Healing Is Not Linear

healing linear pic

 

‘Sarah, let me say that again. Healing is not linear’.

My therapist is patiently telling me as I sob on her couch for the 1000 times that I am a failure. I ave been having a really hard time these past few weeks. I have a lot of family stuff going on and my memories have come up, some new and some old but are peeking back up like demented pieces of my past.

We had been trying to move past the memory work and start to work on real life coping skills. Such as, how to feel more connected to my children and how to not be so nervous trying to be affectionate with my husband that I initiate sex, have a flashback and scream running out of the work. These are pretty important pieces of the work but I cannot focus on them. I can only focus on those memories. The ones that pop into my head at random times of the day to full blown flashbacks that leave me exhausted and emotionally torn to pieces. I had tried to move forward, to push them back and put them in the proverbial box where they belong but nope. They are saying fuck you, and your brain too Sarah.

I feel like a failure. I want to let these memories go. I want to get better. I love my therapist but there are other things I could be doing with my time and money rather then sit on her couch twice a week. But right now, I don’t think I could live without it. I’ve always thought of therapy as building a house. I thoughts I had cut down all the old junky trees and bushes (memories), laid a foundation (meds, eating well, exercise, trying to sleep but that will never happen, using/learning coping skills) and on that foundation I will build a house. I have an image too. I have the house in my mind. Right now all I have is a chair. A blood red leather reading chair which will be soft as butter that I can put in the reading corner of my house. Now, I’m trying to build the walls but these damn memories keep tearing them down or stopping me from building them up.

I keep crying on the couch. I have no words. I have failed. My catastrophic thinking is in full effect. I am sure she will now fire me as a client because I am too difficult. She asks what I’m thinking and I tell her about my house (we have talked about my house many times).

‘Sarah, if you were building walls to a house and there was a fire outside, would you keep building the walls or would you stop and put out the fire’.

Put out the fire.

‘The fires are your memories, you have to put them out and then go back to building your house.’

I liked that analogy. Because healing isn’t linear. Most days I feel as though if I’ve taken 1 step forward the next will be 3 steps back. I can just never get any traction on my healing goals, my coping skills, my symptom reduction. My emotions are all over the place and in each therapy session there’s a new crisis. Nothing is in a straight line. Plus, I am tired. I’ve always told myself this is not a sprint but a marathon but damn, this is hard work. So hard and so unforgiving and no lonely.

I know this is not an uplifting post but I wanted others to know there are a lot of bad days to be had with some good days sprinkled in. I treasure the good days, I do, but they are fleeting. Try not to give up, it’s so hard, I know. The only thing we can do is keep pushing forward through the pain and loneliness to build our house and find a safe place to call home.

 

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 struggles to finish my program. I only had one semester left and passed by the grace of God. I could not 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 book. 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 bot 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 ***