The house down the street

There’s a house like this just down the street from me. Until the other day I thought a normal, happy family lived there. Apparently not. Apparently the dad in this house* is an abusive shithead. His now-ex partner turned up on my doorstep last weekend, quite distressed, in the process of leaving and needed somewhere to store some things. I spoke to her today. She’s safe, thank heavens. She confirmed that this not-so-nice suburban husband and father is a selfish, egotistical, narcissistic a$$.

Unfortunately his daughters still have to visit him and be subjected to his revolting behaviour. I can’t tell you how incredibly ANGRY I was when I heard that. That f***ing son of a b**ch. How dare he treat those girls like that! How dare he pretend he’s this nice pillar-of-the-community type living a “normal” life! I was so MAD!!

I know this is probably more about my own father, but I wanted to yell at this poor excuse for a man and scream and pummel my fists into him. I didn’t. But I did report him to the relevant authorities. I just couldn’t stand the thought that his daughters will grow up with all the weirdness and craziness that I’ve grown up with. I couldn’t stand the thought that they’ll grow up thinking this has something to do with them, when it has NOTHING whatsoever to do with them, and EVERYTHING to do with that piece of sh*t father.

In a not-so-happy coincidence, it was White Ribbon Day here last week – our campaign to stop violence against women.

I’m proud I stood up today, but I’m also a little unnerved – it was a sad reminder that this nastiness is everywhere; that no where is truly safe, not even the nice little houses in my street. I hope and pray the authorities intervene so the girls can be safe.

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* Not actually this house in the photo, one like it though.

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The joys

*** WARNING: COULD TRIGGER ***

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.

In which the flood gates open

I’ve been walking around in a daze for days. Weeks, actually, including while I was away. How is it that you can be with people 24/7 and yet still feel so isolated? So completely alone and empty inside?

My head is a muddled, jumbled mess. In many respects I feel like much of my progress over the last few months has evaporated. I’m not sure how this happened – was it spending too much time with my mother? Or not enough time alone? Or just too much time stuffing down every conceivable emotion while with my mother? Or … who knows?

I’m hoping that writing will help. I went to the gym earlier and treaded the treadmill for an hour, almost completely unaware of what I was doing. I think it worked, emotionally at least. As soon as I got in the car I burst into tears. I’m not sure why, I guess the proverbial flood gates just opened.

So here we are. I suspect this will be a rambling dump of things swirling about in my head. Apologies.

  • My mother: From the moment she arrived two weeks ago she started messing with my head and unwinding any shreds of confidence I had started to build. One of her first comments to me on arriving was “your bum is getting bigger again”. Sigh. In the time we were away she added to this happy moment saying I have to lose weight; that I shouldn’t eat nuts because they’re fattening; that I’ll never know what it’s like to be a mother; that I’m too old for a relationship; that a skirt I tried on was too short – or rather, needed to be longer to cover my legs because they’re too fat. She doesn’t mean any of this maliciously, but doesn’t understand the impact it has on me. My therapist said something like “God, if I asked your mother what she thought of anyone who said all that she’d probably realise just how awful it is.” Possibly, but it’s unlikely my therapist will ever get to ask her anything again because my mother flatly refused to go and see her. She even referred to my therapist as “that woman”. Sigh.
  • My therapist says that my father, my mother and I have a nice little malicious circle going on. My mother puts up with rudeness and nastiness from my father in the same way that I put up with it from my mother. That she uses my father as an excuse for not having a life in the same way that I have used my mother. I’m not quite ready to delve into this yet, so just throwing it out there.
  • Being triggered: I was triggered a couple of times while away. Especially by fish. Somehow my mother convinced me to try barramundi, which she says is beautiful and very unfishy to eat. Stupid, stupid me for agreeing to try it. I could smell it before it even came to the table and started freaking out and shaking and panicking and flashbacking and wanting to run away. Every morsel I put in my mouth made my throat close over and made me want to gag. Of course, I had to sit there like everything was fine. Pretend I’m normal and not a complete freak. Thankfully I had that old pattern down pat after spending so much time with my mother already.
  • I was also triggered by relationships. Specifically couples. Couples everywhere. Old and young. On the beach, by the pool, at the shops, on the boat, on the plane…. surrounded. Feeling like the only single person in a paired-up world. In many ways I long for a lasting and meaningful relationship. For the companionship. For knowing someone and someone knowing me. Connecting, even when you don’t speak. Even for holding hands. Trouble is, I’m too afraid to even admit I want this, let alone do anything to make it happen. I’m so afraid that everything I’ve always been told will be proven true – that I really am an ugly, nasty and horrible person and that no one will ever love me.
  • I also got mildly triggered by some friends, and listening to them talk about children and childhoods and our past.  I’ve known these people since … well, for a couple of decades or more though they don’t know about my past. I found it hard to sit there and listen to the memories of teenage years, of boys, of families, of … all sorts of things. I ran away to the kitchen where I could bury myself in preparing food without fear of freaking out.
  • The Body Image Thing: The hell of the body image continues. It was hard being away in a hot, summery environment where I was seemingly surrounded by models in bikinis 24 hours of the day. I did wear bathers/togs/swimmers (whatever you call them), though I felt hideous. And more hideous as time wore on because of my mother’s comments. Something odd happened when I got home, though – despite the mess in my head. I looked at my sun drenched toes and I thought, “hey, they’re not so bad.” I also looked at my eye in the mirror as I was putting the finishing touches on my makeup and thought, “that looks good.” Rationally I know these are good things. But they’re completely alien to me and with all the mess in my head I can’t accept or understand them.
  • The Weight Thing: This is still an issue as well. I’m still embarrassed to be seen. But one thing I realised while away is that gaining weight is a MASSIVE trigger for me. When I gain weight I think I don’t deserve to look nice, and “have to” buy whatever ugly potato sack fits. Somewhere in my crazy head I think fat is ugly and fat means you can’t look nice and fat also means you have to buy what you can because you might not find anything else that fits. So I buy whatever I can, which generally doesn’t suit me, or fit my personality. And then I feel worse.
  • Social Phobia: This is back with a vengeance. Somewhere over the last few months I’ve managed to come out of my shell enough to speak to people. Randomly, I mean. Like people in shops. Somehow that’s disappeared. A couple of friends from the past have been in touch with me via Facebook. People I lost touch with long ago. They’ve suggested catching up. Part of me wants to but the rest of me is too afraid. Of what I’m not exactly sure. Just too afraid. Afraid that they’ll judge me, I guess. All that stuff about me not being good enough has come right back again.
  • Pilates: I started back at Pilates just before I went away. My instructor is healing from PTSD as well, from what I’m not sure though I have some suspicions from clues she’s given. She somehow understands this thing. She even wants to talk more about it, outside Pilates. Part of me wants to. Part of me doesn’t. I don’t trust her (yet). And she carries a lot of anger, which is fine except I’ve been working hard on just accepting that what happened happened and not carrying that anger around anymore. I don’t want to get sucked into that again. And I don’t want to carry her anger. So I feel mean and horrible for not catching up with her this week. And weak and pathetic for not being able to say I can’t. And a bit angry at myself for being unable to have the kind of compassion I’d like to have for fellow survivors.
  • Abandonment: Somewhere in all this my fear of being abandoned by my therapist has come back as well. It’s always there, lurking in the background, but the last couple of months I’ve been able to convince myself of its irrationality. Not anymore. I hate this feeling because I know it’s stupid. I talked to my therapist and she did what she could to reassure me that she’s not going anywhere. The fear lessened, but still peaks. Or flip-flops between that and my terror at having to end therapy somewhere in the future.  We’ve had no conversations about ending (in fact, quite the opposite), but I’m still afraid. I know it has to end someday, and I used to think that when that time came I would be ready. Or more ready, at least. I’m far from being ready now, and I’m scared to death of the end. Part of me thinks I should quit now so I don’t have to deal with that. I feel hopeless and that therapy is pointless. Nothing will ever change, so why bother putting myself through the hell of therapy?

I have rambled. I’m just dumping. I haven’t really processed much of this. Just needed to break it down. I’m sorry.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

My therapist has remarked a few times that I don’t talk much about my teenage years. No, I don’t. I’m too embarrassed and ashamed; too afraid to go there. All this time I’ve thought I was the problem: that there was some inherent defect in me; some inherent badness that I’ve not wanted to reveal.

I’m starting to wonder, though, if I wasn’t the problem after all. Well… I was, but only because of circumstances and the things that were done to me – not because I was inherently bad in any way.

Even after all these months of therapy I’m still not sure about this.

I was very unhappy for most of my teenage years. Aside from the regular awkwardness of growing up, there was the fact that I lived two lives: one pretending I was “normal” when at school… and another life at home.

I was a social outcast, particularly with boys. I avoided being around the boys, except in groups. I’d go to parties, but I’d act the fool and get drunk. It got laughs and also blocked out the hard stuff.

I didn’t get asked on a date until I was about 17. I never got asked to the “prom”. I never had that gooey, gushy awkwardness of teenage boys and girls. I was even too embarrassed to hang around too long at the tram stop after school. I was fat and ugly and I thought that’s why the boys didn’t like me. Perhaps it was, I don’t know? Or perhaps it was just that I didn’t understand life and boys and stuff like that? Perhaps it was that my father had scarred me so I was too scared, I don’t know?

When I was about 15 my father started accusing me of being a lesbian. It sounds so silly now, but when you’re 15 and growing up and life is awkward and fumbly and hard anyway… well, it just adds another scar. It shouldn’t, but given that everything my father said to me was negative, he only meant one thing with these comments. (As I sit here now, I wonder what the hell sort of father makes those kinds of comments to his daughter anyway, but I haven’t digested that.)

So I felt alone and unloved and that I didn’t belong, either at home or at school/with friends. I hated going home after school. My father and I would fight. When I grew up a bit I started arguing and fighting back… and that always spelled trouble. Eventually I learned that and I’d hide away in my room and do my homework… and cut myself or burn myself, just to take myself away for a little while.

Back then I’d tell myself that I didn’t want to go out anyway, but I did. I didn’t understand why the boys didn’t like me. I thought I was broken in some way. I just wanted to be pretty like the other girls and dress up in pretty dresses. Even now I’d like a pretty dress, but I’m still too embarrassed and ashamed to wear it.

Back in confession

So, another therapy session this week, and another hour in the confessional. I ‘fessed up to my therapist about the “connection” between my boss and me. You know, the “special” one I fessed up to here a few days ago?

She said she made a note about six months ago that she thought there was something more to my relationship with him, though she wasn’t sure what it was. Damnit if she isn’t spot on with this stuff… again.

I think it was partly just her intuition, but also, she said, the fact that I defend him. I’ll go and criticise him for being a pr!ck, but as soon as she weighs in, I defend him. I never knew I did that.

Like many of you, she agreed that his behaviour is crossing all sorts of boundaries. I guess I didn’t really realise it – not trooly rooly – until she asked me if I think it would be appropriate for me to ring or text a younger, married male colleague at all hours of the day and night. No. No, no no.

But how do I stop this? X is on a business trip this week and he’s still ringing me and texting me. I can leave the calls unanswered, but the text messages (from anyone) are like heroin to me. I can’t help myself. I’m addicted. I need help. I need an emergency intervention from CTA (Compulsive Texters Anonymous). LOL

But I digress.

Anyway, she said similar things to many of you (and I’m putting this up in lights in a bid to etch it into my brain):

I give him too much power over me. That too much of my emotional state and my sense of self rests on him. That my confidence gets lost each time he says something negative. She said, and I quote, that I need to say, “F*** him for a while.”

She didn’t mean this literally, obviously. Just that I need to be less concerned about what he thinks. She asked me why his opinion is so important? And whether it’s more important than anyone else’s? And why I seem to assume that just because he’s got an opinion, why does that mean he’s right?

She said that his inconsistency is appalling. That in any situation it’s running hot and cold like this that drives people crazy. Yes, it does.

She also said that I should challenge him sometimes, particularly when he sends me mixed messages or behaves badly. Her favourite phrase for men behaving badly is, “Go back into your cave.” I love that, though I’m not sure I’d have the courage to ever say it.

She said the he keeps hurting me and upsetting me, and I keep letting him. Yes, I do. I’m starting to see that this is continual pattern for me – not just with men, but also with some of my female friends. (Long term affects of childhood abuse, anyone???)

I hadn’t realised that I ascribed him so much power and so much importance. I guess I do. She’s certainly right about him shaking my confidence (the little bits I’ve managed to scrape together anyway.)

She reiterated that in this period of my emotional recovery I need someone who’s solid; who’ll be a rock for me at work. Someone who will instil confidence in me and help me to rebuild. At the very least someone who doesn’t run hot and cold all the time and send me so many mixed messages. She’s right there.

To bring this long ramble to a close, I’ll share a funny interlude from my session:

T: “I thought you were going to tell me you’d had wild sex with him or something.”

Me: “No. I’ve never had sex with him.”

T: “Oh.” With note of disappointment.

Me: “Well, you don’t have to sound so disappointed!” Laughing.

T: “Did I? Oh. No. I’m sorry.” Both of us laughing now.

When progress stalls

One trigger I’m not making such good progress with is when people get angry with me, or when I perceive that they are angry with me.

I become paralysed. I mean – I. Completely. Freeze.

And then I either roll over totally compliant, trying desperately to be “good” or I run away and hope I never have to deal with the person again.

I don’t really have any magic wisdom to share on this one, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot after reading one of Castorgirl’s recent posts, and Gracie’s response, which said

“Silent brooding anger is a horrible thing for a child – or an adult – never knowing what it is that you have done wrong to cause the anger or when the anger will explode at you and in what way that explosion will occur.”

Yes. It is.

I remember as a child my father being angry. A lot. Or he was brooding. I was either cowering in fear or on edge, wondering when he’d explode. Tap dancing around him in the hope that I could delay the storm. I never could.  

As a child I thought this was all my fault. That I was a bad person; that if only I’d been “good enough” things would have been different. Despite a lifetime of trying to be “good enough”, things were never different and I never was good enough.

I still don’t know how to deal with anger. But I know now that this isn’t my fault; that none of the anger directed at me when I was a child was my fault. That, I suppose, is progress.