The end of an era

Hello blogosphere, it’s nice to see you again. It’s been waaaay tooooo long. 🙂

My mother has sold her house and  we (correction, I) have spent the last few weekends and fully the last five days packing, sorting, cleaning. To say I’m exhausted is a complete understatement. This does mean that she’s moving in with me, but more by default than by any grand design – at least on my part. Given the circumstances, I didn’t feel there was any alternative, and it’s kind of a nice thing in a way. But that’s not the point.

Anyway, today was the last day at her house. Forever. The end of an era. It was also the first day in I can’t remember how long that I haven’t been working my guts out while there. Mostly I was just sitting about waiting for the tradespeople to do their things. Wouldn’t you know it, I was overwhelmed by flashbacks. Just little ones, and not all of them yucky, but there they were, sneaking up on me again. Dammit.

Stupid flashbacks. They hit you when you need it least and, with me, usually when my coping skills and ability to self-soothe are buried beneath a pile of rubble. I remembered the times Mum and I would sit under the apple trees on a summer afternoon, the cool(ish) breeze blowing through the trees. I remembered some of the times I’d been sitting on the steps with the sun on my back and my father would say something like “look at your toes – they’re terrible” or “look at your stomach – when did you get so fat?” I remembered how I’d enjoyed sitting on the verandah watching the boats sailing in the bay. And the night the yacht that won line honours in a race came home, and we raced to the yacht club to enjoy the festivities. I remembered the times I’d felt trapped inside when the weather wasn’t good. And how the dog used to try to sneak in, out of the rain. Good and bad these things, but still messing with my head. I should have done a better job of anticipating this, but I’ve been just so busy I haven’t had time to pay attention to anything really. Some of you might think that’s an excuse. I guess it is, but not deliberately.

I found myself at the lemon tree, picking the last of the lemons. Lately I’ve started taking real pleasure in such seemingly small, ordinary, daily occurrences. I enjoyed the feeling of the lemons in my hand – slightly bumpy skin, warm from the sun – and the waxy leaves, and the slightly citrusy smell. I loved it. We stopped at one of the organic grocers on the way home. All I wanted to do was wander about for as long as I could enjoying the sights and smells of the produce. So fresh, beautiful colours, their scents tinged with a slight earthiness. (Unfortunately my mother just wanted to hurry and get home, so it wasn’t the sensory delight it could have been.) There’s something beautiful, refreshing and almost invigorating about it all. And grounding; definitely grounding. Since my last holiday I’ve been wanting this sort of experience with nature more and more. I even came home wanting to grow veggies and have chooks! (Most of the people who know me IRL are still laughing hysterically at the thought of me going anywhere near a garden!!)

I got home feeling entirely panic-struck, completely unsafe and wanting to self-injure. I’m not wholly back from my dance with the flashbacks. Still wobbly, despite a hard but ultimately helpful (I hope) session with PNT. Still feeling overwhelmed. So completely overwhelmed. I’d like to stay in bed tomorrow and hide from the world. Or lie on the couch and do not much. Or file my nails (something I haven’t found time to do in over a month). Or go to the park and just enjoy my surroundings. I just want to STOP!!!!!!

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Once living in fear

It seems like ages since I was able to blog regularly. I feel bad about that, though I know I shouldn’t. Like has gone into crazy mode, and mostly I’m going day to day dealing with things. On one hand it feels like I’m completely unstable; on the other, I know I’m not, and I’m actually coping well with what are incredibly difficult life events, if almost crippled with exhaustion. I know I’m also continuing to heal, as I was reminded last night.

Just as I crawled into bed, shortly after midnight, I heard my door bell ring. Of course, being so late, I panicked. Heart thumping, palm sweating, brain frying panic. I lay in bed, totally frozen. I was scared almost to death about who was at the door, and the bad things they had come to do. I watched the clock tick over* and waited, everything on high alert, convinced someone would break in. I literally couldn’t move.

At some stage I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up this morning, well, I actually woke and no evil had taken me in the night. Of course, the first thing I did was check the front door – no one there, no one sleeping on my porch, nothing. Strange.

And then I remembered how many nights I’ve felt that panic before. How often, over the years, I slept with knives under my pillow, or scissors under the blankets. How often I sat under the window or by the front door, waiting for the bad men to come.

They never did.

And so, while I panicked (who wouldn’t panic that when their doorbell rings so late?), I also remembered that I’ve come a long way. It’s been a loooong time since I slept with knives or stayed awake all night to make sure nothing bad happened.

And that, my friends, as they say, is progress. 🙂

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* It’s a digital clock. It doesn’t tick. But what do we say now about digital clocks? Do they flip? Swoosh? What is it we say now that analogue barely exists? What will little kids say in years to come?  

In which I break the power of flashbacks

I’ve been having a few flashbacks since my father died. Nothing too bad; nothing that makes me freak out. Just intrusive little things that put me off kilter for a few minutes (or linger annoyingly for a few hours). But none of the usual dissociative wigging out – or only momentarily.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Mostly they’re flashbacks of horrible things he did to Mum and I, and the feelings of fear I felt then (and now), and of being small and vulnerable. Things like the times he was being violent, usually drunk, and Mum would sleep in my room, usually barricading us in with my chest of drawers. He’d try to break in, but never succeeded. Thankfully, god knows what would have happened if he did.

Or the time we were on holidays visiting family in the country – Dad was, as usual, in a foul mood and as Mum started to get in the car he drove off – leaving her half in, half out of the car, dragging a little bit as he took off, and yelling at her about how “stupid” she was. I get this knot in the pit of my stomach whenever I think about these things.

*** END OF TRIGGER WARNING ***

I was talking to the Wonder Therapist about this today. She said this isn’t uncommon following the death of an abuser. She suggested I should just tell her when this happens, and just blurt out the flashback. Really? Yea, really. I wasn’t sure if I could do this – the same old feelings of shame and embarrassment are still there, even after all this time. But I did do it, and you know what? Just telling her about the flashbacks took all the power out of them. Suddenly they were just memories – yucky memories, and still intrusive – but not as scary as they were. Amazing. I felt lighter and more powerful. I no longer felt like a victim, but a survivor. 🙂

I guess that’s why they call her the Wonder Therapist after all. 😉

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.

Triggers and healing

*** WARNING: COULD BE TRIGGERING. PLEASE TAKE CARE ***

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.

Processing the memories

Back Up Therapist says that triggers do your head in when you don’t know what they’re about. That’s true. I can’t make sense of this latest bout of flashbacks and, yes, it’s doing my head in. It’s frightening when images you don’t understand keep jumping into your head.

My father’s hands keep jumping into my head, along with the fish. I don’t know what the hands are doing. Not in this context, anyway.

I tried to do some colouring today to keep myself calm, but it didn’t work – I just got increasingly angst ridden about using the “wrong” colours. I also can’t talk to anyone at the moment, so instead I drew this:

Artistically I know it’s limited (I didn’t have the pens or pencils I wanted and I couldn’t make the ones I do have draw the image in my mind accurately – it’s at least 10 or 15 years since I drew anything), but it’s helped.

They are my father’s hands. They’re big, and rough. I still don’t know what they’re doing but there is blood from the fish. I’ve locked the hands in a cage so they can’t hurt me anymore.

A friend commented on the lack of a discernible thumb – that’s interesting, because in my mind’s eye there isn’t a thumb, just a hand. And fingers that I can see in great detail. As crazy as it sounds, I can even feel them.

I’ll probably still need to talk about this, but for now the hands are quieter and not tormenting me so much. They’re still there, just not as noisy. I’m safe, I guess, now that they’re locked away. May be now I can figure out why they’re there. And hopefully I can talk to the Back Up Therapist about it next week.

Headaches, triggers and flashbacks

I’ve had a headache for the last few days. It feels like someone has my head squeezed inside giant pliers or something. I thought I was getting another sinus infection, but I also got triggered quiet badly last week and have been triggery, freaky, flashbacky ever since. The Back Up Therapist says this could be the cause of the headache. Oh, great.

She said that triggers can get worse if you just continue to fight them, ignore them, squash them and don’t deal with them. She said it’s like someone who can’t go near the scene of a car accident where a loved one died. At first it’s just that part of the road, or the light pole with the flowers on them… then it’s all light poles with flowers… then it’s all light poles… You get the picture.

I had to go out for a work lunch last week. The big boss decided we’d go Japanese. This isn’t great for me because of my food intolerances, but that isn’t what got me. We ordered Bento boxes with lots of stuff in them. The chicken teriyaki and the vegetables tempura were nice, but they also came with fish – LOTS of fish: sushi fish, sashimi fish, fish in dumplings, fried up fish, fish just about every way you can think of doing it. As I’ve said before, fish is quite a trigger for me.

As soon as I saw the fish on the plate, and dangled in front of me in a colleague’s chopsticks, I started freaking out. Flashbacking all over the place. I started sweating and shaking all over. I had to keep shaking my head to stop myself from vortexing out completely.

Ever since then I’ve been all flashbacky. Just when I least expect it memories of the fish jump into my head. It’s possible that I have more memories surfacing as my father’s hands have featured strongly too, though they haven’t ever before. I’ve even been smelling fish when it’s nowhere to be seen. Even sitting in the Back Up Therapist’s office I was getting flashbacks just talking about this.

I’ve never freaked out like that about fish in a restaurant before. The Back Up Therapist says I need to do something about this. I need to talk about what happened, may be do something creative to lay the fish to rest. I’m not sure if I can, but if I don’t, she said this will just get worse.

The Back Up Therapist said that if I was a little kid we would do something creative to symbolise dealing with the fish – like drawing them, painting them, making them. Locking them up in a box. Burning them. Whatever. But, she also said, that the first step for me needs to be talking.

Ugh. I thought I was done with talking about all that sh*t. And why would new memories start to surface now?