Survival Armor

armor pic

In his book Complex PTSD Pete Walker talks about the chronic tenseness most abuse survivors hold in their bodies. I’ve heard it called chronic tension, muscle rigidity, and bracing. I like what Peter Walker called it: muscle armoring. He said it’s the bodies way to be ready to fight, flee, or freeze. Muscle armoring is part of  hypervigilance which is a hyper alert mental state. Of course, like most survival responses, this is supposed to be short term but for those of us who have had to be in survival mode for long term, we become adapted to this survival technique and are always waiting for the next bad thing to happen. We are constantly waiting to flee, preparing to fight, or stuck in a frozen state. This chronic tenseness and hyper alert state can lead to issues. Most of these issues involved chronic muscle aches and pains because the muscles are overused and an inability to relax. A large population of people with a history of trauma of chronic back and joint pain as well as fibromyalgia. Muscle armoring is a way for children to coping when they are in a perpetually unsafe environment and are unsure of where the next threat is going to come from .It’s also a way for children and adults to protect their emotions. If  they’re buried under armor, no one can hurt them. It also protects us from others emotions, sometimes I think either positive or negative because they can both be painful.

Of course, I am no longer a child and my environment now is safe from the abuses I suffered as a child but I think sometimes my body is so ingrained to be tense, that it takes the slightest trigger to get me to go back into defense mode.I don’t have fibroyaligia and I’m lucky to not have debilitating pains that I know others suffer from but my muscles will frequently ache and feel tired. I feel tight in my chest and sometimes it’s hard to breathe. My stress is especially held in my shoulder and upper arms like I’m bracing to physically defend myself. I do exercise daily to try to keep my muscles loose but strong. Being strong is really important to me. I also want to hold my emotions in. I don’t want others to see what I’m feeling. I also find other peoples emotions to be too much to handle at times. I’m so overwhelmed with my own, I can barely take on anyone else.

I had been thinking for a long time about getting a tattoo. I wanted something that was mine. A part of my body that no one had touched or chosen for me. I wanted something that meant something to me and my recovery. I chose a compass and find the design and then waited for  2 years. Yesterday I stopped by the tattoo place, went in and had it done (I wasn’t expecting it to happen, I just went in to make an appt). I love it. Its mine and I feel pretty bad ass having it. It feels like a piece of armor, something that’s just for me. Marking my body as my own. It was quite an adrenaline rush and I am so glad that I got it done. I know it’s something small and it hasn’t cured my tenseness but it’s made me more aware of my body and how it really is mine. I’m not recommending a tattoo but if there’s anything out there that could make you feel like you have more ownership over your body, try it. Whether it’s yoga, running, piercings, dance, tattoo etc, don’t wait. Your body is yours.

This also looks interesting: http://urbanfitt.com/the-bodybraid-somatic-healing-and-body-armoring/

Here it is!

tattoo pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We read to know we are not alone ~CS Lewis

read quote

 

I am a self admitted book worm. I love to read and always have. When I was in elementary school, I struggled with reading and they sent me to a special reading class to help me. The issue was that I couldn’t see, not that I couldn’t read and once I had glasses I was off like a shot. I still had to go to the reading class and my reading teacher who was very kind and soft spoken put me off to the side at a desk of my own so I could read and then do what I wanted because, you guessed it, I didn’t need any help reading. Instead I would read the story that I was given and then draw pictures of what I had read, illustrated a world that not the one I in. Big bright colored pictures of the characters and landscapes of a world that a dream, a fantasy, whatever I wanted to be. Very different from plain old me. I read everything: babysitters club, CS Lewis, Amelia Bedelia, and of course: the last unicorn. Shel silverstein characters and I were great friends. Anything I could read I did. Reading gave me a way to escape. The harder things got in elementary school, the more I read. Like swinging, it gave me an escape. I didn’t have any real connection to my peers but these pretend characters I grew to love.

As time went on I read bigger book. Everything from The Canterbary Tales to Stephen King. I had a phase where I read trashy romance novels. I averaged about 6 books a week. I was a fast reader and a lot of mental energy to burn. I wouldn’t just read a story once, I would re-read until book covers fell off. My favorite book for a bit was The Shinning by Stephen King and both the front and back covers fell off. I drew pictures of their world and imaged I was there with them on every adventure. I had books everywhere piled in my bed, under my bed, around my bed. They were a comfort, an escape. I started to write: short stories, poetry. I had poetry published and in middle school won a state award for the best short story. I loved the library, how it seemed to suck out all the noise in my head and make it quiet. I felt like you could feel the hum of the stories behind the spines of the books on the shelves. I always read and I always wrote.

Until I didn’t.

I got sick at 36 and it seems like my brain has stopped me from one of my few pleasures. I was in graduate school at the time and struggled to finish my program. I only had one semester left and passed by the grace of God. I could no longer read. I would stare at the pages and read the same paragraph 10 times before I gave up. I simply couldn’t comprehend what I was reading. It felt like all of the color was drained out of that world and a monochromatic palate replaced it. I continues to buy books. I ordered them with every intention to read them, books for my job and books for fun. Nothing worked. I have always loved the weight of a book in my hand and the smell of a books pages, it meant possibilities. So I was a bit of a snob about reading e-books but I said screw and downloaded them. Still nothing. I gave up and have only read 1 book so far this year.

Then, my brother, also an avid reader (we all are in my family), told me about audio books. I was again, a book snob and thought ‘that’s not really reading’ but I decided to try it. I started my first audio book a few days ago and just finished it. It was a little weird at first to not have written words in front of me but holy crap, the story was good! I have been having a really hard time getting out of bed and before would just lay there with my thoughts spinning but now my brain had something to grab onto. I had some relief from the ever demanding, pounding thoughts that relentlessly beat at me. I am really glad that I gave it a try and I encourage you to try it if you have the same trouble. I came across a good article that I think better explains why people with PTSD or other mental illness have trouble reading, it’s listed below. So please know if you struggle with this, you’re not alone and there are other options. Don’t be a book snob like me and deny yourself something that could make you feel better and take you someplace different for just a little while.

Here’s the link to the article:

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-illness-and-reading?fbclid=IwAR1tdxcMf0gCu6dHLnxFgSexv9y7Cluk4H2NnsnyMC458rkB1n0b4G8ZyMc

Cause you know that you’re toxic (shame)

To be honest, the last few days have been really hard. As in, can’t get out of bed, not wanting to take a shower or eat because it’s too much energy to do so bad. My depression has reared it’s ugly head once again like an unwelcome guest. As always, when my body feel slow and sluggish my brain lights up and goes into overdrive. all the nasty, awful things that have been said to me or that I think about myself are making their rounds in my head. I wake up and they’re there and stay with me all day long. I got into a huge fight with my husband because I’m shutting down and not talking to him. I push him away. Why? Because I think that I am an inherently bad person, almost a poison to the people around me and this is the very definition of toxic shame. It’s when a person doesn’t just feel badly about something like did (like lied or cheated etc) but feel as though they themselves are bad at the core. Toxic shame comes about when a person has irrational feeling of worthlessness, humiliation,and self loathing that has been inflicted  repeatedly during traumatic experiences. This normally occurs in childhood developmental trauma and is one of the main symptoms of CPTSD. These feelings are so strong that they paralyze a person and cause difficulty in forming healthy relationships with others. People with toxic shame tend to be shy and end up in unhealthy or abusive relationships. These feels can cause emotional flashbacks which are when a person ‘doesn’t feel right’. They might feel scared or ashamed or abandoned but aren’t sure why because they’re in a safe place now. I always think of it as an echo of my childhood feelings.

These are the thoughts that run through my head: you’re worthless, stupid, ugly, fat, no one could ever love you, you’re trash, how did you ever think you were smart enough to do that, you’re dirty, you’re disgusting. I hear these words said by my abusers. They are loud and insistent and are very difficult to control. sometimes I just want to grip my head and shout at the voices to SHUT UP!!! But I think they’re right. I think I am to blame for my abuse and then feel ashamed about it. It’s a vicious cycle that never seems to end. I become paralyzed when I have to make a decision or go out in public because the voices become so overwhelming that I’m such a horrible person, that I shut down.

I’ve read that this symptom is the most difficult to treat because most toxic shame comes from developmental trauma which impacts the developing brain. When that small child’s brain is constantly being bombarded with confusing and negative signals, it creates pathways that become permanent thought processes. Just like a person who grows up in a healthy environment will have a healthier self esteem and outlook about themselves. Changing those ingrained pathways seems like an almost impossible task but I am growing tired of fighting these voices, of always having to push back. They take away the little bit of energy I have and clog my brain, slowing it down. It seems like most theories have a word for these voices and the one I like the best is from Internal Family Systems (IFS) which term this the Inner Critic: the voice(s) that are always negative and causing me to question myself and my worthiness. Brene Brown also has some great Ted Talks about shame, guilt. and vulnerability. I’ve put the links below to them as well as IFS. I understand what Brene is saying and what the IFS workbook tell me logically but it feels like these are such irrational feelings, I don’t know how to get at them. I’ve tried imagery and positive self talk and affirmations but my voices overrun those attempts like a mack truck running over a cup. I have to be honest and say that I’m feeling a little hopeless about this right now. I hate to say that but I am. I’ve heard these internal voices for so long I don’t think they’ll ever go away. But I will try. See the links below and the pic for positivity.

Brene Brown:

The power of vulnerability:

 

IFS:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_Family_Systems_Model

https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/internal-family-systems-therapy

ttps://www.amazon.com/Internal-Family-Systems-Skills-Training/dp/1683730879/ref=sr_1_2?gclid=CjwKCAjw7uPqBRBlEiwAYDsr11A280dSrrf_aSTfULxKdc-asfDklj5-kkJshk1Oc05JoMZVTiAX3BoCaOAQAvD_BwE&hvadid=323157640753&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9004725&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t1&hvqmt=b&hvrand=16399187154145651535&hvtargid=aud-676677759524%3Akwd-618606589162&hydadcr=15557_10342300&keywords=internal+family+systems+self+therapy&qid=1566183743&s=gateway&sr=8-2

 

And finally, something positive:cptsd pic 1

 

I’m not faking being sick, I’m faking being well

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of health issues. It seems like my body has decided that this is the year that all of the accumulated trauma from my childhood is finally at the tipping point of causing issues. It started in October when my stomach started to hurt. I’ve had stomach issues in the past but this was different. I would eat and the food would just sit in my stomach. I would eat at night and throw up my dinner the next morning. I started getting nauseous all day and stopped eating during the day. I couldn’t even drink water. I waited a month to see a GI doctor who told me flat out I was fat. He saw my med list and decided I was a fat crazy bird. I work in the medical field and saw all the signs. Being a people pleaser, I was agreeable to everything he said. I had an endoscopy which is where they sedate you and shove a tube down your throat to see what’s going on in your stomach. It was a horrible procedure. I had the max amount of meds and still was awake for the whole thing. It was incredibly triggering. They strapped a bite guard to my mouth, laid me on my side and shoved a tube down my throat. My blood pressure never went below 140/100. It showed stuff still in my stomach but the doctor didn’t have too much to say. I also had to have a MRI of my liver which is where you get strapped down and go into a tube for 30 minutes. The MRI techs were at least sympathetic but it was still stressful. The GI doc recommended a med that I couldn’t take and after that, I never heard anything. Still not able to eat and the food wouldn’t move when i did.  I found another doc and she was more helpful but still they don’t know why my stomach stopped working. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis which basically means that your stomach doesn’t push food forward. I’ve lost 42 lbs since October. I only eat once a day and am nauseous almost always. There’s no cure or real effective treatment. The doctor said that my stress level is so high my digestive system basically shut down. I also have an ulcer which I haven’t had since my 20’s.

On top of that, a few months ago I started to get rashes when I was stressed. some were so bad that they had little blisters in them. As a child I had eczema and it returned with a vengeance along my hairline and scalp. I have to use a $30 peat mud shampoo and cream from a dermatologist to keep it under control

Finally, I started to have heart issues. I would have episodes where I would pass out and feel like a weight was on my chest. I couldn’t breathe and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. I had to have an EKG, a holter monitor, and an echocardiogram. I saw a cardiologist who was also a jerk. I have an arrythmia and the doctor said there was pretty significant damage to my heart from stress and if I didn’t make changes I would have a stroke or heart attack in a few years.

I have GYN issues from my trauma and it’s now causing significant issues with my period and pelvic pain

I had a basal cell carcinoma.

Overall, the medical community seems to be at a loss as to why this is happening to me at such a young age. I was also frustrated. I hate doctors and taking meds. I hate having to go to appts and be poked and prodded by people. I felt crazy because there were all these things wrong with me but no one knew why. I started to read to this book Disrupted Childhood and it answered a lot of questions. It’s about how childhood trauma can cause long term medical issues. It compared the ACES score and the higher it is the more likely a person is to have serious medical issues like cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. We’re also most likely to have autoimmune diseases and conditions like arthritis and GI issues and of course trauma leads to higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. That’s not a surprise. We’re more likely to complete suicide and have suicide attempts and use drugs/alcohol. The trauma we experience affects us at a cellular level and forever changes us mentally and physically. The biggest surprise to me was how it noted that people with childhood trauma have actual damage to their brains. Our brains can be smaller and the hippocampus and the amygdala and prefrontal cortex are smaller meaning we can’t control our emotions or memories as effectively and our rational thought center works less efficiently.

So what does this mean? We’re screwed. Well, maybe.

Every single doctor/specialist I saw told me I had to reduce my stress which is great in theory but I have a life to live and life is stressful. I have a job and a family and just day to day stuff causes stress. I know people with CPTSD have a lower threshold for stress but I didn’t understand until these past few months the impact it has on my physical health. I’ve started to make some healthy lifestyle changes. I exercise daily (which helps the one meal I eat actually move), drink more water, and trying really hard to sleep well (this is not going well but I keep trying).  I think that’s all I can do right now, is try to take the best care of myself physically that I can.

Check out this link for the PTSD stress cup theory:

https://healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.wordpress.com/ptsd-stress?sfns=xmo

 

To forgive or not forgive? That is the question

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. There’s been a lot of movement in my trauma memories and my recovery recently. This is both good and bad, nothing is ever simple with complex PTSD as you all know. I’ve had to question, what is forgiveness? What is it’s purpose and does it have a place in my recovery? When I was newly married in my 20’s, I thought I had forgiven everything that had happened in my childhood. I forgot, pushed it down, made it into something else I could tolerate so I could function. We all know, this doesn’t work and it came up like a bullet, shooting into my life, changing it forever when I was 36. So that forgiveness didn’t work.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and we were regular attenders as a family. I was in youth group and my siblings and myself made our confirmations (agreeing to be part of the church as an adult). The church was pretty liberal and I didn’t mind going. Forgiveness is a huge part of what you’re taught at church. In this religion you’re taught to do what Jesus would do and that’s forgive those that have wronged you. In Catholicism or Christianity in general, the basic premise is if you say you’re sorry and repent then you’re forgiven. You have to see the priest for confession, say what you did, say you’re sorry and you’re given a penance. Once that’s done, boom! You’re forgiven. Even as a child, I didn’t understand this, the whole system seemed flawed. I would go to confession and say I used a swear word or God’s name in vain and wouldn’t do it again knowing damn well I would. But I was still forgiven? The same message is given in school: someone pushes you, takes something, fights with you etc then apologizes, you’re expected to forgive them, even if they didn’t mean it. And if you don’t forgive them, you’re being the difficult one. That seems pretty fucked up to me. And what exactly is forgiveness anyway? I suppose like everything else, it’s an individual definition but to me, it means someone has acknowledged what they have done wrong, no excuses, and said sincerely that they were sorry. I have accepted that as truth and been shown through their actions they are sorry and I am able to put it aside and trust them again.

So, now onto trauma work. People did bad things to me. People that should have helped me didn’t. No one is apologizing or really acknowledging any of this. Frankly, most of them are dead so it’s not like I’d get much out of them anyway but still. I’m supposed to forgive to get better? I’m supposed to put my very limited energy into acknowledging what they did and say it was ok? I have to do that work? Why do I have to do more work for others? I call bullshit again.

Forgiveness is overrated. You don’t need to forgive to move on or heal.

Or maybe it’s just the definition of forgiveness needs to be changed or not so broad. It seems like forgiveness and acceptance and trust have all gotten tangled up. I might be able to forgive someone but that doesn’t mean I would trust them or want them in my life.  I do think closure or acceptance is needed though. I think I need to be able to look, really look at my trauma, and the people that did terrible things and say yes, this happened and it was awful and painful and they were the ones responsible. They were the ones responsible. To be able to close that experience and put it away without hurt or shame or fear. That’s the real goal isn’t it? To be able to box all of the stuff that happened to us, to be able to pick up all the pieces of our lives that have been scattered about and put them in order so we can function again. Maybe it’s not forgiveness, maybe it’s ‘letting go’. Letting go of being angry and hurt and ashamed of ourselves. Maybe we need to let go of the fact that there may never be an apology or forgiveness. My therapist said something I found to be very powerful, there can be no forgiveness with out a clear admission of wrong doing from the other party and some kind of redeeming action.  Maybe that will never happen and that’s ok. I’m letting go of this idea, this expectation, that I need to forgive and forget. It’s going on the list with resiliency and ‘why is this taking you so long?’ and ‘it happened a long time ago, can’t you just forget?’ In a lot of ways, that’s freeing in and of itself. So I’m going to work toward acceptance not forgiveness.

 

***Just as a note: I am not against religion in any form. My experiences listed here are personal and in no way mean to disrespect anyone. If your faith, spirituality, religion, etc have helped you heal and forgiveness was the way you did it-that’s awesome and I very much respect that. Keep doing what you’re doing. We’re all trying to head to the same place-healing-however we get there is how we get there ***

anger or ANGER!!!!!!!

I don’t consider myself to be an angry person.  I was.  I was a very angry teenager and young adult. I worked hard to put that anger away but I think in some ways it backfired on me. As a teenager, I had a seething anger that I kept pretty well hidden except for the occasional explosion. That’s not to say that I didn’t yell and stomp around and slam things like a typical teenager, I did those things. I would argue with my mother just to argue and I think that’s pretty typical.

I’m talking more about that hot burning right under the skin rage that I think a lot of you can relate to. An anger that’s not even anger because that word doesn’t describe it. Maybe rage? But that’s not quite right either. The type of anger that seeps into everything you do, say, and think and makes you want to lash out because the effort of holding it under control is too much to bear. It would have been unacceptable in my home to act out so I turned it inward which was consuming me. Literally, I felt like I was being folded into a pretzel. It was like living two lives: the sunny outward smiling high achieving teenager and the inner dark twisted red hot rage being that I was.

So I drank

I drank a lot. Not at first. At first, my friends and I did it as a joke and a dare. But that rush of alcohol and the numbing effects after were like a miracle to me. I got the usual speech in school-don’t drink. Don’t smoke. But fuck them, they didn’t have to deal with my shit. I did both. I smoked a pack a day from 15-18, until I met my husband. By the time high school was coming to an end, I was drinking a pint of vodka before school and sometimes after. I would binge drink on the weekend. It became a game of how much I could tolerate and how much I could hide. I was good at hiding. After I got my license, my friend and I were out in my moms car looking for bars. I got into an accident and tore the bumper off of her car (no I had not been drinking). My punishment was that I had to take the bus for the rest of my senior year. This was a horrifying to me because seniors didn’t ride the bus. I took the bus in the morning but walked home in the afternoon. It was a long walk and I drank a lot.

I was always in search of the next high, anything to get me away from my thoughts and feelings. Pot, ecstacy, acid, black beauties, oxy’s, benzo. Whatever there was, I tried it. I was impulsive, put myself in dangerous places and situations. Drove reckless. Was crass and rude. I was red hot angry. I seethed with it. Nothing helped for long enough and I was looking for more and more and more. I walked endlessly, miles and miles in any weather. Food stopped tasting good so I stopped eating, People were loud and their problems were stupid to me but I smiled and pretended.

I was tired of pretending

I went to college and flunked out. That finally burst the anger bubble. For the first time, I couldn’t hold it together with a cheerful outward appearance. I was horribly depressed. I collapsed inward on myself. I got lucky and was able to get into another university. The next semester was quiet and that summer, I finally dumped the people who were part of that toxic lifestyle.

Then, I met my husband. As straight an arrow as you could ever meet. No smoking, drinking, drugs, violence, expectations of sex. Calm, rock solid, and kind. Kindness is so underrated. My anger bubbled up and he didn’t leave. I kept pushing and he stayed. We got married and my anger was less seething and more a general rumbling. I actively worked to make it go away and then, it took a lot to get me angry. My work and my kids made me develop a hard core sense of control of my emotions.

Now the trauma memories are back and so is the anger. Not just anger but ANGER!!! And all of that self control I so smugly thought I had? GONE. I am furious at the people who abused me. What the fuck were they thinking? How could they have hurt such a small vulnerable child? I am furious with the adults in my life who were supposed to protect me. Where was everyone? Even in high school, how could NO ONE have noticed I was drunk in school. Are good grades really that good of a cover? That is fucked up. There was no safety net to catch me and I made a lot of mistakes and lost a lot of good friends during that time which I deeply regret. I am tired of pretending. I am tired of having to grind my anger inward but I have no idea what to do with it. How can I use this for good because I am tired of all of the bad. I was thinking about taking a boxing class. I’d really like to hit something productively. I’d really like to feel strong physically and be able to defend myself. I don’t like being angry. I come from a family of angry people and don’t like it. But, it’s part of the healing process. It’s part of getting better. None of this has been easy but I’m having a particularly hard time with this piece of it. If you too, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

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. 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.

I didn’t need my abuser 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.