Archive for the 'Therapy' Category

Once upon a time…

Note: This post was going to be submitted for the Carnival Against Child Abuse, but it became more about trying to peel off another layer of scar material that was caused by the marriage.  It could be triggering, please read with care.

There was once a little girl who got hurt by the people who should have taken care of her.  This experience taught her about keeping secrets, packing the bad things into containers inside her head and to forget about most of the bad things altogether.  She became good at playing the parts and emotions that were acceptable to those around her.  Compartmentalisation and dissociation became her way of life.

As this girl grew, the dissociative walls became higher and more entrenched.  Her core beliefs were that she was a nuisance, stupid and ugly.  But she wasn’t a victim.  Oh no, she knew that bad stuff had happened, but she believed that it happened to every little girl, and no one else seemed to be complaining.  So when the girl became a woman and met a nice man, she didn’t tell him about the bad stuff; instead she listened to his stories of being abused by his sister when he was a boy.  She didn’t understand how that could have happened to this seemingly big, strong man.  It made him cry and she comforted him.

So began, what would become 8 years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse for that woman – us.

In many ways, the man came into the relationship more honest and open than we did.  He said he’d been abused, we didn’t. We got so caught up in his past that we didn’t say anything about ours – we didn’t really consider it that bad or worthy of talking about anyway.  Abuse was what we had come to expect.  So when he raped us for the first time, we dissociated it away and considered it normal.  Besides, he was good to us – he gave us flowers, cooked for us and treated us with a form of delicate care (when in front of other people) we’d never experienced before.

A pattern developed over time, he would have a crisis of some sort and we would save him.  He needed us to be strong, so we were.  We were hardly innocent within this scenario.  The woman at work used to feel sorry for him as we appeared to pick on him and order him around.  I can understand why they would get this impression – he needed to be saved and we needed to be a saviour.  The weaker he became within his work and mental health, the stronger we had to be, and the more he would abuse us when no one was looking.  The strength we showed to the world was one of us organising our world to gain some control.  When we got behind closed doors there would be a dissociative switch to one who enjoyed the pain that he inflicted sexually and physically.  He became good at triggering our switches, so we built the walls inside our internal house higher and stronger.

About four years into the relationship, we were in a side impact car accident.  We sustained a mild concussion.  In that one instant, our lives changed forever. Our coping mechanisms fell apart.  Suddenly we were weak.  Suddenly he had to be strong, but he wasn’t able.

He had been intermittently seeing different therapists over the years, but had never seen one for more than three sessions.  They were always useless or changing their fees or playing games…   We realised we were in trouble and started counselling again.  He began to self-injure, often in front of us or because of us.  He was fired from his job for assaulting a supervisor.  We tried to be strong, but were slowly falling apart.

He got a job as a security officer – a job where he could “get some respect”.  We also changed jobs.  But nothing fixed the things that were happening in each of our heads or in that house.  We were two people who had serious mental health issues crashing into each other.  We became suicidal and were regularly assessed for danger, always to be released back into the care of the strong man who was now our husband.

On the 9th of February 2008, we attempted suicide.  It wasn’t our most serious attempt, but it landed us in A&E and then the secure psychiatric ward.  On the 10th of February 2008, the strong man took us home.  What followed is blurry, but I know M made a smart arse remark to him about how he needed to grow up.  He then showed us how strong he was by trying to kill us.  His level of violence scared him and he called our mother, screaming that he’d done it this time and it was all over.  The mother thought he’d killed us.  When she talked to us, she asked if we wanted someone to come up to be with us.  Sophie said “yes”.  With our family there, he couldn’t cope with what had happened, so left the house on the 14th of February 2008.

Looking back, I can see how our different issues collided to cause what happened.  If he’d married someone who wasn’t dissociative, this probably wouldn’t have happened.  We were so conditioned for abuse, if it hadn’t been him, it would’ve been someone very similar.  Could we have ever made it work?  I doubt it.  He was not interested in healing.  He paid lip-service to therapy, but wasn’t prepared to invest the time and energy.  I was too defensive and in deep denial.  I wasn’t prepared to heal myself, instead I was so caught up in his problems that he was all I could see.  My life became about fixing him.  He has refused to attend the court ordered counselling as part of the Protection Order, so I don’t think he’ll ever heal.  I hope he does and proves me wrong…

The following clip is one we did a year ago to try to work through the events surrounding the marriage.  It may trigger.

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Now playing: Powderfinger – Sunsets (acoustic)
via FoxyTunes

Shouldn’t have shared!

Do you ever do something, which you’re sure is a positive healing step, only to find out it has caused unforeseen pain to a part of you?  I shared something on a blog today after several attempts and false starts at commenting.  The blog owner has now commented on the entry, giving positive proof that our comment has probably been read.  Now all I hear are the words “Shouldn’t have shared” repeated over and over by a young one.  It’s getting louder and more insistent.  I’ve tried apologising.  I’ve tried breathing.  But it hasn’t helped.  I stuffed up royally.  This young one has taken our comments as positive proof that we are a disgusting piece of worthless rubbish.

I thought writing this might stop the chanting.  We went to see Jo at the woman’s program today and badly needed to self-injure as punishment for getting caught up at work and therefore running late for the appointment.  Jo asked what was going on to cause the need to injure, I said I didn’t know.  She asked if it was someone within the system who wanted to injure.  Suddenly the need to self-injure stopped.  It was as if whatever part was causing the need, didn’t want to be questioned or discovered, so went away.  I was hoping the same logic would work with the chanting, but no.

Alone

The mother has gone and we’re alone.  It’s a very odd feeling after her being here for so long.  I knew there would be some reaction after she left, and there was.  It wasn’t tears, grief, or even relief; but rather a sense of wanting to “reclaim our territory”.  The house, body and reactions almost feel as if they belonged to the mother while she is here.  I know that this is our sense of wanting to be the perfect daughter for her, but it’s quite disconcerting to look back on it and realise what had happened.

While she was here, we tried so hard to appear “normal”, and we quite often succeeded.  She was much more accepting of the times when any form of normalcy was impossible.  This gave us hope that she was more accepting of us, but that hope was put under question yesterday when she stated that she is going to come off the anti-depressants that she’s been on for the last year.  Our fear is that this accepting attitude will disappear when the drugs wear off.  I know that the drugs have shown that she can be accepting, but that acceptance was covered up by her inability to cope with what life sent her way.  She hasn’t been in therapy or learned new skills to cope with life, so with the drug leaving her system, will those stressors mean that she will again not be able to cope?

When we got back from dropping the mother off at the airport, S ended up calling Matthew.  It turns out his intentions have changed from talking to his house mate, to something else.  This was the trigger for a night of self-injury.  We’ve just cleaned the house, mowed the lawns and did some gardening to distract and possibly punish ourselves for allowing S to come forward and act out.  Which of course infers that we have some control over the switching, which we don’t *sigh*.

We have a two week break from sessions with Liz as she goes on holiday.  She asked if we wanted to text her while she was away, we said “No, we’ll be fine”.  Liz said that she knew we would be fine because we were survivors and had the skills to ensure that no matter what happened, we will still function.  I think she has more faith in our ability to not self-destruct than we do.

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Now playing: Brooke Fraser – C S Lewis Song’
via FoxyTunes

Google maps as a therapeutic tool

Several years ago we tried to create a hand drawn map to show our therapist where the different places we talked about were.  This turned into a triggering and self-destructive experience as a young one came forward and was overwhelmed by looking at the different “bad places” on the map.  Last night we tried something slightly different.  We were talking to another survivor online and we decided to try using Google Maps to show each other significant places in our present and past.  It was an interesting experience, it didn’t have the tactile component that caused the dissociative switch to a younger one who would see the exercise as a threat or a trigger for a flashback.  Instead it became an exercise for the computer literate, analytical thinkers.

The road where we grew up has been covered by Google Street View, so we could see how that house looks now.  This was probably the hardest part of the exercise.  It looked like such a normal, boring, middle class, typical New Zealand house.  Our old bedroom window is visible, but we couldn’t look at it.  The most we could do is look at the garden, this has changed dramatically.  But there was no indication that anything awful happened in that house.  In some ways this is comforting, as it helps us to understand why no one asked any questions about us.  We were the quiet girl from a sometimes rough family – we were the lucky one in many peoples eyes.

We probably ended up with about 12 markers on the map; these included schools, places where the father worked and a few other random places where abusive events had occurred.  We became very conscious that there had to be some “good” markers placed to try and balance the “bad”.  But we tried not to dwell too much on efforts to balance things out, but rather to purely put a marker in the map.  By doing this, the place became just that – a place.  It was where something bad happened to us, and that will never change.  But that place became a blue marker on a map, it wasn’t about the emotions, events or anything overwhelming.

I suppose in some ways, it was opening the door to further exploration about what occurred at each of those markers, but I really don’t think that is necessary.  Those markers became an acknowledgement.  They were the sign to us and our friend that a little girl was once hurt in that place.  Our friend respected that and some of us internally needed that…

Perfect daughter – where are you?

While growing up, I tried very hard to be the perfect daughter.  I was polite, quiet, obedient, a good student, tidy, shy and seemingly happy.  This is the daughter my mother knows and loves.  She doesn’t know the daughter she is now faced with.  She doesn’t recognise the woman who can’t go outside unless it’s for work; the woman who will stand in the middle of the kitchen and start scratching her hand while staring into space; the woman who says that she can’t serve up dinner because the food has suddenly become dirty and disgusting; the woman who sits on the Internet until 2am because the idea of sleep is too scary for her and she needs the distraction.

This week, the mother has been faced more and more with the daughter she doesn’t know or recognise.  The session on Monday with Liz stirred up all sorts of issues internally and I’ve been struggling to cope with the reaction.  It got to the point on Tuesday night that there was going to be some fairly serious self-destructive behaviour occur if there wasn’t some intervention.  That intervention came in the form of someone coming forward to take photos.  They realised we were too unsafe to drive anywhere, so the usual routine of driving somewhere to take photos was out.  Instead they decided to use some props from around the house to see what they could do.  The mother could tell we weren’t well, so she ended up helping by having a look for different props to photograph and holding the torch we used as a light source.  This is one of the results…

Apple

Apple

Because the mother helped us with all of this, she could monitor us more closely.  She said that it wasn’t until after the photos had all been taken and we were putting them onto the computer for processing that we sort of “came back”.

Awhile ago, Sophie tried to apologise for the not being that perfect daughter the mother remembered.  The mother said that we were probably never that perfect daughter, but she didn’t see it.  She didn’t see what that perfection was hiding.  I think she really does want to help sometimes.  But her own dysfunctional thinking and lack of healing, mean that she will never really be able to help us.  I don’t resent her inability to help us, but I do wish that she would seriously look at her own need to heal.  She went to therapy for a couple of sessions, but then stopped as she thought it wasn’t going anywhere.

I’m aware this makes us sad or uncomfortable or something.  I’m not good at naming or understand emotions, but I noticed that the body was feeling very cold and I need to do up the jersey we wore to work.

Time to go back to being the perfect working daughter…

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Now playing: U2 – Running to Stand Still
via FoxyTunes

Liz and attention seeking

It was an interesting session with Liz today.  I had gone there with a plan of what to talk about – boundaries (especially around religion), our diagnosis, what that diagnosis means and her cell phone.  This agenda probably indicates that a fair amount of M went into the planning – it was a little optimistic that we would be able to get through all of that without dissociating badly and losing the entire session.

We went in prepared… or so we thought.  In our usual fashion we walked into the office, sat down and became unable to look anywhere apart from the floor, her beanbags, stuffed toys and tissues.  Sophie fronted while a major discussion happening internally about how to broach the subjects.  Liz has this habit of waiting for us to talk first; we have this habit of sitting there, unable to talk.  Today she asked how we should start each session – waiting for us to talk, or for her to start asking questions.  We said unless she wants to spend an hour in silence, she’s best to ask a few questions first :)

Sophie started off saying that religion shouldn’t be mentioned unless W raises it first.  W will raise it, but Liz needs to wait for that to occur.  W is consistently curious about why other people believe in whichever religion they follow and has asked all our previous therapists about their beliefs.  Liz just has to be ready for the grilling that she will face when W does ask.  W has heard many of the reasons behind why a God would “allow” abuse to occur, so Liz needs to have some solid arguments to present or else W will dismiss or destroy her logic.

Then things went a little haywire as Liz again brought in issues which really shouldn’t be raised mid session regarding ACC funding further sessions.  As neither of us had been notified of any decision, she called them during the session – she asked if that would be OK with us and we’re incapable of saying “No”.  This then led onto a discussion where ACC are going through new guidelines where clients who haven’t met their goals will be referred to a psychologist.  Liz wasn’t sure if this meant existing clients as well, but it was something to be aware of.  This triggered all our self-hatred for not being “cured” yet, and being a problem client for not being “cured”.  Does it mean we’ll have to go see someone like Bob again?  What will ACC do with us?  We rarely meet our goals as we don’t fit into a definable goal framework – we show gradual change over time rather than a “cured food issues” sort of thing.

All of this triggering brought forward someone I’ve never met before.  They were male and from either Ellie’s floor or The Basement.  They communicated with Liz and asked what had happened to trigger them coming forward.  They were actually pretty polite, but the whole time they talked he continually ran the sharp keys across palm of the left hand.  He didn’t break the skin and kept talking in a non-threatening way, but kept on hurting the body.  Liz tried to distract him with the soft toys that he could squeeze instead, but that idea was rejected.

When Sophie returned, she could tell something had happened with the hand, as it felt hot.  We don’t feel pain very much, but could feel the heat radiating from the hand.  Liz explained what had happened and Sophie tried to explain that it wasn’t attention seeking.  It may look like it as we were sitting in front of someone hurting the body, but it wasn’t for attention.  It was purely to punish.  At this point Liz stunned us, and agreed.  She knew it wasn’t for attention.  I don’t know how she came to this conclusion, as we’ve always been told that any sort of self-injury was for negative, attention seeking purposes.  Also the undeniable fact that, we were sort of doing self-injury in front of her – surely that means we were attention seeking.  But according to Liz we weren’t.  I think the reason she saw it this way was because she was totally irrelevant in the self-injury.  It wasn’t being done to manipulate her or modify her behaviour in any way, it was just what that one needed or wanted to do.  It wasn’t really a big deal in the scheme of things.  But for us, it was another indication that we are crazy and losing our ability to act “normal”.

This then led into the final big issue regarding our diagnosis and what that means.  This has always been a sore issue for us – DID is not widely recognised in New Zealand and is seen in a negative light.  Liz’ experience with other dissociative clients means that she can compare our behaviour to theirs.  This comparison will mean that she can state with some certainty that we do, or don’t have DID.  We’re stuck between the options which could describe our behaviour and thinking:

  • Believe that the childhood was perfect and we’re now attention seeking.
  • Believe that the childhood wasn’t perfect and we have an undiagnosed personality disorder.
  • Believe that the childhood was traumatic and we have a trauma or dissociative disorder of some sort.

The problem is that the parallel truths about the childhood are so vivid.  On one side there is the perfect childhood where we feel loved and safe; on the other side is abuse, pain and fear.  A previous therapist has stated that these two truths don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive, but it’s hard to see where they would meet or co-exist.  Liz responded that each of us play roles within this life – how we present at work is different from how we present at home, in parties, out shopping etc.  I accept this is true, so it seems to be that Liz is saying that we’re not dissociative, but rather are doing a bit of hysterical attention seeking through exaggerating what is nothing major.  The session ended before we could fully talk through the implications of what she was saying.

Sorry for the rambling waffle, I’m trying to make sense of what happened in the session and failing.  I’m not sure if this is a continuation of my ability to appear higher functioning than I feel, or whether Liz is seeing me accurately and I need to just get over myself.

Losing myself… over and over

The last few months have been interesting ones to reflect on.  I can spot within the blog entries the points at which I’ve been suicidal, trying to reach out and at what point I shut down and went back to the “everything is fine” mindset.  This is the one of the big advantages of blogging – the ability to reflect back on your thinking.

So I sit here, listening to Missy Higgins and wonder how I can keep going and in which direction to go.  I know that I am losing myself again.  I know I do this regularly.  I get lost, confused and overwhelmed.  I then seem to find some sort of plateau that seems safe for awhile – almost like finding a clearing in the forest.  I’m deep in the forest now and I’ve got no idea which direction to turn.

Having the mother here is difficult.  I have issues about the sound of people eating or breathing – yeah, I know it’s weird.  I can’t stand the sound of either, it seems to get amplified in my head and drives me crazy.  Unfortunately the mother does both fairly loudly.  I wish I could say that I love her and this is the only problem, but in all honesty I don’t love her.  I know some of us feel happy when she is around, but there are no tears when she leaves.  We don’t mind her being here for a short time, but we’d prefer it if she was only here for a very short time.  I know this sounds ungrateful, disrespectful and as if it’s breaking some law of nature.  But I don’t feel anything much towards her.  I also don’t feel hatred, I know that much.

Part of the reason is that I have never felt like a person around her.  If I was noticed, it was as a medical condition, an A+ grade at school, thin, fat, loud, silent, the mistake…  I was never “Michelle”.  This de-humanisation has been present throughout my life.  At the wedding, it became more about what the sister-in-law wanted rather than anything to do with me or the now ex-husband.  This feeling of being an object is what I tried to capture in one of the very first Polyvore sets I did…

I was a silhouette that had no soul, no place and no voice.  I can hear some in the background telling me not to be so melodramatic :)  I apologise, I’m in a rather odd mood.

Yesterday while out mowing the lawns, we decided to give Liz another try.  It was interesting reading through the comments to our entry about our journey with therapists (a BIG thank you to those who contributed).  Our reaction to the comments summed up our history – if it was possible to read into any of them that the whole issue was our fault, we would; if it was possible to read into it that it was the fault of the therapist; we would internally defend them.  It was a replica of our attitude towards our abusers…

Anyway, we’ve decided to give seeing Liz another go.  We don’t have any strong objections to her methodologies (although the religion issue is a big red flag).  Many of our issues with her are about her habits, for example turning her cell phone to vibrate mode.  I’m a little stunned that none of her other clients have found this an issue.  One of the major issues is that we are unable to communicate an issue as it occurs.  Because of this, we couldn’t say “Liz, we find it uncomfortable that you look at your cell phone while we are having a session”.  We sent an email to her to explain some of the issues and to see if she thought therapy was what we needed right now.  She responded that maybe the relationship issues with therapists is something that needs to be part of my healing (or words to that effect).  I agree with this, but also know that I’ve let bad therapeutic relationships go on for too long when they’ve hurt and been destructive.  I don’t trust my own judgement on what to do at a very basic level.  I, as the object doesn’t have a direction…

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Now playing: Missy Higgins – Stuff and nonsense
via FoxyTunes


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