Category Archives: anxiety

When Will People Stop Blaming Survivors Of Sexual Trauma For Surviving?

I’ll Never Stop Being Resilient & Fighting for Truth

** TRIGGER ALERT **

BY RACHEL THOMPSON, REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR ON TIR


I’m sorry you have to read what’s next. It was hard to write and I hope you will stay with me for the rest.

Do you know what it’s like to be ordered to lick a man’s penis ‘like an ice cream cone’ when you’re eleven years old? I can’t imagine most of the population can comprehend that. 

I can.

Because a man forced me to. More than once.

When the police eventually questioned me, after more than a year of various forms of abuse, I didn’t tell. Terrified this giant of a man, an army sergeant with a gun who lived next door, would kill my baby sister, I kept quiet. But my eyes dripped tears of tales untold, an admission of guilt owned by the intentions of men.

Eventually, I did tell. Two trials — taunting, haunting, harrowing, narrowing my world between him and me once again. “How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?” I wanted to scream, in words I didn’t know how to utter as I testified, twice, before God and man and him, specifying in impolite, forensic detail the ways he abolished my soul.

Telling isn’t justice, and justice isn’t handed down when victim blaming is first on everyone’s mind. Why are survivors forced to own our abusers’ intentions? He got eighteen months, then moved back home — right next door and mere feet away from my window — for another eight years. Long, slow days full of his kids’ accusatory stares and his wife’s accusatory lips.

How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?


HOW DO SURVIVORS BECOME RESPONSIBLE FOR CRIMES WE DIDN’T COMMIT?

People tell survivors we are somehow complicit if we don’t tell. We are told he will hurt someone else if we keep quiet and it’s somehow our fault he is a criminal who will continue to commit crimes. We are to blame for the behavior of men.

It’s all very easy for non-survivors to make these statements. Do this, do that, and done. One, two, three. They cannot comprehend why we wouldn’t want to tell.

Have you been online lately? The myriad of reasons survivors don’t report is justifiable and lengthy: shame, fear of job loss, not being believed, minimizing our own experiences, bullying, ranking the abuse…it goes on. The worst part, however, is the verbal abuse people pile on, full of judgment about situations of which they know nothing.

The immensity of survival isn’t so facile, though, is it? The ulcerating pain in my stomach that reminds me of the terror, even forty years later. The powerlessness as I slide into a dissociated state of nothingness, the only area of my being he cannot invade. The daily flashbacks, something I’ve learned from an early age to redirect to happier thoughts so I don’t break down into numbing blankness or worse, go back to his world. Again.

What were you wearing?
What didn’t you stop it?
Why didn’t you tell anyone when it happened?
Why didn’t you fight back?
Where’s the proof?

What’s amazing is the questions people ask me and other survivors of sexual trauma (particularly rape survivors), as if we had the intention of becoming the victims of sexual predators. Let’s flip that language, that paradigm, that fucked-up thought process. Let’s ask these predators: Why did you do it? Why didn’t you know it was wrong? Why didn’t you tell anyone you raped her? Why didn’t you stop?


THE REALITY OF REPORTING OUR ABUSE

If you look at the statistics of reporting, most sexual crimes go unreported. Those that do are rarely prosecuted. Lawyers go out of their way to discredit witnesses for lying, wanting attention, or being unreliable (particularly if they had been drinking). What’s so terribly sad is the end result: victims don’t come forward and report because who wants this kind of attention?

Given that not every sexual assault victim is raped (and even if they are, not every victim undergoes the invasive rape kit procedure, and even if they did, not every rape kit is processed), how can we possibly provide the proof people need to believe us? And my god, why should we have to?

Why is the assumption that survivors (regardless of gender) are lying? For all that awesome attention people give us? In all studies of false reporting crimes, false rape reports are lower than other crimes, despite what the Internet and MRA groups tell you.

I’m not here to debate statistics, because people are not stats. I’m here to focus on survivors.

 

UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL ABUSE

When will people stop blaming survivors of sexual trauma for being survivors of sexual trauma, and start focusing on why this happens? Do those who blame survivors understand that the crime itself is not about sexual gratification but about power?

Sexual abuse, assault, rape and harassment aren’t political acts. They are acts of control and they all cause harm.

There is no scale of best to worst. It’s all bad.

We see much made about this candidate did this, or this director did that. The #MeToo stories these past few months are both heartbreaking and yet, empowering for many of us.

For those who continue to make it a Democrat or Republican thing, please stop. Hold abusers accountable not because of their politics, but because of their crimes.

What is behind this phenomenon of blaming victims at all? We don’t blame people for being robbed, or shot. Why do we blame survivors for being sexually assaulted? There is no logic there. There certainly is no compassion.

Some tell us it’s on us, the ‘victim’ (in the legal sense of the word) to not put ourselves in high-risk situations. We should “know better,” particularly women, who may have worn a skirt one inch too high or a top one inch too low (because clothing creates the situation for rapists to rape, apparently, or who may have taken a business meeting that put us in a high-risk situation. This always makes me laugh ruefully as if we can predict when someone will make the choice to sexually abuse someone else. As if men are mere animals who see a flash of skin and turn into mindless monsters without thought or free will or the choice not to sexually assault or rape.

How disrespectful is that to the good men of this world?

The issue here is, again, people relentlessly placing blame for a criminal’s behavior on his victim, thus removing the responsibility for the crime from the criminal. In fact, the language here completely removes the criminal from the sentence. The onus is on the victim to not get raped, as opposed to the rapist to not rape:

Rachel is molested.

– versus –

The neighbor molested Rachel.

See the difference between those two sentences?

In my situation, at the age of eleven, I, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, would take turns getting scooter rides with the Pied Piper. This guy had grooming down: he’d give us candy—it was fun and not something our parents would do with us. Most non-survivors won’t understand or take into consideration something like grooming, yet it’s always part of an abuser’s arsenal, particularly with young children. They make us feel special, wanted, and cherished. Said the spider to the fly.

Sexual abuse of any kind is a conscious decision made by an abuser. Child molestation, sexual assault, and rape are crimes, make no mistake about it, and what happens to survivors is criminal. Regardless of what happens to our abuser, our sentence is lifelong. The effects of sexual trauma are long-term: PTSD, anxiety, depression, migraines, even immune disorders.


So why didn’t I speak out initially, unprompted by police?

  • Terror, for one. I truly believed he would kill my baby sister, or worse, my entire family. He had a gun, and he told me he would use it.
  • Grooming, for another; convincing me nobody would believe me Why would I have reason to doubt an authority figure? He used my naiveté against me, as most abusers do.
  • And finally, my introverted nature. Never a loud, gregarious child, I withdrew further into myself and my safe, imaginary, quiet world of stories, where little girls destroyed monsters, not the other way around.

In this impossible situation, this sick abuser steals my innocence, my being, my soul.

Eventually, I find all the scattered pieces and pull myself back together; broken, chipped, yet still capable of breaking through the enormous barriers of fear and shame to tell my story and help others feel less alone.


WE ALL HEAL DIFFERENTLY

How? Therapy and meds helped immensely, but I didn’t get the help I intensely needed until my mid-thirties after the birth of my daughter when my world came crashing down — how could I keep her safe? All my carefully swept carpets broke apart and I became an anxious, panic-stricken shell (you can read more in my books and posts about how I worked through that).

What helped me most? I gave myself permission to write my first book dealing with my abuse experiences, Broken Pieces. With prose and poetry, I delve into what it was like to live the pieces of who I became after the abuse, not understanding how the abuse affected me as a girl, a woman, and a mother. Releasing Broken Places a few years later, I continue sharing my story of survival and the after-effects of the abuse.

The response was astounding – people (primarily women, but many men, too) contacted me with their own stories of sexual abuse and still do almost daily. I released the first book in 2013, the second in 2015. I’m writing Broken People now. With the initial release, I felt blessed by their gift of trust, yet stymied by how to help them (beyond giving them information to RAINN, a wonderful organization for rape, assault, and incest survivors), as I’m not a shrink.


CONNECTING WITH OTHER SURVIVORS

So, I reached out and connected with the fabulous Bobbi Parish, herself an incest survivor and author, and founded #SexAbuseChat, which Bobbi and I co-host every Tuesday on Twitter, 6pm pst/9pm est. All survivors are welcome. Each week we discuss different topics affecting survivors. You can view previous chats by going to our public Facebook page (likes welcome!), so even if you’re not on Twitter, feel free to look through our chats.

I also started @SpeakOurStories with Dr. Shruti Kapoor, founder of @SayftyCom (whose goal is to help keep women safe worldwide). The SOS platform is to give all survivors, regardless of gender, a safe place to share their stories – anonymously is fine – and offer resources to get help. Submit your story here.

We all heal in our own way. We all deserve to recover in our own way. What survivors don’t need is for family, friends, and total strangers to blame us for crimes we did not commit. We don’t sexually abuse ourselves. We don’t want pity; we want support, compassion, help, and love.

For one tiny second, put yourself in my small shoes at the very beginning of this piece. Close your eyes, and feel what I felt. Now open your eyes. Poof. Gone. It’s nice to make that go away, isn’t it?

Survivors can’t do that. In the best of circumstances, we work through it, creating a good life just like anyone else. We can and do thrive.

Believe us. That’s all we ask.

Rachel Thompson, Author
Rachel Thompson, Author

If you have been sexually assaulted or know someone who has, please connect with RAINN.org here.

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Wrestling with the Terror in the Night by @BobbiLParish


When You Feel Lonely

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Reblogged from the amazing Martha Beckhttp://marthabeck.com/2012/11/when-you-feel-lonely/

 

At times in my life, I have felt utterly lonely. At other times, I’ve had disgusting infectious diseases. Try admitting these things in our culture, and you’ll find they evoke identical responses: Listeners cringe with a mixture of pity, revulsion, and alarm. In a culture where everyone wants a happy family and a sizzling relationship, the phrase “I’m lonely” rings like the medieval leper’s shout of “Unclean! Unclean!”

Fortunately, we now treat disease not by isolating its victims, but by diagnosing and healing them. Finding those who can comprehend the emptiness of your heart, diagnosing and ameliorating its ailments, can keep you productively engaged when your loneliness is at its worst.

The Time-Tested BLD System

Allow me to introduce the Beck Loneliness Diagnostic System, which is based on years of research I’ve conducted by brooding about my own problems during bouts of emotional eating. My system divides loneliness into three categories—absolute, separation, and existential—each of which has different remedies. I prescribe two courses of action for each type: quick fixes (to feel better immediately) and long-term solutions (to banish it for good).

Type 1: Absolute Loneliness
This malady occurs when we believe, rightly or wrongly, that there is no one who understands us and no one who wants to. Absolutely lonely people have few personal interactions of any kind. Isolation creates indescribable despair, for which typical self-help advice—”Have a bubble bath! Try aromatherapy!”—is ridiculously inadequate. The only saving grace of this state is that it often hurts enough to motivate people to try the following prescriptions.

QUICK FIX
Basic human contact—the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words—is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain. If you’re feeling abandoned by the world, interact with anyone you can—today. If you can afford it, hire a good therapist; if you can’t, hire a bad one. Attend a 12-step group, claiming codependency if you have no addictions. Sift wheat from chaff later—right now, it’s “Hail, fellow! Well met.”

LONG-TERM SOLUTION
If you’re living completely on your own, you must find understanding somewhere, somehow. No matter how scary it is to learn and use social skills, absolute loneliness is scarier. The best method to break out of solitary confinement is to seek to understand others, and help them understand you.

A simple three-step communication strategy is the most effective way to accomplish this. When you meet people, show real appreciation, then genuine curiosity; offer an honest compliment (step 1) followed by a question (step 2). Say “Cool hat. Where’d you get it?” Most often this approach will result in a brief, pleasant chat. Occasionally, though, someone will answer in such an interesting or charming way that you’ll want to respond by volunteering information about yourself (step 3), such as “I can’t wear hats—they make me look like a mongoose.” Repeat these three steps, and you’ll gradually connect at deeper and deeper levels.

The key word is gradually. Understanding is a dance of seven veils in which strangers take turns revealing a little more about themselves—not everything at once. Be patient, and the three-step combo can take you all the way from discussions of headgear to conversations like “You’re amazing. Shall we get married?”

Type 2: Separation Loneliness
If you force yourself to communicate with people appreciatively and curiously, you’ll eventually emerge from absolute loneliness. However, you’ll still experience what I call separation loneliness. Traveling, empty nesting, and almost any job will distance you from friends and family. Only since the Industrial Revolution have most people worked in places away from their homes or been left to raise small children without the help of multiple adults, making for an unsupported life.

QUICK FIX
Use separations to remind yourself how wonderful it is that you have people to miss. Solo time can motivate you to demonstrate that love. Focus on communication over distance. Tell interesting stories on the phone or in an e-mail about your day. Let your favorite people see life through your eyes. Ask them about what they’ve been experiencing, and listen or read with total concentration. You’ll come to know one another in new ways, and absence really will make your hearts grow fonder. Once that’s done, I recommend finding understanding by doing what the song says: If you can’t be with the one you love…love the one you’re with. Use your appreciation-curiosity-openness combo on the folks around you.

LONG-TERM SOLUTION
This remedy requires facing some hard choices. If you’re continuously aching to be with people you never see, the rewards of your career or nifty home in the exurbs may not make up for the sacrifice. Many of my clients decide that their horrible jobs aren’t worth forfeiting years with their family. Others stop hanging out with people—even relatives—who drain them, in order to be with those who inspire them. You don’t have to make such decisions immediately, but you do have to make them. Every day brings new choices. If you want to end your isolation, you must be honest about what you want at a core level and decide to go after it.

Type 3: Existential Loneliness
The final type of estrangement is a bedrock fact of the human condition: the hollowness we feel when we realize no one can help us face the moments when we are most bereft. No one else can take risks for us, or face our losses on our behalf, or give us self-esteem. No one can spare us from life’s slings and arrows, and when death comes, we meet it alone. That is simply the way of things, and after a while, we may see it’s not so bad. In fact, existential loneliness, the great burden of human consciousness, is also its great gift—if we give it the right treatment.

QUICK FIX
One word—art. In the face of great sorrow or joy, love or loss, many human beings who went before me learned to express themselves sublimely through clumsy physical things: paint, clay, words, the movement of their bodies. They created works of art that remind me I am not alone in feeling alone. Seeking the company of people who have learned to transcend the isolation of an individual life, who have felt as I feel and managed to express it, is the best treatment I’ve found for existential loneliness. (Notice that this advice is the opposite of the quick fix for “absolute” loneliness; you may need both prescriptions.) Make your own artistic connections. Read novels, listen to samba, watch documentaries: Seek art from every time and place, in any form, to connect with those who really move you.

LONG-TERM SOLUTION
Same word—art. The quick fix is to appreciate others’ artistry; the real deal requires that you, yourself, become an artist. I’m not asking you to rival Picasso or Mozart, but I would challenge you to think the way they thought, to put aside convention and embarrassment and do whatever it takes to convey your essential self. Use anything you can think of to understand and be understood, and you’ll discover the creativity that connects you with others.

If you begin to apply these prescriptions, whether by drumming up the courage to connect, choosing a moment of love over a moment of work, or creating something as silly as a bad cartoon, you’ll soon find yourself stumbling across beauty and communion. Loneliness, far from revealing some defect, is proof that your innate search for connection is intact. So instead of hiding your loneliness, bring it into the light. Honor it. Treat it. Heal it. You’ll find that it returns the favor.


The Familiar Pain

It is a brave woman that can sit with her pain. Sometimes it seems as if that’s all I do. But I will trust you on this and feel the hope again.

Beating Trauma

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*If you are sick and tired of hearing people tell you to “put the past behind you” or “get over it” or “move on with your life already”, I want to ensure you that this is not the message of this post.

Today, I had a small epiphany. I was thinking about what life would be like if I wasn’t sad, if I no longer carried the pain with me. In that moment, I felt a twinge of sadness about not being sad. I felt grief about living life without pain. I felt fearful about living with the faith necessary to open up my life. It was as if I might be saying goodbye to a long-term relationship, a dysfunctional relationship, but a relationship nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the pain. I push through it. I will my way through life with gusto despite it. I want…

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Ferguson is on my mind…

be kindI’m not adding much to this post that I borrowed from my friend, Phyllis. She summarizes succintly what many of us in the Ferguson area are feeling these days.  Just the word “Ferguson” commands many images to mind as it’s become a constant loop of details and speculations, hatred and violence, grief and turmoil.  The subject has dominated most of my Thanksgiving gatherings, brief conversations in the hallway outside of a classroom, sermons at church, in line at the grocery store.  It has already divided friends and families, co-workers, teachers and students.

We are each processing the trauma in our own ways.  Some will protest. Some will pray. Some will stick to narrow minded views.  Some will deny the problem.  The evening before Thanksgiving, while shopping for last minute grocery items, I physically stood between an irate, shouting older man and a car full of teenagers who’d been vying for the same parking space.  What came out of my mouth straight from my heart was a simple series of NO’s….no, no, no, no…no more.  It was my moment of standing up to Michael Brown and saying NO, stop what you’re doing and go home.  It was me telling Officer Wilson NO, drive away from the boys and let it go.  It was my own sick worry about my own child coming out as NO, we can’t hurt people anymore…stop now…NO, please, NO. 

I pray often for the families involved in these conflicts. I send them as much love and healing energy as I can. I do what I can each day to walk through life with as much love in my heart.  We are all affected as we are all connected.

Please be kind.

Please be gentle.

Please be patient.

Please be compassionate.

 

***********

 

From Phyllis Stein, PhD., Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine

Ferguson is on my mind. For those of you who do not live in Saint Louis, Ferguson is the name of part of the patchwork of communities that surround Saint Louis, literally part of a patchwork quilt, this one called North County, no real separation from one town to another even though they have separate police forces and local governments. I live in the village of Bel Nor (pop about 1500, area about 400 acres), another of the continuous towns in North County. The effect of the events Ferguson has been an abstraction for me, even though it is only 3.6 miles from here and even though I have had direct contact with people who are involved.

Yesterday the protesters shut down some local shopping malls, including the Galleria, a large indoor mall, good for walking. It had opened again for a couple of hours when a friend and I decided to go there to take a walk.

I have never felt anything like this at the Galleria. The energy of the mall was so “off” and people were both tense and exhausted. But the reason that I am sharing this was that I could feel the intense hostility and distrust coming from almost every African-American there. As we walked, I made eye contact with one young man, and saw hatred and rage coming back from his eyes. It was a shock, and I understood, viscerally, for the first time, the massive nervous system dysregulation and ongoing trauma that has been triggered by what happened and by all of the ways that these events got amplified and fed back by different people with their own agendas and their own trauma filters.

Maybe this is a long way to say that I really “got” how much it is going to take to come back to any sort of regulation for all the people who were so strongly affected and maybe how little the goals and actions of those who are involved are informed by a true desire to bring the world to a more healed place.

You can find Phyllis’s blog here.

 

 


Robin Williams Lived

There by the grace of God go I….this could have been me, this is me. By posting this article, I reach out my hand to another person with mental illness, a brain disorder, trauma or depression. It’s time we make our families and neighbors talk to us. We won’t survive in silence.

Please take my hand and hold on,  stay with us. If you can, please stay.

We can share this together, the dark and the light, eventually circling the world with love and the new definition of who we are.

We will circle the world until we are whole and dancing again.

Sarah Griffith Lund

Robin Williams lived a life that brought laughter and joy to millions through his comedy and acting.

He died at his home from suicide on Monday, August 11, 2014, at the age 63. He battled a brain disease that included severe depression. Even with treatment, support from loved ones, and a successful career, mental illness still can be a deadly disease, especially when paired with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

I remember when I first learned that Robin Williams had a mental illness and I was encouraged by his openness. I loved his work in Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, and his role as Mork from Mork and Mindy. My favorite work of his was stand-up comedy.

He had a brilliant brain. And he had a brain with a disease. He richly blessed us with his life.

May all of us find ways today…

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the drawback of being a “top feeder”

Underwater-Photography-by-Kurt-Arrigo

Underwater-Photography-by-Kurt-Arrigo

 

I’m trying to break this crazy habit.

Each morning, before I even open my eyes, during that time where you’ve just broken into consciousness, where you hear the birds outside, the air-conditioner kick on, the sticky feeling of humidity on your skin, I instinctively begin to think of what I need to do for everyone else.  The list goes something like this as my eyes scan the room, sizing up the day. Usually before I tend to any of my needs; food, water, time to wake up, I’m devising a list of what to do for my dogs, husband, friends, daughter.  Now while that doesn’t seem too extraordinary in itself, many parents do this, I can do it to a fault.

As a trauma survivor/mild BPD/ultra-sensitive person, my need for connection supersedes any worldy need such as food or rest.  My extreme neediness to connect is based on survival.  As a child, trauma and neglect can be so life threatening that the sooner we connect to someone who can help care for us the better.  And this is where it gets tricky.

By serving others, as in doing favors for them, being available to chat/pray/cook/etc. when they are having a rough day or one of my worst habits of over-mothering my animals, I get that much needed connection.  And as my therapist-extraordinare Cathy says, I become a “top feeder”.

A “top feeder” is her self-coined word to illustrate a person who is SO functional in receiving cues from other people’s needs, that their existence is the opposite of the less empathic, less motivated, parasitic by nature “bottom feeder”.  Uck, you know those nasty catfish that lay on the bottom of the river, who eat any garbage that sinks to the bottom, who don’t bother with trying to find a better food source?  Yep, that’s a bottom feeder.  And for the sake of this conversation, I’m grateful that my therapist feels that I’m on the other end of the spectrum here.

Here’s what we do.  We are so naturally tuned into our worlds and all its nuances that we essentially “know” what family/animals/friends/plants need.  That makes us a kick-ass person to be around.  We’ve developed this finely tuned, sensitive radar built on extreme hypervigilence that we often can’t turn off.  We are masters at intuiting information and messages.  It’s like stuck on being the eternal and forever cheerleader.  Still rooting everyone on, celebrating all their accomplishments, looking for ways to promote and lift up EVERYONE else in our lives.  To a fault. Until it makes us sick.  Until we crash really, really hard.

And that brings me back to my opening statement.  I’m trying to break this crazy habit now that I’m aware of it.  Thank you Cathy for nailing me on this.

Again, it comes back to balance.  Be that cool intuitive friend but feed yourself breakfast first.  Yes, mother that poor rescue dog but remember to shower.  Cook a healthy meal for your family and friends but remember to make yourself a plate, sit down and eat it.  Understand and help people in your world with…. their health problems/oppressive bosses/poverty/animal cruelty issues/the environment/addictions/homelessness/social injustices but make sure you’re rested first.  And ultimately and most importantly, come to grips with this fact as soon as you possibly can: others WILL NOT necessarily respond as well as we do.  You will probably be the best friend or partner that you know unless you are friends with other sensitive people.  It’s a very bleak and discouraging fact that often results in an intense feeling of loneliness and isolation.  BUT knowing and ultimately accepting this truth can bring a lot of peace to a situation that can be repeatedly heart wrenching.  

Most likely, we won’t receive the kind of nurturing that we give out unless we give it to ourselves.  It doesn’t mean we can’t have it, it just means we need to look to ourselves for the biggest part of our care and recognize with compassion the limitations of others.  While it isn’t ideal, Cathy states, acceptance will ultimately bring more peace. And I believe she is spot on.

I’m creating the persona of a more balanced, “middle feeder” kind of gal.  Rested, zen, creative.  One that takes naps on most days. One that enjoys taking the much deserved time to write.  After all, I can’t imagine being an old, worn out cheerleader at 57 years of age.  What a hysterical image. Besides looking really funny in my faded skirt, the image doesn’t fit me anymore.  I’ve long since given up gyrations where I put myself last and others first. 

I’m laying these pom-pons down.

 

 


love story in there….somewhere….

girl and dragon

There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

I seem to have made it through the latest chapter of dark times.

Hopefully.

When I started this blog, I felt lost.  Then I found myself through writing and gave myself a voice that I’d never possessed before, at least for myself.  I’d been championing for others for decades; animal rights, women’s rights, diversity, environment.  It had become painful apparent to me that a great deal of time had been spent advocating for others and not myself.  That was a game changer.

Writing this blog has enabled me to find my voice through writing but look several issues squarely in the eye.  Honoring myself was one.  A simple bumper sticker noticed by the artist, Terri St. Cloud of Bone Sigh Arts.  Honor Yourself.  Simple words that were nearly impossible to integrate.

The next issue was that I couldn’t wrap my thinking around the fact that someone, anyone would want to read what I had to say.  In my mind, my words had to be profound, a literary masterpiece before putting them out for the world to see.  Shouldn’t I get a MFA in writing or something or some sort of artistic approval before being so bold as to put my words, my life, my history into words?  Well, that answer came soon too.  Survivors trickled in, slowly at first, some stumbling and fragmented, some already having honed their beautiful craft of expression.  All were worthy and I felt so blessed to be a part of a counterculture emerging for survivors, men and women, who were taking back their power.  I wanted to be a part of that.  For me, it was coming home.

My most recent absence is due to my utter confusion and re-entry into that dark place.  You see, I thought I’d been through it and had emerged complete, or at least complete enough.  I thought I was finally, finally in that safe cocoon where I could share my story of abuse and survival with the clarity of hindsight.  I was wrong, at least sort of.

This summer I separated from my husband.  My fairy tale crashed and I felt that I was a fraud.  How on earth could I write stories of hope and love when I had failed at my own love story?  Slowly, I moved through the hazy days of summer with my tool bag (purple of course) of rest, solitude, meditation, reading and dark chocolate.  I cried when I felt like it, wandered through the library, raged at Grandmother moon in the wee hours of the morning when sleep eluded me, slept any time I felt fatigued and tried, oh how I tried, to find joy anywhere I could.  I picked flowers and herbs from my beautiful garden and gave them to anyone I could think of; my church for Sunday morning service, the women at the convenient mart on the corner who are always so kind and make me laugh every time I’m there buying chocolate, my dear friend’s mother who was passing this summer, a friend who works long hours and commutes into the city each day.  I gave them just because.  Just because in the absence of my own joy, I needed to create that precious spark of joy for someone else and live vicariously off of that until I had my own.

Many, many people supported me though this passage, you will find them on my blogroll and Facebook page.  I simply couldn’t have weathered this without logging on to see their daily posts on love, writing, poetry, painting, nature, food.  I traveled with several as they made major changes in their lives too and hope that I provided them a wee bit of support also.

Slowly that spark began to burn again.  Now I have more words and more insight into myself.  I tip my hat to the dark side, purpose well served.

I still live a love story.  Really, there is a love story in here somewhere.  One that, once again, must begin with myself.  With or without a partner, my daughter, my dogs, my house.  I can write words of hope because now I’ve lived them again.  I’m not a fraud but an innocent person who stumbles and trips often, sometimes sitting in the mud puddle I fell in, squalling and crying.  But then there are times, when I laugh and dance around with a soggy tutu.

It’s all good.


You don’t have to be battle ready: A conversation

LittleGirlSkippingI’m a huge proponent of counseling.  I’ve been in therapy most of my life and wished that my family had been too.  But I was the lone ranger who left the fold, got college educated and beyond and who dove into therapy, resurfacing periodically but always diving back for more.

I’ve had many therapists through the years, as my needs have changed, moving on when the time was right when I had learned as much as I could with a particular practitioner.  I’ve had some rotten ones too. Except now, they only get a session or two before I know its a bad fit. I’m sufficiently couch broken.

Right now, I’m in that sweet spot of a great fit.  A woman who is intuitive, approachable, caring and funny.  I have a great time in our sessions, laughing as much as I cry through my profound revelations.  She understands my extreme sensitivity to the world and has taught me skills to survive and thrive in that world based fully on who I am.  DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is what I’m learning, with amazing results I might add.  

During this weeks session, we discuss mindfulness and the state of being present to which I tell her I’m doing just okay with the concept.  Not great but OK.  I’m not unique in possessing a brain that goes at warp speed.  My mind is whirring constantly; topics I want to write on, chores that need completion, causes that need my attention, a world that needs me to save it. And worst of all, I’m a ruminator.  I have to chew and chew on something, regurgitate it back up, poke at it and begin chewing on it some more.  And let me tell you, that is exhausting.  The tugging tendencies are so strong and constant even though my therapist has been teaching me to cultivate mindfulness and stillness for over a year now.  Understanding these concepts, I’m slowly gaining some control over my mind which is a really good thing.  I continue to practice it day by day, hour by hour.  

I’m explaining to Cathy that I need to make a plan for the rest of my summer.  I feel better with an agenda having given time and thought to my future needs.  I tell her how much more in control of my life I feel when I’ve explored my options, weighed them out and know what lies ahead.  She listens but quickly replies,  “You don’t have to be battle ready”.  

I pause for a moment, thinking I know what she’s said and go back to my diatribe of explaining my need for a plan.  She repeats herself, “You don’t have to be battle ready”.  Ok, now I need to stop and see what this “battle ready” thing is that she’s repeated to me twice.  I tell her to please explain that to me because I don’t see that an absence of a plan is good for me.  How could I function without it?

I tear up immediately and she gently explains that traumatized children learned survival by knowing their surroundings at all times.  Attempting to detect threats to their safety, they take their cues from the moods of others, the time of day, seasons of the year (fill in the blank here with your own).  These children don’t get to relax and trust how a safe world evolves, they must be hyper vigilant constantly to survive.

We have visited this topic often, its a big one for me.  My tendencies are still so strong to be alert to my surroundings and feel the need to exert that compulsion toward creating a predictably safe future agenda.  I’m a contantly-looking-over-your-shoulder ,waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop kind of person.  

I love that she is helping me deprogram.  She notices my behavior even when I’m arguing that I’m not exhibiting the behavior.  She is helping me notice and understand the neurological wiring that was changed long ago when I experienced long-term trauma.  The survival reflex learned in childhood is still alive and operating.  But as she continues, I don’t need it now.  I don’t have to be battle ready all the time.  I can relax and let my body relax.  

I love these words and this concept.  They feel soft and fuzzy.  It isn’t new to me but bears repeating often.  A new pattern must be developed in my thinking that relieves me of the knee jerk reaction to grab my sword from my sheath and be prepared for battle.  I’m so ready for a reprieve.  I think its why I started crying when she explained it again.  It’s like music to my ears to hear that I actually, finally, once and for all can put down my weapon and still feel safe.  

Suggested Reading: An Emotional Hair Trigger, Often Misread


my spa day at the psych hospital

imagesIt’s been over a month since I made the pilgrimage to the psych hospital for an evaluation.  My emotions have settled down a bit and I’ve had contact with all the practitioners in my life who require a visit after such an incident.  I’m also able to write about it with a caustic and a wise ass dark humor that I lacked in previous weeks.  I suppose on this matter too, I’ve found my voice.  I should know by now that given enough time and perspective, I usually do find my voice.

The prompting incident was another perfect storm containing all the ingredients for me to “drop my basket”.  In Rebecca WellsDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Vivian Abbott Walker has a breakdown and is hospitalized in some asylum for months.  She won’t discuss the issue for a long time but eventually coins a phrase to describe her mental collapse where she hallucinated, beat her children all the while forgetting how to chew food and pee in the toilet.  Months later, she finally confides and describes to her Ya-Ya’s how she “dropped her basket”.  In the absence of a better term, I’m going to borrow hers.

In a 6-day rampage of unmanageable BPD symptoms, gross lack of familial support and triggers out the whazoo, I finally consent to let a friend drive me to one of several major hospitals in St. Louis for an evaluation.  I had nothing to lose.  I had been crying for days, couldn’t remember when I’d eaten last, only slept because of the inordinate amount of anxiety medication combined with several other chasers of alcohol, Vicodin and Benedryl.  It was a sure-fire combination to collapse into something resembling sleep but a losing combination in terms of maintaining equilibrium and optimal functioning of the body.  Unconsciousness is the desired state for me when I’m so grossly triggered finding my reality irretrievable. No matter how many DBT skills, prayers, affirmations, walks in the woods, music and every other distraction skill I applied, nothing was working.  I was scared shitless and needed a person.  A real, live, breathing person to sit with me while I piggybacked off of their energy and found my center once again.  And to make matters worse, I had been left alone for 5 days, scorned for the burdensome person that I was which was the tipping point to my basket drop.

This is the truly horrible part about Borderline Personality Disorder, which I probably have as a result of early onset trauma.  It forever changes how our brains work and makes us a scary group of people to be around causing this paradoxical conundrum where even though your loved ones don’t want to hold onto your psyche at this particular moment, its about the only thing that actually works for me.  The DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association classifies BPD with a list of symptoms that the candidate will have at least 5 of the 9 listed.  And even though, there were many symptoms, BPD related or not, swirling around in this muck of 6 days, it was one in particular that probably defines most of my issue of that time.  #1 on the list is “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”.  Yes, my efforts were frantic.  I called pretty much everyone I knew in person as well as sought out online friends and even a guy standing outside the convenience store smoking in an effort to make some physical, face to face contact with someone.  Pretty pitiful, huh?  And yes, my abandonment was real AND imagined, I had both to contend with.  And damn, I didn’t do well and definitely “dropped my basket”.

Enter Cindy and Kathy, my two saviors of the weekend.  They sat with me one night until I felt well enough to be in my house alone.  They brought food and conversation and did a fabulous job of distracting me, giving me some solid ground to stand on.  That lasted one day before I was back in the muck; crying, not eating, mixing meds and smoking cigarettes, a habit given up over a decade ago.  When, in 3 more days, I still hadn’t emerged whole, it was Cindy who declared it time to go for an evaluation.  I didn’t argue, just packed a bag and grabbed my insurance card and off we went to the psych unit of her choice.  Now, it sounds like I’m gonna start doggin’ on the state of psychiatric options and hospitals in general, which I’m not.  For at this particular moment, I was damn grateful that I lived in a city where I had an actual choice of which one to go to and that I had insurance to get in the door.  There were certainly patients in the waiting room who didn’t possess the golden ticket of primo insurance that I had, which made me cry even harder.

I was led down and around several corridors which I realize later put me way in the back of the ward in some sort of lockdown room.  I was asked to undress into paper scrubs which is a far cry from the old paper gowns that didn’t close in back.  My clothes were taken from me and within minutes a team of interns with a doctor arrived in a hysterical entourage of tall, rolling, podium like things with computers mounted on top.  When they were speaking to me, all I could see was the back of the screen, not their faces, which made them look like a team of rectangled shaped droids with lab coats and feet.  I found this really amusing and wondered if this would qualify as real or imagined abandonment.  Let’s just say, given the situation, a friendly pat on the arm or some eye contact would have gone a long way.  After giving them all their pertinent information, I was then left alone and I mean left alone.  I didn’t see anyone for hours until I peeked out and told the nurse that finally looked up from her desk computer screen (Is there a theme here?) that I had to go to the bathroom, could she point the way?  She promptly walked me back into the room and opened a low set of cabinet doors which popped out a toilet seat.  She assured me that it was much more convenient for me to pee in this little toilet in the wall than to have to go down the hall but I knew better.  This was the upscale version of a jail cell.  My bladder and I made peace with our given situation as I didn’t feel that as I was shoeless and in paper scrubs in a lockdown room, that it just wasn’t a good time to fuss.  I settled onto the exam table, curled in a semi-fetal position, pulled out my iPod from my purse (which by the way, still was in my possession and contained several prescribed controlled substances) and began to listen to my relaxation tapes.  More hours went by but again, I had my entertainment and a potty, so I was pretty good.  The nurse had given me a cup of water and a few graham crackers from her stash of snacks.  Plus I’d seen a few people who seemed relatively caring and I felt a sense of relief that if nothing else, I was among people.

Then, whack.  As I’m achieving a blissful state of relaxation and calm, thanks to the tools I brought instead of what was offered, the door slams open with the salty, seasoned veteran of the social work brigade.  Now again, you think I’m gonna complain about her but I rather liked her.  She took one look at my iPod declaring it a weapon of mass destruction and exclaiming how I could hurt myself with that.  She took it really well when I told her if I wanted to do that, I would have done it in the three hours prior.  Out she went to scold the graham cracker nurse then charged back in with her exasperated intern following behind.  “Are you suicidal?”, she asked.  “No, I’m Laurel”, I replied as I extended my hand to shake hers.  This didn’t faze her as she went on to rapid-fire questions faster than the intern could write them down.  The poor thing didn’t have a robotic scooting computer podium, so I slowed my answers down to accommodate her pace.  No, I didn’t harm or cut myself.  No, I haven’t harmed anyone else.  No, I don’t abuse alcohol or drugs.  She proclaimed me fit to go home unless I opted to stay for the accommodations of graham crackers,  tap water and the potty in the wall.  I declined and called another friend to please come get me.

Another hour later, I was given my iPod, my clothing including my bra which apparently posed a huge threat of strangulation to me here in the hospital.  I will have to draw some stern boundaries with that brassiere when I get home to never threaten me like that again.  The nurse presented me with my bill for the day and asked how I wanted to pay.  I told her that in my despair and turmoil, I hadn’t even considered that to which she replied that I could mail it back with payment.  A hundred dollar day that could have been spent at the day spa with seemingly better results.  I’m thinking a massage and a pedicure.

Again, I will practice gratitude that a clean, well staffed, teaching hospital was available to me.  If I was more chronic, the doctor explained, this might be the place for me.  Since I’m fairly functional with an acute crisis, under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist, there aren’t services there for me.  In other words, there isn’t a place for those of us in between.  One must be out of control, harming themselves or others and pose a huge threat to society before the psych hospital is the place to be.  OK, now I know that.  But I still wonder where then, does one like me go?  Where is the tribe of caring people who will help soothe the ravaged soul, bring tea and sing and rock me until my jangled self comes together.  Shouldn’t there be such a place?  I rely so heavily on myself for self nurturing and awareness but accepting my circumstances and limitations prompts me to always have a Plan B.  I’ll keep looking, it has to be out there somewhere.  At least, I know now where it isn’t.


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