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Caution: If you are involved in or thinking of becoming involved in an alternative therapy that promises to bring about a quick healing of your Complex PTSD through energy moving of the nontraditional sort, you may not want to read this post. What I say may be upsetting.

Most people would probably call me a “straight arrow.” The therapy mode I have chosen as a way to heal my C-PTSD is traditional and time-proven to do the job. My therapist has had thirty years of experience as a psychologist. She has facilitated the healing of a lot of people with histories of abuse. She has, in fact, devoted her life to doing this.

I’ve lived long enough, 73 years, and I’ve been down enough roads in this life to know when a person has a true passion for a cause. My therapist is passionate about her work! I can tell. I have my own passions in life, my own causes, and I can usually spot a passion in another person. My therapist doesn’t advertise this passion of hers; in fact, she is a very low-key therapist, not given to pushing herself into the spotlight. She quietly does her work and lives her life, and she touches the lives of those of us who are doing our own work.

I sense that my therapist’s heartfelt wish for me is that, with her help and support, I go as far as I can in freeing myself from the tangles of my C-PTSD and undoing much of the damage that was done to me by people in my past so that I can enjoy my freedom in the last few years of my life. That’s my goal, too.

Toward this goal, I am involved in traditional therapy—Ego State Therapy and, when I’m ready, EMDR. There is nothing about my chosen therapy mode that is mysterious or “out there.” Energy is involved because energy is what runs our brains. I’m striving to “revise” the neurological structures in my brain that contain the trauma energy. I’m, in a sense, rewiring my brain. I’ve already done this to the point of releasing myself from the daily misery of experiencing flashbacks and dissociative episodes at the drop of a hat. My work with my own ego states has done that. I have farther to go, but I’m hanging in there. Patience and perseverance are absolute necessities in this project, although there are times when I have little of either one.

Sure, sometimes I want to quit. I’ve had it! I want to walk away from the whole friggin’ mess! But I’ve been at this for so many years now, and I’ve walked away for various reasons, and I know that walking away is the wrong thing to do. The symptoms return sooner or later, and then I must deal with them again. But this time is different. This time I have a therapist who knows what she is doing, and I know she knows what she is doing, and this time I’m going to stay with the process as long as I physically and mentally can do that.

So what do I have to say about alternative therapies? Based on the experiences I have had, here is what I have to say:

  • If one person claims to have all the answers and claims to know what is best for you, BEWARE! Especially if you have just come out of a crisis situation such as an abusive marriage or any abusive relationship of any sort where you have been used, victimized, for another person’s selfish purposes. YOU are the person who knows what is best for YOURSELF, but sometimes you need time to figure that out. Take the time to be with yourself. Get help from somebody who will help YOU get to know YOURSELF.
  • If somebody claims to be able to heal you by transferring good energy to you, BE VERY SUSPICIOUS! Why? Because a person who can transfer good energy to you is also capable of transferring bad energy. I experienced the transfer of bad energy via a “healer,” and this was not an experience I want to repeat. The experience left me confused and depressed and contributed to my C-PTSD.
  • If somebody claims to be able to facilitate the moving of energy within you to bring about a “quick fix,” again—LOOK CRITICALLY AT THE PERSON OR ORGANIZATION. Remember: Moving energy is not something to be taken lightly! I was caught up in this about fifteen years ago. A “healer” I was seeing attended a workshop for one weekend, gave me instructions to massage an acupressure point each day in order to prepare myself for “reprogramming,” and by the end of the week, I was so depleted of energy that I could hardly walk. Then she could not do the “reprogramming” because she didn’t know how!! I managed to recuperate, but I didn’t go back to her! I lost a week of my life and the money I paid the therapist. I cannot recover either time or money, and I’m stuck with the memory and the pain of the experience.

I believe that each of us has within ourselves the source of our own happiness and love. If you have sustained the sort of damage that underlies the diagnosis of Complex PTSD, it’s going to take a lot of hard work on your part to find that wellspring of love, but it’s there. Every so often as I continue in traditional therapy, I touch on it within myself, and that touching reminds me it’s there. That is why I stay in therapy and continue to struggle. I’m getting closer to that wellspring.

If anyone offers you an easy path or an easy answer, do your research, talk to people involved if this “path” is a program or an alternative therapy program, and talk to people who left the path if you can find them. But LOOK AT THE PROGRAM CRITICALLY, ASK QUESTIONS, AND USE YOUR NOGGIN’. IF THE THERAPY APPEARS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, THEN IT JUST MAY BE ANOTHER DEAD END.

Traditional therapy, the ol’ tried and true, is my choice. Whatever your choice is, I wish you the best. Here is a Scottish blessing to take with you on your journey:

Big Sea, Little Boat

Dear God, be good to me;
The sea is so wide,
And my boat is so small.

(http://www.fife.50megs.com/celtic-blessings2.htm)

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This post is dedicated to those of you who were given the same first name as a parent.  Identifying the “ME” in you, a sometimes difficult process anyway, may be more difficult if you have the same first name as your parent.  Following is my own recent experience related to this issue.  If anything I say is helpful to you, then I’m well rewarded.  If you don’t care to write to me about this, then please send a message to the Universe and let me know I helped.

Baby Jean (Little Jean), Mother Jean (Big Jean), Grandmother Margaret, 1939

 

My name is Jean, my mother’s name was Jean, and her grandmother’s name was Jean.  My maternal grandmother’s name was Margaret.  Thus, the name Jean skipped a generation on my mother’s side of my family, as was common in the Scottish naming tradition.  However, the passing of a name to the next generation, especially in the case of males, was also common.  This fact was brought home to me the year I attended my first and only Fairgrieve family reunion.  Somebody would yell “Bill!” over the din of conversation and card games, and four generations of heads would bob up. 

I’ve concluded that the hard-scrabbling Scots in the old country were not given to whimsy and imagination in the naming of their children—they were so busy surviving, trying to eke out a living in the hostile climate and the sometimes unfruitful soil that they had no time for trivialities such as coming up with imaginative names for their children.  After all, any folk who can steam oats, fat, and tidbits of entrails in a sheep’s stomach, call the result “haggis,” and regard it as a delicacy is pretty down-to-earth in my estimation.  I can well imagine that there is a more historically correct reason for the naming tradition, but I am not sure what it is.  However, for my purposes, knowing the origin of the tradition is not terribly important.

What is important to me is the effect of the tradition upon me and upon others who were gifted with their parents’ names.  Until recently, I had no idea that the naming practice presented a problem for me. When I was a small child of three or four years, I took literally what my mother and family friends told me:  I was called Jeanie, meaning “little Jean,” and my mother was called Jean because I was little and my mother was big.  At the age of three, I was very literal in my thinking, and I believed that I was the same as my mother except for my size.  In other words, my mother and I were the same person, but she was big and I was small.  The concept of my mother and I being one and the same was reinforced in my child mind by people who said, “Oh, she looks just like her mother!” 

My mother reinforced the concept by affirming me only in those aspects of my being that were like she was.  For example, if I didn’t like the same style of clothing that she liked, then my choices were wrong and hers were right.  If my demeanor was not like hers, then I was wrong and she was right.  In fact, when I cried during my father’s memorial service, she—who sat rigid and poker-faced through the service—poked me in the side and said, “Jeanie, stop making a spectacle of yourself!”  Evidently, the idea that my child self and my mother’s adult self were one and the same became firmly rooted within my young psyche at about the same time my parents were having me photographed in the nude while their friends watched and at about the same time the neighbor woman sexually assaulted me.  All this had its impact upon me from the time I was about three until I was ready for kindergarten at age five-and-a-half. 

Only last week, when my therapist told me that I needed to form a compassionate alliance with my child self before I could really begin to prepare for EMDR, did I begin to be aware of the huge role my name played in preventing this alliance between my child and adult selves.  What did I do to begin the process of comprehending this matter?  I suggested to my therapist that I do a dialogue with my nondominant hand.  This is a very simple technique that I have found to be extremely useful in accessing material stored in the right side of my brain, the side where my trauma material, emotional memories, and preverbal memories exist.

I arrived at my therapist’s office last Thursday knowing that somehow my name was blocking the establishment of any alliance between my adult and child selves, but I was not sure of the reason for this problem.  My therapist got out colored pencils and paper for me, and I began.  However, rather than use two colors and two hands, I simply divided my paper by drawing a line down the middle and using a blue pencil in my right hand.  Maybe because I’m a writer and have had a lot of practice switching from left to right sides of my brain, I could get by without actually writing with my left hand to access my right brain.  Writing with my left hand slows me down, and in my therapist’s office, I am well aware of my session ticking by.  I wanted to do as much as possible in as little time as necessary.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of writing, I was done.  I could write no more because I was mired in the mud of confusion, major confusion!  I had not realized how confused I was as a child!  First, I was told that I was “little Jean,” the same person as my mother but smaller.  That was my understanding at ages three, four, and five.  But then I went to kindergarten, and she didn’t.  She stayed home.  I never did understand that, but there were a lot of things I didn’t understand.  I didn’t understand why the neighbor woman, who I thought loved me, sexually assaulted me.  I didn’t understand why my mother, who told me repeatedly not to let my panties show when I wore a dress, got angry with me when I tried to cover myself during the nude photo sessions. 

Nothing in my life made sense.  I tried so hard when I was little to make sense of my life, and sometimes I thought my head would burst because I made it work so hard.  I remember that when I started kindergarten, I felt relief because kindergarten was predictable.  I didn’t have to think my way through confusion. All I had to do was do what the teacher told me to do, stay in line when we lined up for recess and to go home, and color inside the lines when we were given coloring sheets.  If I did those things, nobody got mad at me, and I didn’t have to worry about anything—at least not on the surface of life.

But back to the session on Thursday:  After writing for about fifteen minutes, I was so confused that I could go no further.  When I look back now on my childhood, I can remember the confusion and the chaos in my mind.  With the chaos came anxiety.  In fact, my kindergarten teacher made a note on one of my report cards that I seemed exceptionally nervous.  She blamed the nervousness on my rapid growth, but I know now why I was nervous.  I was living in internal chaos.  And one of the contributors to that chaos was the fact that I had my mother’s name and my mother’s identity.  Or so I thought.

After my work with the dialogue on Thursday, I realized that stuck in my child psyche were the two Jeans, my mother and my child self.  But in that child psyche, the adult Jean who I am now does not exist.  I, the I that exists now in my 73-year-old body, is not present in my child self.  So now I feel trapped between my child self and my mother, the Jean who died in 1995.  Where do I, the child self grown to adulthood, fit??  Thursday I couldn’t answer that question.  I still can’t answer it two days later.  But I will be able to answer the question soon!  I just need to keep working on it.  When I find the answer, I’ll let you know.

 

 
 
Prince and Me, Circa 1941
 
The other day a friend of mine told me a horrible, horrible story, a story that she still, fifty years later, can hardly bear to tell. It seems that when she was ten years old, she witnessed a stable fire at a racetrack.
 
The fire blazed and engulfed the entire stable before anyone could stop it. People led the flaming horses to safety only to see them run back toward their stalls. I won’t describe the scene in any detail, for it was the stuff from which night terrors are made.
 
My friend concluded her account of that night by stating that horses instinctively seek to return to their stable and stall because no matter what, that is their safe place.The horses caught in the fire that night didn’t understand that they would die if they returned. No, they simply knew that they wanted to be home in their stall, home in their safe place. The fact that their safe place was no longer safe and wasn’t even a place anymore did not enter into their thinking.

All the horses died that night. When my friend finished telling her story, she left the room. Her own horse had been among the horses in the stable, and that fact made the telling all the more painful. I can only imagine the pain she has endured these past fifty years when the memory of that night of fire has intruded itself into her days and has popped up unbidden in her dreams.


As I listened to her tell this story, I immediately thought of women I have known who attempted to drag themselves from the flames of domestic violence or who were dragged from the flames by others. The women I knew in this situation usually gravitated back to their abusers and to the abusive environment. Only after awakening to the reality of their situation, to the real danger awaiting their children and themselves, did they survive outside the abuse situation and begin to rebuild their lives. A few, unfortunately, did not awaken and find the means to leave in time; they were killed.

Each of us who has lived through prolonged domestic violence has a different story to tell, but each of our stories is a variation on the same theme: Domestic violence, if it isn’t stopped, will generally be fatal to at least one of the parties involved. Often, the abuser will be the person who murders his or her victim. Sometimes a victim kills the abuser. Sometimes more than one person in the family is killed. Many outcomes are possible—all one needs to do is read the newspaper or the police records to know that. But one fact stays the same: If violence within a family isn’t stopped, there will eventually be a fatality.

Shortly after I reported my husband to the police and he left our home, I attended lectures and meetings for women who had lived through domestic violence. I learned about the cycle of violence, a concept invented by Dr. Lenore Walker in 1979 to help people understand the dynamics of domestic violence. If we imagine a clock face, Dr. Walker has depicted the explosion of violence at three o’clock. Continuing clockwise, at five o’clock she lists the Remorse Phase in which the abuser claims to regret his or her violent behavior. Next, at the seven o’clock position, the abuser Pursues his or her victim, possibly with offers of gifts, and following this at the nine o’clock position is the Honeymoon Phase, a phase in which life may appear calm and peaceful to an objective observer. After the Honeymoon, however, at about the eleven o’clock position, comes the Build-up Phase, a time in which the tension once again builds and heads into the Stand-over Phase, the phase coming shortly before the next outburst of violence.  (Source: http://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/cscp/dv/Cycle.htm)

Dr. Walker is now a professor at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (http://cps.nova.edu/faculty/profile/walker.html). She has dedicated her life to bringing the issue of domestic violence to the attention of the public and to studying the dynamics of this problem so that programs and laws may be designed to help victims and help alleviate this lethal social problem.

From talking to women who have lived with domestic violence and from reading I have done about domestic violence, I can believe that Dr. Walker’s diagram describes most d.v. situations accurately. My own situation, however, does not entirely fit the pattern depicted by Dr. Walker’s diagram. As I said, though, each of us has a different story to tell, but the ultimate ending to most stories of unchecked domestic violence is death.

Looking back over the first forty-two years of my life, I can only conclude that I must be one helluva tough cookie to have emerged from the abuse to which I’ve been subjected with my wits and my powers of empathy intact! In my case, there were no periods of remorse and no honeymoon periods in either my childhood abuse situation or in my marital abuse situation.

As a child victim, I was physically and emotionally battered and neglected. Neither of my parents apologized or expressed remorse or gave me presents after abusing me. Why would they have done that? After all, I deserved whatever I got, even when my father punished me by picking my cat up by the tail and swinging her against our kitchen wall. In the 1930s and 1940s, that’s what kids got when they misbehaved. Many kids, anyway.

The battering over the twenty-years of my marriage was constant—in one form or another. Unlike my parents, my husband did not beat on me physically, and perhaps that is why I was able to survive my situation. But still, my abuser never apologized for his rough sex, for yelling and cursing at me, for belittling me, and for his deviant and perverse sexual behaviour both in and outside of our bedroom. He never expressed remorse, nor did he give me gifts in any attempt to make peace.

So if I were to draw a diagram of the cycle of violence in my marriage, what would it look like? It would look, roughly, like this:

As you can see, at Point 1, my children and I were on the alert, always on the alert. At Point 2, we each in our own way prepared for the violence of our abuser’s next temper tantrum. After Point 2, anything could happen–independent of each other and unknown to each other, my daughter and I often attempted to defuse our abuser, to reduce his sexual tension, by offering ourselves sexually. I was trying to protect my kids and myself, and my daughter was trying the only way she knew to protect herself. Sometimes we didn’t succeed in defusing our abuser, and he “blew.”
 
After the explosion, he often would leave the house. Each of us in our own way would pick up our pieces and return to Point 1. My kids and I resumed our tiptoeing around our abuser, and our abuser gradually worked himself up to another explosion of violence. Same ol’, same ol’.  I had lived with it throughout my childhood.  Why should I have expected my married life to be different?


None of us died. I put an end to the cycle when I caught him using our daughter to satisfy his own needs. Maybe I deserved his abuse, but she did not! I knew that! She was an innocent child, my child. And my child was not going to be used to satisfy some need of his. That had happened to me when I was a child, and it would NOT happen to my daughter! I reported him to the police; he was convicted of indecent liberties and given three years’ probation—not nearly the punishment he might have received in this day, but it was better than nothing. This happened in 1981, and in 1981 in rural Washington state, sexual abuse was not something that most law enforcers and judges got excited about. By reporting my husband, though, I got him out of our lives, and my daughter and I had a chance to repair our relationship and take steps to repair our lives.


I said, “None of us died.” That’s true. However, a month or so after my husband was convicted, he said to me, “If you had not stopped the process (the domestic violence), one of us would be dead today.” I was too shocked to ask questions, and he did not elaborate. I assume, though, that he would not have been the one to die. I may be wrong about that, but I’ll never know. Death would have been the outcome of unchecked domestic violence. Whose death? It doesn’t matter. Any death resulting from domestic violence is tragic.


This, then, is a description of my own cycle of domestic violence. Unlike the horses, I never did return to the flaming stable, my safe place. When I became fully aware of the fire’s intensity and felt the heat sear my body and my heart, I ended the violence in my home and made a new place, one where my daughter and I both felt safe. Horses and humans, after all, are two different species—thank God for that!