve already tried them and failed.  I’m not very good at giving things a second go, if I fail once, then I’ve often failed forever… especially when it comes to my healing work.  I cut myself very little slack in that area… is that another sign that I’m tied to being a victim?  I just don’t know anymore…

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Now playing: Cat Stevens – Where Do The Children Play?
via FoxyTunes

A denial sort of day…

Last week I knew that I was going to talk to Liz about denial.  In many ways I see my denial as attention seeking – like I’m wanting Liz (or whomever) to say “of course it happened” or “you’re right, it didn’t happen and you’re just attention seeking”.  It feels manipulative to be in denial, like I’m playing games.  But then, when I’m in the denial, it seems as if I’m playing games when I say that the abuse happened.  It’s an awful place to be in.  You have the clarity to see your actions in the past and you judge those actions, every word or behaviour is analysed and destroyed.  As a perfectionist, I’m my own worst critic, so nothing is spared.

Liz questioned me as to why this was happening now, when 2 weeks ago I said that I needed to turn and face the past, instead of continuing to run from it.  I’m not sure of the answer to that question.  I think it is partly due to the stress that I’m faced with – wedding anniversary, disastrous visit from my mother, yearly performance review at work, etc.  Objectively I understand that I may be stressed and this is what has caused the denial/lock-down, but I don’t get any sense of being stressed.  When I’m like this I don’t feel much of anything, sort of like I’m on auto-pilot.

In order to sort through some of the issues, Liz said that I needed to try and re-frame the anniversary into a new context as a way of trying to move forward.  We were nearly out of session time, so this was very much a passing comment.  I know what she means, but this year it was impossible to do.  I’m not aware of any real reaction, other than losing great chunks of time.

I almost broke through the denial yesterday by listening to Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, but it didn’t last.  As it’s a long weekend in New Zealand, I’m not seeing Liz this week.  Possibly the wrong time to have an interruption in sessions, but it couldn’t be avoided.

I’m dreading looking at the dissociative walls again – whether it be to knock them down, or to reinforce that they never existed to begin with.  I know that this is not a positive place to be in, but I’m not sure how to move beyond it.  I also know that living like this is full of contradictions…  How can I be losing chunks of time and not be dissociative?  How can I have no personal history beyond newspaper headlines and not be dissociative?  It’s confusing and yet meaningless all at once, for when I’m like this, I only live in the present moment with headlines as reminders of what I need to do.

It feels very odd and very normal all at once.

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Now playing: Sting – Fields of Gold
via FoxyTunes

Once upon a time…

Note: This post could be triggering, please read with care.

There was once a little girl who got hurt by the people who should have taken care of her.  This experience taught her about keeping secrets, packing the bad things into containers inside her head and to forget about most of the bad things altogether.  She became good at playing the parts and emotions that were acceptable to those around her.  Compartmentalisation and dissociation became her way of life.

As this girl grew, the dissociative walls became higher and more entrenched.  Her core beliefs were that she was a nuisance, stupid and ugly.  But she wasn’t a victim.  Oh no, she knew that bad stuff had happened, but she believed that it happened to every little girl, and no one else seemed to be complaining.  So when the girl became a woman and met a nice man, she didn’t tell him about the bad stuff; instead she listened to his stories of being abused by his sister when he was a boy.  She didn’t understand how that could have happened to this seemingly big, strong man.  It made him cry and she comforted him.

So began, what would become 8 years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse for that woman – me.

In many ways, the man came into the relationship more honest and open than we did.  He said he’d been abused, we didn’t. We got so caught up in his past that we didn’t say anything about ours – we didn’t really consider it that bad or worthy of talking about anyway.  Abuse was what we had come to expect.  So when he raped us for the first time, we dissociated it away and considered it normal.  Besides, he was good to us – he gave us flowers, cooked for us and treated us with a form of delicate care (when in front of other people) we’d never experienced before.

A pattern developed over time, he would have a crisis of some sort and we would save him.  He needed us to be strong, so we were.  We were hardly innocent within this scenario.  The woman at work used to feel sorry for him as we appeared to pick on him and order him around.  I can understand why they would get this impression – he needed to be saved and we needed to be a saviour.  The weaker he became within his work and mental health, the stronger we had to be, and the more he would abuse us when no one was looking.  The strength we showed to the world was one of us organising our world to gain some control.  When we got behind closed doors there would be a dissociative switch to one who enjoyed the pain that he inflicted sexually and physically.  He became good at triggering our switches, so we built the walls inside our internal house higher and stronger.

About four years into the relationship, we were in a side impact car accident.  We sustained a mild concussion.  In that one instant, our lives changed forever. Our coping mechanisms fell apart.  Suddenly we were weak.  Suddenly he had to be strong, but he wasn’t able.

He had been intermittently seeing different therapists over the years, but had never seen one for more than three sessions.  They were always useless or changing their fees or playing games…   We realised we were in trouble and started counselling again.  He began to self-injure, often in front of us or because of us.  He was fired from his job for assaulting a supervisor.  We tried to be strong, but were slowly falling apart.

He got a job as a security officer – a job where he could “get some respect”.  We also changed jobs.  But nothing fixed the things that were happening in each of our heads or in that house.  We were two people who had serious mental health issues crashing into each other.  We became suicidal and were regularly assessed for danger, always to be released back into the care of the strong man who was now our husband.

On the 9th of February 2008, we attempted suicide.  It wasn’t our most serious attempt, but it landed us in A&E and then the secure psychiatric ward.  On the 10th of February 2008, the strong man took us home.  What followed is blurry, but I know M made a smart arse remark to him about how he needed to grow up.  He then showed us how strong he was by trying to kill us.  His level of violence scared him and he called our mother, screaming that he’d done it this time and it was all over.  The mother thought he’d killed us.  When she talked to us, she asked if we wanted someone to come up to be with us.  Sophie said “yes”.  With our family there, he couldn’t cope with what had happened, so left the house on the 14th of February 2008.

Looking back, I can see how our different issues collided to cause what happened.  If he’d married someone who wasn’t dissociative, this probably wouldn’t have happened.  We were so conditioned for abuse, if it hadn’t been him, it would’ve been someone very similar.  Could we have ever made it work?  I doubt it.  He was not interested in healing.  He paid lip-service to therapy, but wasn’t prepared to invest the time and energy.  I was too defensive and in deep denial.  I wasn’t prepared to heal myself, instead I was so caught up in his problems that he was all I could see.  My life became about fixing him.  He has refused to attend the court ordered counselling as part of the Protection Order, so I don’t think he’ll ever heal.  I hope he does and proves me wrong…

The following clip is one we did a year ago to try to work through the events surrounding the marriage.  It may trigger.

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Now playing: Powderfinger – Sunsets (acoustic)
via FoxyTunes

I'm thick!

Yup, I’m thick.  I might be intelligent, but I’m still as thick as a thick thing on a thick day.  I’ve been a dissociative, anxiety ridden wreck for the last week and had no idea why.  I thought it was just S acting out that was causing me to lose so much time.  It’s only today when I was at the supermarket check-out that it clicked… The check-out operator was asking the usual pleasantries about how my day was etc.  Then she asked the big one “Did you do anything special for Father’s Day?”  How in the world could I not connect today with being Father’s Day?  I brought one of the special Father’s Day lotto tickets last week; I’ve seen the Father’s Day card stands in the shops; I’ve seen the advertisements on television; I even thought of buying a camera tripod in a Father’s Day sale.  But for some reason, the words ‘Father’s Day’ didn’t connect correctly in my brain.  Don’t ask me why, but I didn’t associate it with the father and the past.

I don’t know if this lack of connection is a good or bad thing, but it sure helps to explain why I’ve lost most of the week.  It could also explain why S was acting out so violently and challenging the power dynamics within the system.  We were all oblivious to her pain and memories…  I’m so sorry S, please forgive us.

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Now playing: Mad World – Gary Jules
via FoxyTunes
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