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As those of you who have read my postings on this blog and also my web site pages know, I’m currently involved in a therapy modality called Ego State Therapy.  Since each human being is unique and works in therapy differently from any other human being, I can discuss Ego State Therapy as I am experiencing it, but I can’t speak for anyone else or describe anyone else’s experience of this modality.  In this posting, then, I will give you an idea as to what my experience with this therapy has been.  Here I use “has been” because I sense that soon I will be transitioning into a new part of my therapy, although I am still working to finish Ego State Therapy.  Please bear in mind as you read that I am most assuredly NOT a mental health professional, and my comments in this post are strictly based on what little general theory I have gleaned and on my own experience.

I entered therapy with my present psychologist a little over a year ago because my PTSD symptoms had become more distressing.  The flashbacks were coming more frequently and at odd and random times, and my problem with dissociation, derealization, and depersonalization was for some reason becoming more pronounced—in general, my symptoms were simply causing me more distress, and I knew I needed to deal with them. I wanted to get the symptoms out of my face so I could focus on more satisfying and more interesting aspects of life.  That was my goal as I began working in therapy this time.

My therapist and I decided upon Ego State Therapy because it is an effective method for preparing for later EMDR therapy, a modality that has been proven to be effective in alleviating PTSD symptoms.  Information on EMDR is available on the following web site:  www.emdr.com/   Preparation is necessary before engaging in EMDR, usually, because there must be a base or foundation of ego strength laid for EMDR.  Speaking solely from my own experience, I need to be more “together” before undertaking EMDR.  The state of not feeling “together” I call the “Humpty Dumpty” problem after the character in the old nursery rhyme:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

My goal in therapy this time is to do what I need to do to keep myself together and to reduce my PTSD symptoms as much as I can. My therapist is both experienced and highly competent at helping people with PTSD and trauma issues, so chances are that I’ll reach my goal this time.  Being realistic, I know that I may have some lingering PTSD symptoms that surface when I’m under stress, but even if I still have remnants of PTSD symptoms when I’m finished with therapy, I want to be able to manage them so they don’t disrupt my life as they have done in the past.  If I can do that, then I will consider my therapy a success.

Thus, through Ego State Therapy I have been laying a foundation for EMDR.  How, exactly, does Ego State Therapy help a person feel more together?  In general, the modality helps a person organize and make peace among all the various “parts” or “people” inside himself or herself.  What do I mean by “parts”?  Well, to some degree or another, we each have “people” inside us.  For example, I have a person or part inside me I call Cowboy.  She is the “me” who takes a pragmatic approach to life, isn’t afraid of a task, does what needs to be done, and then moves on to the next task. Cowboy helped me raise my daughter on my own and got me through graduate school. She does her work without straying from the trail. She has a task and a goal and rides a draft horse that plods steadily in the direction of the barn and the food trough.

In addition to Cowboy, I have a part inside me named Internal Therapist.  She isn’t much like Cowboy. She is less goal-driven and more relationship-oriented.  In addition, there is First Protector, the part that protects the child parts inside me.  There is also a pesky part named Constanza, a horse, who doesn’t like to obey rules and who tends to scoff at other parts and let them know that she is better than they are.  These are just a few of the parts I’m dealing with.  There are others, too.  The population in my psyche is diverse, as it probably is in most people’s psyches, but I have come a long way in getting the parts to work together and interact peaceably.  The result is that I feel more peaceful inside myself now, and I feel more “together” than I have felt in a long time.  I still have a bit farther to go with Ego State Therapy, but soon I will be ready for EMDR.

As I said earlier, each person is unique, and each person’s therapy style is unique.  Most people work on bringing peace to the world inside themselves while in the therapist’s room.  My natural inclination is to write, so I have written a dialogue in which my parts interact.  My dialogue is approaching 300 pages, and I’ve been working on it for a year.  When I sit down at my computer to work on my dialogue, I have no idea what will appear on the pages.  When I finish my writing each time, then I read what I have written.  In the reading, I understand what I have written and can see my progress.  When my therapist and I talked about the progress of my dialogue yesterday, we both could see that I had done exactly what I would have done if I had gone through the process in the usual way, working in the therapist’s office rather than writing the dialogue at home.

In other words, by progressing through Ego State Therapy in my own way, I am building the foundation I need when I embark on EMDR, but I’m also having fun.  I always wanted a horse and a cowboy outfit when I was a kid, but Santa never came through.  Now in addition to the other parts in my psyche, I have a whole stable of equine ego states and a huge wardrobe of cowboy outfits in a vast array of colors and styles.  And now that I am seventy-two years old, I can choose any horse I want, wear the cowboy outfit that happens to strike my fancy, and ride up the canyon at any time of the day or night.  And I don’t have a sore backside to show for my ride!  What more could anyone want?

I’ll be sorry when my dialogue is finished because I enjoy working on it.  However, I need to get on with therapy and finish EMDR so I can do other things with my life.  The EMDR part of my process is not something I look forward to because the goal of EMDR is to dissipate the energy associated with each of the major traumas I have experienced. This means that I will need to revisit some extremely distressing moments of my life. But with the support of my therapist and Cowboy, Internal Therapist, and all the other newly-discovered friends in my psyche, I’ll get through the EMDR part of therapy and emerge better able to enjoy the remaining years of my life. 

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This week’s topic is pain—not physical pain, but psychic pain.  Pain, what I call psychic or emotional/mental pain, is part of life for everyone, I believe.  Of course, I’m not a mental health professional, so I cannot discuss psychic pain with the authority of a professional.  However, I am a human being, and as such, I have experienced my share–and possibly more–of the sort of pain I’m talking about for seventy-two years.  For this reason, I have given myself permission to discuss the topic of psychic pain on this blog.  I hope that what I have to say will be useful to you, my readers.

As you know, I have finally found a therapist, a clinical psychologist, who has been able to help me as I go about my work of recovering from Complex PTSD and the trauma underlying the diagnosis.  I can state that I have found relief from the PTSD symptoms—flashbacks, numbing, spacing out, derealization, depersonalization, etc.  By “relief” I do not mean that the symptoms have gone away.  They recur each time I touch upon the pain associated with trauma in my background, usually during my therapy sessions.  However, I no longer must battle the symptoms as part of my daily life. For instance, I can ride the bus and light rail and no longer experience PTSD symptoms when a passenger acts out by cursing loudly, shouting, or disturbing the peace in other ways.  I can also tolerate sitting in a meeting in which voices are raised in argument. The fact that I can tolerate disturbances during my use of public transportation and outbursts in gatherings is a welcome sign of progress, especially since I need to use public transportation often and since there seem to be people who act out and who display strong emotion in many human situations.

Presently, what I am dealing with is the huge pool of pain that has collected as a result of trauma I have experienced since I was a newborn, seventy-two years ago.  As I said, life is not supposed to be painless, in my opinion.  However, I don’t believe that we are supposed to carry so much pain from one life stage to the next that we are shackled by the pain, either.  A psychologist named Arthur Janov wrote a book titled Prisoners of Pain, which I read in the early 1980s.  I’ll never forget that book’s description of the actual physical damage psychological trauma does to the brain’s structure, and I’ll never forget Mr. Janov’s description of the reversal of the damage to the brain.  The reversal, according to Mr. Janov, comes about as the pain experienced during trauma, including birth trauma, is brought to the surface, experienced by the client, and dispersed. Arthur Janov is a pioneer in this field, and he named his therapy method Primal Therapy

Since the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Arthur Janov developed his therapies, brain research has led to the development of other effective therapies such as EMDR and Ego State Therapy that have become accepted as useful modalities for facilitating healing.  Here are a couple of sites that will give you more information on EMDR and Ego State Therapy.:  www.shirleyjeanschmidt.com/doc/rf-emdr.pdf  and http://www.bainbridgepsychology.com/EgoStateTherapy.html.

Yes, pain is a part of life, I believe.  After all, if we didn’t feel pain, how would we be able to identify the opposite—joy?  If we didn’t experience the darkness in life, how would we be able to appreciate the sunshine in life?   If there were no ugliness in life, how would we recognize and enjoy life’s beauty?  Pain is a necessary component of life.  However, I, possibly like many of you, am one of those people whom Arthur Janov described as dragging unprocessed and unresolved pain from one developmental stage of my life to the next.  When a person does this, eventually the pain can accumulate to the point where it becomes intolerable, and that is one reason why I am in therapy.  In addition to reducing the symptoms of PTSD, I plan to reduce my psychic pain to a more tolerable level.  I’m hoping that by doing this, I can de-stress the last part of my life and enjoy life more.  I don’t want to be pain free, but I would like to finish my life with less pain so that I don’t expend so many of my psychic resources trying to stop the hurting. 

The above sounds like a pretty simple goal, doesn’t it?  But how does one go about doing this, reducing the pain and de-stressing the life?  My answer:  I’m not sure.  But you can bet I’m going to find out!  In fact, I’ve already begun to find out.  And as this part of my therapeutic journey becomes clearer to me, I’ll discuss the issue of pain more specifically.  For now, I will only say that yes, with the help of an effective therapist, you can reduce your psychic pain and begin to enjoy and appreciate life more. 

By lifting the cloud of pain just a little, you can catch a glimpse of the green pastures, the vibrant hues of wildflowers, and the rainbows of life that pain’s cloud blocks from your view right now.  And once you have glimpsed that sight, once you have seen the possibilities, you will want to raise that cloud higher until you can walk in the pastures, get close enough to the flowers to smell them, and then maybe even find the gold at the rainbow’s end.  It can happen!   

Last week I mentioned green pastures and bright spots in the therapy process, and this week I will be more specific in my discussion of these encouraging developments.  If you have ever been in therapy, you know that the healing process is hard work.  As I do now on occasion, you may have wondered or you may be wondering if your efforts—all that heavy mental effort and hard work—will ever pay off.
 
Over the past thirty years, I have spent a total of ten years trying to heal, trying to decrease my C-PTSD symptoms and increase my confidence and sense of value as a human being—among other things.  I believe I am at this point an expert on the topic of “Being in Therapy” or “Being a Client.”  Therefore, since I feel qualified to speak on this topic, I say with conviction that therapy pays off in often unexpected bright spots and green pastures for those who will but hang in there and do the work.
 
If you have read my website pages (www.jfairgrieve.com), you know that I endured childhood abuse and also spousal abuse for the first forty years of my life.  One aspect of that abuse was that I learned to expect my “significant others” to be controlling, and I adapted to their control.  As a child, I was afraid to question my elders when told what to do and when to do it.  If I asked a question when given an order, my parents took my question as defiance of their authority, and I was punished.  I learned to keep my questions to myself.

When I married, I was so well trained in surrendering any power I had to the person in charge that I allowed my husband to take my parents’ place as controller.  For the most part, I allowed my husband to have the final say in household decisions, and I generally did not challenge his final word. I was afraid of him and his temper just as I had been afraid of my parents and their tempers.  When my husband came home from work in 1976 and announced that we were moving to Germany, for example, I did not want to go, but I knew that I dared not fight his decision despite the fact that it was made unilaterally. I submitted and went along with it. I had no choice—or so I thought and felt.  I didn’t dare tell him how I really felt about leaving all my friends, leaving my place in the community orchestra, turning down the job I had just been offered, a position with the county’s transportation department, and uprooting our daughter who had only recently made some promising progress at her school.  I knew my husband had made his decision and would not listen to me, and I knew if I told him I did not want to leave, he would be angry.  His rage frightened me, so I kept quiet and moved to Germany.  I had no choice, so I thought.

What does the above have to do with therapy?  Last Monday before I left my therapist, she said that one of the topics we had not discussed completely that day would be a good topic to discuss on my next visit.  Without thinking, I said, “I don’t want to be pinned down to a specific topic next time.”  I like to leave my options open, in other words. She looked at me and said something like, “Okay. That can be just one choice. You pick.”  She didn’t get angry, and she didn’t fly into a rage.  She respected my need to have flexibility.  Such a small thing, but so important! 

Later, I called her and thanked her.  After I had left her office, I had realized what happened in that seemingly insignificant and simple interaction.  For once, I had expressed myself and let another person know that I had my own ideas as to what I wanted and needed to do, and I wasn’t afraid to let her know! I simply let her know.  It was that easy!  And then I reflected on what had happened, and I realized that I needn’t be afraid to express myself, that the controlling parents and controlling husband are in the past and will never appear again.  They have been alive in my mind all this time, clinging to my unconscious mind like malevolent leeches, and they have been controlling bits of my behavior. 

They have been there when I have kept my mouth shut and let others decide for me what restaurant to visit and what movie to see.  They have kept me from speaking out when I have been asked how I would like to spend a leisurely afternoon.  But now that I am seventy-two years old, it’s way past time for them to leave. I know now that I can relegate them to the past, and I can make them stay in the past.  I can render them impotent, in fact.  I am in charge here, and I have recognized them for what they are, and I can see to it that they will no longer control any of my responses. 

After that experience and after my reflection, something inside me felt stronger.  I’m not sure what it is that felt stronger, maybe my ego, but now I’m beginning to believe that I truly can put the past in the past and keep it there.  I can jump the old neural pathways in my brain and lay down new, more functional and more beneficial pathways.  I don’t want to control anyone else’s life, but it will sure be nice to feel more in control of my own life!  I’m getting there.

Every time I wonder from now on if therapy is worth the time and the effort I’m putting into it, I will think of the example above, and I will remember where I’m going and why I’m going there.  I have already reduced the hold of PTSD over my life by doing the work to reduce the symptoms, and in the process, I am also relegating to the past what belongs in the past.  So on to even greener pastures and even brighter bright spots!

Hang in there!  Your green pastures and bright spots may be just around the next corner! 

  

Have you ever beheld a huge tangle of yarn or string, wondered where to start the untangling, paused to consider whether untangling the mass was even possible or worth the effort, and then patiently and methodically begun the process? If so, you now know how I have felt for the past several decades. At some level in my psyche, I’ve recognized the tangle of trauma-skewed thoughts and emotions inside my head, felt like giving up before I’ve even begun the work of untangling, and then have decided, finally, to do the work. All this only after deciding that I was worth enough as a human being to warrant expending the effort and the resources.


You, the reader, may wonder why anyone would hesitate to make the commitment to heal. For the most part, in our culture people assume that anyone who has a health issue, mental or physical, wants to cure the problem or at least find some degree of relief. I, in fact, have a difficult time understanding anyone’s hesitation to make this commitment. What I do not have a difficult time understanding is my own hesitation to make the commitment. This inability to perceive myself as being worthy of receiving help from anyone or from myself, even, is but one marker or symptom of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)—one marker of many.


As I continue my work with a clinical psychologist trained to help people recover from trauma damage, I seem to uncover new C-PTSD markers in myself every week. Now I’m wondering when these discoveries will end. Will they? I don’t know. Some days the whole process of therapy seems overwhelming. When will it end? Or will it even end before I die? When will all the signs have revealed themselves? If I don’t know what the sign or symptom is, how can I do the work necessary to bring about change? In this process, there are just too many unknowns for comfort! And there are too many pieces of yarn that look like they will lead to the center but in reality lead only to other, possibly related but not tightly connected, loose strands. No strand leads to the heart of the tangle, or so it appears.


Why do I even continue in this seemingly unending process? After all, I’m seventy-two years old. I’ve lived with this mess in my head for that many years, so why don’t I just stop now and try to relax and enjoy the relatively few years I have left? My answer: I’m not a quitter, and I’ve learned enough and have come far enough in the process to know that there are greener pastures and better times ahead if I stay with the process and try to finish. With each insight and bit of understanding, my inner world becomes brighter, and I feel closer to those greener pastures and better times.


Remember the old slide shows? Remember how, when one slide was being shifted to the next, there was a momentary dark and blurry space, just a split second of time, before that next slide popped into focus? That’s what this process is like. It’s like a slide show of what might be, the future, with each slide brighter, sharper, and more colorful than the one before it, but always there is the space, the dark and blurry space between slides, the split second when life is out of focus and one wonders if it will ever snap back into focus. Then, when the next sharp, colorful, beautiful slide pops onto the screen, the dark, blurry moment is gone and almost forgotten.


As I write this, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind, his image-packed “Das Karussell.” As in a slide show, the figures on the carousel are bright and sharp momentarily but blur as the speed picks up, snapping into focus now and then, long enough to offer proof of their existence. I don’t know if Rilke spent any time in therapy, but this poem is an apt metaphor for the therapeutic process and for life, itself. I’m presenting the poem in its original German as Rilke wrote it to preserve the imagery and sense of time and motion. If you are unfamiliar with this poem, the focal point of the poem is “und dann und wann ein weisser Elefant.” (and now and then a white elephant). As the speed of the carousel increases, the amount of text between repetitions of this phrase decreases. For more of Rilke’s poetry, here is a site: http://www.poemhunter.com/rainer-maria-rilke/


“Das Karussell”
Jardin du Luxembourg


Mit einem Dach und seinem Schatten dreht
sich eine kleine Weile der Bestand
von bunten Pferden, alle aus dem Land,
das lange zögert, eh es untergeht.
Zwar manche sind an Wagen angespannt,
doch alle haben Mut in ihren Mienen;
ein böser roter Löwe geht mit ihnen
und dann und wann ein weißer Elefant.


Sogar ein Hirsch ist da, ganz wie im Wald,
nur dass er einen Sattel trägt und drüber
ein kleines blaues Mädchen aufgeschnallt.


Und auf dem Löwen reitet weiß ein Junge
und hält sich mit der kleinen heißen Hand
dieweil der Löwe Zähne zeigt und Zunge.


Und dann und wann ein weißer Elefant.


Und auf den Pferden kommen sie vorüber,
auch Mädchen, helle, diesem Pferdesprunge
fast schon entwachsen; mitten in dem Schwunge
schauen sie auf, irgendwohin, herüber –


Und dann und wann ein weißer Elefant.


Und das geht hin und eilt sich, dass es endet,
und kreist und dreht sich nur und hat kein Ziel.
Ein Rot, ein Grün, ein Grau vorbeigesendet,
ein kleines kaum begonnenes Profil -.
Und manchesmal ein Lächeln, hergewendet,
ein seliges, das blendet und verschwendet
an dieses atemlose blinde Spiel. . .
Rainer Maria Rilke, Juni 1906, Paris

Below is a translation, not a perfect translation but better than  most, that I found at this site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sisifos/2799526225/


The Merry-Go-Round
Jardin du Luxemburg

With roof and shadow for a while careers
the stud of horses, variously bright,
all from that land that hesitantly lingers
before it ultimately disappears.
Several indeed pull carriages, with tight-held
rein, but all have boldness in their bearing;
With them a wicked scarlet lion’s faring

And now and then an elephant all white.

As in the woods, a stag comes into view,
save that it has a saddle and
thereon a little girl sits all in blue.
And on the lion rides a little boy,
whose small hot hands hold on with all his might,
the while the lion shows his teeth and tongue.

And now and then an elephant all white.

And on the horses swiftly riding past
are shining girls, who nearly have outgrown
this play. They let their eyes glance here
and there and near and far away.

And now and then an elephant all white.

And on it goes and hastens to be ended,
and aimlessly rotates until it’s done.
A red, a green, a gray is apprehended,
a little profile, scarcely yet begun.

And now and then a smile, for us intended
blissfully happy, dazzlingly expended
upon this breathless, blindly followed game.