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! 🙂

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Sense of self

Last week in Group we talked about “sense of self” and how messed up and confused this is for survivors.

We started off with a couple of questions, and paired off to discuss:

  • What messages did you receive from childhood s*xual assault about who you are?
  • How might these messages have affected your sense of self – including your self-esteem/self-confidence?

Boy, tough questions. I was paired up with the Quiet One, who is quiet, and barely spoke for the first four weeks of group, but by last week was really growing in confidence. (It’s been so wonderful to see and share in her growth!)

Interestingly, the facilitators asked us also to pay attention to how we felt as we explored these questions – physically and emotionally.

I did my usual thing and fought back the tears not-so-successfully. I don’t like crying in group, but it’s actually one of the few places I feel completely safe doing it. It’s wonderful how supportive the group is – each and every one of them – and how we are able to hold each other’s pain, even when we can’t hold our own.

Anyway, the questions were tough, as you might expect… another big bl00dy elastic band, really. I was quite traumatised by the discussion, so was uncharacteristically quiet.  

Here are some of the things we identified in response to the questions:

What messages did you receive from childhood s*xual assault about who you are?

  • That I was disgusting
  • I was dirty
  • I was worthless
  • I was bad
  • I was an outsider
  • I was not important
  • I was responsible
  • I was stupid
  • I was broken

How might these messages have affected your sense of self – including your self-esteem/self-confidence?

  • I was held back from doing things
  • I didn’t know who I was
  • I lacked control
  • I wasn’t allowed to have fun
  • I never believed in myself
  • I put other people’s needs first
  • I was always apologising for myself
  • I wished I could be different
  • I wished I could be good enough
  • I wished I had someone else’s life
  • I never felt like myself

You get the drift. Easy to write here now, but not so easy to talk about. We also talked about how we felt discussing the questions – heavy, dark, reluctant, slow. The facilitators even commented on our body language (slumped) and our lack of energy.

Thankfully at about that point we took a break, although the low energy followed us into the kitchen for our usually buoyant tea and snacks.

Also thankfully, the facilitators had planned this session well. After the break we talked about what I think was my biggest learning for the session:

“These things are not who I am. They were imposed on me.”

Yep, true. Rationally I know it’s true – I just have to repeat this a few more thousand times to truly believe it.

And then we spent time reflecting on and discussing a different question:

What abilities, strengths, attributes do I now recognise?

  • I am a good person
  • I deserve happiness
  • I deserve good things in life
  • I am learning who I am
  • I’m learning to have fun (safely)
  • I am not responsible for other people’s happiness
  • I can say ‘no’ and the world won’t cave in
  • I am not weird
  • I can feel safe
  • I can learn to trust other people

What an uplifting discussion! We were all energised, and all left the group feeling strong and inspired! 🙂

Self-love

A few weeks ago the Strong One brought a little book to Group. It’s called “When I loved myself enough” by Kim McMillen. It’s filled with “wisdom” on filling our lives with self-love and with peace and joy.

Before you vomit, it’s actually just a book of nice little quotes. Literary genius they probably aren’t, but they are helpful, at least they have been for me. Here are some of my favourites.

When I loved myself enough, I began leave whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.

When I loved myself enough, I learned to stop what I am doing, if even for a moment, and comfort that part of me that is scared.

When I loved myself enough, I gave up perfectionism – that killer of joy.

When I loved myself enough, I quit rehashing the past and worrying about the future which keeps me in the present where aliveness lives.

When I loved myself enough, I learned to ask ‘Who in me is feeling this way?’ when I feel anxious, angry, restless or sad. If I listen patiently I discover who needs my love.

When I loved myself enough, I quit exhausting myself by trying so hard.

When I loved myself enough, I quit having to be right which makes being wrong meaningless.

When I loved myself enough, I quit wishing my life looked some other way and began to see that as it is, my life serves my evolution.

When I loved myself enough, I began feeling such relief.

Coping

I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s Group session a lot today. About me falling apart; about the collages; about all the different ways I’ve coped over the years.

I wasn’t happy with the collage I made in Group – mostly because I was trying to limit myself to something safe to talk about, but also because I ran out of time, and my collage therefore wasn’t “perfect” (whatever that means).

So I made a new one in Polyvore. I’m happier with this one (although it may still not be perfect). It more accurately represents the different things I’ve used to cope over the years – good and bad. It represents the darkness, as well as the light. It represents the greater ‘balance’ I now have. And it honours all of these things.  

That’s all for today folks. Enjoy the collage. I have been enjoying creating different things, in different ways lately. It’s fun, and healing, all at the same time. 🙂

Eight inspiring people

The writing prompt from Nablopomo today is “freedom”, which is rather lovely from a survivor’s perspective, but not what I want to talk about today, sorry kids. Perhaps I’ll return to this next time the folks at Nablopomo offer me  “poetry”. 😛

I had Group again tonight, so I want to talk about that.

Our topic this week was “coping when you just can’t”, which I thought would be practical and easy and interesting. It was interesting, and in some ways practical, but it certainly wasn’t easy.

We started off having to think about a time when we couldn’t cope; when coping seemed utterly impossible… and then we had to think about the ways we got through; all the ways we had coped. We got to do some creative work, making a kind of collage of things to represent our coping mechanisms. That was all ok, and the collage was fun (though I ran out of time and had to rush in the end), but when it came time to talk about it, I just fell apart, even though I’d picked a time I thought would be safe for me.

I thought about the time around 18 months ago when my life fell apart. Everything just seemed to slip through my fingers… my career, my sanity, my health… it all seemed to evaporate in the blink of an eye. And the harder I held on, the faster it seemed to slip away. I was doing a lot of trauma processing work with the Wonder Therapist at the time and I was overwhelmed – flooded by memories, flashbacks and nightmares. So anxious I could barely leave the house some days. I really couldn’t cope.

I tried to talk about taking time out – about escaping to my safe haven, and the healing power of the ocean. But I was overwhelmed, I could barely speak. Great big tears just rolling uncontrollably down my cheeks. I hate doing that, especially in front of others. Ugh.

There are eight of us in the group and we each got to talk about our collage and about when coping seemed impossible, and the ways we got through. Listening to others describe times in their lives and how they fought the darkness just made me worse.

And then listening to the Pregnant One talk about her childhood and how she used to hide in the dog’s kennel to try to escape … it brought up all this other stuff for me about my own childhood.

So there I was again, totally overwhelmed, feeling completely unable to cope. Thankfully the facilitators are on the lookout for such moments and one of them spent a bit of time with me afterwards to let me talk it out and make sure I was ok. I am ok; I just have all this messy emotional garbage stirred up. Damned emotions, they sneak up and whack you just when you least need or expect it. Talk about elastic bands. Bleuch.

In talking to the facilitator, she said something that was like a baseball bat to the head, but in a good way:

Facilitator: “I bet you see seven inspiring people in that room, right?”

Me: Nodding

Facilitator: “Well, I see eight.”

Thank you, V, that is pure gold.

What did I do?

Week five of group last night. So far we’ve covered topics on disclosure, loss (of multiple things), trust (of self and of others) and, this week: relationships (family, friends, colleagues, partners).

I confessed to Back Up Therapist that I was pretty non-plussed about the relationship discussion, meaning I thought I could handle it.

Back Up Therapist said: “You know, that’s fantastic. When you first talked about the Group you were terrified of it. Now you’re saying you can deal with what will probably be a pretty tough topic. That’s great!”

Me: “Yea, I guess.”

Back Up Therapist: “No, it is great. And you’ve got something positive out of every session.”

Me: “Yea, I have. It’s been good. It’s a good group.”

Back Up Therapist: “You know, you have to take some credit for it being good. You’re helping make it good.”

Me: Staring blankly, not knowing what to say.

Back Up Therapist: “You have. You have helped made it a good space – for you and for the others. It’s not just because of the group leaders, or the other people, it’s also because of you.”

Me: Still staring blankly, still confused.

Anyway, that isn’t the point of this post. I guess I’ll think about that one coz I’m still confused.

Anyway, this week we talked about relationships – what makes a relationship “unhealthy” and what makes it “healthy”. We all seemed to know a lot about unhealthy relationships… much less about healthy ones, at least from our own experiences.

In the course of the Group it came to light that the Pregnant One and I have both worked for a certain child welfare organisation here.

This sent the Unstable One into a panic: “I can’t believe I didn’t know this. I’ve been sitting in this room with you two for weeks and didn’t know. I can’t do this anymore.”

And out she went, clearly very distressed, glaring at the Pregnant One and me like we were the devil incarnate. One of the group leaders went off to talk to her, leaving us to talk amongst ourselves for a while (the other group leader was already out talking to the Creative One who’d had some bad stuff happen during the day and was clearly upset about it.) Good start.

This created a lot of tension. The Pregnant One and I both felt like evil-doers (even though my rational brain knows we’re not). For a while I even thought that I should leave. The Unstable One eventually came back into the room, but for the rest of the night she wouldn’t talk to either of us; wouldn’t even look at us. When I said “good night” to her she just glared at me.

I’m still puzzled and confused. I’m swinging between feeling guilty that my work history, my former employer is so upsetting for her… and knowing that this really has nothing to do with me. I’m not sure what to do about it, if anything, or if there’s any way to resolve it. I don’t want the tensions to mess up the rest of our time in the Group.

Anyway, I just realised this is fairly boring blog post. Sorry about that, I just needed to clear my head of what happened last night.

A shift

So, the Group was ok last night. I credit David with helping me to see the obvious – that I didn’t need to go to places that were too painful, or disclose anything I wasn’t comfortable disclosing. I was conscious of this, and it was ok. Not exactly what I’d call “fun”, but much less distressing than I had anticipated. Phew!

Something weird happened afterwards, though. I feel like there was a quantum shift in my thinking.

Perhaps it was the Pregnant One (who I think really seems to have her sh** together; have this healing jag pretty much nailed) saying things that I often think – like wishing she had the courage to ring her friends and say, “hey, let’s go out for dinner.”

Or perhaps it was the one I call the Unstable One (which isn’t very flattering, or very accurate), but perhaps it was her saying how “unstable” she is and how her life is completely in the toilet, when it very clearly isn’t.

Perhaps it was the little book of affirmations that the Angry One brought in to show us.

Or perhaps it was all of these things stirred together in a big pot.

I came away from the Group thinking that I might finally believe – and I mean REALLY believe:

  • I am a good person
  • I have achieved a lot in my life, against the odds
  • I am loveable
  • I can look after myself, physically and emotionally (well, with a little help on the latter)
  • I accept who I am (though there will always be room for growth)
  • I am safe

I’m sure the Wonder Therapist would be pleased to hear this – it’s only taken me 18-odd months of therapy to realise it!