two hundred & sixty four: activate

ugh this is such a fucking therapy word.

worse, i use it fairly often.

i usually say it when i don’t want to say triggered, because that has become so incredibly overused in general parlance for things that are not remotely related to trauma or abuse. i use it interchangeably, i guess, because it makes sense to me, as a concept, and as a visceral response in the wake of trauma.

for me, being triggered feels activating: when a bunch of things in my body and my brain light up, while a bunch of other things shut down. and folks, lately, i am mega activated. my cat is dying. my work is draining me. it was just father’s day. my parents keep texting me. my kid is hating me, and, on the daily, accuses me of all kinds of mean horrific things because she is struggling and somehow i am her favourite target. my wife just had surgery that for some reason scared the shit out of me. i have no therapist at the moment. i am missing pocketbrit something fierce and cursing the idiotic number of miles and bodies of water between us.

so yeah, i am activated, all right. i am not sleeping, i am young, i am jumpy, i am easily terrified, i am weepy. i hate all of it.

Regret(s) (254)

I’ve got plenty of regrets. I’m not going to go into all of them, because well, that would end up being an incredibly dull and longwinded post serving nobody, not even myself.

Today my mum brought up my brother with me. Apparently somebody drove into the back of his car (yet another in a series of unfortunate car dramas of his). She made a comment along the lines of “it’s like somebody up above has shoved a huge arrow pointing at him to attract car accidents”. I think I smiled, shrugged my shoulders in a kind of well, good way. She said I thought I’d tell you that because I thought you would like it…think he deserves it.

The way she does this, randomly brings it into conversation completely freaks me out. It makes me panic and dissociate. It doesn’t feel safe. I said that he drives like a complete idiot, so he does deserve it for that, yes. She didn’t take the hint, or rather, she just ignored it, as she has a tendency to do, and then said “I don’t get it, your relationship with him is worse than ever now, youre the one that said that you had a good relationship with him now”. My panic grows, my shame grows. I say that I don’t remember saying that. She tells me that I did, the day that I told her what he’d done (and yes I did say that). It’s her narcissistic way of saying that I’m now making it all difficult when I was perfectly fine with it back then. Its the insinuation (likely in my head, but I also don’t doubt that my mum is very much thinking it), that I chose how it is now. That I didn’t want them to tell him. That they said they would do whatever I decided. And they still would.

And I could…I could tell them to tell him that they know, to have it all out there, and risk him never coming back. And they would. So as far as they are concerned, they’re doing the perfectly right thing. They’re amazing parents. It makes me want to shrivel up in shame, even now just writing it. Because as far as they are concerned, the upset that I am harbouring (that they don’t even realise I am to the extent that I am), is entirely unfair and unjustified, and all because I’m selfish and too much, and making them out to be awful when they’re not. Except they aren’t taking any of the rest of it into account. They aren’t considering that my dad said literally nothing about it to me until I said that it was making me upset. His response was to completely and utterly pretend it didn’t happen. And then, when forced to talk about it with me, it was a family meeting that felt like a very cold business meeting. I was in tears being stared at by my parents who remained sat in their chairs. I was forced to come up with a plan of what we would do. I was forced to hear over and over about how if they told him, he would never come back. It takes no account for the pressure of all of it placed on me, it takes no account for the total control that was removed from my clutches and placed into theirs. I didn’t choose to tell. My mum asked and asked and asked until I said that yes it had happened. She already knew. I told her I didn’t want my dad to know, she said that he had a right to know and that she would be telling him. I was immediately forced to say what I wanted to do about it. At which point I think I said what I did about having a good relationship with him now that we were older. That things were different. I said it because it was true, and because I needed a grasp on staying as is was for a bit. Not having the rug pulled entirely out from under my feet. She was throwing everything at me in the most terrifying situation to me. She paid no real attention to the fact that I was very much not okay, she made it all about her, made a big deal about how she had to go to bed because she felt sick.

No regard has ever been given to how traumatic that day and the days following were for me. And I’m not surprised, they have no understanding of trauma. They laugh at the idea of somebody having PTSD who hasn’t been serving their country in war. It’s a preposterous concept. But what really hurts is that they have no desire to understand. To do some reading, to think about how to help, or what I might need. All the while thinking they’re being so amazing, and that I’m being difficult and extra. Making a big deal out of nothing. I hate the shame that I carry because of it. The shame that makes me cry and makes me want to hide, just for putting it out anonymously on the internet.

My biggest regret is everything that has come since telling. The not shouting, the not putting it all out there, the not bringing my brother into the huge mess that he doesn’t know exists but that he himself created. The staying close to them, the still seeing them, the not talking about it. The getting increasingly closer to my dad again, to the point where I don’t know if I would ever be okay with leaving them, even though I think that that might be the best thing I could ever do for myself. I don’t know how exactly I would do it different, and I know that no way would ever be perfect. But I just really regret the way that I did do it, even if it was the best I knew how at the time. It feels like the biggest mess that I won’t ever be able to clean up.

Mouth (236)

Trigger Warning  – this post contains graphic details of abuse

 

I’m 25 years old. I’m alone in my house, perfectly safe. The doors are locked, I know I am alone. I am an adult, I have a voice, and I have control. It’s sunny outside. There’s all sorts of noises outside from cars and people milling around shopping, walking barking dogs, talking to each other.

Only I’m not 25 years old and I’m not safe. I’m only 8, I’m on his bed, and he’s put my knees up high after getting me to take my trousers off. I’m really panicking, I don’t want this, I really really don’t want this. I start to squirm, I make a noise that isn’t a cry but not far off. He looks at me with hatred and anger, pushes my legs down. The message is clear: this is happening, the more you try for it not to happen the more angry and the worse I’ll be. He goes in again, mouth against me, and I need him off. I NEED HIM OFF. I put my feet on his shoulders and I push really hard. He’s way stronger than me, but I have caught him off guard. I push him away, and I think I stop it happening. Or I stopped that happening at least. I can’t remember what happened after that, but I have a feeling I was forced to do things to him. Anyway my victory was short lived, and this was a regular thing for him to do to me. Want to hear something disgusting? Sometimes I didn’t mind it so much. Want to hear something even more disgusting? When the guy I have sex with sometimes tries to do this to me I get triggered. The thoughts going through my head…you’re not as good as my brother.

I tell myself I’m safe, that I’m feeling these things in my body but they arent really happening. I try to keep pressure against myself down there so that I know that it’s just me there, nobody else, and nobody can get access. And I’m 25. A triggered 25 year old that read a book that was too much, and now has the word “mouth” going around and around in her head, and in her body.

I’m not an adult, I’m 9 years old and he’s locked us in the bathroom, hes shoving his penis down my throat and forcing the action, and not letting me pull away, however hard I try. I gag, I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m suffocating and I can’t pull away. I blame myself because I suck my thumb and doing that made him think of it.

 

I’m an adult and I’m safe, and yet I’m not. I’ve spent days feeling sick, being tortured by all of this bullshit, and a whole lot more. I’m not just thinking of it, I’m in a ball, unable to move, its happening, and I keep my jaw locked and my legs tight shut. I fucking hate it.

two hundred & fifteen: built

i forget sometimes that mine and pocketbrit’s relationship was built upon the common experience of trauma. that we met online, on a forum where we could be anonymous but also share our stories and our struggles. and that what brought us there was the pain and hurt and desperation we were feeling daily.

and then we have days like we have recently, where we are both young and spinning and triggered, where we lash out and hurt each other and isolate ourselves, and i remember. and i hate it. i hate that she knows it. i hate that we’re so hurt and hurting, that our ability to tolerate and foster love and intimacy has been so profoundly affected.

i got a book from the library yesterday called baffled by love: stories of the lasting impact of childhood trauma inflicted by loved ones. i don’t usually read books like this; i’m steeped enough in my own experience of trauma (and deal with it enough in my work) that i get overwhelmed easily. but this one seems different, it is easy to read, and i appreciate the author’s voice in telling her stories along with the stories of her clients.

by page 20, i had already found words that resonated with me deeply, that made me remember that i’m more than a big bag of triggers covered in skin; that i have more to offer pocketbrit than just activating her own hurt. these are those words: “trauma is hard to speak about and hard to hear about. but stories unshared don’t disappear; they return in relationships, silently taking prisoners. if the trauma remains unknown, unspoken, and unconscious, it does harm. telling your story to a compassionate witness, in contrast, can be healing.”

and that’s what my pocketbrit is: a compassionate witness. she is one of the most important people to whom i tell my stories. she is the person with whom i work through the majority of my core wounds. it is my relationship with her – the one built on all of this ugliness, all this stuff i want to forget – that is helping to heal my heart, that makes me feel like i might one day be okay. it is so fucking hard sometimes, but so far, despite the hard, despite the hurt, it is always worth it.

one hundred & ninety three: perfection

ah yes. the companion of nearly every survivor of a difficult childhood: striving for perfection.

many of us, myself and pocketbrit definitely included, had parents that expected it. yet no matter how excellent our behaviour or grades, or how closely we followed the rules, it eluded us, and eludes us still.

naively, i thought i had gotten over my need for perfection; i have certainly dedicated hundreds of hours to it in previous years of therapy, and thought i had kicked the habit. recent experiences tell me that i haven’t, not even close. maybe i’ve been in denial about it. or perhaps i was distracted by loads of other bullshit that was piled atop of this base, gutteral fear, that’s certainly feasible (eye roll). but my expectations of perfection are very much here, very much hurting me, very much making things difficult again in my life.

*

my expectation of perfection manifests in several different ways, most notably, with a lack of tolerance for mistakes. in myself mostly, but sometimes in others (like my kiddo…ugh i hate that). when i think of where it came from, it was partly that i didn’t hear a lot about what was ‘right’ about me. if i got 98% on a test, the question was about where the other 2% went – i mean, if i was so close to perfection, why couldn’t i just go all the way? or if i had a really great soccer game or a terrific hit in baseball, there would also be feedback on the really fast runner i didn’t stop, or the one pop fly that bounced out of my glove.

i described to someone recently – my wife, maybe, or my t – how i have a really long mental list of all that i have done wrong, the mistakes i have made, and with whom. and once the list starts approaching a certain length, i get more and more squirrely, all watery on the inside, because how much more will they tolerate? i mean, i messed that thing up last week, i forgot that really important date in her life, i really fucked up that other thing yesterday, i made that stupid joke that upset her, and oh my god, what about how disappointed he was when i didn’t follow through when i was supposed to?!

my missteps keep me up at night all the time. everyone says that mistakes are okay, but i know they’re not, not really. coz if i burn through their tolerance for mistakes (which i inevitably will, coz i’m nothing if consistent in my mistake-making), they will go. they will have no choice but to leave, because what self-respecting human will put up with the shittiness that is me?! at some point, they will call it, because how crummy i am will outweigh any of the things that might be okay or decent about me.

because the truth is, i am chronically terrified of being left. despite being a grown-ass woman in my 40s, despite the fact that many people haven’t gone…all i can think of is how many people did. after 17 years with my wife, i still think (and regularly) that i am one mistake away from her throwing in the towel. i am terrified of my daughter reaching the age of 18, when she can officially, legally disown me as her mother. i know pocketbrit is going to leave me one way or another, why wouldn’t she?

and i’m aware it sounds nuts. but it’s how i feel, way deep down. and whilst triggered, this striving for perfection is even more amped up, with the added bonus of it being even less likely that i meet the unattainable goal of getting it right 100% of the time. when i’m triggered, the mind-numbing fear of the consequences of these critical mistakes is also magnified, millions-fold. and my response? is fight, flight, and freeze, all, in quick head-spinning succession.

*

there have been huge chunks of time lately where i’ve self-isolated to the degree that i’m convinced that the only person i can count on is my therapist. and the only reason i can count on her is because i pay her, and i’m too lost in terror to even care about how sad that is. she is the only one who i’ve been able to tell the hard stuff, the ugly horrible stuff in my head, how much i loathe myself, how scared i get. i tell her, even though i know she will leave me too, but it won’t be personal like it will be when everyone else does.

she’ll leave me because i’m not a real person in her life, and because her professional obligations to me will end at some point. she’s here because she has to be. and even though that used to hurt me so so much, that somehow feels safer and better these days. she won’t leave because i messed up too horrifically, coz like she says, people messing up is her bread and butter. she will leave because she was always going to; she is not my mother (though at times i still want to throw myself at her and plead for her to reconsider it), or my family, or my friend. she will go because that was always the deal.

*

when i am finally become more adult, after days straight of spinning out and triggering and retriggering myself, i know that perfection is impossible. i know that striving for perfection comes from my inner little one, who is trying so desperately to avoid feeling shame and blame and judgement from others, like brene brown says. i know it’s coz i have the core belief that i am bad, not that i’ve done something bad. that i am a mistake, not that i made one.

and from this adult place, i know i can’t go on this way, i can’t go on feeding the illusion of perfection. it keeps me alone and lonely and disconnected. it keeps me walled away and prickly and inaccessible. it is the conviction of a little one for whom those fears were the reality, long ago, but i’m big now, i’m safe now, it’s not true. i can fuck up. lots and lots and lots. i am more than my mistakes. i am more than my trauma. i mean more than those things to the people who love me.

*

but this secure, solid adult place has been so fleeting lately, that i only have a few days at most before i’m riding the shame spiral again, dragging everyone down in my wake, berating myself mightily for landing myself here, yet again.

i am so, so tired.

this post was backdated; actually written on april 12/19

one hundred & ninety two: heat

for whatever reason, the expression that came to mind was if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

such a gentle, understanding, kind thing to say…not. it probably came to mind in the first place because the sentiment and its tone feel familiar. it’s something my parents would say. it’s aggressive, no-nonsense, and also, leaves little room for alternate interpretations of reality. it leaves no room for how you feel, for any context. it’s kinda like, if you have anything other than accolades for me, then shut up and get out.

when i did some research into its origins, it apparently came from US president harry truman, a plain-speaking guy by all accounts, who told some of his staff that if they didn’t like how he did things, they could clear out of the way for someone who did. fair enough, really. he was the boss of the country, after all.

but one interpretation of the phrase made me first flush with shame, and then anger: that if you can’t cope with something, leave the work for someone who can. and also, if the pressure is too much to deal with, if you can’t hack it, perhaps just bow out.

oh, okay. yeah, let me try that. coz you know what, i’d love to get out of the fucking kitchen and have someone else step in and deal with the aftermath of early childhood incest, neglect and trauma. please do. please cope with it for me, so i can not be such a disaster. sign me up for that.

coz yeah, i’ve had it with this heat. i’ve had it with messing up my relationships, with battling shame, with hurting others and being hurt. i’ve had it with suicidal ideation. i would be more than happy to tag out so that someone can do the work of knitting my life back together. i’m game. i’d empty my bank account for that for sure.

Healing (176)

I hate this word. Like really seriously think it’s such a goddamn stupid word, at least in respect to trauma.

A broken arm heals. A fractured toe heals. A gash that’s required 17 stitches will heal. Does trauma seriously heal? If it does I’d like someone to let my body in on the know-how please, because I seem to be a bit slow on the uptake.

The concept of healing always seems airy-fairy when it comes to this stuff. Like you need to relax, let it be, and magically you’ll start to love yourself and move on. Bullshit. Maybe one day I will get over the fact that it happened. Maybe I’ll learn to hate myself less, maybe I’ll be brave enough to remove myself from my family. But it’ll always be there, it’ll always hurt when I look at it. It really won’t just heal and be good as new. Fuck that idea.

Avoidance (177)

I think I might just avoid this one….

Ugh, I wish. I’m a big avoider. It’s something I do pretty well.

This always reminds me of way back when I did EMDR with the man who was head of counselling at my university. When I got there the first day he asked me to fill out a bunch of questionnaires/forms. I can’t remember the name of one of them, and I can’t find it online, but there were a load of pretty odd questions. He scored it and then explained the questionnaire to me at the end. It was testing trauma, maybe PTSD, I can’t remember, but there were three categories that you were scored in; hypervigilance (I scored mid range I think), dissociation (my response – “that stuffs bonkers”. I scored low. lol), and avoidance….where I scored extremely extremely high, high enough that on that section alone I would have been put in the PTSD bracket. (Not that the point of any of it was diagnosis, but just for him to get some background before we could begin the EMDR).

Back then my avoidance was absolutely huge. I had yet to find the forum where I met PC (or maybe i had just found it, I can’t remember, it was around about the same time – I think the forum was just after). I hadn’t told a single person about my childhood. Hadn’t confronted any family, hadn’t told a single friend, and was very much trying to continue avoiding the whole thing even in my own head. Because I had done that for years, and it had worked remarkably well; it got me here. But then relationships were becoming difficult, I was starting to have it confronting me when conversations between 20 year old female friends turned to stuff like sex, when I tried dating and freaked out when things progressed too far, when I started drinking a lot more because all of a sudden my brain was refusing to ignore it all and instead decided to bombard me with a fucking running background commentary on all of it. And I’d ignored it for years, for my whole life that far. But something to do with living away, having space from my family, and having it very obvious to me how differently I felt, and how withheld and scared I was, by being there as my friends relationships unfolded, made it somehow impossible to ignore. Avoidance totally failed.

That’s not to say that I don’t still avoid – I absolutely do. Last week I sent an email to my t that I wanted to talk to her about some stuff. This week I avoided going into it, and I likely will next week, and the week after, until forever lol. I’m good at being an idiot like that.

Also, a huge difficulty (I wrote part of my problem just then before changing it – that’s what it feels like, but I’m trying to be just a tiny bit nicer to myself), is what I’ve written on here about before, which is a phobia of inner experience, or easier put; I’m a wimp and scared of feeling the feelings, so I avoid doing that a lot. I could go into that tonight (it ties into my saying fine all the time too acutally…), but I think I’ve written enough nonsense for one night.

one hundred & seventy three: fine

at first i thought that my comment on pocketbrit’s post was pretty much all i wanted to say on the topic…except it seems that her post has disappeared, and now i don’t remember what i said. so i’m going to try again.

i think all of us live in what i like to call opposite-land at times…we say one thing while meaning another. and it’s all in the delivery, right? ‘i’m fine’ accompanied by a downcast gaze, or quick, snappy body language, or a blazing stare all mean, quite clearly, that the person is not very fine at all. but for pocketbrit and i, who built our relationship via text on a screen (on a forum for survivors of sexual abuse, then over email, now using a chatting app), it was sometimes hard to tell tone. however, i learned fairly quickish (yet slower than most, likely) that for her, fine usually did not mean that she was okay.

i tried to search through our chat history using the word fine but it came up with about 75,420,291 hits…okay, a slight exaggeration, but it is a word that comes up between us frequently, and hurts us both. she won’t believe it, but i don’t think she’s wrong and i’m right in how we use it, not even a little. it is more just that this one small word has managed to highlight so completely and painfully the worst and biggest hurts from our past, the ways they have settled in our bones and continue to injure us in the now. it is horrible and amazing both, how quickly it can flip a switch on our communication, how much power it wields. and tonight, it makes me mad that i let it so often, when i should know better. (oh hello shame, you wily arsehole.)

as she has written about previously, my sweetest pocketbrit was not permitted feelings in her family; her role was as a peace-keeper amongst her brothers, her dad, and even between her parents. there was no room for her to feel anything. no one asked, and no one, within or outside her family, dug beneath the facade of fineness. any unfine feelings she did have were quickly swallowed in order for her to stay safe, to survive.

being fine was the only option for her, really, for years and years (and i’d argue, even now) and that’s an awful thing to come to terms with. re-experiencing the aloneness of a forced fine-ness is fucking terrible, bad enough as an adult, but even worse through the heart of a child. a child who wants to be rescued; who wants to be seen and known and adored and held, like all children do. like we deserved.

i know pocketbrit’s story. i know it, and i understand it. i know that her need for fineness when she is anything but is not to do with me. i know it’s about protecting herself, and most of all, i want her to be safe. god, it is so so important to me that she is safe, that the wee ones inside are safe. and when i’m firmly planted as an adult, her fineness/not fineness doesn’t affect me in the same way as when i’m less adult. it doesn’t hurt. i can think, ah, pocketbrit needs to stay safe, okay. it is in those moments that i can ask whether she’s really fine, or whether she needs to be (as she referenced in her post). it’s those times that no matter her response to that question, whether it’s truthful or less truthful or angry or barricaded, that i can stay steady. if she says she’s fine and she’s not really, it may be mildly frustrating, sure, but i don’t spin out. i can be fine, truly fine, in the face of however she is.

the crap part is, i haven’t had many of those moments lately, where i’m fine, or anything approximating it. i’ve been very unfine lately. and so has she.

and that’s when it all goes to shit, really. when we’re both little and needing. when we’re tired or missing each other. when we want to have our needs met without having to ask, without having to say the words. when we need to be remembered by the other, when we can’t do it ourselves. basically, when our traumas get all tangled and knotted between us and suddenly we’re wading through a colossal triggery mess.

for me, the hook is the word fine, a little, yes, but mostly it’s about doublespeak. when i’m young, or if i’m not sturdy in my adultness, my terror with hearing things are fine (when the circumstances are so shit that there’s no possible way they could be) comes from knowing that i am expected to know, and that because i don’t, i will have to guess, that i will have to search, and that i will inevitably get it wrong.

coz that was my entire childhood. i grew up with a mother who had an endless number of triggers, it seemed. who metamorphosed into a petulant furious child when she was hurt or upset. and her lack of boundaries, her volatility, her inconsistency, made for very confusing, unsafe times for child-me. coz when my mom was hurt or upset, she raged, she lashed out with whatever was nearest, she slammed things around, she screamed in my face, but worst of all was when she would go completely silent, for hours or sometimes days.

it made my stomach drop out. it was clear i was being punished, but she wouldn’t tell me why, or what. during these silent periods, when i asked for something she’d sometimes respond, but with no eye contact. she would serve me food, turn on the taps for my bath, but in silence. and if she did meet my gaze, her eyes were empty and dead. she handled me like i was a thing. it was like i had disappeared, like i didn’t exist, and i absorbed her disgust like a sponge.

for years, when this happened, i would flail desperately, trying to make it right, trying to fix it, trying to get her to look at me, to love me. and then, in a distant, quiet voice, looking somewhere over my shoulder, she’d say that she was fine. it didn’t matter. and there was no correct response to that. the only right thing was that i was wrong, regardless. my existence, my presence, was wrong.

so it’s a little bit the word fine, but mostly it’s the perpetual wrongness that’s my trigger. the feeling from long ago, of being trapped, of having no clue what to do but being pretty certain that it will be wrong no matter what. the helplessness that swallows me whole when i’m faced with a word that has so many shades of meaning, that is so super charged.

so yeah, when i’m already triggered, or when i’m young already (or teetering on edge of it), when i’m lost in shame, hearing pocketbrit tell me she’s fine creates instant panic. it feels like i have to guess and i know i’ll get it wrong, and then many times, i’m flooded with anger and blame (to cover my terror) and then it’s already gone to shit, hasn’t it.

so here are my solutions around using the word fine. we should:

  • identify exactly how we’re feeling every given moment
  • only say the word as it’s meant – as in, all is well over here!
  • stay safe at all times so we never resort to past coping mechanisms
  • check our shame at the door, or if we experience it, be able to dial it back asap
  • remember that we love each other
  • remember what love is, period

yeah they’re shit solutions. i know. i knew it when i started trying to write them. it’s coz there aren’t any solutions, i don’t think.

saying fine is not a problem to be solved, to start…i mean, yeah, all the things that are glued to it are problematic, but we didn’t paste them there. we didn’t choose them on our own, though we are the ones who have to deal with them.

update (as of may 12/19): even though the original entry was only a couple months ago, i was struck by the fact tonight that this word hasn’t come up in ages. i mean, we certainly haven’t stopped triggering each other, and we’ve had some absolutely horrific arguments since then…one in particular for which i need to do a whole lot more repair with one of her young parts…but not about this word. progress? i think so. i really do. coz even after reflecting on all of this again, even thinking about all the hard stuff we’ve been through together and on our own, all i feel is love and gratitude. she’s the friend for me.

backdated; finalized on May 12/19