The Elephant

WARNING: This contains some specific references to childhood sexual abuse and integration with regards to DID/MPD. Consider speaking with your p-doc or mental health go-to before proceeding. Take good care.

**********

I’ve been ruminating over what’s happening to me through this recent therapy.
I mean, of course i have – duh. What else does one do when one is getting their head shrunk?
I’m navel-gazing.

I’ve been in the hospital twice since getting back into therapy this last fall. Nothing as glamourous as being placed in a soft room wearing a sweater with extra long sleeves that tie up in the back.
Just detox.
Not at all pretty, with no romantic wash of the tortured poet.
Just a woman whose demons are so terrifying and whose memories so fantastically ugly that i’ve been hiding in the oblivion of alcohol.

Alcohol and drugs were used to keep me compliant as a child.
I won’t go into lurid detail, but
— Here, drink this —
** SMILE **

As an adult i didn’t have much use for it.
I mean, i could party, but i didn’t much care for the blotto, head-hanging-over-the-toilet, devastating hangover the next day, sort of drinking i saw in others.
I was the one who held your hair out of your face.
I was the one who made sure you got home.

Then came my devolution.
A sweet social worker in service to a crazy pastor at the cuckoo church i was attending was finally able to convince me of my multiplicity.
I fell in love with and married a beautiful atheist.
I freaked right the fuck out and promptly gained over 200lbs.
I had weight loss surgery and lost it all plus more.

And then i had my first bipolar mania, and i discovered booze.
Food and fat had been my medication and my protection, keeping the pain and the fear and the people who live with me in my brain at bay.
When that fell away, i felt completely exposed and vulnerable – but of course i lacked that insight at the time. All i knew was everyone thought i was beautiful and sexy and wanted to be close to me and give me things.
Mostly attention.
Sexual attention.

I was easily lured into working in the entertainment industry. I’d had some experience as a child and enjoyed some success. My mother’s abuse and neglect of me, coupled with her own dysfunction and envy/jealousy, made certain i never got very far with it. I’d get involved in something, get noticed, get offered opportunities, and she’d either put the kibosh on them straight away, or we’d be moving soon to escape creditors/social workers anyway.

But the problem was i wasn’t a child anymore, and my system hadn’t been more than minimally active for a long, long time.

I was quite unprepared to be struck with crippling stage fright. My job came to the rescue because it revolved around making sure people spent money on –yep, you guessed it– alcohol.
Guess what made my stage fright disappear?
Guess what made all the sexual attention i got tolerable, even enjoyable?
Guess what took away the fear of being exposed and vulnerable because i no longer took up as much space?

The booze and the mania swept me along for years. I practically abandoned my children and nearly destroyed my marriage. In a brief moment of clarity (sometimes referred to as a DUI), i realised i needed to get away from the place i lived and the industry i worked in.
The geographical change wasn’t the cure, but it made the disease more easily treatable.
This was the place where i finally found a mental health professional i could trust; i could work with her and figure my shit out and get my feet planted firmly on the ground and begin my slow, dogged plodding toward a decent level of function and some semblance of normalcy.

I got to a place where my body, my marriage, my children, and my home, were all in a manageable, reasonably healthy place. I was even handling my system. I was in the face most of the time. There was a bit of sliding around, but not much switching. I’m highly dissociative (naturally, heh), so i was always coping with that as best i could, but there was very little chaos.
Except for relationships outside my husband and children.

While learning to live as a multiple, i either lost or walked away from every friendship i had, and became completely estranged from any family.
Don’t misunderstand – that is not a bad thing. My life is better for it, but i did want some new friends.
The difficulty was i couldn’t do it.
I had absolutely zero experience with making friends. In the past, i’d just fallen into them, or the other person had pursued the friendship and i’d just gone along with it.
I barely knew who i was, let alone how to be myself and make a friend.

It was then i discovered yet another serious mental/emotional problem of mine – social anxiety.
I HAZ IT.
If i’m the engine of my train, i’m pulling plenty of cars, y’all. I carry passenger cars with a profusion of riders, but i’ve also got more than a few hoppers full of a combustible black rock called ANXIETY. It’s fueled nearly every social interaction i’ve ever had.
I’ve always found it difficult to people, but being a multiple at least made it less obvious to me. Being dissociative tamped down the nervousness and dampened the awkwardness.

And being morbidly obese gave me a doctor’s note excusing me from gym class, indefinitely.

When i found myself out and about in the world again, not just without the body armour of fat, but armed with the knowledge that i was my own army…
I was boots on the ground with no lieutenant and no orders.

Once again, alcohol made everything easier.
HA.
Until, of course, it didn’t.
I found a lot of drinking buddies, but no one knew me, and i didn’t know them. That’s certainly not their fault – all the booze did for me was make it easier to hide myself and therefore less scary to be around people. It gave me the illusion of friends.

Speaking frankly (why should i stop now, and also, my name is Shirley), i know folks who navigate that lifestyle well. They meet at the bar for a few drinks after work, sometimes they get loaded on the weekend, they have friends over for supper and they crack open a few beers or uncork some wine… They do these things with their genuine friends who truly know them and their relationships are strong and do not revolve around drinking.

I couldn’t manage my intense fear and crippling social anxiety without it – so i pulled away from everyone and hermitted in my Little Crooked House for years.
Not to hide. Not to avoid.
To do the work required to learn who i am and how to live as functionally as possible as more than one person occupying the same body. To hang out with and get to know my precious Bits N’ Pieces.
To know myself, so that when i was ready to return to real life social interactions, i would be able to stay present, in the face, in my body, and engage with people.
And who knows, maybe make a friend or 2.

I discovered i could socialise without drinking with no problem.
It was a transformative and cathartic experience.
I pursued a friendship with someone who is now my best friend.

So why have i needed hospital help to detox, twice in the last few months?

My childhood experiences taught me that using alcohol made scary situations not-scary.
This new round of therapy i’m in is all about feeling all the things that my abusers gave me alcohol and drugs to not feel.
The fear, the pain, the hopelessness, and awful, terrible aloneness that they visited upon me – over and over and over again, for years and years and years.

So now, while grownup me no longer needs or even wants the crutch of being chemically numbed, there are little scraps and wisps and snippets of lovely little creatures inside me, for whom that is all they know.

On the way to every appointment with my therapist, my throat starts to ache, i feel like i need to puke, to defecate, my genitals burn.
I sit in a chair in her office with my legs tucked up underneath me and a pillow clutched tightly against me, covering my girl parts – so i won’t run. So i can sit there with her and ride out the pain and the abject terror.

So that i might be more than just in control of the way my brain works.
So that i might be more than just the Captain of this ship of fools.
So that i might be more than just able to function in the world, on the world’s terms.

So that i might be 1 engine
1 retired soldier, a celebrated veteran of a war long over
1 beautiful tapestry with all the threads intricately and astoundingly woven together
1 song, with a thousand voices in perfect unison
Kintsugi
Not just to navigate the world, but to be a living, breathing, integral part of the world.

It’s excruciating work for me, let alone for children. These programmed, invaluable wee ones want their medication. Numbness. Oblivion.
And i have been overwhelmed and exhausted by this process and unable, and yes, often unwilling, to resist their demands.

Today i am detoxed and sober* and renewed.
Sometimes it takes me a long time to learn something, but by sticking with this process i believe i have arrived at a place of relatively calm acceptance of what i’m currently doing and what is coming.
I have gained purchase and am slowly inching towards my centre.

This is the unvarnished truth of it.
It’s enough for me. In fact, i don’t want it any other way, anymore.

Love and Peace Always,
~H~

*Respectfully, i’d ask that there be no 12-step commentary, plzkthx.

X-Rays and Asian Supermarkets

There are opportunities even in the most difficult moments.
~ Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Yesterday was an adventure, and since i’m trying to write through this tough period rather than after, i’mma tell you about it.

I have myriad health concerns, mental and physical. There’s both nature and nurture involved in them, which i suspect is true for many of us. For me, the primary physical issue has quickly become my back. I was morbidly obese for many years, which i’d guess is a large part of the problem, if not all, but at this point, i don’t know. What i do know is that after i lost most of the excess, i could hear my back making some noise, but i thought it was normal for someone of a more average weight. Over the last, say 6mos or so, the cracking and popping has become much more frequent, and in the last 6wks, downright painful. I saw my doctor, who ordered a series of x-rays. I went to my local hospital for them yesterday.

The preamble to my adventure is significant. I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to be around people as i delve into this deeper level of therapy. Listening to my body, learning to read its signals, does not come naturally to me. I survived the abuse i suffered in childhood by turning off physical sensations and hiding in my brain. As an adult i’ve continued this practise, mostly due to a combination of not being fully conscious that i’ve been living this way, and being regularly triggered by the sorts of events and occurrences that happen to us all.

Attempting to stay present, and by that i mean not dissociate, and check in to my body’s reactions to what is going on around me is scary AF, and takes a great deal of energy. Even going through the checkout at a grocery store can be difficult. I’m known at every store i frequent (there’s one where i’m not, but it’s too bloody expensive, and i probably know people who work there too, anyway), and so i’m going to have to make some kind of small talk.

NOTE: Look, i know i don’t technically have to say anything, but beyond that, yeah, i kinda do. These are decent, hardworking people, who have their own lives going on at home, too. They may be in the weeds as well, but i don’t know about it because they’re in customer service, and so they put on a nice smile and ask how i’m doing. They may not actually give a crap, but i wouldn’t know that either because they’re damn good at their job. I don’t want to pass through that till without a single word. Even if i just tell them the truth and say that life stinks right now, i’m going to have some kind of verbal interaction with them. They see me every week. They perform a service for me very well. They’ve been unfailingly nice to me, and so that’s that – conversation is gonna happen.

Now comes the case where it’s not necessary. Heh.

My favourite grocery store is in the city, which is some distance from where i live. It’s my favourite because it’s an Asian supermarket, and because i’m not required to act the same way as i am in my small town offerings. Many of the customers speak broken English at best, and i am Amazon-sized and don’t speak their language at all, so small talk simply doesn’t happen very often. The cashiers don’t speak to me except to say Thank you! when they hand me my receipt. It’s fucking glorious.

I had an opportunity to go on Sunday, and it had been a couple of months, so there were things i needed that i can only get there, like the seaweed snacks we like for a reasonable price, and roasted soybean flour, and yellow rock sugar, and 2X spicy chicken volcano ramen. My husband and son had business in the city, so they dropped me off first, that i might take my time there, as is my wont. I love looking at all the different food choices, and i love trying new things, and i lovelovelove that i don’t have to talk to anyone – they don’t even expect me to say Excuse me, or Sorry! (although i still do – i’m Canadian, okay?)
I thought it would be the perfect venue for peopling and being present in my body, because it’s the least stressful.
But i have never been there on a weekend. On the weekend i am not the only non-Asian in the store. With my friendly face (it’sacursejustkiddingimostlylikeit) and my cart full of items that say i can cook more than ramen and pre-made bao buns, i’m getting approached. A lot. When a woman actually taps. me. on. my. shoulder. i’m done.

My wa is shattered, i’m dissociating. I can feel my face going numb and the edges of my vision blurring. I help her, and then my shopping is over. I can’t even walk down any more aisles, i just hit the checkout line, pay and get out. It’s when i walk out of the store and into the general mall area that my numbness breaks enough to tell me that i can’t carry my purchases much further. My back is making grinding noises and i’ve got to go sit down. I find the food court area and sit with my back to a makeshift wall, behind which an Asian man is selling mobile subscriptions, and a crotchety old white dude is pontificating on how he gets his for 30 bucks cheaper and would prove it if he could find his Blasted bill that’s in here somewhere, dang it! I don’t think the salesman understands him very well, and the old man leaves, exasperated. It’s enough of a distraction that i’m able to chuckle to myself, which grounds me and i’m able to fill out my body a little better. I flow back into the empty spaces and i can feel my feet on the floor. I’m still feeling sketchy though – i can see other people glancing sideways at me, which lets me know i’m probably ticcing a fair bit. I text the hubs to come get me.

Once i’m home and ensconced for the night, i start worrying about how in the actual frickety-frack i’m gonna go get these x-rays at my local hospital where i know the receptionist and i’m bound to run into others as i go through the intake that’s stationed right at Emerg. I barely sleep.

<insertBLARGHhere>

In the morning, the plan is for my husband to drive me to the gas station where he gets fuel for himself (COFFEE!) and his vehicle, and i’ll walk the rest of the way to the hospital. It’s a fair distance, but i love to walk, and have been itching to get back at it since i broke my ankle last November. My back should be fine, as it only starts making crunchy noises when i bend over or swivel my hips a lot.

I’ve barely gone 100yds before sciatic nerve pain starts shooting down both legs. My tenuous hold on my brain breaks immediately. I love walking, and so do my Bits N’ Pieces. I’ve used it as the foundation of my physical fitness, and a healthy way to cope with depression. It’s taken some work, because as a child i was programmed to return “home” at the first sign of trouble, and when i switch, the first thing i’m likely to do is hit the road walkin’, but i’ve found a way to make it fun and therapeutic for my whole system. To lose the walking when i’ve been waiting and hoping for months is crushing, and i start to cry…

I open my eyes and i’m no longer outside. I’m sitting in my girlfriend’s living room, and i’m still crying. Well, how about that, eh? I’m an old hand at pretending i’m fine. I’ve come back to the face many times when no one has had any idea that i was even gone. I mean, most people don’t know i’m a multiple, so for them, they may notice i’m behaving a bit strangely, but probably not even that. People are incredibly self-focused (no judgment here) and have no idea what i’m doing or going through, and don’t much care. And the healthier i get, the more i appreciate the ignorance of others. I’ve gone from this incredibly broken and dysfunctional person, who desperately wanted someone to notice and HELP ME! to a relatively normally functioning woman who’s grateful to be unnoticed. That being said, this girlfriend is my closest girlfriend, and she knows me and has seen me both in and out of the face. She’s chased me across the city, around the town we live in, saved me from frostbite, and pulled me from ditches. She’s seen me when it’s been very clear that i am not myself.

And so i tell her it’s me, and she smiles and reassures me that everything’s okay; that i’m okay and she’s okay and fills me in on what i’ve missed. (She picked me up for x-rays and then brought me to her house afterwards.) I cry a little more and then breathe into it, i breathe myself back into those pockets that are empty when i’m not there. The places no one can feel but me – my existential guts and girl parts. I settle in and the ache of fibromyalgia fills my neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and the pain radiating from my lumbar region floods down my buttocks and legs, the kind of back pain that makes a woman feel like she’s menstruating. Ah yes, this is the body i live in, it is home, and i know this place. It’s a fixer-upper, but it’s got hella potential and the renovations are coming along nicely.

My friend takes me home after gently caring for me and making sure i’m all right. Once there i think over the events of the last couple of days and take stock: what happened, how i felt, how i reacted, what did i do right, what could have been done better. I can see that things went fairly well overall, but they could have gone more smoothly had i had clearer communication with my partner, so i text him at work and schedule a talk session. I used to just pounce on the poor man when he came home. I’d be thinking about things for hours and just vomit all my thoughts and feelings about whatever all over him as he’s barely in the door. Heh. I’m far more able to consider him and his thoughts and feelings now, so i give him a heads up.

He picks me up and we go for a short drive, to a place where we have a lovely private view and can talk without interruption. I shared and he responded and shared things too, and i felt heard and understood. Then we went out for a spicy chicken sandwich. Home was quiet and uneventful, and i was able to fall asleep relatively easily.

I woke up though, and it brings me to something i’ve been wanting to explore a little deeper. If all goes well, i’ll post again tomorrow. I know this is long, and a bit plodding, with not much in the way of grand observations and stunning conclusions. However, i think it’s some of the most important stuff i can post, in that it relates the day-to-days of a regular life, lived by a regular person. I have a brain that works in a non-typical fashion, as so many of us do. Life happens, and i try to figure out how to have the best outcomes and get the most enjoyment and happiness that i can, all while also trying to be as useful and good a human as i can manage. This is slogging through the trenches stuff, and i’m doing it. Although your brain may work differently and you may require different coping skills and tweaks, i believe you have a chance to figure your shit out and enjoy a better quality of life, too. I want that for you, very much.

Love and Peace to All,
~H~

The Tide

I have lost my safe space. It took me years to create and it’s gone. Getting acknowledgment of this has been difficult. Creating change can’t happen without it, nor can the work to make things right again be done by only one person. I cannot do the work that i’ve begun in therapy unless i get my safe space back. I must have a place where i can decompress, where i can be broken, where i can be vulnerable with no (reasonable*) fear.

It never rains but it pours.
I was berating myself for the issues people i love have, but i pulled myself out of it relatively quickly, thanks to some recent work i wrote about a couple of posts ago.

Things have been at such a crisis level that i considered putting therapy aside for a while. In crisis, it is my old pattern to dissociate and do what i think i should do. What i was taught to do was care for everyone else’s needs and to only have thoughts and feelings for others. Well, i can think of myself, but only how i’m not good at helping and i’ve caused my loved ones’ troubles. I’m allowed to think about how i’m bad and i’m a failure.

Fortunately, the personal work i’ve done and am currently doing, made stopping therapy like trying to hold back the tide. Can’t nobody do that, not any of me and not any of them.
That tide rushed in and washed it all away like so many children’s sandcastles.
No stopping. No old ways. Clean salt spray and pristine beaches.

My family is involved, so i won’t be going into specifics, only to say that i’ve been asking for change, but alone in the fight for it for a long time. I’ve been feeling so hopeless after therapy, and up until a few days ago, i didn’t connect the 2 things. Here i will point out that all the work i’ve done to learn about myself, to figure out how i work, and how to get healing and happiness, is invaluable. All the credit for figuring this shit out is mine.

Noticing my distress – that part was easy. Heh. Crying, feeling physically numb and emotionally disconnected (dissociating), switching, drinking, taking off, not eating or sleeping.
Looking at how that upset was manifesting, and then turning my eyes and ears inward, to see what my system would show me and hear what my body is trying to tell me. That second part is not so easy for me. It’s terrifying to me and therefore pretty goddamn hard.
My parts feel threatened and don’t like the atmosphere, and my legs want to get me the fuck outta there. It was so simple once i did those things; checked in to my body and was present and fully conscious of my own thoughts. It came pouring out of me in a rush. A relieved, grateful rush. A tidal wave.

Telling my loved ones what i need and calling out things that are unacceptable to me has helped tremendously.
I think i’m coming into the part of my healing where i refuse to tolerate shit anymore. This is a scary, awful time, but i also feel stronger, more powerful. EMPOWERED by my own actions. As soon as i stood up for myself i felt better. Less scared.

Less scared not to be heard.
Less scared not to be understood.
Less scared to be rejected.
LESS SCARED TO BE ALONE.

My loved ones will hear me, and they will work with me until we understand each other. They won’t reject me nor will they leave me. I know that, i truly do, but when i’m not PRESENT and CONSCIOUS and checking in with my system and more importantly now, CHECKING IN WITH MY BODY… Things can get fucked up mighty fast.

I need my safe space back.
My Bits N’ Pieces need my safe space back.
My body needs my safe space back.
I built this space with my heart and my mind and all my hard work and commitment to my love of my family and my desperate desire to love myself. This place is mine and no one can take it from me, and i know no one actually wants to, but it is an incredible feeling for me to be all fired up like this:

No one, whether dear to me or not, can have this space.
I’ll fight any motherfucker.

Until next time, take as good care as you’re able, and i promise to do the same.
Love and Peace,
~H~
* I say “reasonable” because being vulnerable is probably the hardest, most scary thing i have ever done.

Schmozzle

I usually write after the bad stuff has happened, but recently, i’ve been trying to write through it, to open myself up a bit more. I write for me, and for anyone reading this that might find benefit… The days following my last post were decent, i could feel myself settling in to what’s coming in therapy – going deeper and tuning in to the story my body wants to tell me about my childhood. I got back into some regular activities and regimens: housework, hygiene, communicating with family and even a couple of friends. Normalcy, and with it, some peace.

Unfortunately, my physical health has taken a nosedive. I’m in full fibro flareup, which is bad enough, but i’ve got some new issues as well and they’re sapping what little energy i have to cope. I’ve been handling it the way my therapist has encouraged me to, by tuning in to my body and listening to what it’s telling me: i’m hungry feed me, i’m aching rest me, i’m upset soothe me… It’s that last one that i struggle so hard with, though. I got through this last crisis and returned to my schedule, not pushing too hard, but doing my best. If i was too tired, i might skip my nighttime skincare, and i only brushed my teeth perfunctorily, rather than my full 2 minutes, because it was making me retch and triggering me. When sexual activity came up, my body went completely numb, and i heard and honoured the NO.

These are good things and i’m proud to be accomplishing them, but my physical issues are getting so big i’m having trouble hanging on to even this amount of progress. I arranged to see the doctors i need to, but i’ve a week left to wait, and i don’t know where i’m going to find what i need to hang on until then.

Last night i was short-tempered and weepy, and today i hit a wall. I’m panicking about the wait. I’m worried that i can’t hold my system together and function properly until i see my therapist and my doctors. My pain level is too high, and my compulsion to take off and walk is almost too strong to resist. I don’t want to do this anymore.

I’m trying to listen to my body, but i don’t know how. My body terrifies me, and today i’m not sure if i can bear what it wants to share with me. I’m feeling sorry for myself, i know, but goddamnit why do i have to have the mental AND the physical? Haven’t i been through enough?
I feel young and small and i’m stomping around in my head with balled up, chubby little fists, doing that pre-Kindergarten angry cry.
I feel angsty and awkward and my delicate, teenage heart cries crimson tears.
I feel emptiness gnawing inside, a yawning pit where i lay at the bottom and am slowly consumed by the ache of fear.
Any desire or inspiration i have to deal with all the brain stuff, is being steamrolled by all this motherchristing pain. It’s taken 3 1/2hrs to get this much bashed out, and my head is thumping so hard it feels like my skull might pop off.

There is something, though. Writing this has made me calmer. I had to settle down enough to gather together a few words that made sense. This isn’t dissociation either, which is what i’ve been trying to avoid. When things are this tumultuous in my thinking, and then the physical piles on, the temptation to hide in the insensate is strong. It beckons me with the safety of nothingness.

I want to stay present, so i practise mindfulness, which, lemme tell ya, ain’t a helluva lotta fun right now. There’s a whispering behind a door inside me, and it’s practically swelling in its frame with its desire to open for me. I can open that door, go through and disappear for a while. It’s not restful, because the rest of me is still conscious, and my Bits N’ Pieces use up more energy than i do. It’s not safe, because a number of them can, and ohmygod have, gotten me into some dangerous situations.

Behind that door lies nothing.

I step into a void where i stop existing, only to step back, more tired, and often with some kind of mess to clean up. Damaged relationships, sometimes property (although not for a loooong time), almost always my body. Then comes the shame and anxiety, which must be handled carefully. If i’m not careful i can push myself into another hard switch. If i don’t consciously deal with the feelings at all, a switch is likely. Switching is not what i want. I love my people and i’m grateful for their care and protection, but i’m ready, willing, and mostly able to take the reins and drive this wagon full time.

I suspect this is what the next few months are going to look like:

I can do this. It’s gonna be fine.

OMGWTFICANTDOTHETHINGBBQ!!!!

It’s okay. I can do the thing.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

**********

I held onto this over the weekend, because i wanted to make sure that posting it was what i wanted to do. I know it’s not much of anything, because i’m scattered, enough so that, i think, it’s obvious i’m not quite all here. I’ve lost my voice. Whatever it is that identifies my writing as mine has slipped a little. I’m unsettled; rudderless. I’m anxious AF.

I want to edit/rewrite/punchup the entire thing, but i think that’s the wrong way to go. Reading my other stuff and reading this, may give you some insight. This is rambly, it’s trying to say something, but it doesn’t get there. It lacks cohesion.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but i am also currently lacking cohesion.
I’m scattered, and not quite all here.

I know i’m going to get through this and be better when it’s done. I also know there will be times when i’ll doubt that and be afraid i’m going to fail. I know that sometimes the pain and fear will be so intense that i’ll want to stop.
I have learned from being in the weeds many times before, that it will be okay. I will be okay. I lived through the actual experiences, anything after that is at least bearable.

It’s like when i used to smoke marijuana and hashish. Over the years i became more and more paranoid, but i could always handle it, because i knew, based on experience, that the high would end, and the feelings of paranoia were drug-induced.

So, with that in mind i’m going to post this meandering piece of weirdness, because i think it helps illustrate how my brain works. I think it could be a bridge between moments of clarity. How do i get from panic to peace? My brain isn’t always full of pithy observations and poetic imagery. Heh. Sometimes it’s on the mouthbreather setting. I’m fumbling around in here, trying to find meaning, trying to find something solid to stand on…

I’m not having much luck folks, but i’m not overly concerned at this precise moment. I think that writing has been instrumental in getting me from where i was when i first began writing this around 60hrs ago, to here, just about to smack that “publish” button.

This is part of my process. I recognise this place; i’ve been here many times before.
I can do this.

Pithiness will follow.

Image: Convergence, Jackson Pollack

Mind Your Pace

Let us explore it together. Each man hides a secret pain. It must be exposed and reckoned with. It must be dragged from the darkness and forced* into the light. Share your pain. Share your pain with me, and gain strength from the sharing.
~ Sybok, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I figured out that i needed to be back in therapy.
Great. Go me.
There’s not as much sarcasm there as you might imagine. I’ve become conscious/present/mindful enough that i knew something was up before things got seriously problematic.

So I return to my therapist and I find out that i’m an onion, just like everybody else on the planet; I have layers. Whoopee. (Now that was sarcastic.) This is the next level, deeper healing, my body and my brain trying to get back to where it’s supposed to be. I’m cold, so i shiver, i’m hot so i sweat, i’m hungry i eat, i’m tired i sleep, i’m upset, so i soothe.
Except that last one i’m not so good at.

Anytime i’m upset, my system is ready to do its thing. Now, i’ve spent the last few years practising being the head of my inner household, and that’s involved taking the lead as well and as often as i can when i experience anger or fear. It wasn’t easy. Dissociating is something i’ve done since before i could speak, and it’s nearly as reflexive as breathing. I had to learn what triggered it (no problem there – EVERYTHING!) and identify symptoms that sliding was occurring or a switch likely to happen.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness has been absolutely necessary in this process.

For any who aren’t familiar, Google states that mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It’s the least pop-psychology, airy-fairy explanation i’ve found. It’s simple and practical, which often works best for me. My imagination is already over 9000, so something uncomplicated and workable can temper my inner chaos quite nicely.
Learning to turn my awareness inward, and listen to what my body is trying to tell me that it needs is going to increase the degree to which i can function in the world.
I seek fulfillment. I want deeper and more meaningful relationships, with reciprocity. I hope to bring more and better to humanity’s table.

It’s been a bit tricky to find the calm and dispassionate observer inside myself, without switching to a disconnected part of me that i made long ago to perform that function. A desensitised transmogrification i have, because i lacked the ability to stay and do it myself, save under the most benign of circumstances. I could pause and take stock if something physical was going on for me, like a cold, or something gastrointestinal, and i wasn’t too bad at it when my children needed that from me, but beyond that, i don’t think i was in the face for that stuff. Even a small amount of stress and anxiety could mean distance, for me. I might become a numb outlier, frozen in the periphery, watching only, affecting nothing.

I started mindfulness with my therapist, here in my Little Crooked House. At first, i couldn’t even close my eyes, and she had to sit on the far side of the room from me. We began with easy observations, like whether i’m warm or cold, am i hungry, do i have a headache today, how’s my fibro pain… I could feel the calm flowing in just from an easy, surface check-in. I’ve always found these psychological exercises difficult – i can become snarky and eye-rollish. I feel extremely uncomfortable because my mother was into every new therapy that came around, and she expected me to perform for whatever group she was trying to fit into at the time. She wasn’t using these tools to deal with her issues and make a better life for us, she used the people in these groups for attention, for pity, for money. She also had a deep disdain for the practitioners of these various methods. I picked up that scorn and still struggle with it, every time my counsellor brings up something new.
Besides, it never did anything for my mother except make her more dangerous, so my reflex response is usually to cringe and call bullshit.

The breakthrough came in the shower. The bathroom is the most triggery room in the house for me, and i’ve had to fight to develop decent, regular hygiene. It’s not just a reminder of abuse, but also of its aftermath. And there are always mirrors, which are a delicate business. I always dissociate to some extent when i look in one. Touching my face, touching my body, toileting, all these daily activities that occur in the bathroom are minefields for me even when i’m doing well.

One day i’d had enough of feeling scared and repulsed every time i shower. I decided to use what i was learning in therapy. I felt the warm water on my skin. I felt my feet touching the bottom of the tub. I could smell soap. I looked at the shower curtain that i’d bought at the store because the colour calmed me. I reminded myself that i’m not a child anymore, and the people who hurt me in the bathroom are either dead or no longer in my life. My husband wouldn’t allow any of them to get near me. I’m big now and able to defend myself. I like being clean and smelling nice, because it makes me feel normal and capable and strong and grown up.

It worked. I can stay in the shower for longer than 10mins now. I can take hot showers if i want to, and talk myself through it if i get freaked out. I don’t even lock the door anymore. A few years of bathroom mindfulness later and i can stand naked in front of the mirror after showering and do my skincare regimen. I still recede a little to wash my face and do my makeup – but i don’t have to leave anymore and let someone else do it. I never thought i’d be able to use the bathroom like a regular person.

Mindfulness is an effective coping skill whenever i use it, but i still need lots of practise. I’ve brought it into my eating habits with great success. I ask myself if i’m hungry and check in with my body. If i don’t feel it physically, i try not to eat. (I will occasionally allow myself to soothe with food, but it’s rare.) I also try to eat at the table, especially when i’m alone, so i’m conscious of how much i’m eating. It’s also easier to catch myself if i’m gobbling it down. Then i remember that i’m no longer a child going through extreme poverty, nor am i being punished or rewarded with food. I’m a grown woman who has a full refrigerator and a stocked pantry. My mother’s dead and can never starve me again.

Social situations are where i still struggle to use mindfulness. It’s difficult to stop myself from shifting to automatic when i’m around people, but when i do the benefits are amazing and deeply impactful. Some friends actually ask if they can touch me now, and although i’ve come far enough along that i’m mostly okay with physical contact, being asked my permission heals broken parts of me on the deepest level. It gives my system a sense of safety they’ve never had, but desperately wanted. I’ve got a long ways to go, but peopling productively and successfully will require no less than my lifetime i reckon, so i’m reconciled to the work. I love people, and the better i get at being around them, the easier it will be to show them how much.

I brought up mindfulness because i believe it’s part of the reason i lost time on Thursday. The thing about it that’s perhaps the hardest part for me, is that it requires me not to be numb (freeze). I’ve got to find that sweet spot where i’m fully present in my body, but not being swept away by my emotions or overwhelmed by physical sensations, where fight/flight can kick in. I must venture out from the graveyard where my brain hides, and be manifest among the living. To not only see but to be seen.

This will take time and effort, which i knew, but there was a piece missing. My therapist had been gently trying to show me, week after week, but i kept missing her point.
I’ve done all this work over the years, all this incredibly hard work. And it took maximum effort and total commitment. It was arduous, but i did it assiduously. Some of it was nothing short of brutal. I can do time and effort.

So i came into this a little puffed up. I have accomplished a lot, and i figured that i was so experienced at this kind of inner work, that i was gonna power through it and just get it done. My childhood was hellish and i survived. I live with a bunch of other people in my brain and i make it work. I got this.
My body seeks homeostasis, so i must establish a baseline? Okay, lemme jus’ go back to my therapist for a few sessions, she’ll tell me what i have to do, i’ll do it – boom. Done.

I’m having trouble writing some transitional sentences to get you to the point i’m trying to make. I think my difficulty is a reflection of where i’m at with this bit of information. The knowledge that i can’t push or power through this next bit of treatment. This foul chunk of reality that i must chew and swallow if i want my dessert. It chased me right out of my own damn face.
I have to be mindful while i go through the traumatic events of my childhood. I must meet my Bits N’ Pieces where they’re at, join hands with them, and feel what they feel while knowing what i know. Mindfulness can’t be done quickly. Mindfulness is methodical. I can’t just take a quick dip in this slough. I can’t just burn rubber and rip through the neighbourhood.

Pardon me, but fuck, fuckety-fuck.

Back around 10yrs ago, i barfed up my story for my husband, and a few blog buddies. I shut that blog down tight shortly thereafter and i don’t discuss it with my husband unless i absolutely have to, which up until a few months ago, wasn’t very often. And one of my favourite things about my therapist, was that she never asked me to tell my story.

Well.
<insert Maximus Profanitatum here>

Everything inside me was created to hide the truth. I was hardwired never to speak about it, to denydenydeny. I dealt with that by mastering the way my brain works.
The leader of my pack.
The Wah-wah-wah teacher of my own Peanut Gallery.
I am Queen Face of Cuckoo Island.
But the first rule of Fight Club applies. (Yeah, i don’t care for the trope, but it was an excellent movie, and i saw it before i found my anger about it.)

I’ve become close with my system. With some i’m parental, with some i’m the boss, but i’m friends with them all, and i love every one: deeply, emphatically, and unconditionally. They’ve taught me how to love myself, because of course, they are me. Yet i loved them as a separate entity first. I looked at it like, they lived in my brain, but they weren’t a part or product of my brain. (Having mutant-level imagination made these concepts easy for me to grasp, but i think you’ll get the gist.) The time came where i’d learned enough about them and had enough conscious awareness as a multiple, that these partitions in my mind melted away, and i had a psychological experience of them as part of me and my brain.

That experience has made my life richer and finer by far, but the abuse is not discussed, per se. There are little bits that are trapped in a moment, and those that are not much more than emotion, but i gently care for them, and conversation about what or why they are hasn’t seemed necessary. Until now. And i understand why this process can’t be rushed and must be mindful. They are delicate creatures, and they’ve been through more than enough already. They need me to hold their hand while they tell their story, and so i will.

I know now why a good therapist had to let me walk away, knowing that i probably wasn’t done yet. Because it must all be my choice:

– how to live with how my brain works,
– how involved with other humans i want to be,
– how much real world function would i like to have,
– what is healing?
– what is successful?
– what is fulfilling/fulfilled?

And the most important thing of all is that it must be on my time. None of this can ever be forced* – not by her, not even by me. She said it a couple of weeks ago and it’s reverberated in my head ever since. She said that she would never, ever try to force us to do anything we didn’t want to do. She said that forcing is abuse, and we were forced, over and over, and that needs to not happen again.
This means that i have no idea how long this process will take, but it ain’t gonna be done anytime soon.

I love Star Trek, and i’ve seen all the movies (don’t even talk to me about the reboots, as they don’t count in my world). Since i accepted that i must move through this process slowly and meaningfully, i keep thinking about The Final Frontier. I see myself as Sybok, moving amongst these strange aliens and offering to share their pain.

It is through maudlin sentimentality, dark humour, and cheesy movies, that i will survive.

Stay tuned.

*It’s a great quote, and fits, except for his use of force. Sybok was a bit off, and he was wrong about god, so i think it still works for me. Heh.