Ingenious attempts to self soothe

Depression says you’re a piece of shit. I hate you. 

Depression says there’s no point to life. She says spend time with me, it’s dark in here and no one can see us. 

Depression says how could you have let them do this, I will refuse to breathe. 

Depression says apathy is fatigue is sleep is the possibility of not waking up. 

According to Judith Herman, “Few trauma survivors realize that their self-destructive behavior represents an ingenious attempt to regulate their nervous systems and their unbearable physical and emotional reactions.” 

Thank you depression for protecting me. I understand why you needed to side with the abusers and turn against body and mind. You switched on to regulate my nervous system. If I had of said they were pieces of shit, they would have hit me. When I said it to me, they knew the job was done and so it would end sooner.

The blankness and darkness soothed me. It took away fear and pain. It slowed my nervous system right down. Not doing anything meant I could exhaust myself into a forced rest and not face what they were doing. 

— Transforming The Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists by Janina Fisher

https://amzn.asia/eoEYFSF

Cleaning out stuff from my past.

I have moved apartments and been sorting through some old ‘keepsake’ boxes. There are plenty of old journals dating back to the mid 2000s- pre knowledge of the abuse and then following. I’ve been reading quite a few of the entries and it has been challenging to say the least.

I suspect I should be feeling compassion and empathy for this mid 20s girl whose emotional life was slowly falling apart. Instead I feel shame and embarrassment.

The core themes appear to be:

  • Inability to express or locate feeling states, yet constantly feeling numb, sad, confused and blank
  • Desire to remember abuse and get well but the more I seem to try, the worse it gets
  • Codependent relationship with my ex girlfriend- never feeling good enough for her, always letting her down, self sabotaging, shutting down…
  • Messy, confused and afraid- same shit swirling around in head- low self worth, feelings of disgust. I’m surprised I am still alive frankly. The persistence of suicidal thoughts was so strong.

I seemed to be happy and positive from about 21 to 23, although I drank and took drugs and was constantly out of my head. The high from the addiction deluding me and then others into thinking I was somehow “gonna make it”. Things went downhill from about 24 when I met G and within a year, my first memory of abuse revealed itself. From there, I was pretty much screwed and my mental and emotional health went into rapid decline. It wasn’t until I got sober at 32 that things changed positively. Yet still the writings are so dark and depressing. Lots of communication with my parts, fragmented memories, scary and dissociated recollections.

I am grateful to be almost ten years sober and have more security and balance in my life. The depression still holds its grip and I am often feeling as though I could just curl into a ball and shiver and shake. Let the fear massage it’s way through my body.

I kept the old journals, but threw away lots of memorabilia. I had lots of letters from G still and it just seemed weird to hold on to them now. I read some of them and they made me feel ill. The codependency leaping off the page. The suffocation of the relationship.

I recall a D.i.d blogger saying that he is hard to be in a relationship with. This is because he changes so much that he loses interest in someone. I can relate to that.

What’s been most hard is looking through the memorabilia relating to my marriage. It lasted three years and then I had an affair. We didn’t divorce until just shy of 5 years. Of course those extra months matter to me as it bruises my ego to know I couldn’t even make a solemn promise last more than a few years. Seeing the church service print out and the lovely things people wrote in our wedding book…. And I screwed it all up.

In retrospect I shouldn’t have gotten married, but it felt right at the time and I craved stability and to be looked after. I didn’t think anybody else would love me. I was D.I.D, an alcoholic, a depressive and a newly committed Christian! M treated me well, accepted my parts and rode motorbikes. I wanted a father figure, a saviour and to feel safe and I got that with him.

In all my photos with him I look so gay though. It’s embarrassing. My short short hair. Sometimes it feels so weird being gay. More so about the way I look. Like I just wish I had long brown hair that I could tie in a ponytail, but I never had great hair.

I think I’ve spent my life in envy of others. Always wanting to walk in someone else’s skin other than my own. As though to be in my skin fills me with the deepest shame. I feel sorry to expose anyone to me, that’s how deep the feeling is. Intellectually, I know it’s linked to the defilement of the perpetrators, but emotionally I feel at loss with this despair. How do I tell someone how I feel when this is what is inside my head?

The good news is, I got rid of a lot of stuff I’ve been carrying around for years. It felt positive and meaningful to close some doors. I had garbage bags full of collected pieces and memories.

Christmas

Today was Christmas. I woke and went for a run and then did cardio in the park and prayed. I felt very grounded all day and thankful. I cooked a yummy zucchini salad- it’s basically sliced zucchini pan fried, then laid out on a platter and sprinkled with mint, garlic, white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Then we spent the day at S’ mums with her step dad and family. It was a half Maltese and half Italian event. There was so much food but it was beautifully paced and fresh and healthy. I said to S later that there was this ease and rhythm to the day. I’d never experienced anything like this before. Everyone was so relaxed and happy and nice. There was no alcoholism or fighting or underlying tension because of things unspoken. It was full of love and goodness.

We came home, walked the dogs, had a bath, packed for camping and then the body memory hit. The pain, the indescribable pain in my body. I can’t breathe, I’m so freaking scared, it hurts to be touched. i feel sad and shocked but removed enough to write this as though it is only a part of me experiencing the feelings. Mostly I am removed. I’ll be better off asleep. I feel exhausted. Can goodness and kindness be exhausting?

When we walked the dogs to the park I spoke to my sister and she was drunk. Everyone was being loud and obnoxious and even though I would like to spend Xmas with her and her family, I am so grateful to not be around alcohol and drunkenness. I don’t want to be around it. Drunk people are so selfish and annoying.

I thought back to my family Xmas events. 12 years I did getting drunk, high, off my head to escape the freaking torture of sitting there with these people. So much unsaid. Then one year I spent Xmas sober with them, maybe two (?) and I did it through gritted teeth. It was so hard. I cannot recall childhood Christmas’. Vague flashes of the Smurf’s, a bike and opening some other gifts reveals itself in memory. Everything else is blank. I always thought Christmas Eve was the trigger event but I think it’s Christmas night. I don’t know what happened to me. All I know is it hit me tonight, the pain, the fear and the sadness. i can’t walk properly and I need to crawl into bed and curl into a ball.

Black dogs dance

My partner and I entered a short writing competition back in November, ‘Furious Fiction’. 48 hours to write 500 words with the following elements –

  • Your story must include someone PACKING A SUITCASE.
  • Your story must include the phrase “ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM” (as dialogue or narrative).
  • Your story must include the words CHARM, CRUSH and FAINT.

I didn’t get shortlisted, but it was fun entering and I didn’t think much of it. It’s not really fiction. It’s non fiction. I’m not very good at fiction. Here’s what I wrote anyway.

Black dogs dance.

It was clear she was ageing. Even her tastes in clothes had changed. Nothing seemed to fit her the same way anymore. She wished she had of picked a style earlier. Her body was womanly now. She craved lithe anorexic figure. Beyond covers of fashion magazines, she wanted to feel invisible. Unable to touch her skin, see folds of flesh or witness shape. As though having an outline would make her finally become real. She still drew stick figures.

There was a time when these thoughts were numbed through ingesting hallucinogenic tabs and sipping stiff martinis. She remembered Amsterdam, how cool she felt at 21. Standing across a crowded room, the small stage revealed itself in soft light; a performance space activated for late night dancing or burlesque. She imagined herself a traveling artist. A momentary scene flashed before her eyes. There she stood under a halo of light packing a suitcase, ready to flee this world. She inhaled a cigarette, cool, immune to the consequences. She was full of cliches and could never forward the narrative, yet this sweet imagining fuelled the ideality. Her life but a delusion, kept intact so she could remain in her skin. These flights of fancy lasted for years until she heard the faint whisper of your voice softly berating her.

You were so convincing, an almost charming acquaintance. She did not dare stand up to you. It became hard to distinguish between truth and lies and your narrative became hers. She was powerless to defend against you. Over time you crushed her with your odious strength. She remained trapped in a cycle of futility, overwhelmed at her physical and mental state of being. Selfishly judging her inability to regain control or find moments of joy. These days they would call it depression, back then, you had damned her, and she could not claw out of the grave.

She legs hills to break sweat, to feel heart beating and the welcoming of life. She retraces her story, the unconscious threads of your blanketed breath flattening her until she feels nothing. It is not easy making friends with you, yet she knows she welcomed you inside. As heavy blanket, as mother’s kiss, as muted headphones. A survivable act of resistance, strategy, adaptation, retreat. To accept you means to sit with despair. Despondent with the process, she refuses to acquiesce in your occupation of power. She likens dealing with you as akin to taking the rubbish out at night, weeding the garden or doing the laundry. Inescapable, vital, part of good disposition and daily sprints towards meaning.

Pieces of me

When I was 17 I had a boyfriend who was in a band. The band wrote a beautifully emotive song called “Pieces” that I vaguely recall directing a music video for. The song title is how a part described ourselves in therapy today.

I lay down and we did a check in and everything my T said, I repeated internally to my system to connect. Then a part said, we have been cut into pieces. T talked about joining together and a part came out and said we are not allowed to join. Their role was to stop that happening. T wondered if these were the words of the abusers and the part admitted their job was to stop joining happening. T encouraged the part to consider taking a new job and talked about other things the part could do, like looking out for parts that might be similar. That way they might be able to connect together. I think the part agreed but I became very tired and almost fell asleep. Then the session finished.

Tonight S and I watched Toy Story. It was the first time I had seen it. I resonated with Buzz Lightyear when he realised he wasn’t a galactic hero and that he was just a toy with no purpose or meaning. He fell into a depression and gave up. The good news is Woody was able to reframe things and he discovered the joy of being a toy. My parts haven’t found joy yet but maybe there is hope.

Recollections of therapy in third person.

I’m going to try something a bit different to provide an account of my day and therapy session. I will be writing in third person. I describe a memory which could be triggering to some.

You went to bed exhausted and stressed. Life drained from you like a vampire sucking blood. There was little joy or meaning. Your head hurt. You woke from intense dreams filled with random content that you hoped contained more meaning. You dreamt of your ex husband and houses with lots of baths.

All week you had felt so disgusting and full of shame. Effects of a big weekend filming for this documentary and confronting trauma. The disgust is so pervasive and takes over your whole body and mind. You are disgust. You are shame. These are not separate phenomenons. They live inside you. You were so tired that you slept in to 10:00 am and rolled out of bed groggy and unfit. In the shower your parts came out, they were in memory. You tried to soothe yourself under hot water, caressing your arms. You were having a memory of being held upside down and strangled around your neck. You couldn’t breathe and gasped for breath. You longed to be brave to scream like the girls did on the weekend at the boxing event. You wanted to shake like them and release the terror inside you. You wanted to be comforted and soothed the way you held them but there was no one around. Daily activities took over and you were able to focus and get some marking done. Time ticked along and soon it rolled into therapy. All you wanted to do was crawl through that door. But you had gained some clarity and as you relayed the pain you had been feeling, she guided you to the floor area with pillows and you lay down shaking. And you told her about the hanging and not being able to breathe and she reminded you that you could breathe now. She patted your shoulder and told you that you were all okay now. You were all so scared and nothing made sense. Frightened fragments of memory circling around. You told her you always feel like she’s angry at you, that’s your default. She never is. She said the cult were probably always angry and so that makes sense. You hope you can challenge this thinking now. Life felt sad and hopeless although after the session you felt better and had regained some clarity.

Fragments of stuff that’s been going on.

As an SRA survivor the feeling of self loathing can be so intense. My body is abhorrent, my mind is sick, I live at the bottom of sewerage. That’s how depraved I feel.

My body is a carriage of shame. That’s why I prefer it to be invisible. Sad hey?

I learnt tonight that my main conflict style is compromising, followed by accommodating. Compromising is not inherently negative or positive. It can be beneficial to conflict management but may often mean a win/lose and/or someone gets a more favourable deal. When both parties can see the gains however it is less likely resentments will harbour.

Accommodating however is about putting my needs last. This makes sense in the environment I grew up in, or at least what I can remember. My father controlled the environment and so we did whatever we had to so he wouldn’t blow up.

The last while I’ve been very stressed and scared and dissociative. I keep switching to cold, pragmatic, non human me. I can’t seem to switch back. I’m trying to communicate at night but the voices are loud and disturbing.

Group

I am having transference issues in my head with the group of survivors I connect with. I’ve missed a couple of sessions as I needed some rest, but today the shift in daylight savings meant I missed out on connecting. Everyone was real nice and emailed me personally and they’ve actually done that over the last few weeks. It’s been very nice but I’m not used to it, being cared about and missed or thought of nicely. And it’s activating a part or some voices who just feel really awkward and embarrassed about it. Like why would the group want me to be part of it and they must be lying or want something from me when they say those things. I don’t want to be part of a group, I’m scared I’ll get hurt and they’ll hurt me. But I know they won’t as they’re not like that but I guess I’m just giving this part free reign to write what they think.

Groups are scary, embarrassing, dangerous and evil. Groups are bad and mean. Groups cause trouble and hurt people.

I know I’m not in a group like that but this is what is coming up.

I hope I’m not offending anyone but it feels better out than in.

Living legacy of trauma

Some difficult responses to worksheet 1 in: Transforming The Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists by Janina Fisher
https://amzn.asia/gUWYoOZ

Fisher talks about the below symptoms or problems as part of a living legacy of trauma. I like how she doesn’t describe them as mental illnesses or conditions.

  • Depression
  • Irratibility
  • Decreased concentration
  • Numbing
  • Loss of interest
  • Insomnia
  • Overwhelm
  • Loss of a sense of the future, hopelessness
  • Shame or worthlessness
  • Few or no memories
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Hyper vigilance/ mistrust
  • Anxiety, panic attacks
  • Chronic pain, headaches
  • Substance abuse, eating disorders
  • Feeling unreal or out of the body
  • Self destructive behaviour
  • Loss of a sense of “who I am.”

I have experienced everyone of the above although less insomnia thankfully. I have had difficulties sleeping or falling asleep but wouldn’t call this insomnia.

“How do your feelings about yourself change when you see that these problems or symptoms are all part of the living legacy of the trauma?”

I can see what Fisher is doing here and I am experiencing strong resistance. My feelings about myself haven’t changed. Or have they? Let me unpack…

The problems and symptoms I experience so fully are part of the living legacy of trauma. They are not to do with me per se. Anyone who experiences trauma will likely feel one or more of these symptoms. My depression is a symptom as part of the living legacy of trauma. It is alive and breathing and traverses generations. The problem and symptom is not mine. It is the traumas. I’ve taken it on because it’s living in my body, but I don’t need to house it anymore. I don’t need to identify with it as part of my legacy.

Q2. Choose four of the most troubling symptoms and ask how did they help me survive.

This is hard to choose as they are all troubling or have been. I have written quite a bit about depression and addiction, so I’ve chosen the following four:

  • Shame or worthlessness
  • Loss of a sense of future, hopelessness
  • Few or no memories
  • Loss of a sense of “who I am”

Shame / Worthlessness

I had to google an answer for this. I looked up “how does shame help survivors” – quest psychology in the UK writes that shame “damages a person’s self-image in such a way that no other emotion can.” See ref. I could not process or handle the emotion, I was simply too young, it was too painful. Shame helped me to disconnect from the emotional pain.

Loss of a sense of future, hopelessness

I think this is to do with learned helplessness. I know I have parts who gave up. What’s the point? They are better off dead. There is no hope. Believing this and carrying this symptom allowed me to survive because putting myself out there means death, and pain. Also there was no point in trying as I believed I was a failure. This is a hard one. Still working it out. I definitely identify with learned helplessness.

Few or no memories

When your programmed not to remember, then you don’t really have a choice. I think having few or no memories helped me to survive by being able to dissociate and live life as though nothing happened.

Loss of a sense of “who I am”

This is so hard. If I’m not stable in self or identity then I can’t be hurt or they can’t get me. When I have no solid foundation I am not real. I am infinitely scattered. Untouchable.

Questioning survival strategies

I’m reading “Transforming the living legacy of trauma” by Janina Fisher. I’ve only just started the book and already I’m blown away. She talks about how depression and hopelessness are reactions that represent a survival strategy. “Shame makes us retreat into invisibility. Each symptom represents a way your brain and body adapted to a chronic condition of threat.” At certain times I’ve recognised this and it has been helpful, but I quickly forget. It’s hard for me to accept depression and low self worth as a survival strategy. It makes these feelings seem like smart choices. When I’m experiencing such reactions, which is often, they don’t feel like clever choices. They feel suffocating and relentless and disempowering.

I retreated into shame to be invisible, yes. I guess that’s an adaptation to normal every day survival. Recently I’ve been feeling very low self worth and so much shame about the way I look. It is a sign I am not connected to self. I am deeply ashamed for my existence and hate the way I look. I feel old. I hate my body. Is this a survival strategy? To hate oneself? From the perspective of the child it makes sense to turn the hate inwards if the primary perpetrators were your family – the source of your ultimate survival. But in a cult they till you it’s your fault too, that you are ugly and worthless, so this compounds the belief. It’s a form of silencing and power and control. That’s not a survival strategy then, because it’s a forced belief system.

So is Fisher saying I chose depression or hopelessness as a way to survive? I’m confusing myself. It’s a radical reframe but feels a bit problematic too. Maybe I am feeling defensive because I don’t want to admit it is a reaction, because if I admit that I have to sit with the despair.

Yesterday I rang a friend when I was triggered and I told her I felt such deep shame. She was very kind and told me she has been practicing being gentle and loving to herself. She didn’t try to fix how I was feeling or take it away. She just let it be and shared this with me. She told me it was good i recognised it and wasn’t acting out from this space. After that I felt better and we just caught up like old friends. It helped to shift the feelings as I think otherwise I would have come home a dissociative mess.

I’ll keep reading the book and I’m sure I’ll have more to share.