One Is The Loneliest Number

Lately I’ve been feeling disconnected from the people around me. I’ve been feeling alone and isolated. This is how I’ve spent most of my life. Even when there are people around me, I feel like there’s a barrier between myself and others. I can laugh and smile and engage in small talk but I never show who I really am. When I was younger and has less social experience, I found social interactions to be very confusing. I would watch what other people did and mimic them. I think the only place I was ever myself as a child was when it was just myself and my siblings. I would play with them and felt comfortable but otherwise I was always on guard, watching to make sure I didn’t say the wrong thing.

As a teenager, it was even worse. For most people, these are awkward years but they are years that most people figure out their values, how they think and what type of person they want to be. I’m not saying it’s done for people by the time their teenage years are over but there’s definitely a start to the process. I felt stunted during this time. It’s one of the few times in my life where I had friends but I never showed who I really was. I changed constantly from one friend to another. I was a chameleon, every changing to fit the situation. My personality was fluid for fear of rejection so that even if I didn’t agree with what my friends did/said, I would still do it. I don’t think this was because of peer pressure, I think I missed an important step in the developmental process that most people go through because of the years my abuse happened. I had no idea who I was or what I liked or didn’t. I had no idea how to disagree with someone and be confident in what I was saying.

I’ve been realizing lately how truly stunted I am. I’m an adult and I have little capacity to make and keep friendships. I am blessed to have an amazing husband. He is my best friend and with him, I can be almost who I truly am and have to worry less about rejection. I am lucky to not be totally alone but there is no one else. I have no girlfriend that I can complain to or shop with or have coffee with. There is no family member that I feel comfortable enough to tell them I’m having a hard time and why. Even with my husband, there’s a disconnect, I don’t quite click with him 100%. It’s always as if there’s a glass wall between myself and other people. I think that glass wall is made up of shame and secrets and insecurity. It prevents me from fully touching others and being embraced by them.  I am weird, separate, alone. To me, this is one of the worst things about trauma, the eternally feeling of loneliness. To never have anyone understand what I am going through and the level of depression and despair that I frequently fall to. I don’t think the English language has the right words to describe the agony of abuse and how it changes someone forever. Trauma is a life sentence of walking alone with your experiences, the rage, the humiliation, the shame, the fear, the depression. That is the gift that trauma gives us. I am alone and accepted that this is way my life will be. I accept that I am stunted, that I will never be in sync with people. I know I can adapt but it’s not the same as someone who has not had trauma. Sometimes I think that’s why I write this blog because I hope that someone will read it and feel less alone. I think loneliness is so corroding to our souls and minds. It’s like rust on a car, it breaks us down and we fall apart. So I hope, that even if just one person reads this and realizes that there’s someone out there like them, that me saying this is worth it.

Trauma Bonding

One of the things I remember the most was when my abuse actually ended. It stopped suddenly after my abuser was caught touching another student. You would think that I would be relieved and I was but I was also sad, upset, and lost. I felt untethered without him, it was as if without the chaos and fear, I didn’t know what to do. It felt somehow empty and hollow. I felt different from everyone else; the kids in my class and my family. By this time, I didn’t have many friends and I had to pretend to fit in. I felt isolated and lonely. I had no idea why I felt this was and didn’t until I read The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. It was one of the first time I had read about trauma bonding. All humans strive to bond to other people and usually do it with positive experiences or being able to rely on the other person if there is a bad experience. Patrick Carnes developed the term to describe trauma bonding as “the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person.” In other words an abuser will create a strong emotional attachment to the person they’re abusing due to alternating abusive behavior with loving behavior. This alternating good and bad creates a relationship of fear and chaos and psychologically a stronger bond. People often wonder why people stay with abusive people and I think especially when it comes to children, it comes down to survival. Children are vulnerable and rely on adults to provide food, clothes, shelter etc. When an adult in power creates this trauma bond, kids shut down, become numb and think only of survival. To survive, we don’t do anything to make the abuser angry so they won’t leave us and we’ll be (what we consider) safe. When we experience trauma, we emotionally shut ourselves off, become numb, and don’t allow ourselves to do anything. To make sure we stay in the relationship and aren’t abandoned, we focus on how our abuser is good and not the bad things they’ve done to us.

My abuser wasn’t a family member, I didn’t need him to provide food or shelter but I felt like he was a parental figure. I felt cut off from my family and the other adults in my life. They couldn’t understand what I was going though so I was more alone and isolated. I never thought that he did anything wrong. I always thought when he got angry that I did something wrong and deserved to be punished. When we were together I did anything I could to make him happy, I wanted him to be happy. When he was happy, it made me happy. It was a weird positive reinforcement and a terrible cycle that I couldn’t get out of. I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did. I still don’t. When my husband gets angry with my abuser, I get very angry with him and defend my abuser. I know he wasn’t a totally good guy, I know he did some stuff wrong but I don’t think he was as bad as everyone else thinks. I also know the despair I felt when he was gone and the guilt I felt because I was relieved that he was gone. I hated being brought to that room and the things I had to do. I hated him for bringing me but I hated myself for those thoughts. But I can’t still think he’s a bad guy. He was kind to me in the beginning and he always came to get me from the room. I felt like he saved me. That bond, those feelings are still strong. They say that psychologically, the intermittent good and bad psychological abuse is the worst. The say that if a person is consistently abusive, the abused person will be able to anticipate the abuse and it doesn’t cause the same damage. When the abuse is inconsistent, we can’t anticipate when bad things will happen and the damage is way more severe. I don’t know how to weed through the trauma bond I have with abuser. I feel like the right answer is to say that he was bad and abusive but I can’t say that. Not yet. It’s a work in progress.

Altered consciousness

Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalisation disorder and dissociative identity disorder.

A lot of people with cptsd/ptsd suffer from some form of dissociation. The definition above spells it out. It can be feeling like you’re not quite in your body all the way to your personality splitting into pieces and becoming seperate individuals. Most people experience this ‘out of body’ experience when they’re in an extremely stressful situation: anything from abuse, a car accident, active war time. However, a lot of people experience dissociation and it’s not a problem. An example is, you’re diving home in your car and you make it home but don’t remember actually driving there. This is a more benign form of dissociation.  You’re not particularly stressed but your body goes on autopilot while your brain takes a little vacation. That’s all fine and normal. Dissociation is also one of the best defenses we as human have of protecting ourselves from really bad stuff. The situation is too stressful so we go outside of ourselves or disconnect from what’s going on around us and don’t feel what’s going on. Children are especially adept at using dissociation to help them cope with stress because of how plastic their brains are.

There main issue that comes up when you’ve used dissociation as a coping skill for a long time is that your brain goes there more automatically and as an adult and when you’re adulting, that can be problematic (especially at work, trying to parent etc). I used to dissociate a lot when I was a kid during some of my worst abuse. I would float above myself and look down to see what was happening but could reassure myself it wasn’t happen to me. I didn’t feel any emotion then and could cope. I would also picture myself swimming in a stain that was on the ceiling where I was brought. There were also times that I took myself into myself and put myself in box inside where I could be safe. I would ‘look up’ and see what was happening but couldn’t feel it. I would also swing on my swingset at home for hours to lull myself into a calmer state where I didn’t feel the emotions and pain.

I continue to dissociate as an adult. When I feel stressed, after a flashback, or when I feel panic (normally at a family function or large social gathering) I step outside of myself, it’s almost like I’m sitting right behind myself. Most of the time people don’t notice because again, the body is on autopilot but it can be uncomfortable, almost like a joint is out of socket. It interferes with daily life because you’re not present and people will be talking to you and you have no idea what they’ve said. My job is 100% listening to people so dissociating is an issue. There are also times when I feel like the floor is falling away from me or I’ll get sucked out of a window (this happens especially at work). This is troublesome and can be tough to cope with. This is what has helped me:

1. Rubber band or hair tie on my wrist that I snap

2. Holding sometime cold like an ice cube. in my office, I bought a small freezer and have ice packs in there. When I start to feel like I’m going to get sucked out of a window or I’m drifting, I take a cold pack and put it right on my diaphram. The body has no choice but to come back to itself

3. Grounding (practice when you feel well so it’s more natural when you’re having an episode)

5: Notice 5 things that you see

4: touch 4 things

3: find 3 things that you hear

2: find 2 things that you smell

1. one thing you can take

4. Aromatherapy

4. Go outside for a walk (I struggle with this but it is helpful)

I also struggle with depersonalization

Depersonalization disorder is marked by periods of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts (depersonalization). The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream

In this case, I have often felt like when I look in the mirror, I’m not seeing myself. I also have times when I don’t feel like a person, I think I’m plastic, or feel different from everyone around me. I feel like everything around me isn’t real and I’m living in a dream. This happens less often then dissociation but when it does, it’s very distressing. I feel very paranoid and that there is something deeply wrong with me. I avoid mirrors whenever possible and rely on my husband and therapist for reality checks that I am indeed a person living a real life. Depersonalization is a very odd feeling. Talk therapy is the main treatment and my therapist has worked very hard with me to help with this.

I did find this book to be really helpful too:

Overcoming Depersonalization Disorder: A Mindfulness and Acceptance Guide to Conquering Feelings of Numbness and Unreality

 

I’m not as familiar with DID (dissociative identity disorder) but know that it’s the outcome of extreme distress over a prolonged period of time.

 

 

They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals. I say only that an abandoned child never forgets (Mario Balotelli)

To say I have abandonment issues is putting it mildly. Since the beginning of my relationship with my husband I clung like a vine and felt incredible despair when I perceived he was leaving. Even though I’m an adult, I still have intense feelings of longing for my parents, of needing to belong to them and be close to them. I’m afraid of the need I have for my parents and will often shove it down and white knuckle through it. There are times though, especially in the middle of the night, that I will wake up in my home and have such a strong urge to drive to my childhood home and be with my parents that I have the keys in my hand before I change my mind. Normally after a bad flashback, I want them very badly. I feel uncertain about this need and longing for them. I’m not sure I feel safe enough to be that vulnerable with them and always keep a careful facade when I’m around them. It’s a pleasant enough relationship but I don’t think I could ever share what’s really going on with me. It makes me sad. I think back to when I was a child and my abuser made himself a very strong paternal figure. As a child I wanted to please him and turned more to him for reassurance. He would sometimes give it and sometimes push me away, refusing me. I felt abandoned and confused. I didn’t understand why he was doing that. What had I done wrong? I tried harder but it never worked. As an adult, I see how he isolated me emotionally from my family and made me feel disconnected from them. They seemed very far away from me then. I had this huge secret that I couldn’t tell and then a secret within a secret that I had to keep. He also set me up for a lifetime of abandonment issues. My relationship with my family has never recovered. My therapist tells me this is the worst form of psychological abuse: where the abuser is nice then not then nice again. It confuses the brain and entrenches the shame-blame cycle more firmly.

My husband is a wonderful man. He stays around me and takes care of me. He is my safety person. He comforts me in the middle of the night and keeps me safe during my flashbacks. He points out when I’m being paranoid and irrational. On the days (and there are many) that I can’t get out of bed, he takes care of the kids and the house and me. When I get stuck at work and literally can’t leave my office because I’m panicking, he comes and gets me. He is patient and never demands anything physical from me. He has to go to a conference in May and I am already freaking out. I know that I’ll be fine. My rational brain tells me that. But the emotional part, the part that quite frankly has been running the show for the past few years is screaming that we’re about to be left behind. I am proud of him. He’s going on this trip because he does such a good job at his job but that doesn’t soothe me. I’ll be without my comfort person, my safety person, for 7 days and will be alone with my symptoms and thoughts. When I try to tip toe towards thinking about it, I feel the panic and anxiety bubble up from my gut. I cry and cry because it feels like I’m powerless and alone and that’s how it felt when I was little. So yes, to say I have abandonment issues is an understatement. It’s something I don’t know how to fix and don’t see a solution to. Complex PTSD sucks.

My trauma is better than yours

And here we go again. In the race of who has the best trauma (I guess meaning the worst) I’m not sure there are any real winners. I was on my forum and a huge debate erupted about which type of abuse was worse (physical versus sexual versus psychological) and how long of a time it lasted for it to count as a long enough time to be considered complex PTSD. Since when did having cPTSD become a prize? It got so bad moderators had to end comment threads and some people were expelled from the group. Is this what we’ve come down to? I wish I had zero trauma and could remove myself from the debate all together. Or maybe be well enough so I can get out of my house and take a walk with my family. I’m frustrated with this line of thinking because it undermines the reality that trauma=bad shit happened and causes a reaction that ripples across a lifetime. It doesn’t matter what type or how long or who did it. I feel for everyone who has suffered. I feel for the person like me who wakes up in a cold sweat screaming from a nightmare or has such severe flashbacks that they are disconnected from reality.  I feel for the person who can’t leave their house or connect with their family or can’t work. That really sucks. Really really sucks but instead of fighting back and forth, I wish we’d get our shit together and stop judging each other and be supportive. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, no one gets a prize for surviving trauma. What you get are a boatload of symptoms and very few people to help you out. Be a helping a person, there aren’t that many of us

My ACES Score is 4, what’s yours?

The ACES test was born from a landmark study in 1998 that tracked a lot of kids over several years and were given a point for each adversity they experiences. It includes abuse, domestic violence, mentally ill family member, etc. The higher your ACES the more likely you are to develop serious medical issues like diabetes and heart disease.

Here’s a link for the quiz and an explanation.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

Also, check out The Deepest Well by Naomi Burke Harris who is without a doubt my new favorite advocate for children faced with adversity.