They Exist

Down on your knees
Begging us please
Praying that we don’t exist
~ We Exist, Arcade Fire

I’m not going to use proper paragraph structure here (i mean, as proper as i ever get, because i’m no English major), because i want to highlight the process.

Therapy sesh by phone today, of course. After checking each other’s health and ability to handle self-isolation (verdict: i’m a legit hermit, she’s currently the guru on the mountaintop), i opened with a request. I asked her to help me work through the possibility of putting this therapy on hold while my anxiety level is at Defcon4.

She answers that she is here for me, and to help me figure out how to have the life i want. She reiterates that she has no agenda, no opinion on what my life should look like. She’s told me this dozens of times before, but i need to hear it often, and it calms me like it always has.

I tell her i don’t think i have enough to handle both things; i was stretched too thin already. She asks me what is it about the therapy i’m doing at home that’s causing me to think about stopping for a while.
At first i say it’s because it’s too much to do both and i can’t stop a pandemic, so the therapy has got to go.
I go on to add that my level of function is very low, and my anxiety so high that i’m close to panic all the time.

She asks me how i’ve been caring for my body’s needs.
“When you ask your body what would help it feel safe, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?”

This always takes a minute. When consulting my system or my body, i always have to wade through the chatter, and consciously connect my brain to my physical body. My natural state is one of detachment from the body, which is not natural at all. I do a quick settling in: awareness of breathing, of where my body is touching other things, e.g. feet on floor, butt in chair, etc.

She gives me time for this, because she knows, and after about 3 I don’t knows, i get to,
“Well, i’ve been hiding in my room most mornings.”

She says, “Okay, good. Do that, then.”

I immediately come back with, “But i’m just lying in bed playing games and reading like a lump. Sometimes i’m here till noon.”

She tells me that’s okay. My instant and intense response tells me it’s not. I tell her how ashamed i am that i’m so low functioning and i don’t want to face my loved ones. I tell her even when i get up, i often stay in my pajamas and just watch telly and play games all day. Sometimes i can get supper on the table, sometimes i can shower, but there are days i can’t. Too many days for my liking.

She reminds me that healing from trauma is intensive and exhausting work. She says, “I know how hard this work is for you, because i know how badly you were hurt.”

“Can’t i just dissociate through this; just slide and switch until it’s over?”

“Of course you can. Is that what you want to do?”

“Well, no, but i’m tired of my life falling apart around me while i’m down the rabbit hole. AGAIN.”

I tell her i feel too heavy to move, and then quickly correct myself. I feel frozen, like i can’t move.
One of the ways i survived my childhood was the freeze response. My head separated from my body and i had no emotions (brain) and no sensations (body). It was like feigning death until the immediate threat was over.
My most common response to anything stressful these days is fleeing, but i still regularly experience what’s called tonic immobility. My body will shut down and i can’t move.

We go over what it is that i’m doing in therapy right now. I’m reconnecting my brain to my body. I’m learning to feel what i feel while knowing what i know. I’m turning my attention from my brain to my body, which carries (in some strange way i don’t exactly grasp) memories of the traumas i endured while my mother raised me. If i’m feeling sexually vulnerable or otherwise exposed, i put a pillow in my lap. When my throat aches and jaw feels broken i eat a popsicle. Sometimes i massage it with my fingers if i can handle touch.

While we’re discussing this, she brings up how difficult this work is for me to do, because i never received proper care. If i wasn’t being outright abused, any appearance of care from my abusers usually turned out to be selfishly driven and booby-trapped. Like a hug that turned into a fondle. I unraveled the lies they told me. Now i must dismantle… Dismantle what?**

I said, “I think i just wanted to stop the therapy because i’m ashamed that i’m such a mess. I think shame is my driving emotion.”

“H, shame is the body’s response to a lack of connection. It’s the body asking for connection. When we are connected to ourselves and to another, the body’s need has been heard and met and shame goes away.”

Yeah, go ahead and read it again. I asked her to repeat it a couple of times.

If i was connected to my body, and my body was hurt, i’d deal with the hurt myself, and get help from someone else if i needed it. I couldn’t as a child. There was no help. So i did what children do – disconnect and then blame themselves.
I’m a master of finding my fault in everything that goes wrong.
Heck, i’ll find fault and pick at myself when things go well.
In context this makes sense, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

She asked me if i’d ever experienced connection that deep with another person, the last session when she held me as i made noises that sounded like pure agony being pulled from the centre of my personhood.

“Nope. Not ever.”

“Stay in bed until noon. Wear your jammies all day. Play games and watch funny things and tell the guys to make their own supper. Cover yourself with a blanket. Surround yourself with pillows. Cuddle your dog. Eat salad AND candy. Hide. Protect. Check in to your body and give it care and safety. Give your body back the dignity that was taken from it by listening and providing care. Then shame will just go away because its work is done.

Emotions are never wrong. They’re too primitive to be anything but what they are. Feelings have no agenda, no faults or flaws, no plans for the future, no thoughts or personal agency. They just are.”*

Wanna know how much shame governs my life?
I’m ashamed of being so filled with shame.
As of today, i’m not anymore. Oh, i still carry a boatload of shame, that’s gonna take more work yet, but now i think i understand why.
And it makes sense to me.
And i am not ashamed of that at all.

I’m going to keep plugging along. It’s good that i’ve dialed things back and i’m not doing much. This is what my body is asking for.
I’m exhausted beyond words, but i can continue.
Part of me was looking for a good excuse to stop this work, even for a couple of weeks.
Because as much as it’s good for me to do it, and the results are what i’m looking for…

It hurts like fuck and i feel like shit most of the time.
Shame is my body’s response to the unmet need for connection.
Shame will be on board for some time yet.
I’ve received the message, and i’ll listen and give care, and return my body’s dignity, until i don’t feel shame anymore.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the COVID-19 pandemic, but i have a brief story to share.

I have a dark and twisty sense of humour, and it’s an integral part of my personality. A cornerstone of my ability to survive, even. Lately though, i haven’t found any of the current jokes going around about the virus, or people’s fear, or self-isolation funny at all.

I don’t begrudge anyone their jokes, but they amped up my anxiety, and added to my sadness, pulling me into an empathetic state for which i simply lack the spoons.

Last night i joked to my husband, “I can’t lose my marbles. The last place on earth i’d want to be right now is a locked down institution.”

When i relayed this to my therapist, as evidence that i am still progressing and working through things (more for myself than her – she clearly knows), she laughed.

“I can’t go crazy cuz the last place i’d wanna be right now is the psych ward. That’s funny.”

Babystepping away over here, folks. Carrying a lot of feelings/emotions along with me, and they can all stay as long as they need.
They just are, after all. They exist. We exist.

But I’d lose my heart
If I turned away from you
Daddy don’t turn away
You know that I’m so scared
But will you watch us drown?
You know we’re going nowhere
We know we’re young
And no shit we’re confused
But will you watch us drown?
What are you so afraid to lose?

*This is my best recollection, not her exact words.

**Perhaps i’m done dismantling. Maybe only mantling remains?
Heh.

To The Bone

CONTENT WARNING: This contains frank discussion of suicide and childhood sexual abuse. If you aren’t in a good place, i’d strongly recommend skipping this one. Have someone handy that you can talk to if this brings up stuff for you.

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The first time i thought about suicide i was 4.
The first time i tried it i was 9.
I’ve tried multiple times since – one time was right in front of my 2 youngest children.
I’ve been given ipecac, had my stomach pumped, and a shot that may have been Narcan (?) back in the day – i’m not sure about that one. I was even more fucked up than usual that time.
I’ve written dozens of notes to loved ones and torn them up. I’ve written fuck-yous to some of those who tortured me who still unfortunately draw breath.

None of those times did i truly want to die. Not once. What was happening to me is something the pros call “parasuicidal behaviour”, meaning, i didn’t actually want to commit suicide, i just didn’t know what else to do and i needed my current situation/emotional state to STOP.

I’m grateful that i never succeeded. In my years of struggle in various programs dealing with addictive behaviours, broken and abusive homes, and mental health issues, i’ve lost a great many people i knew to suicide. More than a dozen, easily. A couple of them were like sisters to me, and they broke my heart.

I wouldn’t do them the dishonour of speculating on their reasons for what they did – it was their life to do with as they wished. But i think, today, i understand the step beyond “para”. I’m bone tired. More tired than i’ve ever been in my life. I see that, while i’ve done the best i can, that it hasn’t been enough. I’ve failed my children and my husband and people in my past in such profound ways that i can feel my heart burning and dropping into my belly.

And now, today, this work i do is to “feel what i feel while knowing what i know”. I don’t mean to sound superior (although i know i do), but no one can possibly know how difficult, how awful this work is.
My childhood was wretched: filled with literal torture and near-constant pain. I’m not sure if the small moments of happiness and beauty made it easier or harder to bear. The loving babysitter who cared for me 5 days a week from 10mos old until i entered grade one; she is THE reason i didn’t swallow that bottle of poison when i was 4. I remember holding it in my hand, staring at myself in the mirror (i see now that the mirror was how i talked with the others in my brain back then) and saying, “If it gets too bad, i’ve got this.”

Back then, i severed the connections between my thoughts and emotions and sensations to survive the unsurvivable, and now, in my 50s, as i wade into this terrible work, i remain unconvinced that i can survive the reconnection. It feels as if i’m being torn apart, rather than put back together. My body is a misery to me. My genitals burn, and i keep going to the bathroom to check because it feels like my rectum is bleeding. My jaw feels like it’s going to crack, my throat aches, my head pounds like a giant is having a tantrum inside my brain. My ears won’t stop popping. I grind my teeth all day. It burns when i pee. My body feels battered and bruised everywhere. There isn’t an inch of me that doesn’t hurt. I can’t put anything in my mouth without gagging. There is no touch, no matter from whom it comes, that doesn’t make me flinch.
Dissociating would fix all that, and i want to so badly.

But my therapist says this is temporary, and she has never lied to me. Never not treated me with the utmost respect. Never touched or even approached me without my permission. (She sat on the couch on the other side of my living room for 2 fucking years before i’d even let her sit beside me.) She doesn’t mind telling me a thousand times, that she has no desire to hurt me, and she’s never pushed me to do anything i didn’t want to (made suggestions and let me fume and freak out and go home and think about them, yes). She even let me walk out of therapy thinking i was all “fixed”, when she knew damn well i wasn’t, but she didn’t tell me that, she honoured my process, even if that meant i never came back to her or got anymore therapy from anyone.

I trust her in a way that i trust no one else. No one. I’ve never trusted anyone like i trust her, and so i will sit with this agony and i will bear it. I will minister to pain that doesn’t really exist as if it’s real, and i will talk to the terrified little ones inside my brain as if they are my own children – because they are. They’ve always just wanted a Mommy who will hold them and rock them and say:
Shhh… It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay. I’m going to take care of you.
Oh, it hurts down there? Let’s put you in a cool bath.
Your head feels like it’s splitting open? You poor thing. Does wrapping your head tightly in this scarf help?
Would you like to cuddle this teddy bear?
Would you like me to hold you and rock you to sleep?

I do these things, these ridiculous things, and they’re working. This fucking crazy-ass shit is working. It’s calming down the cacophony in my head, so that i can focus on my body. Which is super awesome because that means feeling the pain. Listening to what my body wants to tell me about what happened to it when i was little. It doesn’t have language, but it sure AF is talking to me, and i’m listening.

But i’m exhausted. I’m sososo tired. I’m sure i’ve never been this tired.
And life is still happening, all around me. The world had the nerve to keep turning. Problems still happening. Relationship problems. Money problems. Things breaking down and dogs getting sick. Family and friends who still need me. (Don’t get me wrong, they don’t expect much from me right now, they just need me, y’know?)

So i have brought this piece to the place where i tell you that i have considered not being here anymore. Every day, all day, this work feels like too much work. Every day, all day, i’m afraid i can’t do it, that i’ll fail.
I do not have a plan.
I’m not thinking about it obsessively.
I’m in therapy with the greatest therapist in the world (fight me), and i have good support.
My home is once again my safe place.
There’s no room in my life right now for anything but the pain, and the small shred of hope i have that it may end, and i may wind up with an even more normal*, functional life.

So Hi, this is how i’m doing today. You may have noticed i’m writing more. Writing through the bad, like i said i’d do. It’s helping more than i’d have thought it would.

Y’all take care of yourselves. Talk to someone trustworthy if this piece brought stuff up for you, okay? I’m still here, still hanging on. If i can, maybe you can too. I know i want you to.

It’s just a ride
And you’ve got the choice to get off anytime that you like
It’s just a ride
It’s just a ride
The alternative is nothingness
We might as well give it a try
~ The Ride, Amanda Palmer

Love and Peace,
~H~
*Comments like, “What is normal, really?” and “Nobody’s normal,” are NOT welcome here, plzkthx.