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.

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 **

Could this be it?

Ok, a quick update… that in the end isn’t all that quick. Sorry about that. Today I’m using my blog like a journal… I’ll just write write write to empty my head, so apologies if this is rambly and messy. I’m learning that’s just how it is sometimes.

(I’m also learning that perhaps I don’t need to make my posts “perfect” before I lob them on you, but that’s another post for another time.)

So… my father has been admitted to hospital again because he has internal bleeding. This makes him anaemic. Apparently he has the blood quality of a nine year old. In the space of a couple of days he’s gone from “severely anaemic” needing a blood transfusion, to bleeding “profusely”. Sorry if that sounds gross, it probably is.

I’m not entirely sure what is going on with him, because I’m letting my mother deal with all that medical stuff, and not getting overwrought when she gets frustrated by it. I even amaze myself when I’m able to say to her, “ok” or “why don’t you ask the doctor?” but not really get involved in her response (which is usually something like, “oh because nobody tells me anything, I’m just a slave!”) In therapeutic terms I think this means I’m getting better at being Teflon coated: allowing her to vent but letting her angst and her projection just sit there and not pick it up. Sometimes, at least.

My therapist says that thoughts and feelings are largely involuntary. It’s what we do with them, and which ones we feed, that’s important. I’m learning to try to just observe those thoughts and feelings; not freak out about them or judge them. Easier said than done, of course, but small steps.

When I first found out my father was in hospital I thought and felt nothing.

Nothing.

Nada.

Zip.

Not even, “oh no.”

Just nothing.

Like, “there’s no mail today”. Or “there’s a black sock”. Not even, “damn, I’m out of milk” – just “oh”. Although I did start to wonder “could this be it?” – “could he actually die this time?”

Part of me was pleased I didn’t get all wiggy about it, but I’ll admit I also felt guilty for not really caring one way or the other, and for wanting him to die. But regardless I went on my merry way.

Like many thoughts and feelings, something soon snuck up on me. The grief started kicking in. As I have said before, and Kate and David too, the survivor grief about what is lost and what will never be is HUGE.

My therapist says it’s a kind of hope in disguise, even if we don’t label it as such. While he’s still alive, there’s some small part of me that holds hope for a “normal” relationship with him. To be loved and cherished the way most daughters are, even if rationally I know this will never happen. I guess it’s this same part that still wonders “why he never loved me?” and “what did I do wrong?” – although rationally I know I didn’t do anything “wrong”.

I’m not sure where this will all lead, but I’ll let you know. The on-again-off-again of his life is driving me nuts. Could something happen please God, one way or the other, so I know what I’m dealing with?

Sobbing. More wretched sobbing.

I’ve been so touched by everyone’s kindness and support in response to my last few posts (here and here). There’s a lot I’ve wanted to say in reply, but life has taken another slide backwards.

This week my therapist chose to dig a little deeper into my hopes and fears, dredging up another pile of filth and leaving me flopping around like a half dead fish. Things seemed to be going along so nicely in therapy – why did she have to go and dig up more toxic sh1t?

Again I felt like she exposed my hideousness for the world to see, and I’ve spent the last few days dealing with the aftermath. Sobbing. Endless bl00dy sobbing. The intensity of these emotions is enormous and I’ve been thrust back to feeling as wretched as I felt a while ago. The pain is unbearable.

One thing does seem different this time. I now know (or think I know) that all this sobbing and wretchedness is partly because I simply don’t know how to deal with this emotional stuff – except for time honoured strategies like eating myself into oblivion, taking sleeping pills and curling up under a rock, cutting myself or just doing myself in. I’ve wanted to do all of these things over the last few days and, of course, that’s just a direct route to more self-loathing. Sometimes I think life was easier inside my emotional prison. I knew how to do that. I don’t know how to deal with this feeling stuff.

Ages ago my therapist said “sometimes the deep-seated pain needs to be flushed out before it can be dealt with effectively” – is that what’s been happening here? Can’t she make it flush faster? I can’t bear this.

I’ve been able to distract myself temporarily, although the pain and sobbing is never far away. I also arranged to spend the weekend with a friend because I was afraid of what I might do if I spent time alone. My friend is a saint – she knows some of what I’m trying to deal with (and still she hangs around, I just don’t get it?). Her support is endless. It took every ounce of strength I had to ring her, but I did. And I’m glad I did. I was still a mess at her place, but I had her support and the love of her kids to help me through (even if the kids are a bit triggery for me, but more on that another time).

Thanks to all my friends in the forum for supporting me as well. I appreciate you more than you know.

I’m very tempted to cancel next week’s therapy session but I know I’d just be running away. I can’t keep running away from this sh1t forever, right?

Broken hearted

I had to visit a school for work a couple of weeks ago. What happened there has been playing over and over and over in my mind, so I’m hoping this blog post will help me process it a bit more.

I was scheduled to visit the school the previous week but was completely paralysed by the idea and pulled out at the last minute. Thinking about it, and using more of back up therapist’s technique of breaking it down, the bits that paralysed me were the idea of talking to people I didn’t know (and my fears of looking like an idiot), and the thought of being physically trapped in an unknown environment. Neither of those things turned out to be the problem on the day, though – although I did, at one point, look like an idiot, and I did feel trapped. But, the fact that I went at all is a positive step, even if I still felt panicky – so back up therapist said, anyway.

While there I had to go into a classroom with the first graders (5-6 year olds). That alone was enough to strike terror into me. They were learning about the letter ‘g’ and all the things that start with ‘g’: glove, glass, garden, gate…

So, I’m sitting at the miniature table with the miniature chairs talking to one of the miniature children. She had to draw a goose, but she didn’t want to. She asked me to do it as she said she couldn’t draw. I said, “No, you do it. Just have a go.”

Well, she drew the best darned goose I’ve ever seen. Certainly the best goose I’ve seen come out of a 5 year old. But, and here’s the thing, she was practically in tears telling me it wasn’t any good; that she wants to be an artist but can’t draw. 😦

Well, that was enough to bring me to tears as well. She broke my heart. I wanted to scoop her up and give her a big hug. I wondered what’s happened in her short life to make her as f***ed up as I am?

I talked to back up therapist about this (after using nearly an entire box of tissues in her office). She said that probably nothing’s happened in her life, it’s just that she’s bright and has a picture in her mind of what she wants to draw, but can’t yet make the pencil do what she wants it to do.

Both my back up therapist and my regular therapist said this little girl touched a nerve. She sure did. She reminded me of myself. And gave the “mother” in me a good old whack.

In one respect I was relieved that probably nothing heinous has happened to this sweet little girl. But I was reminded of me as a child (and even as an adult). My whole life has been like that damned goose: seeing it in my mind’s eye, but feeling like I could never quite make it.

I hope someone loves this little girl. I hope someone nurtures her and supports her and encourages her. I hope that whatever she does, someone tells her it’s wonderful, be it a scribble or a masterpiece. I hope she doesn’t grow up the way I have.

Self-soothing

Back up therapist says I need to learn to self-soothe. To stop being toxic to myself; be kind to myself; nurture myself; be a “good mother” to me.

This is so alien. I’m not even really sure what it means. I often relax in front of mindless television at the end of a hard day, but back up therapist says that’s “self-distraction” – not self-soothing.

Back up therapist says that when I know I’m going to have a tough day, I should plan to nurture and sooth myself at the end of it, just as I plan for the toughness of the day itself.

That I should treat myself as I would treat someone else in the same situation. What would be nice for that person to come home to at the end of a tough day? How would I treat a kid after a rough day at school? Would I say to them, “you’ve just had a tough day with exams etc – now go and flog yourself studying a bit more”? No, I wouldn’t. I’d offer them comfort.

Things like long hot baths, relaxing music, crisp sheets, fresh flowers, comfy pyjamas*, candles, meditation… whatever works.

Favourite foods might also be nurturing, but for some us can also be the fast road to negativity and self-loathing.

Like anything new, back up therapist says I’ll need to practice this and learn to actually do it (not just think about it).

I have done one thing this week that could be nurturing: when I’m tired and cold I like to lie on the floor in front of the heater. It’s cosy (even if the floor is hard). Ok, it might not be as good as a long hot bath, but I’d feel too guilty wasting all that water.

* Back up T says comfy jamies are only good if they’re not the old ones that make you feel like a grub! LOL

Coping mechanisms

In my last post I talked about back up therapist asking me about the range of coping mechanisms I’ve used throughout my life. Diligent as I am, I did the homework she set.

Here’s my list – things that back up therapist would say are my “strengths” because I couldn’t have got to this point in life without them. The trick, she said, is knowing which ones to draw on and when. And not flogging any single strategy – that’s where we get stuck and where things come undone.

  • Putting my head down and just getting on with the job at hand
  • Using the yoga breathing technique to get through stressful situations (eg, at the dentist)
  • Repeating mantras, like “The anticipation is usually more traumatic than the act itself”
  • Putting things out of my mind (eg, stressful work events that are two weeks away)
  • Planning for events and preparing myself to within an inch of my life (eg, for job interviews)
  • Limiting the time I “have to” do something (eg, social situations, telling myself to go for a couple of hours and then allowing myself an escape route)
  • “Checking out” mentally (eg, at the gynaecologist)
  • Using medication, but in a healthy way (eg, taking valium when I fly)
  • Using natural alternatives, like Rescue Remedy (especially at work – I drink it by the gallon)
  • Talking myself through stressful situations (eg, telling myself that flying is safer than driving; that I’ve done it before and can do it again; that it will be ok)
  • Using humour, usually of the self-deprecating variety
  • “Time contracting” (eg, saying “it’ll be over in two hours” or “this time tomorrow it will be over”)
  • “Time expanding” (eg, saying “stop panicking, it’ll be ok. You’ve got three hours to get those things done”)
  • Panicking and running away (admittedly not exactly productive in most situations)
  • Getting other people to do things for me (eg, I recently bought a birthday gift for a friend and had the shop assistant gift wrap it for me. I was amazed at the amount of pressure this took off me)
  • Drawing support from other people – especially my therapists (both regular and back up), but also friends in the forum and in real life

Of course, I didn’t tell back up therapist about the grossly negative things – self-harming, binge eating, drug use/misuse, alcohol… hey, she’s only the back up therapist; she doesn’t need to know everything, right?

Back up therapist listened and then said, “Where’s the self-soothing in there? I don’t hear anything about self-soothing.”

Hmm. No. There isn’t any, is there?