Caring and support

A conversation from this morning:

Me: “Mum, I’ve still got that migraine from yesterday. I’m going back to bed.”

Mum: “Hmph. Aren’t you going to work? You better hope you’ve still got a job next month!”

There’s nothing quite like the caring and supportive comments of a mother. Sigh.

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A hard week

You know, I think I’ve just had one of the hardest weeks of my life. I’m more exhausted than exhausted can be. And I’m sick – still or again, I’m not sure which. I’ve been at my mother’s house with her, cleaning, tidying, sorting, getting ready to put her house on the market. Much of my time there disappeared in a dissociative haze, and I’m still not sure I’m really “back”. Whatever went on, I felt the familiar claws of depression latching onto me. 😦

For the first few days I had to keep reminding myself that my father wasn’t there and that wasn’t going to say something nasty. I have to admit this was a giant head f**k. I know he’s dead, but everything around me was just the same as it was when he was alive – his chair there by the TV, his other chair out on the verandah. I kept expecting him to ark up, complain, say something horrible, be nasty. He didn’t, thankfully.

My mother and I spent some time going through her things – working out what she wanted to keep, what she didn’t, etc. Part of this was hard – learning about things that had meaning for her, or had been passed down through the family. Although sometimes it was just downright funny, like when she *finally* threw away the half-done macramé projects that belonged to my grandmother. The one who died 31 years ago!!!!!

Despite the odd funny moment, Mum again proved that she’s an emotional cripple. Not only did she deny my needs the entire time we were there, but also several times invalidated what I was feeling. Just as an example, the weather was unbearably hot for much of the week. I don’t cope well in the heat. I wilt quickly and just want to curl in a ball and sleep. Mum just told me to “get used to it”. If I’d had some wits about me, I would have said, “No, Mum, I won’t get used to it, or get over it. I’m 41 years old. I’ve never liked the heat and I’m not about to start. You don’t like the cold – I don’t ask you to get used to it. It’s how I am. YOU get used to it.”

Most of her behavior was the same across the week. Instead of saying she was tired, or finding it difficult, or whatever, she just took it out on me in some sarcastic, acid-tongued way. I knew it was about her, but it still threw me back into the cesspit of negativity and criticism, and needless to say pretty much did my head in. I quickly felt myself slipping to the edge of the abyss.

On top of that was all the physical work – gardening (in the heat), painting (in the wee small hours to miss the heat), lugging rubbish to the tip, and second hand goods to charity. Of course my mother’s still not up to very much physically, so I did most of the heavy work. I have no idea how I did it – except by disconnecting myself, physically and emotionally. Not healthy, I know, and kind of scary to think how quickly and easily I slipped backwards. I feel like I’ll always be skirting the edge like this. It feels completely pointless. I know that’s not good, but I’m having trouble stopping.

I’m coming back, now that I’m home, but slowly. The darkness is still there, and the darkest of dark thoughts still appealing. I’m hoping a weekend of nothing much will help. I’m due to go back to work next week, and it’s just about the last thing I feel like doing. I’m wrecked.

Reflections on 2010

I like New Year about as much as I like Christmas. I’m glad the hoopla is finally over and I can shift into something resembling normal for the year. A couple of my bloggy friends have done a “year in review”, so thought I’d give this a whirl. 2010 was a big year for me and another bloggy friend reminded me that as survivors, we tend not to acknowledge our achievements nearly often enough. So here I am.

Some of my biggest (tangible) achievements:

  • Changing jobs – twice. Getting the hell away from that awful boss I had, and then getting a brand new job in a brand new sector.
  • Giving the whole relationships and dating thing a whirl. This wasn’t the big success I had hoped it would be, but it was an achievement for me to saddle up again. I learned a lot about myself in the process. Perhaps my biggest achievement was standing up for myself in The Great Leap Forward. 🙂
  • Taking holidays – several of them – and believing I deserved them 🙂
  • Doing group therapy, which saw my healing move forward in leaps and bounds. I met some amazing people, learned a lot about myself and realised (even finally believed) that I’m not alone driving the survivor highway. I also even believed that I’m one of those “amazing” people – I’ll never forget the day the Wonder Therapist looked at me and said, “now do you see what I see?” (umm, not really, but kind of LOL)
  • Health – this has been a really mixed bag for me, as I’ve had two rounds of surgery to endure and various other health issues. I’m listing it as an achievement, though, because I’m learning (slowly) to address health issues. I even went to the dentist for no apparent reason, other than a general check up! 🙂

I’ve also made many smaller, less tangible steps forward – wearing skirts, for example, as well as heels again. I’ve used public transport – for years a surefire way to a panic attack. And I’ve been out, at night, and discovered I’m not nearly as afraid of the dark as I once was. 🙂 I’m also not as scared of being stuck in a lift, and have sat in the middle of rows at the theatre without panicking. 🙂 I’m also starting to learn how to listen to my body – when it’s hungry, when it’s tired, or in pain. I’m still not great at this one, but I’m learning.

Of course, the year has had its ups and downs, with continued triggers that spin me out of control sometimes. The Wonder Therapist says “that’s what life is like” – it’s completely normal to have ups and downs. I did notice that sometimes the downs have come from me taking on too much leaving me vulnerable, mentally and physically. I’m guessing there’s a lesson in self-care in there – perhaps that’s a job for 2011? 😉

I’ve also continued to have struggles with my family – especially my mother, though at times I’ve been able to see the family dysfunctions from a distance and maintain (or at least try to) my own “self”. I’m  learning to accept my father’s bad behaviour: not accepting the unacceptable, but accepting that it’s *his* behaviour, and nothing to do with me. Nothing I do can change it, or make it better. He is the abusive a$$hat that he is, and that is no reflection on me at all. That’s progress for me, too. 🙂

One area that doesn’t feel so much like an achievement is that I still feel quite distant from “me” – from the person my therapist described here. That person still doesn’t feel like me, even though I *know* it is, and even though I wrote – and believed – posts like this one.

One thing that’s really helped me is the Expressive Arts Carnival (you can see all my entries here). I’ve loved the activities and the encouragement to do things creative. They’ve helped me think about things differently, and get in touch with different parts of me.

I’ve also learned to more consciously drawn on my lessons in therapy, and the blogosphere – as you all saw in my Christmas survival post, just this week. 🙂

My favourite posts for 2010 – and by chance also the most popular – were these:

Thanks for being with me in 2010 peeps, and I look forward to sharing 2011 with you! 🙂

I made it

Yes, I’m here on the other side of Christmas hell, and I lived to tell the tale. 🙂

Actually this year was better than most. I kept focussed on myself, and kept my therapist’s advice top of mind (as well as Therapy Doc’s and Dr Kathleen’s – which I blogged about here and here).

For my future reference, and for yours, here are the things that I think made the biggest difference for me:

  1. Minimising time in the cesspit of negativity and criticism – I arrived late, and left several days earlier than normal. That certainly helped. I woke in my own bed on Christmas morning and, even though I was alone, I felt happy. I held on to that feeling for as long as I could. And when things did start to skirt the edges of “gnarly”, I reminded myself that I was leaving soon. 🙂
  2. I expected nothing – meaning that I expected things to not be great. In some past years I’ve gone hoping there’d be a miracle and the day would be great. Of course, it never was, and I was left with nothing but disappointment. Going in with no expectations was a much better approach – and accepting whatever happened, was equally important.
  3. I helped in the kitchen – kept myself busy, in the lead up and on Christmas day, preparing food. And for once we didn’t have enough food to feed several small African nations for a year – just enough for a nice meal without too much over indulgence.
  4. I kept my therapist in mind – I remembered the advice she’s given me over the last couple of years, and all the positive things I’ve achieved.
  5. I kept you guys in mind – that’s right, you lot; you readers; you out there. 🙂 I thought of you and imagined an invisible force binding us together and steeling us against the shenanigans we usually endure.
  6. I focussed on happy thoughts – and happy places. Things, people, places, ideas that make me happy or smile. If I felt things starting to slide, I just focussed on those and they got me through.
  7. I minimised conversation with my father – ok, sure, there were some exchanges, but mostly I was able to keep busy and keep away from him. And when I had to be near him, I did everything I could to avoid looking at him or touching him –guaranteed triggers for me.
  8. I kept touch with iPhone magic – games, social networking, anything that enabled me a few minutes peace, and some grounding.

I can’t take all the credit for things going better than anticipated. My father, for once, was in a better mood than he usually is, and actually spoke to me (or at least in my general direction) in a civil tone. And my mother went nearly 24 whole hours without getting snipey and critical of the world in general. Even when she did I charged up my Teflon coating and just let it all slide away from me. 🙂

Yay for me!

My anxiety didn’t really start to kick in until after I’d come home – I’m not really sure why. Well, I think I know what the anxiety’s about, just not sure why it didn’t hit until after I got home. Possibly it’s about fantasies colliding with realities, but that’s another post for another day.

Holiday coping

Dr Kathleen has an awesome post about Holiday Coping for Trauma Survivors (it comes from another blog – see the original here).

I’m reposting it here, in its entirety, because I think it’s great – and because it captures many of the things the Wonder Therapist has taught me over the years. (And also because it’s Christmas morning here and I’m avoiding the inevitable – the seemingly interminable day in the cesspit of negativity and criticism. LOL)

The irreverent me particularly likes the reference to the Judy Garland Trail Mix, though of course I don’t recommend this either. 😉

I hope you all have an ok Christmas Day. I hope you can remember that sage advice – Do Not Abandon Yourself – and practice some self-care. I will be trying. Hard.

An Adult Child Abuse Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays

First, and most importantly, this is the primary principle to follow when you’re in the presence of perpetrators and their allies:

Remember this always –

DO NOT ABANDON YOURSELF.

I can’t say this enough – do not abandon yourself.

You were abandoned as a child. You did not deserve this. No child deserves this. So, as adults, we take care of ourselves as if we are our own precious child. Imagine taking your child-self gently but firmly by their lovely, grubby little hand and getting them out of harm’s way. There are many ways to do this whether you are in the presence of perpetrators and their allies (like your own dismissive and scornful siblings who get angry whenever you mention the legacy and source of your pain) or if you’re in a place where you may be triggered.

The following is listed in no particular order of importance because it’s all important. I respect that some of these ideas may work for you, some may not. As long as you keep that all-encompassing guidance “Do not abandon yourself” in mind, you can take it from there.

Here we go:

Remember who you are TODAY. You are no longer a child. Indeed, there is a hurt child who is alive and well within you. But, now you’re an adult who can make choices.  Don’t forget, you are an adult and you have power over your life.

One of the choices you can make is to not go to the abusive family’s house. You don’t have to go. You can tell them you’re sick if you can’t tell them the actual reason for your absence. It’s okay to “lie” in this situation if fear keeps you from telling the truth of the matter.  It’s not really a lie, though. The abuse was and is responsible for its consequences that you may suffer from – depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you do “call in sick”, don’t answer the phone if you know your abusive family members are trying to call your cell or land line To this, I say – thank you, technology, for caller ID. Don’t answer the calls from your abusive family members for up to a week. Then, if you must, call back and say you’re feeling better. And, when I say”better”, I mean that you’re probably doing great because you didn’t spend time with people who were not good to you and continue to be bad to you.

If you have to be with abusive family members, do whatever you need to do to stay centered as you cannot abandon yourself and you need to remember who you are today.

Staying centered may involve many tactics:

Go to your abuser’s house with your real family, your husband, your kids, your chosen family of dear friends who believe in you. If you need support and active reminders of who you are now, take your supportive people with you. These people are your true family members who love you, won’t abandon you and remind you of who you are today.

This is a big one – STAY SOBER. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you get drunk or high, you will lose that centered spot. You will relax, that’s true, but it’s a false sense of ease.  Do take your Xanax if necessary but stick to your prescribed dose. The Bloggess will always recommend that you should avoid knocking back handfuls of the Judy Garland Trail Mix. And, there you go, a little Bloggess humor for you on a tough day.

Help in the kitchen. Be involved with the preparation. Do this only if such activities are not triggering. I always do this. I put my head down and work. I set the table, I do the dishes, I cook. I put my head down and work it, like a Zen monk whose practice includes performing chores mindfully. That’s an excellent way to stay centered, pretending to be a Zen monk and doing tasks wholeheartedly.

Sit by a window so you can look outside. When you pull in the outside world as you sit with those who abandoned you, the world becomes that much bigger. There’s more out there, beyond the dark cave of the abuser’s house.

Go beyond looking out the window and get out there in that bigger world. Expand your universe. The abuser’s house or the house with the abusers in it is not the core of the world. The world is beyond that house. In this world there are people who believe in you and love you unconditionally. That world contains your working life where you are valued or perhaps your university studies where you excel. So, go outside for a few minutes and take a walk in the bigger world.

Put your therapist’s number on fast dial. Call anytime. Even if you reach their voice mail, leave a message. Don’t fret if they don’t call back. Instead, revel in the knowledge that you were wise enough to reach out. You asked for help and that action alone is therapeutic.

Keeping your therapist in mind, remember the tricks and tools they have suggested to help you through these tough times. For example, I like to use what all of my therapists taught me –  the classic meditation exercise of sitting comfortably and going to my inner place of refuge. FYI – it’s a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. Not bad, eh?

Minimize conversation with the perpetrator and anyone who has been abusive to you. Again, you can say you’re not feeling well, you have a headache, you need to be quiet. And, again, you ain’t lying here. That person makes you feel unwell and your head probably hurts when you’re around them.

If you cannot avoid conversations with those people, keep something in your pocket to remind yourself of who you are today. I use a little plastic monkey from the Barrel of Monkeys toy-game. Small and with a defined shape, the monkey reminds me of the relative light heartedness of my life away from the abusers. Also, a monkey is not to be messed with and you can pretend the monkey is throwing feces at whoever needs to be taken down.

You can also keep your cell phone on to Twitter, Facebook or chat or whatever you use for social media interactions. Set it to buzz everytime you get an update. Another reminder of the bigger world out there and that you’re part of that bigger, better world.

Okay, get ready for this big one, survivors:

Remembering you are an adult of legal age, Walk out the door the second things get gnarly. Just go.

Everyone, no matter how badaas and brave they seem to be, is scared shitless to do this.  I was scared to do this. But, I’ve done it and I’ll do it again if I need to  because it felt exhilarating, liberating and life affirming.

Don’t leave yelling, but if you do, try to cry, yell some more or laugh really hard once you’re out the door to release what is truly an emotional atomic bomb full of energy. Really try to do that before you get in the car. Do not drive home in an intense emotional state as you are not centered and in control. Respect your anger and anguish and give it time to release and subside. You will feel better and that will help you think clearly as you operate that moving vehicle.

 

I’m home

I’m home. I got home a few days ago from my wonderful holiday in paradise. I ended up extending my stay for a few days because I was having so much fun and didn’t feel ready to come home. I still don’t feel quite ready to be home, but I’m doing ok.

I experienced something truly rare on my holiday. I think I felt happiness. At first I didn’t know what it was – kind of like a drug induced high, but without the drugs. Then I realised, I felt … H A P P Y. Truly content. 🙂

Who wouldn’t feel content lolling about on this beach, or frolicking in this pool? It was just like the brochures promised. It was truly divine, absolutely perfect even, and I’m looking forward to going back there again.

I came home ready to start my new job tomorrow, and had I not seen my parents I would have felt completely ready to tackle just about anything.

It was the father’s birthday this weekend, as well as father’s day, which of course meant engaging in the whole charade. I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. I was almost euphoric when I got up yesterday morning, even as I drove to the parents’ house, though once I arrived, and as the hours wore on, I could feel every ounce of that euphoria draining away. 😦

Seriously, they could suck the life out of anything those people. It’s a cess pit of negativity and criticism. In what’s possibly a first, I was able to observe their toxic behaviour and just let it sit there; not take it on or try to deal with it or anything. I came away feeling like I needed another holiday, but a bit of loud music in the car (and bad singing on my part) helped rejuvenate me somewhat. They can keep their toxicity.

I know I’m behind with my blogging, and reading of blogs, I will try to catch up. It might take me a while, though, as I start the new job this week, and I’m reconsidering a few other things in my life.