The joys


Oh, the joys of PTSD! Just when you think everything is going ok, something comes along and bites you on the a$$. Well, in the head, really.

I saw my therapist this week. I realised afterwards that I’d been holding on to a lot of stuff that didn’t start to come out until it was nearly time to leave. (Really? Bet that’s never happened before?!?!?!) Anyway, she told me she’s out of the office one day next week because she’s appearing in court against a man who raped his 3 year old child.

I didn’t realise this was a trigger, but it was. Who does that? I mean seriously, who does that? Who rapes a 3 year old child? And how can they sit in court and protest their innocence? That’s just so so wrong. That’s disgusting. That’s just… ugh.

I’m so not coping with that. Talk about triggery. Ugh.

I have absolutely no idea why this was such a big trigger for me. I wondered if there was some memory of my own surfacing, because I saw my bedroom in the old house. I can see the grey-green carpet and the orange-yellow curtains. I can feel the curly texture and see the wavy pattern of the carpet. And I started hearing things, or thinking I was hearing things, I’m not sure. I think it was my voice, or my voice in my head, I’m not sure of that either. I’ve never had an auditory experience like that before. It’s scary and freaky.

Here’s what it’s like when this happens.

It’s like the world slows down and speeds up all at the same time. Things start to spin wildly out of control inside. I’m flooded with emotions. I’m spinning uncontrollably but trying desperately to hang on to the present at the same time. Everything around me becomes more distant but larger than life, all at once. And if the trigger is really bad, like this one and the fishy one, I start feeling like a little kid again, even thinking like a little kid. It’s like I’m being transported through time and space. It’s weird and freaky and scary.

And then the inner critic starts up with her incessant criticism and sniping and negative talk. Ugh.

This happened a few days ago and I still don’t know why, damn it. And I had had such a good day too, when this happened. I’d felt pretty funky in the morning so I spent the day doing things I like – cooking, ironing, watching my favourite TV show on DVD. And then this. Days of this. Bleuch. I feel so broken when this still happens, and now I’ve slunk so low I don’t know how to get out of it.

I remember Back Up Therapist saying triggers and flashbacks are all the worse when you can’t figure out what they mean. Hell yea.

I’m still struggling to maintain a connection to the present. I’ve been quite dissociative for a couple of days. Flicking back and forth between the present and somewhere else, though I’m not even sure where. Derealised, depersonalised and forgetting things. I messaged my therapist earlier today but I had no idea what I said. I went to the supermarket and I have no recollection of what I bought, or why. I don’t like this one little bit.

The urge to SI has been stronger than it has been for months. I have French doors at the back of my house. I don’t want to go near them. I’m afraid I’ll put my hand through them. Or my head. Each time I smoke I want to stub the cigarette out on my leg. I’m too afraid to go near the back shed because that’s where the Stanley knife (box cutter) is. I went to the supermarket and all I wanted to buy was food that I know will make me sick.

I hate this trigger business. I hate the way it sneaks up on you. One minute everything is fine – the next, I’m “vortexing” out. I messaged my therapist earlier today to see if she could talk to me. I haven’t heard from her. Rationally I know she’s probably busy, but inner critic and inner child are going gang-busters with over analysis.

I’m so exhausted by all this. I’m not sure I can keep doing it.

Triggers and healing


Thanks everyone for your support over the last few days. I’m still feeling pretty low, but doing ok. I spent today listening to nice music, reading my book, and putting fresh, crisp sheets on the bed to make me feel good. I’m hoping this will all help to turn things around – it has at least passed time.

I was playing around on the computer last night and got triggered. I was playing some of the silly games on one of those social networking sites – you know the ones. Anyway, a friend made a stupid s*xual remark that just tipped me over the edge. The trigger was nasty, but I didn’t lose touch with reality like I sometimes do. I was unbelievably furious… but I was able to do some thinking afterwards.

I got to thinking about why my views of s*x are so screwed up. I’ve talked before about my past, so I’m not going to dredge that up again here. I did find a website, though, that talks about s*xual healing after s*xual abuse.

The site talks about the sorts of problems survivors might experience “in the bedroom”:

  • Avoiding or being afraid of sex
  • Approaching sex as an obligation
  • Experiencing negative feelings such as anger, disgust, or guilt with touch
  • Having difficulty becoming aroused or feeling sensation
  • Feeling emotionally distant or not present during sex
  • Experiencing intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts and images
  • Engaging in compulsive or inappropriate sexual behaviours
  • Experiencing difficulty establishing or maintaining an intimate relationship
  • Experiencing vaginal pain or orgasmic difficulties
  • Experiencing erectile or ejaculatory difficulties

Yep, that’s me. Most of it, anyway. I am afraid of s*x. I associate it with all sorts of negative feelings. I often dissociate during s*x. The Evil Huntress comes out; I do whatever it is I think I *should* do; and I end up feeling worse than when I started.  

I’m not sure why a conversation on a social networking site would bring this all up, but it did. Actually it’s pretty obvious to me now – the comments I received made me feel vulnerable; made me feel like I didn’t have a choice. Just like all those years ago.

The same website lists a whole stack of attitudes towards s*x. It says that when s*x is abusive, we get messages like s*x is uncontrollable; it’s an obligation; it’s hurtful; it’s something *done* to us; it done for one person’s benefit only; it’s unsafe and it has no boundaries.

I identify with all of those things.

What I have trouble identifying with is the list of “healthy” attitudes to s*x – that it’s a choice; it’s pleasurable; it’s nurturing; it’s respectful; it’s mutual, and it’s intimate. The website says we have a right to experience s*x in this way. That seems so foreign. Cognitively I understand it; I just don’t identify with it. But I’d like to.

I guess that’s possibly why I’ve been so focussed on s*x with Nice Guy. I think that’s what he expects. I’m still learning that it might not be the sole focus of his existence and that he has thoughts, feelings, etc just like I do.

Nice Guy is gentle, respectful, caring. I’ve never experienced that before. I’d like to find a way to enjoy it – to learn to heal s*xually, I suppose, so that I can.

More work to do with the therapist, I suspect. And another gut-wrenching, squirm-inducing topic to do it over. Sigh.

Making progress with triggers

** WARNING: Trigger alert **

Thank you everyone for your very lovely comments this week. I was scared nearly to death posting that longest blog post ever, but have been very touched by how kind and supportive you all are. 🙂 Thank you.

Apologies to those of you getting nauseous with all this talk of progress, but I’m finding it quite helpful to look back at where I was a few months ago and think about how far I’ve come. Or it would be helpful if I hadn’t committed to doing it every day! 😉

Another area in which I’ve made some progress over the last few months is dealing with flashbacks and triggers.

I’ve always been sensitive to loud noises, which I believe is common in trauma survivors and those with PTSD. As a child I’d usually vomit if I was surprised by a loud noise – my grandmother starting up the floor polisher; the workman at kinder starting up his drill. Six months ago I’d jump out of my skin and completely lose touch with reality. Now? Well, I still startle easily, but I’m generally not so wiggy about it.

I’m still very sensitive, especially to noise. The sound of men laughing; loud male voices – these are particularly bad. Triggering, and I’m always convinced the men are laughing at me. I can remember numerous times when my father, and his friends, laughed like that at me. The worst memories are associated with sexual abuse – my father spying on me in the shower, and laughing; his friend touching me where no adult should touch a child, and my father laughing in the background. No wonder the laughing is so hideous for me.

I’m still sensitive to a lot of things. From simple things like the sound of wood being chopped, or the clatter of wood on concrete, to the smell of boiled vegetables and the smell of panel beaters’ filler stuff (I don’t know what it’s called). Other things like freshly washed men’s flannelette pyjamas, the smell of sauerkraut, the smell of beer, old men (smell, sight, sound and touch)… I could go on but you get the picture.

Sometimes these triggers are accompanied by flashbacks. Mostly the flashbacks come with noise triggers now.

When I was younger, being alone in the house at night would totally and completely freak me out. The slightest noise, the wind blowing, a dog barking – everything sent me rushing to the window to see who was there; to see who was coming to “get” me. I can’t tell you the number of nights I spent sleeping with a knife to keep me “safe”, or cowering in the corner on high alert. I didn’t realise until very recently that all this is connected to the past.

Somewhere over the last few months I’ve got a lot better at dealing with many of these triggers. There are still things that take me by surprise (like the woman who suddenly appeared beside me at the shops today), and some things that leave me flopping about like a half dead fish, but generally, as I’ve said before, I’m much better at recognising what’s happening and talking myself through it. I’ve become a lot more adept at noticing the physical things that happen – a tightening inside, heart pounding, shoulders tense, body shrunken away. And the shaking. Always the shaking. Though I am a lot better at being alone at night now. That’s kind of a good thing when you live on your own!

I often wonder if I will always be triggered like this? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’ll just get better at knowing what’s triggering me, and why, and better at dealing with it. For now, I’ll just enjoy not “vortexing out” at every damned thing. 🙂

In which I discover more proof… and write the longest blog post ever

** WARNING: Trigger alert **

In my last post I talked about some of the progress I’ve made in therapy; things I’ve done but never imagined I’d do. It feels quite weird acknowledging this. My therapist has been rabbitting on about trying to get me to see this for ages. Finally, I’m starting to see it. I mean really see it and really believe it.

Today I discovered more proof. I was flicking through old emails when I came across an email I sent to my therapist in my very early days of therapy. Back when she was trying to get me to disclose the secrets of my past.

Reading over the email I realised that I have come a long way. It’s as plain as the nose on my face. I’m going to share some of that email to my therapist, but I warn you – it could be triggering. I’m oddly scared of posting this stuff… scared of scaring you all away. Some of you say that you care and you care already so nothing will scare you away, but the little kid inside is still not sure.

Anyway, I hope you will see my progress as well. What I wrote then was filled with turmoil; filled with struggle every step of the way. I think about therapy now and it’s different. I’m different. Even when I’m flailing about on the floor, I’m different. Even when I’m scared to talk about stuff, it’s different. Even my writing now is different. I have come a long way. I have disclosed a load of toxic junk. I’ve processed a lot of that junk. I think I’d even go so far as to say I’ve grown through doing that.

Gee that’s scary to say!

By the way, for those of you monitoring my adherence to the NaBloPoMo theme – yes, I know, this post has more to do with “yesterday” than it does with “tomorrow”, but hey, they are both on the space-time continuum. 😉

** Start of trigger alert **

Dear T –

I found it incredibly difficult to tell you the things I told you last week. They were things I’d long forgotten; things I’d never spoken about before. And yet I didn’t tell you everything. I couldn’t. There’s stuff I just can’t bring myself to say out loud. But there’s something about it that feels unresolved.

So I’ve written stuff down. Even that has been incredibly hard. I’ve avoided it, procrastinated, distracted myself in a thousand ways. I’ve told myself that nothing I say will be new to you; that nothing will shock, offend or concern you; that you’ve heard it all before, and worse.

And yet still I feel embarrassed and afraid. This is stuff I’ve NEVER told anyone. I’ve kept it hidden in places I NEVER let anyone go. I feel incredibly vulnerable, even though I know your office is safe and you will respect my confidentiality. Something in me says I have to let the walls down if my sessions with you are going to do any good. I’m still not sure if I can talk about some of it – but you can try.

It’s a pretty random dump. Some of it I’ve told you already. Some I haven’t. And I suspect some you know even though I haven’t told you.

When I write it down it doesn’t seem that bad. Part of me thinks I’m just over reacting or being over sensitive. After all, there were no broken limbs; I wasn’t locked in cupboards; and there were no satanic rituals. 

[I have just realised that some of this is written like I’m talking to my father – sorry but I can’t be bothered fixing it up]

As a child, and now, I’ve always bottled things up. I always pretend everything was “fine”, even when it isn’t. At home. At work. With friends. I’m always the strong one; the one who copes. Mum always told me to “be strong – be a survivor”. I have, but I’m starting to think it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.  For the longest time I’ve felt alone in the world. I put on a mask every time I get up – a different mask for different aspects of my life (the “good daughter”, the “smart student”; the “capable worker/boss”, etc etc). I’ve been doing that for so long that I’m not sure what’s underneath anymore.

I’m guessing part of that stems from my father, being constantly on edge, worried, afraid of what mood he’d be in. Having to play the appropriate role around that. I grew up thinking that what I felt/thought/experienced didn’t matter. And it didn’t. My only concern was keeping the peace. Doing anything I could to stop him going off, even if it usually didn’t work. 

I’m sad that I never got the kind of childhood other kids had. Instead of being nurtured, loved and supported, I spent my years in fear. I was constantly on edge, and yet had to pretend that everything was ok. And when I didn’t – when I told the school counsellor – Mum denied it, blaming “adolescent angst” or “overactive imagination” or whatever.

I remember being afraid. Constantly. You’d often go to the pub and come home late, drunk. You’d complain about how bad your dinner was (no wonder – it had been in the oven for hours). There was always yelling on those nights. Tirades about how useless mum and I were. Constant tirades about how I was stupid/useless/just a child. What I remember most strongly is being nervous and afraid. Wondering what mood you’d be in when you got home. I still feel it now, and it still comes back when you drink too much – the nervousness, the tensions around your mood and when you’ll turn.

Sometimes dad used to sit in the kitchen getting drunk, yelling about how useless mum and I were. Mum and I would retreat to the lounge room – staying out of the way, hiding, or just watching TV, I’m not sure. I remember mum closing the lounge room door to shut out dad’s tirades.  Dad hated that.  He’d have one/ten/a hundred drinks too many and put his fist or foot through the door, yelling and screaming.  That always frightened me.  I can still hear the wood splitting.

I remember mum sleeping in my room a few times. We’d squeeze into my bed and she’d tell me “Don’t worry. It will be ok.”  But I did worry, and it wasn’t ok. One time (many?) we’d barricaded ourselves in by putting the chest of drawers up against the door.  Dad hated that. He’d smash the door, yelling and screaming.

I hated Xmas. The pressure, the tensions, the pretence. When I was little (4? 5?) dad would spend the day in the back room getting pissed, yelling at mum about what a crap job she’d done with the food, and telling me to “piss off”. I pretty much hate all meal times actually – they’ve usually ended in disaster. The constant tension, the pressure building, the anticipation of you exploding. Even now I eat quickly – just to get it over with, get out of it peacefully (or at least in one piece).

I remember the time you brought the gun home and threatened mum and me with it. I was afraid. I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong or why you’d want to kill us. You reminded me of its presence constantly after that. Part of me wanted you to just do it so I didn’t have to put up with you or be afraid anymore. Many times after that I wanted to die. Still do, sometimes. I just wanted to be safe and free from the hurt and the pain. I thought I’d found a way to block out that pain, but turns out I was wrong. It’s been lying in wait for me all these years.

I remember the times you stayed in the garden at night, or slept in the car. Mum would lock the door and say it was a good thing you were out of the house. But all I remember is being afraid. I was nervous about the locked door and how angry that would make you. I was afraid that you’d come back inside during the night – and afraid of what you’d do when you did. I was afraid to go to sleep those nights.

I remember constantly feeling embarrassed. I’d have friends over, but I was always on edge. Always wondering when you’d turn. Usually you didn’t while they were there, but you kept your distance, ignoring me (but not my friends). I could feel the tension building and I knew there’d be trouble after they’d gone.

You’d set up, or just take joy in, any accidents I had. You’d wait and watch me fall over in the yard; bait the dog to bite me; or laugh when I fell off my bike. I remember the time I broke something on the bike and had to carry it home from the park, bloody kneed, hurting. You watched me walk up the street, and you laughed. Even when I had that car accident and broke my wrist [about 10 years ago], all you said was “oh yea, good”.

I remember a couple of times (one?) after you’d yelled at me, [a family friend] tried to console me and tell me it would be ok. It wasn’t, but he showed more kindness in those moments than you have shown me in a lifetime.

I remember always being criticised for what I wore. You always told me I looked awful. Even now, there’s always something wrong with my clothes/hair/nails/etc. I remember when I was about 15 or 16, going to a party, you said “you’re not wearing that, are you? You look awful. Everyone will laugh.” And so of course, in my mind, they did. They still do.

You always told me I was too fat; too ugly; I’d never get a boyfriend. You were right – I never have had a positive, meaningful, adult relationship. I say I don’t care, but really, I think I do. I fear I’ll end up one of those sad old people with no one. I’ll be dead for weeks before anyone notices. Even then it’ll only be because of the smell.

You taunted me endlessly about being stupid/fat/ignorant/ugly/blah blah blah.  Either that or you’d just ignore me completely. Even now.

You never came to school plays/speech nights. You never wrote me a birthday or Xmas card. You never gave me a gift, never chose anything for me. I’ve never understood why you hated me so much, or what I did to deserve all this. You’ve never said you loved me. In fact, no one has ever said “I love you” or “you’re beautiful”. I used to think it didn’t matter but, you know, actually I think it does.

I can’t believe I’m telling you this stuff. It’s wrong. It’s scary. I’m scared of what you’ll think. I’m scared that I’m opening myself up too much. I feel vulnerable. And yet I’m hopeful that it will help. It’s taken more courage than I thought I had to actually write it down. Will I actually send it? Yes. No. May be. I don’t know. It’s raising a lot of questions for me, but I’ll leave those for another time.

** End of trigger alert **

I feel grubby

My therapist sent me an email in which, among other things, she said it might be worth considering seeing p-doc again. Just when I thought I’d made up my mind not to go back. Damn.

I’ve been thinking about my sessions with him. I feel grubby. Dirty. Yucky.

As if his sexualised comments aren’t enough, one of the things he does is draw attention to things that I say, or do, or ways that I move/don’t move. For example, he’ll watch me fiddle with my jewellery and say “What’s going on there?” or watch me sitting with my arms crossed and say “See how you’re sitting? And breathing?”

Granted this might be good for me in a therapeutic sense, but I can’t stand it.

I hate myself and my body enough without him constantly drawing attention to it. At risk of disclosing too much information – my father used to “spy” on me in the shower and I’ve always hated people looking at me; it’s very shame inducing. It’s like they’re undressing me or something. I don’t know.

Is this a trigger? Or is my anxiety just looking for an excuse to freak out some more? I don’t know.

I do know that I’m hysterical. I can’t believe this, just when I was starting to get back on track and feel like I might be making a little progress. Ugh.

How did this happen?

I had an odd session with my therapist last night. The regular one – not p-doc. I saw him today, but more on that later. *sigh*

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I ended up revealing the depths of my self hatred and stupidity to my therapist. Probably a good thing in the long run, I suppose, but I’d never intended to inflict that on her.

I felt so disgusting afterwards. So putrid and vile and hideous and poisonous and ugly and dirty and rancid and foul and, well, disgusting. Disgusting because my therapist now knows how disgusting I am. Disgusting because I’ve inflicted my filth on her. Disgusting, because, well, I’m just disgusting. I hate that I’m so disgusting, and I hate that she knows it.

Somehow we got to talking about gynaecological issues, which can be a big issue for abuse survivors (see this great post by Sword Dance Warrior). I talked about how difficult it is for me to have gynae exams, and how I’m dreading the upcoming internal ultrasound I have to have post-surgery. (Of all the medical issues… why did I get stuck with this? Why?)

Granted, this is something most women aren’t all that fond of. I don’t know too many women who do a happy dance when they’re going to the gynaecologist. But… it can be a bigger triggery, hellish experience for abuse survivors. Made worse by the brutish insensitivity of some health practitioners.

Not only is it triggery for me, but I also have this stupid thought that I can’t let a doctor I know do the exam, because then they’ll know how disgusting I am, and I won’t be able to face them again afterwards. Stupid, right?

One thing led to another and we got to talking about relationships and children (or the absence, thereof), and the stupid thought that always pops up for me, “Why would anyone love me?” Stupid again, right?

I was burning with shame for most of the session. I wanted to crawl into the carpet and just disappear. (Why doesn’t that floor ever open up when you need it to????)

Of course, my therapist didn’t think I was disgusting. Nor did she think I was stoopid. She was, as always, gentle and kind and supportive, and actually said some very positive things about me. Part of me is afraid to face her again for fear of contaminating her again, but I will.

A very good friend suggested I should write down all the positive things she said, so that even if I’m not ready to take it in now, I can go back to it. I haven’t yet, but I will. I guess I needed to process the toxic stuff first.

Now not only my therapist knows about the depths of my self-hatred and disgustingness, but the blogosphere as well. Nice comments only today please, people, I can’t take the other kind.