This morning I read a post by another blogger, Anna Rose Meeds, who publishes Rose With Thorns on Word Press (http://annarosemeeds.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/opening-up-to-the-world/).  I follow her blog and recommend it to all of you.  Among the challenges in Anna Rose’s life are Aspergers, PTSD, and eating disorders–pretty tough issues!  I am impressed by the courage she has shown in writing about her life and her challenges, for she tackles some topics that are familiar to many of us but which few of us discuss.  Two such topics that she covered in her latest post are “over-sharing” and self harm, cutting.  After I read her latest post, “Opening Up to the World,” I was inspired to also write about these two topics because at one time I, too, struggled with these issues.  I’m a lot older than Anna Rose, and my challenges were and are somewhat different from hers, but I thought that maybe my story might be helpful to those of you who are struggling.  Her story was certainly helpful to me! 

My story begins back in the late 70s, after my family and I returned from living for two years in what at the time was West Berlin, Germany.  When I write about this now, I feel like such a fool.  I was so naïve! I did not know that my husband had been dating other women, one of them fairly seriously.  I didn’t know this until later, until after I had become a single parent.  But the point is that a lot was going on in my family that should not have been going on, and at some level my mind picked up on it, but I was not consciously aware of it.  There was the cheating, but even worse, my husband exhibited sexual behaviors that I knew intuitively were not quite on track, and I had nobody to ask about this.  However, what bothered me more than anything was the lack of privacy he afforded our daughter, especially when she took her bath.  I let him know that at her age, 12, she needed privacy, but he paid no attention to me.  I also let him know that his walking around the house with nothing but his underwear on was not a good idea.  He let me know that I was old-fashioned and a prude and that he was not going to change.  After all, he was in charge of what went on in his home.  I felt powerless to do anything but try to make sure my daughter got her bath before he came home from work or while he was outside working on our farm. 

As time passed, my stress level rose, and I found myself frequently spacing out and numbing, but I didn’t know why this was happening.  Then one night during an especially tense, painful interaction with my husband, I had a flashback that took me back to my experience of violent childhood sexual abuse when I was four, a memory that I had buried for almost four decades.  Again, I had nobody to talk to about this flashback, so, scary as it was, I kept it to myself.  I did tell my husband in hopes that he would have compassion for me and stop tormenting me in bed, but my revelation meant nothing to him, and he continued abusing me.  In fact, he became rougher with me.  Later, after we had separated, I asked him why he escalated the abuse during sex, and he replied that he wanted to see if there was anyone in my body.  I was dissociating during his abuse, and he could sense that I was not “there.”  His solution?  Get rougher, for eventually I would be forced to let him know I was there.  His tactic didn’t work, but if the situation had continued much longer, he might have killed me.  He told me that.

During this time, as the tension built, I fell apart inside, fragmented.  I didn’t know what was happening to me;  I just knew that something was happening that caused me to “come apart at the seams.”  That was the way it seemed to me.  I felt like Humpty Dumpty, as if I were broken into little bits and couldn’t put myself back together.  And when people asked me, “How are you?”, I told them.  As Anna Rose says, I “over-shared.”  I gave them much more information about my inner life than anyone cared to know, I’m sure.  And then, later, when I had a quiet moment to think about what I had done, I realized that my over-sharing had made people uncomfortable, and I felt like a freak.  That was not ME!  The “me” I knew did not reveal my inner thoughts or my pain to others!  That sort of thing was a social no-no, and I knew that.  So why did I do it?  I didn’t know.  Maybe I was going crazy.  Maybe not! 

Then one day before Easter in 1981 I walked in on my husband as he was fondling our daughter.  I reported him to the police and reported the incident to the therapist I was seeing for depression.  That was a turning point.  I became a single parent, continued in therapy,  went to graduate school, found a job I enjoyed, and made friends.  As time passed and I gained some control of my life, I also began gaining confidence in myself.  And then one day I realized that I had stopped over-sharing.  Just like that. 

Why did I over-share?  Well, since the period of time when I did that corresponded to the period of time when I was least confident and seemed the most fragmented, I can only imagine that the pressures from my environment and the lack of organization of my mind caused me to behave in ways that were not normal for me.  My inner turmoil was such that over-sharing gave me some release.  Over-sharing, however, also left me embarrassed and caused me to become reclusive so I would have less opportunity to talk to people at a time in my life when I truly needed friends and contacts.  Those days are over, now, and one lesson I learned during those horrible times is to have a bit of compassion for my imperfect self. 

Just as over-sharing may have given me some release from the pressures of my inner turmoil, cutting provided me short-term release from psychic pain.  I’ve since read material explaining how inflicting physical pain upon oneself can provide relief from psychic pain, and that was my experience back in April of 1981.  Luckily, about six months prior to reporting my husband, I had begun therapy.  My therapist diagnosed me as having a situational depression.  The problem was that we did not know what the “situation” was–it was as much of a mystery to me as it was to her.  I had a vague notion of being at fault for whatever was happening to my family, but I could not tell my therapist specifically what I had done. 

As for the abuse I suffered, I didn’t tell my therapist because to me being abused was normal, and I thought it was normal for other women.  Why would something as normal as being the object of rough sex and being constantly reminded that I was stupid be important enough to tell my therapist?  However, when I found my husband abusing our daughter and reported him, I was able to identify the “situation.”  And since I was already in therapy, I didn’t have to waste time finding a therapist I liked.  That was a good thing, for my psychic pain was excruciating and unrelenting during the first few months after my husband left.  And somehow I discovered that I found relief from that horrible psychic pain when I took a paring knife and cut into the skin on my thighs and when I beat my head on the sharp corner of our bedroom door frame. 

As I remember it, after a few months, the cutting and the head-beating behaviors faded into the background.  My therapist and I became closer, and as I met people I enjoyed when I volunteered at the Salvation Army food bank, the pain subsided to the point where I didn’t feel the need for relief.  Because I had felt so guilty, I didn’t tell my therapist about the cutting until I no longer needed to do it .  I knew cutting was wrong, but at the time I did it, I needed to do it.  The guilt I felt intensified my sense of failure as a human being and made me all the  more miserable.  By the time the pain subsided to the point where I didn’t need to cut myself, I felt strong enough to let my therapist know I had been doing it, and to my great relief, she didn’t get angry with me or yell at me.  She put her arms around me and asked me to promise her I would tell her if I did it again.  I never did it again. 

As you know, I am seventy-four years old, older than most of you, and it’s been over thirty years since I suffered to the point of needing to cut myself and needing to “over-share.”  But those periods of my life, all the pain, the horrible incidents of abuse, will stay with me as memories until I die.  Now, thanks to my work in therapy and EMDR, when I remember the events, I don’t feel the distress as I once did.  I have found some peace.  I wish the same for you! 

John Chrysostom“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.”  –St. John Chrysostom