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Part II

The following post, Part I and Part II, is my attempt to describe my internal experience of trauma when I was a child and later, when I was a woman living in a domestic violence situation. As I mentioned in the introduction, this morning I realized that my inner battle appears to be over–the white flags are up. Am I healing? Yes, I believe so. I am, as people say, “cautiously optimistic.” However, PTSD and C-PTSD can be healed, and after so many, many years of internal struggle, I believe I am at last experiencing the peace I have worked so hard to achieve.

As I wrote this first section, I felt a deep sadness for the little girl I was. Nobody knew I had been sexually abused by the neighbor woman or abused by my parents, and nobody knew how hard I struggled to do what I was supposed to do at home and in school. Nobody knew about the war inside me and the constant screaming and sobbing. There simply was nobody I could tell. And even if there had been, what could anyone have done? During the 1940s, probably nothing! I might have been sent to an asylum, in fact, diagnosed as being schizophrenic.

Thank God that we now know about C-PTSD and “parts”! And thank God for the rugged spirit of my Scottish coal-miner ancestors. They didn’t give up, and neither did I!

October, 1980

It’s a fall day in October, a day when the dead leaves lie on the ground, crisp, red, and golden. The morning fog has lifted, and I can see the neighbor’s horses romping near the river, manes, golden and brown, lifting and falling rhythmically in time with the thud of hoofbeats in the sodden pasture. Nature is at peace. “But what is wrong with me??” I ask myself this question, over and over. I find no answer.

So what is happening to me? I hear music in my head. Loud, classical music, familiar pieces I played in the school orchestra when I was a kid and played the bassoon. I know the pieces inside and out, and I can hear the part of each instrument. No, I don’t just hear a melody; in my head, I hear the whole piece, all the parts. If you want me to hum the trumpet part, I can do that. Any part.

And then, suddenly, I hear another piece on top of the first piece, another piece of classical music, and this new piece is fighting with the first piece for domination of my head. “God, why can’t I turn the music down? Why can’t I separate the two pieces? Why is this music so loud?” And when my son comes home, I put my head next to his and ask him if he can hear the music. He looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand. I take his look as a “No!” I’m the only one who can hear the music.

I want to sleep. If I can sleep, I won’t hear the music. But I have things to do—dinner needs to be cooked, the house needs to be tidied, dishes need to be washed, clothes need to be put in the dryer—too much to do to sleep. So I begin directing my behavior by talking through each step, whispering so nobody will hear me. So nobody will know. That works. By telling myself what to do, I bypass the music. My ears take in my words, my brain focuses on the spoken messages, and I can function. What a relief! Once again, I have found a way to carry on as if nothing is wrong. Once again, I can get my work done.

The next morning I get up, the music begins, and I eye my husband’s closet where he keeps the guns. I hate guns! They scare the hell out of me! But maybe a gunshot would do what nothing else will do. And then, as gently as a maple leaf drifting to earth in a fall breeze, a thought comes to mind: “Perhaps that nice lady who I talk to sometimes when I take my daughter to therapy can help me. Maybe she can tell me how to turn the music down. It’s worth a try.”

April 1981

That nice lady and I have been working together for seven months. The music has faded, and now I hear just the old battle sounds, the screaming and crashing and sobbing. Sometimes I believe I hear my five-year-old self weeping. Even those sounds are muted, however. I can think. And my eyes are opening to sights in my household I have not seen before, sights that I do not like. I am wondering if perhaps I am wrong in believing that every evil I behold is my fault. Maybe evil exists outside of me. Maybe evil is happening to me. Maybe I am a receiver and not a doer of evil. Maybe, maybe . . .

* * *

On the Thursday before Holy Week in 1981, I caught my husband in the act of sexually abusing our daughter. I turned him in and filed for divorce. My therapist and I worked together until fall of 1983, when she retired. By that time, the war in my head had faded, although not entirely. I found a part-time teaching position in the local community college learning center. I loved the work, and I went back to school and earned two graduate degrees. I retired from community college teaching in 2004. In the period between 1984 and 2010, I saw fourteen therapists. None of them gave me a diagnosis of C-PTSD, but a couple of them recognized my PTSD symptoms and tried to help. The one who was most skilled left the area before I was able to benefit from his help.

Once again, in 2009, the war heated up, and I heard the screaming, the crashing of metal and the shattering of glass. I sought help and found a therapist, but she did not have the training to help me. By the time I found my present therapist, in 2010, the war had grown more intense. I asked my therapist why, at my age, after so many years of not experiencing abuse, I was once again experiencing the PTSD symptoms. She said she didn’t know, but she knew that if I worked hard, I would heal. And I am. She was right.

 

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Part I.

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Jean, Age 9

The following post, Part I and Part II, is my attempt to describe my internal experience of trauma when I was a child and later, when I was a woman living in a domestic violence situation.  As I mentioned in the introduction, this morning I realized that my inner battle appears to be over–the white flags are up.  Am I healing?  Yes, I believe so.  I am, as people say, “cautiously optimistic.”  However, PTSD and C-PTSD can be healed, and after so many, many years of internal struggle, I believe I am at last experiencing the peace I have worked so hard to achieve. 

As I wrote this first section, I felt a deep sadness for the little girl I was.  Nobody knew I had been sexually abused by  the neighbor woman or abused by my parents, and nobody knew how hard I struggled to do what I was supposed to do at home and in school.  Nobody knew about the war inside me and the constant screaming and sobbing.  There simply was nobody I could tell.  And even if there had been, what could anyone have done?  During the 1940s, probably nothing!  I might have been sent to an asylum, in fact, diagnosed as being schizophrenic. 

Thank God that we now know about C-PTSD and “parts”!  And thank God for the rugged spirit of my Scottish coal-miner ancestors.  They didn’t give up, and neither did I!  

As I was drying my hair this morning, I suddenly became aware that my head was quiet. The hairdryer was the only sound I heard. When I turned it off, I thought of the song “The Sound of Silence”: My head was silent. Peaceful. “Do you suppose the war is over?” I asked myself that question, wanting to answer “Yes!” but afraid lest I be wrong.

When I was five, I thought the violent activity in my body was butterflies, huge butterflies batting their wings against my insides. I tried to trick those butterflies by bounding out of bed as soon as I opened my eyes, thinking that I could somehow leave those pesky insects in my bed if I got up before they did. At that age, the war was confined to my stomach. By the time I was old enough to go to school, however, the battle had spread to my head, and I knew I was dealing with more than just butterflies: There were people inside my head, and those people were fierce fighters!

But how did those people get inside my head? I didn’t know. But I was certain there was a war going on inside my head because I could feel that war. I felt the unrest and the anxiety, the battle for my consciousness. I sensed the artillery fire and the explosions of land mines and grenades. I could hear the screaming and the dying. The moaning of those in pain. But who were those people? I didn’t know them, or so I thought. And if I didn’t know them, why would they be fighting in my head? I didn’t know—I just didn’t know.

I remember sitting at my desk in the elementary school classrooms. In those days, the desks were nailed to the floor. The desks, like the teachers, were immovable. As I sat at my desk, I, too, was nailed to the floor. And the battle raged within me. I was tied up, gagged, and held hostage in my classroom as the battle raged within me. The teacher closed the classroom door, my stomach lurched, and I knew there was no escape. I didn’t always make it to the bathroom before I threw up.

In the upper grades and junior high school, the academic material became more challenging. I worked hard at forcing my mind to think when I needed to think. I pushed myself until I thought I would, like Humpty Dumpty, shatter into tiny bits and not be able to put myself back together. Thus, I managed to override the violent sounds in my head most of the time, but even when I was at the blackboard solving long division problems or complicated multiplication problems, I could hear the gunshots and the screams in the background. By then, I was aware that there was more than one place in my head—a thinking part and the part where the battle raged, and I became an expert at forcing myself to access the thinking part so I could get my schoolwork done.

By the time I reached high school, I was so good at thinking and dampening the sounds in my head, that the battle noises seldom bothered me. Oh, if I deliberately tuned in to them, I could still hear the screams, the sobbing, the crashing of metal on metal, the shattering of glass, but normally the war remained beneath my awareness. For the most part, my thoughts predominated, and I heard my thoughts and not the battle sounds. This relatively peaceful condition prevailed until sometime in 1980, and when the battle noises in my head broke through in 1980, I knew I needed help!

End of Part I
Part II Coming Soon

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Yesterday, another blogger, some twenty years younger than I, asked me this question. I wrote back and let her know that I needed some time to think through an answer but that I would get back to her soon. And I did. But the answer did not come readily or easily.

Fifty years ago, I was a young mother with a toddler, the sunshine of my life. We were living in a shack, a tiny two-bedroom house with plywood for siding and walls that didn’t quite meet the ceiling in places. My former husband and I were university students trying to earn our teaching certificates. I brought in some income by cleaning for a wealthy woman who had cancer, and he worked the swing shift at a lumber mill. Late afternoons and early evenings were my oasis in a desert of hard work and stress—all I was required to do was to enjoy my young son. Just as an oasis in a desert of sand and burning sun makes the journey tolerable, that time spent with my son made my day bearable.

During those early years as wife and mother, I knew—or thought I knew—that once we earned our teaching credentials and found work, our living circumstances would steadily change for the better. I dreamed of a future that included living in a nice house in a small town where our son and any future children we might have could grow up and enjoy life and where, later, my husband and I would enjoy a retirement that included taking trips to exotic locations and simply growing old together, financially secure and happy in our relationship. When my dreams came true, I would truly be happy—so I thought.

My dream of future happiness seemed entirely reasonable at the time, and it appeared to have a good chance of becoming reality. After all, I didn’t want anything outrageous like a yacht or a mansion—I just wanted lasting, loving relationships with my spouse and children, relationships that would withstand the ups and downs of life and be comforting in our old age. What I did not know was that my dreams of the future were preventing me from seeing the reality of my present, that in the then-present, I was locked into a domestic violence situation and my children and I were suffering. After each incident of abuse, I would say to myself, “But if I just try harder to keep the peace, things will get better. Then we will be happy.”

And then one day shortly before Easter in 1981, all my dreams of future happiness evaporated before my eyes, suddenly, like the poof of smoke that obscures the reality of a magician’s trick: I walked in on my former husband as he was in the act of abusing our daughter and saw and felt the terror on my daughter’s face. Later, as I dialed the police station to report my husband’s behavior, I knew profound changes were coming, and they did come.

I was totally unprepared, however, to see my dream of future happiness disappear before my eyes. Never would I realize my dream of growing old with my spouse, taking trips, and “riding off into the sunset” together. That was NOT going to happen! I could no longer say to myself, “But if I just try harder to keep the peace, things will get better. Then we will be happy.” That dream was gone, gone, gone! And I had no replacement for it. Nope! The present was all I had, and I was forced to deal with it. If you have read my series of essays titled “Fallout,” you know that I did deal with the then-present, and you know the extent to which my dreams changed after I placed that call to the police. You know my story.

As a retired psychologist friend says, “With awareness comes change,” and she is so right! Through my own introspection and determined efforts in therapy, I have become aware of my past reality, much of it, at any rate. I say this with reservations because it seems that when I think there are no more shadows waiting in the wings of my psyche, one will emerge and take center stage. Now, at my present age of 74 and considering my present degree of inner awareness, the nature of my dreams has changed, and along with that change has come a change in my experience of happiness.

For one thing, at this stage of my life, both my dreams and my happiness are now, right now. I divorced in 1983 (see “Fallout”) and have remained single. I decided on that August day in 1983, after returning from the courthouse where I signed the final papers, that my priorities were to be 1. raising my daughter and 2. becoming my own best friend. Those two priorities have guided my life for the past thirty years.

When I left for graduate school in 1987, I felt that I had done all I could to prepare my daughter for her life as an adult—she was almost twenty and was living in her own apartment—and it was time for me to focus on my own life. Between the years of 1987 and 2010, I earned graduate degrees and enjoyed a thirteen-year teaching career which I loved. While going to school and teaching, I spent time in therapy and gained some understanding of my past. Until I found my present therapist in 2010, however, and received a focused diagnosis and effective help, I seemed to make slow progress toward becoming my own best friend. Since I have been freed from the demands of work and have been seeing my present therapist, though, I have made quantum leaps in getting to know myself and becoming my own best friend.

So, finally, after all these years and all these words, am I happy? Yes, I believe I am. Somehow, my innate curiosity about life and the tendency to always seek out the good in my experience have survived the tumult of my childhood and twenty-year marriage, and those traits have helped me keep my head above water and have saved my life, my sanity, and my ability to experience happiness and contentment.

Now I am happy in the moment, or if not in the moment, I am happy at the thought of the very near future. Where once my happiness relied on thoughts of what might be in the far distant future, I now can find my enjoyment in anticipating a special movie arriving in my mailbox in the next few hours. And then, as I watch the movie, I am content to be sitting in my recliner and simply watching the movie. The thought of eating lunch with a friend makes me feel happy, and when the time comes, I find myself happy being with the person and enjoying our conversation. I am happy when I post an article to my blog because just thinking that perhaps somebody will find my message useful in some way makes me happy.

So after all this verbiage, my very short answer to my blogger friend’s “Are you happy?” is “Yes, I am.” Call me a “thrifty keeper” or “Pollyanna”—I don’t need much to be happy. I am happy because I have chosen to be happy. That choice is available to everyone. Becoming my own best friend has helped me identify that choice and embrace it.

I am posting this article because last week a reader made his or her way to my Google blog by asking, “How can I recover from derealization?” By typing “derealization” into a search engine, you can find many good professionally-written articles discussing this symptom, and this clinical information can help you understand the phenomenon. However, my purpose in writing the following article is to help you see the symptom through my eyes, the eyes of a person recovering from C-PTSD. In addition, by describing this symptom  through the eyes of a client rather than a practitioner, I may be able to help you allay some fears you may have regarding derealization. At the end of this post you will find a link to a previous article I wrote on this topic. Embedded in the article is a link to a clear explanation of derealization. I believe that as you work to recover and heal your C-PTSD, you may find that incidences of derealization will become less frequent as your other symptoms fade–I say this based solely on my own experience.  None of the clinical articles I have read has speculated on a connection between reduction of general PTSD symptoms and reduction in frequency of derealization incidents. 
`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). `Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; –but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, `or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go! Let me see: I’ll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.’ (From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Project Gutenberg.)

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If you have ever struggled through an episode of derealization, you understand the surprise, consternation, and panic poor Alice experienced after she ate the little cake labeled “Eat Me.” When I was a child, I understood Alice’s feelings all too well, for I sometimes struggled just as Alice struggled in my attempt to make sense of my distorted perceptions. Usually these episodes took place when I was on my way to and from school or when I was sitting in my classroom. Trees, normally perpendicular to the earth, swayed menacingly and at odd angles; my feet, though safely tucked beneath my desk at school, appeared to be so far away that I couldn’t reach them; the teacher’s familiar face became the face of a stranger. Scary? Certainly! But what could I do? Nothing. When I was a child, I felt powerless to do anything about anything.

The episodes came and went, and I said nothing to anyone about them. As time passed, they were simply part of my life–like eating, brushing my teeth, and doing schoolwork. By the time I was in high school, though, I seldom experienced the problem, and the derealization episodes faded into the past. When I entered college as an undergraduate, however, I was once again plagued by the symptoms, but as before, my fear rendered me unable to reach out for help. I thought, in fact, that there was no help for my condition, and I did not want to risk being labeled as “crazy” and locked away in an institution. Again, I felt there was nothing I could do but endure the symptoms and try to forget them.

After I graduated from college, I found a job, married, and had a baby. The symptoms did not return until late in my marriage, near the time in 1981 when I caught my husband abusing our daughter and reported him to the police. After that, I had episodes of derealization from time to time, but because they did not occur frequently, I simply got through them and tried not to think about them. As I look back, a pattern emerges: My episodes of derealization have occurred most frequently at periods in my life when my anxiety and stress have been most intense and when I have felt physically or emotionally threatened. This insight is supported by the information in the professionally-written articles I have read, such as this one– http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/Dissociative_Subtype_of_PTSD.asp

Recently, since I’ve been in therapy with my present therapist, I was surprised by my old nemesis once more. Here is my account of the episode as I described it in a previous post (see link at the bottom of this page):

One day a year or so ago I left my apartment to go to my therapy appointment. So far, very ordinary. I caught my bus and rode to the transfer point. The closer I got to the transfer point, the odder I felt, but I simply forced my mind to focus on what I knew was the here and now of reality. When I reached the place where I had to leave the first bus and catch another bus, forcing my mind to focus was becoming a struggle, but I was determined to keep the ground beneath my feet and get to my therapist’s office without incident.

As I waited for the next bus, the world outside me began appearing more and more distorted, and when the bus finally arrived, I had to fight internally to get onto it. You see, the bus should have appeared to me as a rectangular shape having 90-degree angles, but instead of a rectangle, the bus was a parallelogram, a four-sided figure with parallel lines but not having 90-degree angles. I can’t tell you what anything else looked like because I seemed to have tunnel vision at the time. I managed to figure out where the steps would be and got into the bus and sat down heavily, hoping nobody noticed that I was having a problem knowing where to put my feet. Nobody did notice, thank goodness.

As the bus traveled the few blocks to my next stop, I regained my perception, and the feeling of unreality faded. I was so glad to arrive at my therapist’s office and to wait in her peaceful waiting room! By the time I saw her, my mind was fairly clear, and I told her about the experience. She appeared interested but not surprised.

The incident described above is the last incident of derealization I have experienced. For two years, now, derealization has not loomed large in my life; no, now it is just a symptom among other C-PTSD symptoms. My guess is that the Ego State Therapy work and the EMDR work I have done to alleviate my PTSD symptoms in general have probably reduced my chances of experiencing derealization. However, if I should have more of these episodes, I know that I do not need to suffer by myself. In addition, now that I have information about derealization, I am not afraid of the symptom. I know I’m not crazy, and I know that my various PTSD symptoms are part of the big picture, just another pesky reminder that C-PTSD is a condition that may always “be there” for me to some extent but a condition that I am learning to manage and control as I heal.  If there is a “next time” and I find myself experiencing an episode of derealization, I plan to keep my cool and do my best to focus and remain rooted in my surroundings–just as I managed to do when I climbed onto the bus.  Mindfulness–that’s what it’s called. 

“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh, Dutch Painter

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Part II:  I Connect the Dots

(Courtesy Google Images)

As I said In Part I of this account, I’ve dealt with my abuse.  I’ve remembered the experiences, and I’ve desensitized myself to a great extent, thanks to EMDR.  When I remember, the memories don’t carry the emotional load they once did.  The memories no longer have the power to overwhelm me, but that doesn’t mean they are not still present.  Now that I have desensitized myself somewhat to the memories, I find myself able to connect some dots that I had not previously connected.  For one thing, I believe now that I understand more fully the long-term effect of my childhood abuse experiences.   

After I reported my husband for sexually abusing our daughter in 1981, I did a lot of reading on the topic of child sexual abuse.  I read, for example, that many victims of father-daughter incest—or of sexual abuse, in general– become promiscuous.  I did not become promiscuous, perhaps because I was so young when I was abused.  To the contrary:  I know now that my sexual self remained four years old while the rest of me moved on in life.   

As a result of being abused at such a young age, I failed to understand why my peers in junior high went crazy over boys, and I failed to understand why my peers in high school were more interested in dating than in doing their schoolwork.  I didn’t date and didn’t want to date.  I had no interest in having a boyfriend and in what my peers called “necking.”  The whole “teen scene” seemed silly to me, in fact.  While the other girls were “cruising the gut,”** going to the drive-in movies, and “necking,” I was babysitting and earning money.   (** When kids “cruised the gut,” they crowded into cars on Friday or Saturday night, drove slowly down Main Street, and did whatever they needed to do to call attention to themselves.  At least, that’s what the teens in my hometown did!) 

Despite my lack of interest in boys and my failure to understand why my girlfriends were so boycrazy, however, I went through puberty sensing that even though I was physically normal, whole, I was missing a part of my self.  I have, in fact, gone through most of my life feeling like a jigsaw puzzle that is almost complete but still lacks a couple of pieces.  The problem has been, though, that until recently, I have not been sure which pieces I have lacked.  Now, at age 74, I know:  I lack the pieces which, when gathered together, might be called “mature female sexuality.”   

How am I now suddenly able to answer a question that I had not been able to answer earlier in my life?  How is it that I now know which pieces of my puzzle have been missing all these years?  All I can say is that the answer came in the form of a sudden insight, one of those “connect the dot” answers that a person just “gets.”  And I believe my mind was free to connect the dots, finally, because the EMDR treatments have released much of the trauma energy that has interfered with my thought processes.   

So now I know; now at my age of 74, I finally understand why I have gone through life sensing that I have been incomplete, that I am not a complete woman.  Well, let me revise that concept:  I am a complete woman, but the part of me that would make me aware of that fact is still stuck in the year 1943.  That part has never caught up with the rest of me.  It’s there, completely there, but that part of me is like a butterfly stuck in the chrysalis stage—it has never matured into the beautiful creature that it was meant to be.  That’s what child sexual abuse does if the victim has not received effective help after the event/s—child sexual abuse prevents normal development–it stunts the child-victim’s inner growth.  So now I know, and now I can identify the missing pieces of my puzzle.   

Now the big question:  How do I FEEL about this revelation?  How do I FEEL about having spent all my life wondering why I have felt incomplete, not like other women?  How do I FEEL about the result of connecting my dots?? 

It’s going to take me some time to figure out how I feel, but off the top of my head, I will say this:  For about six years, I was a practicing Roman Catholic.  When the matter of priest sexual abuse and bishop collusion cracked open over ten years ago, I began distancing myself from Catholicism.  At first, I hoped Pope Benedict would take a firm stand and make corrections—defrock the offending priests and bishops and clean house.  As time passed and I realized that was not going to happen, I grew progressively more disillusioned until finally I decided there was no point in waiting for the Pope to take action because he was not going to do so.  Now we have Pope Francis—what will he do?   

Thousands of victims are no doubt awaiting an answer to that question.  Some of those victims may have spent their lives as I did, looking for the missing puzzle pieces, wondering why they felt like incomplete human beings but not really sure why they felt that way.  Some may have gone in another direction and wondered why they never felt sexually satisfied.  And others may have gone in other directions.  To answer the question, then, as to how I feel, I feel sad—very, very sad.  And I’m FURIOUS!  Absolutely FURIOUS!  In my heart, I can only believe that Jesus Christ shares my feelings—my sadness AND my fury!   

It will take me some time to process this matter further.  For instance, how do I feel about having my sexuality stuck where it was in 1943?  How do I feel about having lived my life feeling incomplete, a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing?  How do I feel about having missed out on dating and the other normal activities of teenagers?  And what I am also wondering is this:  Will my butterfly ever emerge from its chrysalis and soar, free and beautiful?  I don’t know the answers to these questions yet.  Given time, I will.  Even at my age, I will.   

For inspiration, here is a quote by Bono— 

When the story of these times gets written, we want it to say that we did all we could, and it was more than anyone could have imagined. 

Jean, 1943

Part I:  Background and Flashbacks

Have you ever sat down to write and found yourself immobilized, fingers not wanting to tap the keyboard?  This doesn’t happen to me very often, but today I find myself wanting desperately to express my thoughts and feelings but having a helluva time doing so!  Why?  It’s the nature of the material, the long term effects of child sex abuse.  It’s a topic that I thought I had made peace with, but obviously I have not, completely.  However, I am going to forge ahead with this post because I believe the information may be useful to others.   A word of caution:  If you have been sexually abused as a child, be cautious.  If you find yourself being triggered by what I have to say, stop!  Please do not continue reading. 

During the period when I was three, four, and five years old, I endured violent sexual abuse by a neighbor woman and less physically violent but just as emotionally violent abuse by my parents.  I’ve described this abuse in several of my posts—“Shadow Girl,” “The Day I Stopped Dancing,” and “My Own Comments on The Day I Stopped Dancing.”  Please use the search feature on either blog to locate these titles if you are interested.  I don’t need to repeat the material here.   

First of all, I have recognized and dealt with the memory of being violently sexually abused by the neighbor woman.  The memory of the event that happened back in about 1943 vaulted into my awareness in the form of a flashback some thirty-nine years later, in about 1980 near the end of my stressful marriage.  Initially, the material in my flashback shocked me, for until then I had buried the memory deep, deep, deep.  Little by little, over the next few years I remembered more of the event.   

Then, in about 1994, I had what a therapist called a body memory, but what I believe was really another, more complete, flashback, so complete that it terrified me!  I remembered the neighbor’s kitchen, the appearances of the woman and her adult son who abused me, and the specific details of the abuse.  I felt the hands holding me down and felt the steam of the hot water as it splashed over my body.  It couldn’t have been more complete!   

For those who question the authenticity of my memories and who think that my memories may have been suggested by a therapist, let me reassure you:  I was not in a therapist’s office when I had the flashbacks, and I had not discussed my abuse with a therapist prior to my first flashback in 1980.  When I saw my first therapist, I wasn’t even aware that I had been abused! In addition, after my first flashback, I not only returned to my hometown to verify the locations of my house and the neighbor’s house but I also questioned my mother as to the physical appearance of the neighbor woman and her son—this without telling my mother why I wanted the information.  The information I received from my inquiries substantiated the information I received during my flashbacks. 

In addition to re-living the violent abuse, I have re-experienced the feelings associated with the photo sessions my parents forced me to endure when I was four and five years old.  The difference between these sessions and “normal” photo sessions that kids tolerate in the course of childhood is the fact that I was forced to pose stark naked in front of my parents’ friends and was yelled at when I tried to cover myself.  So during the time I was being terrorized, humiliated, and embarrassed during the nude photography sessions, I was also being groomed by the neighbor woman in preparation for her final, violent abuse event.  Now, that’s a big psychological burden for a little girl to bear!  I bore it without telling anyone at the time, but decades later I found myself no longer capable of keeping the secrets.   

Recently, I have undergone EMDR to release some of the distressing energy surrounding the events.  Now I can remember without having to feel the horrors.  The abuse happened, and now I am able to understand it and some of its effects more clearly.  I can look back and understand, too, why I had bad dreams as a child and why I became claustrophobic in elementary school and frequently threw up when the teacher closed the classroom door (See http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/conversion-disorder/DS00877)  I also can understand my lack of trust for people and my fear of closeness.  My parents forced me to pose nude for their friends, and the next door neighbor woman fed me cookies, fondled me, and then violently sexually abused me.  Why would I trust or want to be close to anyone

A little girl might escape severe emotional damage by these events if she were helped to process them right after they happened.  This might be the case today.  However, back in the early 1940s, help for traumatized little girls was not readily available.  In my case, too, why would I have trusted my parents enough to have reported the neighbor woman’s behavior?  After all, my parents were also my abusers.  So I was a child caught in a trap of silence, a child who grew up possessing huge and horrible secrets that festered for decades before breaking into my awareness.  And all the time that these secrets festered and spilled their toxins into my subconscious mind, I was living my daily life unaware of them.   

Next—Part II: I Connect the Dots

 

 Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,         As the swift seasons roll!                Leave thy low-vaulted past!     Let each new temple, nobler than the last,	         Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,	         Till thou at length art free,	 Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!  By Oliver Wendell Holmes

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll! Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea! By Oliver Wendell Holmes

Preface

Like the little sea creature in Holmes’ famous poem “The Chambered Nautilus,” Cowboy has decided to build herself a “more stately mansion,” in this case, a small apartment in a horse stable. Well, “mansions” are relative–to Cowboy, an apartment in a horse stall, complete with odors, dirt, and mess, is a mansion, a place where she will feel comfortable, accepted, and cherished for herself.  Her neighbors will love her, and she will love them in return.  After all, isn’t building a comfortable, welcoming mansion for our souls a goal of therapy?  In my opinion, it is.  So carry on, Cowboy!

Cowboy Decides to Build Herself a Mansion

After more than three years of working with my present therapist, I have reached the happy place where I can toggle back and forth between Ego State Therapy and EMDR as needed.  For the past several weeks, I have been again working with my ego states, to be specific, with the ego state I call Cowboy.  This post, then, is a continuation of sorts of the previous post titled “Whadda Ya Do With An Outdated Ego State With An Attitude?” 

You may recall that Cowboy has shown evidence that she suspects her protective qualities are no longer as badly needed as they were formerly.  In fact, she is showing signs of isolating herself from the other parts in Jean’s psyche, as if she may suspect that change is blowin’ in the wind, but she doesn’t want to participate.  She doesn’t want to change!  Well, if Cowboy refuses to change and other parts agree to change, what a mess that will be!  You see, Cowboy has been a major player since I was a little girl (see “Whadda Ya . . .” for more on this), and if Cowboy doesn’t adapt to changes in her environment—in this case, by “environment” I mean changes in my perceptions of myself and my life as I progress in my therapy—if she doesn’t become more of a team player, then Cowboy and her “attitude” can possibly impede my progress. 

Of course, I could simply throw Cowboy out the window, just banish her, do her in, in other words.  On the surface, that might be the easiest tack to take.  But, no, I can’t do that!  Cowboy is part of me, one of my ego states.  No ego state can be destroyed; transformation is the only course to take.  She has served a purpose within my psyche for a long, long time, and she has helped me through a lot of my life’s brambles and briar patches.  Without Cowboy, I’m not sure I could have survived my childhood.  After all, Cowboy was there to remind me that I was tough, that I didn’t need my mother, and that I could take care of myself—despite the fact that somewhere in my heart I knew that I truly did need my mother. 

However, since my mother did not know how to be a mother and didn’t even want to be a mother to me–she made that clear–I was much better off to follow Cowboy’s lead and soldier on through my childhood without a mother.  Nope, there is no way I am going to do away with Cowboy!  She deserves my love and respect, and she deserves the effort and time I must spend in helping her transform herself and her role.  Besides, there will be times in my future when I’m sure I will need to call upon her to help me out.  So Cowboy may not be as protective and assertive in her role as in the past, but however she is, she will always be welcome in my psyche.

So how do I go about helping Cowboy transform herself?  First, I need to understand Cowboy, and this means remembering back into my childhood and remembering what went on in my mind at the times when Cowboy stepped in to help me.  As I mentioned in my previous post about Cowboy, my mother was not my advocate—she did not give me emotional support when I needed it.  At Cowboy’s urging, though, I made up my mind that I was better off not needing my mother.   “I can do it myself; I don’t need a mother.” 

Cowboy materialized in my psyche, then, to serve a purpose:  she protected me from an existential despair, the despair that arises when a child realizes she has no emotional mother.  The times when Cowboy arose in my psyche were times when I was most in need of comfort and emotional support.  She helped me through those times.  But what about Cowboy?  Was she ever in need of support or comfort? 

I asked myself that question yesterday as I worked on my ego state dialogue.  As I reflected on that question, I realized that Cowboy, being part of me, may have needed a mother, herself.  Did she?  As I dialogued with Cowboy, my respect for her grew.  Why, she longed for warmth and comfort just as I did!  She had so many heavy responsibilities, which she fulfilled faithfully, and where did she go when her chores were done?  She retired to her sterile, tidy cubicle in the office part of the arena.  Did she have much in common with the other parts who lived in that area of the arena?  No!  Cowboy was, I recognized, very unhappy.  How could I help her?

What would make me happy if I were Cowboy?  I asked myself that.  My answer:  Acceptance, human warmth, kindness, the feeling of being valued for my own self.  Cowboy found all that, ironically, in the little rustic cabin she built for Aurora in the stables.  As a result of spending time enjoying Aurora’s hospitality and heart-felt kindness, Cowboy realized that she would be much happier living in an apartment in the stables near Aurora and her beloved horses than in her sterile cubicle.  Having made this decision and having obtained Aurora’s permission to add an apartment on to Aurora’s cabin, she set about preparing a blueprint so construction could begin. 

So that’s the story of Cowboy thus far.  But it’s just a story, isn’t it?  If telling this story is my Ego State Therapy process, how do I know this process is helping me, Jean, to change? After all, the goal of any form of therapy is change, good change, positive change that improves the client’s quality of life.  My reply is this:  As I write about Cowboy’s transformation, I feel the change.  Whatever takes place within Cowboy, resonates within me. In this case, I feel something somewhere inside me relax and release stress.  As Cowboy enjoys tea and crumpets at Aurora’s cozy kitchen table in the company of Jeanie, Aurora, and Gemini, the wise old land tortoise who is the keeper of Imagination and Intuition, I feel pleasure in the company of my fictional companions.  I say “fictional,” but the characters in my Ego State Therapy dialogue are fiction only in the sense that they are metaphors for the parts inhabiting my psyche.  Hey, it works!  In the process of writing my dialogue, I’ve alleviated my PTSD symptoms without taking any medication.  My mind is the best healer I could possibly have!

For a clear, basic explanation of how Ego State Therapy works, please click this link:  “http://www.esti.at/index.php/about-ego-state-therapy

 

St. Andrew’s Cross and Thistle, Flower of Scotland

From the beginning, my therapist has made it clear to me that one of her tasks is to help me fill in some developmental gaps.  So when I looked at my stat page the other day and saw the search query “My therapist read a children’s book to me. . .,” I suspected that whoever typed that term into Google and found his or her way to my blog has a therapist who is trying to help a client recover from inadequate and/or traumatic parenting.  My therapist has read children’s books to me, books I have brought to her.  In my case, the few times she has done this, memories of my mother reading to me were interwoven with memories of my mother stiffening and threatening to send me to my room when I wriggled and didn’t pay attention.  The fact that my therapist tried to help me by reading, however, was healing in itself because she showed me that she cared.  Also, by not reading to me when I told her that my memories made me sad, she showed respect for my wishes–and respect for my wishes was something my parents did not have!  

First off, what are developmental gaps?  As I understand the term from reading and talking to my therapist, the term refers to the glitches or blank spaces in a child’s development when that child does not get the parenting he or she needs.  When a human infant is born, that little person’s brain is wired to expect certain things.  The neural receptors are set to expect and respond to maternal touches and cuddling, the warmth of the caregiver’s body at feeding times, smiles and loving looks on the caregiver’s face, and so forth–all the interactions that take place between loving, devoted parents and their babies.  When the parents do not respond to their baby in a normal, natural way, and when they do not interact in ways that meet the baby’s needs, then those neural receptors wither and lie dormant, causing the baby to have a gap in his or her development.  Fortunately, as science has discovered, those receptors can be re-awakened later in life–sometimes much, much later, in fact, as in my case at age 74.

As I have worked with my therapist these past three-plus years, I have identified a few ways in which my therapist is trying to fill in some developmental gaps.  For one thing, my therapist serves as a mirror to my emotions or mood.  If I am upset about something when I arrive to see her, she immediately becomes an intent listener, and she maintains that role.  When my mood shifts, she goes along with my mood and does not ignore my feelings or minimize them.  When I was a child, this did not happen!  More often than not, my mother told me to go to my room if she did not like the mood I was in.  Many times, when I cried, she or my father told me to go get a milk bottle and fill it with my tears, and then my parents taunted me for the way I looked when I cried.  In other words, my parents did not accept me as I was; they accepted me only when I was the way they wanted me to be.  Luckily, I had enough ego strength to maintain my determination to live!  

Another indication that my therapist is attempting to help me fill in developmental gaps is her emotional support.  I know, for example, that she is on my side.  I am not alone in my journey.  Did my parents show me the same support?  I spent the early years of my childhood trying to answer this question.  Finally, when I was about eight, I gave up trying to see my parents as being supportive and decided that I had no allies in life, especially not my parents!  I was on one side, and everyone else in the world was on the other side–against me.  After all, if my own parents were not supportive, why would anyone else be supportive?  (For one example of parental lack of support, please read the essay “Shadow Girl” on the following link: http://www.jfairgrieve.com/Part_II.html)  Despite the huge burden of feeling as if I was the only person in the world on my side, I was determined to live.  For some people, the feeling of such extreme isolation has been fatal.

 In contrast to my parents, my therapist accepts me as I am, whatever my mood, and is allied with me as I do my work.  I feel secure in believing that whatever she does, she does with my best interests in mind.  Her emotional support is, indeed, filling in a huge developmental gap!

What difference has all this gap-filling made?  Interesting question!  The answer is that I feel a subtle but definite improvement in my basic sense of emotional well-being.  In addition, I also feel an increased sense of self worth. When I began seeing my present therapist three-plus years ago, I was an emotional wreck–wracked by PTSD symptoms and not wanting to live.  After all, why would anyone want to go through daily life experiencing the horrible flashbacks, dissociative episodes, numbing, derealization, depersonalization associated with trauma damage?  Life like that had worn me down, and after a really nasty experience with an inept therapist, I was ready to give up.  But, being the stubborn and persevering person I am,  I gave therapy one more try, and now that I have learned how to manage my symptoms and alleviate them, I am beginning to know what life must be like for the fortunate people who have never been victims of child abuse and neglect and who have never been involved in an abusive marital relationship.  Now I believe that life truly is worth living–not just for other people but for me, too.

Also, thanks to my improved sense of well-being and increased sense of self-worth, I have more self-confidence and increased motivation to shape my life into the most satisfying life possible.  Furthermore, I believe I am living proof that the brain is capable of retaining the plasticity needed for change even into the later years of life, much longer than had been believed when I was a young person.  There is now substantial hope for anyone at any age who wants to relieve trauma damage and improve the quality of his or her life.  With commitment and diligent effort on the parts of therapist and client, a person can undo much of the psychic damage caused by the damaging behavior of other people and reclaim his or her life!  

As people have told me, the best revenge is to have a good life.  By helping me fill in some important developmental gaps, my therapist is supporting me in my efforts to get my “revenge”–to have a good life.  When I look back on this struggle, my battle to reclaim the parts of my life taken from me by others, I remember that I come from a long line of tough people, Scottish coal miners who survived the hell of coal-mining during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, a time when going down into the mines was much the same as descending into the pits of hell. If they could summon the strength to do their work, the least I can do to honor my Scottish ancestors and myself–now that I feel I am worth honoring!–is to do my work!  

For that is the mark of the Scots of all classes: that he stands in an attitude towards the past unthinkable to Englishmen, and remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation.  Robert Louis Stevenson