Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
"Check these out nerds!!!!!
Notable in the photo:
The orange one is the first edition Physiology of Behavior 1977 near mint
The green one is first edition 1967 Foundations of Physiological Psych: ask any older neuroscientist 50 years plus, this was there first text." -Andrew
Most of my eating difficulties are PTSD-related. Like I said in the
disassociation post, your digestion shuts down when you are under
fight-or-flight stress. PTSD keeps you in a state of arousal,
diverting energy away from things like digestion and into preparing to
deal with stress. So I have poor digestion. I hope that some day after
the PTSD gets better this will be less of a problem, but as of now I
can't eat things like gluten (bread) or dairy at all.
When I am emotionally stressed, usually by some current situation, I
often eat very little and start dropping weight. I feel nauseous all
the time and don't feel like eating. This seems to be my body's
response to stress hormones. In some cases I get so sick to my stomach
that I start throwing up, and can't stop. This has landed me in the
hospital a number of times. I wonder if this is my body's way of
trying to expel extreme levels of stress, by vomiting it out. Kind of
like the "taking the inside and making it outside" response.
Anorexia seems to be somewhat common among women and girls who were
sexually abused, and I can totally understand why that would be. It's
a way of rejecting the body, the body that caused you so much
confusion and disgust. It can be a way of avoiding development into a
woman, and sexuality. I know that when I gain weight it's usually in
my butt and my chest, and I start to feel very uncomfortable with my
body. I feel like people are staring at my boobs, and it embarrass me.
I don't mind having curves but more than anything I want muscle tone.
It makes me feel strong and physically capable, which in turn makes me
feel emotionally strong.
I am back in my apartment, alone for the first time since I started blogging this morning. Whew! What a day. Four hours to go on Blogathon. I feel much more likely to stay awake now that I have some coffee in me. Still feeling a little looped from the lack of sleep, but I can take it.
On the way back, I saw a guy rollerblading down the street in loud patterned spandex pants, at 2 am. Only in L.A. I love this town.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
because we were running from panel to panel, so I had a soy latte, 2
Lara bars, half a hot dog, a soda, 2 tacos, and some fries. All kind
My costume was such a hit! So many people asked to take my picture (at
Anime Expo I got none of that). Others made a point of saying, "It's
Elektra!" I've been wanting to dress up as Elektra since I was 19 and
working in a comic book store, so it was a geeky dream come true. I
think my geek points have been fully restored, what with dressing up
and blogging ALL day.
They are escape, numbing, excitment, oblivion, self-destruction,
rebellion, all of the above. I loved drinking and smoking, but my body
can't really take it anymore. Probably for the best. I love having fun
and being wild, and numbing in a way that made me feel alive at the
same time. I did do stupid stuff though, and put myself in danger. I
am extremely lucky that I was able to quit when I wanted to, and that
I never shot up heroin even though I was in the Seattle punk scene. I
saw what addiction does to people- it can take your free will away
from you, your identity, your life. It's too high of a price to
pay for escape from yourself.
Besides just being way cool, horror movies speak to me. A lot of the
time, there's a main character who realizes the danger that others
don't, or won't see. She might try to tell others, maybe even the
police, but they don't believe her.
Can you see how this plot line might appeal to someone in an abusive family?
The big difference between these movies and real life is that the
protagonist gets to hack up the zombies, stab the vampires in the
heart with stakes, and shoot lots of unholy creatures. Talk about wish
This kind of invokes that black and white thinking. It would be so
much easier if the bad guys were easily identifiable as the slobbering
I see the world as essentially dangerous, with bad things lurking
under the surface and chaos on the edges. I consider most horror
movies to be more realistic than romantic comedies, that's for sure.
Mmm, what to say about cutting? I used to cut myself on my hands,
mostly. I still have scars on my wrists, although I was not trying to
kill myself, just make myself bleed. It made me feel alive because I
felt so numb inside. It also seemed to relieve emotional stress. I
felt a release, like I was bleeding it out. File this under "taking
the inside and making it out" along with tattoos, wearing only black,
punk rock, etc.
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"I reject your reality, and substitute my own!"
"This isn't the catastrophic failure I was hoping for."
I saw a movie where a character was bemoaning having kids because
suicide was no longer an option. Sometimes that's exactly what it is-
an option and a comfort. You can tell yourself that if things get too
bad, you have the power to end it. Then your life is your choice. You
can take it or leave it. Knowing you have that option can help you
chose to live another day. You figure you can always do it tomorrow.
Use procrastination and laziness to keep yourself going. After all,
suicide takes a lot of effort.
It would be easier to joke about if my brother hadn't actually decided
to do it. It horrifies me to think how close I've been and how
agonizing it was. It horrifies me to think of how my brother must have
been feeling. For me, suicidal urges came when I was feeling an empty
numbness coupled with a pain that felt physical, like my skin was
being peeled off, or the numbness and sharp, tingling pain when you're
Longing for that escape was sometimes an obsession which I would let
out in small doses with lesser self-destructive behaviors, like
smoking and drinking.
I was really surprised when I saw stealing in the list of coping mechanisms
in *The Courage to Heal*. I though, other people do that too?! This is what
the book has to say- "Stealing is a totally absorbing activity. It enables
you to forget everything for a brief moment—including the abuse. It is a way
to create distraction or excitement, to re-create the feelings you had when
you were first abused—guilt, terror, the rush of adrenaline. Stealing is
also a way of defying authority, and attempt to take back what was stolen,
to even the score."
Put me in the "even the score" category. I was pissed, especially in high
school when I was trying to break away from my parents and escape the abuse,
but my dad just became more and more violent with me. I started doing all
sorts of rebellious little things (without wanting him to find out, though. I was
defying him in secret.) I started smoking, drinking, and shoplifting. I took
satisfaction in the idea that he couldn't control me, regardless of
what he thought. I quit shoplifting when I moved to Seattle. The first time
I tried it, I got caught (I just got kicked out of the store, so no police)
and I never did it again.
I get overwhelmed. Sometimes I have a lot of flashbacks and feelings hitting
me at once, and I disappear on people. I feel like I'm the worst friend in
the world because of it. I'm always afraid I'll disappoint people, so I hope
that they won't have expectation of me. I feel like I let my brother down,
first by leaving him alone with our crazy family when I was put in foster
care, and then not being there for him in the last year of his life. The
thought that I might fail to live up to others' expectations of me makes me
almost want to purposely disappoint people so they won't expect anything. (I
wish my teammates who tell me to go get a goal understood that. I don't do
well under pressure.) I feel like I should make everyone around me happy, so
if things aren't going well for my friends I get scared. I worry they will
blame me in some way. I'm really sensitive to other people's feelings,
especially negative ones, probably because I grew up monitoring my parents'
emotions because I was trying to avoid making them angry. So I find being
around other people exhausting sometimes because I'm so reactive to their
feelings. For someone who is highly social and extroverted, I have a weird
love for female characters in comic books and movies who are antisocial
It may be hard to believe now, but up until when I started blogging (end of
2005) I didn't think my childhood had been that bad, and I didn't understand
why my brother would have killed himself or why I was having a hard time
emotionally. Part of it was that I thought I had, in part, caused most of
what happened. The rest of it was that I had convinced myself it wasn't a
big deal. I kept thinking about when my mom dragged me to her therapist and
he told me, "You are being physically, verbally, emotionally,
psychologically, and sexually abused." But then he didn't report it to the
police, he just told my mom and my mom told my dad and my dad hit me. The
message I got from that was, "I'm telling you what's happening so you can go
make it stop" not "this isn't your fault" which is probably what he was
intending. When adults did acknowledge the abuse, they never seemed to
actually do anything about it, so I thought that meant I was supposed to
respond in some magical way that would fix it, and I was just stupid because
I couldn't figure out what that was. Like, "Hey idiot, you're being abused,
what are you going to do about it? Just because I'm an adult and I could do
something, I'm not going to because this is your problem and not a big deal
I'm going to blame my mom for me thinking that way, who blew me off when I
tried to talk to her, told me I "broke up the family" when I called her from
foster care, and to this day, thinks I could "handle it" and I'm so "strong"
for being the family punching bag (taking the heat off her) and I was the
one who told her I was "fine" when I was lying on the floor bleeding, with a
concussion. Yes, I am still bitter. Dammit, you'd think after all these
years she could stop holding me responsible and blowing it off, but she can't. And you'd think
I wouldn't care what she thought, but I do. Dammit dammit dammit, she pisses
me off. This is why the confrontation thing doesn't always bring you peace.
They may just say things that make you even more frustrated. When the abuse is minimized, it may seem to make it easier to deal with (or forget about), but it means your feelings are not acknowledged as legitimate and reasonable under the circumstances. There is a disconnect between how you feel and what you are telling yourself about the situation.
I was grade-obsessed little student not just to try to impress my parents,
but also to convince the whole world, including myself, that I was
worthwhile. I was pretty good at it too, when I could keep my focus. It was
an escape for me- I could lose myself in homework the same way I did in
books. I also felt competent and smart when I was at school. Same with my
job now. I feel like I'm going to be okay as long as I'm doing well at my
job. It gives me a sense of stability.
You might think that because I was victimized by people I knew, I would not
be concerned with strangers. Well, you would be wrong about that. If my own
family can do that stuff to me, who knows what a stranger is capable of? My
biggest fear is rapists, so I can't live on the first floor of a building,
or house for that matter. I have zero desire to buy a house for that reason,
and because I get anxious in a place that's too big for me know what's going
on. I hate not knowing what's going on. I don't like sitting with my back to
a door. I love my current apartment because I can stand in the hall and see
into all the rooms, and it's on the second floor. I have hyper-vigilance (or
super-alertness) going on, which is a PTSD symptom where you are constantly
on edge, watching for danger. I am fairly obsessed with locking doors. I
always, always check my car doors even though I have the electronic key
thing. I don't trust it. Almost every morning, I start driving away from my
apartment building, and get a bad feeling that I didn't lock the door. (I've
never forgotten to lock the door.) I have to fight the urge to go back to
File this under "control". I see the world as an unpredictable, dangerous
place, so any little thing I can do to reassure myself of some safety is
comforting to me. When the apocalypse comes, that hyper-vigilance will
really come in handy.
My grandma on my dad's side was the most amazing pack rat I've ever known.
At their house, she had stuff piled everywhere. The bathroom had about a
million knitted dealies- toilet paper holders, toilet seat covers, jars with
knitting around them, knitted things hanging from the ceiling… The stairs
had junk piled on the sides, so you had to walk carefully through the middle
as not to knock down a stack and piss her off. The upstairs had stacks of
hatboxes and old clothes. Apparently, when someone in the family died she
would take all the junk that would normally go to the Goodwill. I can
understand keeping some items to remember the person by, but she went a
little overboard. It was as if she expected them to come back from the dead
and demand their stuff back. Her packratitude was rivaled only by my dad,
who kept every book he ever read in the basement, along with tons of other
junk. When my brother died, he started piling his worthless crap in Jeff's
room, which completely annoyed me. However, I have been carrying on the
tradition, in spite of myself.
Since my brother's room was turning into a junk pile anyway, I cleaned it
out and kept a bunch of his funny t-shirts, his old video game system,
presents I gave him, etc. Every time I look at his stuff, I think, he
doesn't care about this anymore, why should I? Nevertheless, it gives me
some kind of comfort to have these things that were his. Stuff doesn't leave
you. Stuff is always the same, always waiting for you, never insensitive and
hurtful (unless you pile it up too high and it falls on you). Ah, stuff.
It's so stable. Yet, I feel so free when it is packed up in boxes and I
don't have to look at it. When the apocalypse comes, it will just be burned
up or destroyed somehow, and all I'll have left is a large gun and a
motorcycle I picked up somewhere, and a strategically ripped outfit that
distracts zombies for the split second I need to blow them away.
I would never presume to understand any of the "Twin Peaks" shows, but I did
see the movie and, according to Wikipedia, Laura Palmer was sexually
molested, raped, and murdered by her father, who was possessed by Bob, some
kind of evil demon thing so he wasn't responsible for what he did to his
daughter. Bob was. He was a good man with a bad man inside him. If only
"possession by evil spirit" was a real explanation for why child abuse
Children are not psychologically able to understand why a parent or other
trusted adult would do bad things to them (many adults are not able to
understand this either, so they blame the child), but you need to make sense
of it somehow. One way is to "split" good daddy, who loves and cares for
you, from bad daddy, who abuses you. Good daddy isn't responsible for what
bad daddy does, so you can keep loving and depending on good daddy. When he
does something bad to you, you blame it on bad daddy. This allows you to
hold contradictory views about someone you care about, and not integrate
their behavior. You don't judge them by the whole of how they act and what
they do; rather, you separate the good from the bad, and focus on one and
disregard the other.
When you learn to see people (and situations) this way, it really affects
your judgment in a negative way (in my experience). For most of my life, I
clung to the things I liked about my dad and the times he was nice to me. I
tried to rationalize away the abuse (he was abused himself, he must be
mentally ill, he drinks too much) or minimize it as not being that bad. I
wanted so desperately to win him back, as I was "daddy's little girl" until
my brother was born. I didn't blame the abuse on him; I blamed it on me. I
saw myself as bad, and I believed that I was triggering bad daddy to come
out. If not for me, he would be good daddy all the time. With my brother, he
was good daddy. I really, truly believed this, which is why it was hard for
me to accept that he was abusive to my brother as well, who I knew was not
This kind of thinking affected my relationships as an adult. If I liked
someone, I disregarded or rationalized away any "bad" behavior, often
blaming it on myself. I routinely ignored red flags. If this kind of
thinking seems childish, it is. I'm learning to see people in a more nuanced
way. I no longer see myself as bad, further, I don't see anyone as "bad" or
"good". As an adult, I don't need to rationalize or understand anyone else's
behavior. I can just leave if they are being crappy to me, an option I
didn't have as a kid.
Ha ha, of course I have to talk about role-playing since I am at Comic Con
dressed up as Elektra. This one is easy- when you are powerless or
dissatisfied with your life, you can always pretend to be someone who has
what you want. If you can act confident and strong while playing a
character, why can't you do the same thing in your real life? This isn't
necessarily unhealthy (I say while in costume). Plus, it's fun. Playing with
identity gives you a sense of the possibilities. I feel kind of silly about
this, but I started taking jujitsu lessons because I liked playing the video
game "VirtuaFighter" and I wanted to learn to fight like Pai Chan, my
favorite character. It was after my brother died, and I was in a
relationship with someone who was very controlling and manipulative. I felt
absolutely broken and overwhelmed with grief. It was one of the darkest,
most hopeless-feeling times of my life, and jujitsu made me feel strong and
whole. I pretended to be a fighter until I felt like one again.
I read voraciously as a kid. Every weekend we went to the library and I
checked out the maximum number of books they allowed. I liked books that
came in a series, so I could plow through them. I read all the Nancy Drew,
Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins books. I read all the books I could find by
Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, Piers Anthony, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I
absolutely loved the "A Wrinkle in Time" books by Madeleine L'Engle, and my
favorite of all time were the "Wizard of Oz" books by L. Frank Baum (but not
those knock-offs). I read a lot of books though, all sorts. I liked books I
could lose myself in, books with female protagonists, books with adventure
and travel and fantasy. File this one under escape. The worlds in the books
seemed more real to me than my own life. I preferred it that way. File this
coping mechanism under escape. It's interesting what I remember from these
books now, though. I remember Ozma held captive in a peach pit, and Dorothy
searching for her. "Tiger Eyes" was my favorite Judy Blume book, which is
kind of about PTSD. I remember a Lois Duncan book with a girl with an
abusive father who she hit in the head with a frying pan after he put her
mom in the hospital and then beat her, and in one of the "A Wrinkle in Time"
books, Charles Wallace inhabits the body of a boy who is being abused. I
never regarded myself as an abused child (see "Minimizing") and I didn't
know what PTSD was, but my fantasy life was still aware of what was
happening in my real life.
One way to deal with the bad feelings and confusion of abuse is to take
those memories and feelings and separating them, dividing yourself into
different parts. There's the part of you that gets abused, the part of you
that the abuser is nice to sometimes, the part of you that goes to school,
goes to work, has friends, has relationships. You push the bad stuff away,
but you know it's still there. You feel fragmented, and you feel like a
fraud because your friends and co-workers have no idea what you're really
feeling most of the time. I segmented myself into periods of my life, so who
I was when I was getting my MBA felt totally unconnected to myself in
between grad school and undergrad, as an undergrad, when I lived on the
streets, in high school, and as a child. I knew those memories and feelings
were still part of me, but I had pushed them as far away as I could. I kept
trying to start over, stomping down the past and telling myself that part of
my life was over. Doesn't work. The older I got, the more lost I felt. I got
more and more disconnected; I was so out of touch with my own feelings and
memories that I felt like a ghost floating around in a life that didn't mean
anything to me. I longed to get back the person that I was, but not the
painful memories and despair. This is when I psychologically hit bottom 4
years ago, and started this process of trying to put myself back together
I start with disassociation because it is one the first coping mechanisms I
can remember experiencing and it is so deep in my subconscious and body that
it feels almost primal. Disassociation is a common symptom of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). In a nutshell, PTSD happens when you go through a
traumatic experience or series of experiences that overwhelm your emotional
and psychological ability to cope.
Humans and other animals have one primary way of dealing with trauma (i.e. a
threatening situation or acute stress) - fight or flight. Fight or flight
involves your whole being: your heart rate and breathing speeds up, your
pupils dilate and you get tunnel vision, you lose hearing along with
peripheral vision, digestion stops, your muscles tense up and reflexes go on
high alert, and you are flooded with strong emotions that focus your mind on
the danger and motivate you to respond. When the flight or fight response is
thwarted (as it is when you are a child, too small and dependent to fight
back or run away) you have all this energy and emotion driving you to act
(sympathetic arousal), but you have to find other ways to cope with the
In the wild, when a predator confronts an animal, they respond by running
away or fighting back. For example, a zebra sees a lion about to attack. The
zebra runs, but the lion is faster. At some point, the zebra, knowing not
only death but also being ripped apart is at hand, has one final option. She
mentally disengages, distancing herself from her thoughts, feelings, and
physical sensations. It is an act of mercy by the sympathetic nervous system
in an impossible situation. This is disassociation.
Disassociation is a natural and automatic (re: not under your conscious
control) response to trauma, a way to survive a situation without being
caught up in thoughts and feelings that are too much to process at the time.
When you are stuck long-term in a traumatic situation, in the case of abuse,
you become conditioned to disassociate whenever your fight or flight
response is triggered by stress. (This is also something like learned
helplessness.) Since it is an automatic response, you don't even know that
you're doing it. You're not even there anymore.
When I was a kid, especially during the sexual abuse, my body would freeze
and I couldn't feel him touching me. When my dad was yelling at me, I would
mentally check out. When I was raped, I remember staring at a window in the
room until I felt myself actually lift out of my body and float towards the
window, trying to escape. After these experiences, I would walk around
feeling as if I wasn't quite in my body anymore, almost like I was slightly
behind or to the side of myself. As an adult, I feel that way when I have
flashbacks, like I'm not in my body anymore. It's like when you're putting
something together that has to click into place, and it's not quite
Different types of stress can cause it to happen now. Times when I could
have been in an accident on the freeway, I would be so startled that my
heart sped up and I was shaking. Then, I'd pull into my driveway with no
memory of how I got home. I've had conversations where the person said
something distressing to me, and everything became very far away, the sound
of their voice, of my voice, they even looked far away. I could feel the
distance. I almost always check out when I make out with someone. I didn't
know I was doing it until the other person started pointing it out to me. I
can't seem to stay present.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
If you're interested in sponsoring my blog, please go here to sign up for an account (it's easy!), and pledge an amount. You will not have to pay at this time. After the blogathon, you will receive further instructions on donating your pledged amount to RAINN. To see a list of ALL the blogs and charities participating, go here. There is no minimum amount to donate, so if everyone donated just $5 we'd have a HUGE contribution! You can also donate anonymously.
I will be at Comic Con in San Diego this Saturday so we will have a fun adventure with remote blogging. On the half-hour I will give an update on Comic Con, post a picture, make some witty observations, that sort of thing. This is actually very timely because I have a writing assignment from The Courage to Heal to write about coping strategies I've used. So for the hourly updates, I made a list of coping strategies from the book and others I've used at some point in my life. On the hour I will blog about one of them. I even have a schedule (because I'm organized like that):
6 am - Disassociation
7 am - Lack of integration
8 am - Reading
9 am - Role playing
10 am - Black and white thinking
11 am - Pack rat
12 noon- Safety obsession
1 pm - Grade grubbing
2 pm - Minimizing
3 pm - Disappearing
4 pm - Stealing
5 pm - Suicidal
6 pm - Cutting
7 pm - Horror movies
8 pm - Drugs and alcohol
9 pm - Eating difficulties
10 pm - Sex
11 pm - Punk rock
1 am - Writing
2 am - Chaos
3 am - "Saving" people
4 am - Support groups
5 am - Hockey
6 am - Humor
Here are the Comic Con events I'm planning to go to:
11 am-12 noon Lost with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (I would be going to Women in Manga if it wasn't at the exact same time. Curses!)
1-1:45 pm Futurama: Life or Death?! Supposedly they will decide during this panel if the show is returning or not.
1:45-2:30 pm The Simpsons- Matt Groening will be at this and Futurama! What I'll be missing: the comic book artist Charles Vess from 1:30-2:30.
2:45-3:45 pm V Pilot Screening and Q&A (At the same time, so I'll miss- previews for the new movies Zombieland and 2012, and 3:30-4:30 Entertainment Weekly's Totally Lost, and Ray Bradbury)
4-5 pm Fringe screening and Q&A
5:15-6:15 pm True Blood panel and Q&A (Missing Adventures in Voice Acting workshop with Michele Rodriguez from 5-6. Sounds intriguing.)
7:15-8:15 pm Myth Busters (missing Comic Books and Social Commentary from 6:30-7:30)
8:30 pm-12:15 am Watchmen: Director's cut, plus sneak peek of Batman: Arkham Asylum with Mark Hamill (missing Torchwood/Doctor Who screenings from 7:30-10 pm)
Wow, that's kind of daunting but I'm going to do it! Even if you can't contribute financially, please visit my blog on Saturday, and leave comments. I don't know if I've ever said it, but I LOVE comments.
Thanks for your support! I really appreciate everyone who reads my blog. Knowing that there are people out there paying attention to what I have to say really helps me keep writing and trying to grow. So thank you.
Here are the relevant links again:
To sign-up to sponsor my blog- http://www.blogathon.org/p
To see all the participating blogs and charities- http://www.blogathon.org/l
To learn more about Blogathon!- http://www.blogathon.org/
To find out more about RAINN- http://rainn.org/
I won't soothe your pain; I won't ease your strain; You'll be waiting in vain; I got nothing for you to gain
The meditation has you image a sympathetic presence (which I always imagine as my brother, naturally) accompany you into your own heart. The first level is cold and barren, with smoldering heaps of resentment and anger, geysers of pain, and winds of loneliness, among other things. Then you travel into a deeper place in your heart that is lush and green, and you are approached by more sympathetic presences, who offer you shards of your own heart (it's a little confusing if you try to think about it literally) to collect and take with you.
When I get to this point in the guided imagery, I am half asleep and in a meditative state, but I still had a hard time imagining who this crowd of fantasy well-wishers would be. Some characters from the Lord of the Rings movies, mostly elves, would show up, as well as some animals. Since I went to the Anime Expo two weeks ago, my friendly crowd has swelled in ranks to include characters I saw there, both ones that people were dressed up as and the ones in art form. I even saw one that looked a lot like what my brother would be like as a anime/manga character- Monkey D. Luffy. (The above is me dressed up as another anime character, Rin Tohsaka.)
I look forward to the imagery because it's my time with my brother. I've had to figure out a way to stay connected to him since he died, and this really helps. He's not the same as he was before he died, but the way I imagine him seems right for the way he would be after death. He is similar to what he's like in my dreams about him, and the dream his best friend had about him. Also, I think the guided imagery is helping me sort out the PTSD, as is reading my sexual abuse book The Courage to Heal. Especially since I had a major revelation last week- I am not emotionally damaged.
I was totally thinking of myself that way, and thinking I was so messed up that I would never be emotionally "normal" even with my attempts at recovery. But I realized that I am emotionally "normal" for someone who has gone through the things I have. When I read about coping mechanisms in The Courage to Heal, I realize just how normal, for a sexual abuse survivor, my feelings and emotional struggles are. After writing my post last week, I also realized that I do have a strong inner core that is untouched and undiminished by the abuse. (As this appears to be the overall point to the guided imagery, I guess it is successfully seeping into my subconscious.) This is a gigantic change in my mindset- rather than thinking that I have been warped and distorted beyond recognition by the abuse and somehow I have to twist myself into something resembling an emotionally healthy and whole human being, I have a landscape of wreckage that is my past, but isn't me. It's intensity and power over me has weakened over time.
I really, really hate the term "emotional baggage" (as a pop psychology term, it seems to trivialize pain in a "work out all your problems before the commercial break" kind of way), but it does effectively evoke the way that unresolved trauma can drag you down. It is a very static term, though. I prefer to think about myself as having been caught in a hurricane of emotions that were too painful and overwhelming to deal with at the time of the trauma (besides that I was busy trying to survive it), and continued to swirl around me, obscuring my vision and acting as a barrier between me and other people. It made it hard for me to live in the present, as the past was always flying around my head. There was some clarity in the eye of the storm, but I was still stuck in the middle of it without knowing how to get out and how to connect with people on the outside.
I am currently reading about the healing process in my sexual abuse book, and realized pretty quickly that I have already processed a lot of it. I've been writing about the abuse on this blog for more than 3 years, almost 4. (3 years and 8 months, to be exact.) While I am in the process of writing about it, the emotions are like daggers in my heart and afterwards I feel drained and exhausted with all that has bled out of me. Over the next week, though, I feel lighter, relieved to have left some of the pain behind.
The two feelings that have been the most tenacious are anger and guilt.
Anger gets a bad rap. I'm not a fan of angry people, and don't want to be one myself, especially since I grew up with the poster child of how not to express your anger- my dad. When you're in an abusive situation, though, the lack of safety, the attacks, being prevented from expressing yourself and your feelings, all that causes a lot of negative feelings to build inside you, and you can direct it inwards as self-hatred or outwards as anger towards the people who are attacking you. Anger helped me to maintain a separate sense of self, apart from the negative messages I was getting about myself and my worth. Anger helped me place more of the blame for the way I was being treated with the person doing it and not myself. Anger motivated me to actively fight for myself and my well-being. Anger was the sentinels guarding the deep places inside me, keeping all the outside noise from taking shots at the inner confidence I needed to survive.
Now that I'm a strong and capable adult who can't be victimized in that way anymore, that anger has turned into a longing for justice. I'm angry that my dad and great-uncle got away with what they did to me. I'm furious that my dad moved on to another family, and my great-uncle continued to have access to young girls. Neither of them have a criminal record. My brother is dead, and from where I'm sitting my dad has some responsibility for that. I really have no recourse, and revenge isn't even a possibility. They are adults- there's nothing I can do to them that would make them feel the helplessness and terror they caused me as a child. They totally got away with it.
The only thing that brings me comfort is that, deep down, I believe the universe balances itself out in some way. I don't understand it; I don't know why I believe this, but I believe in "what goes around, comes around". Probably every religion has a philosophy around how people are held accountable for their actions and justice is achieved. It's one of those big questions, like what happens after you die. Maybe we just tell ourselves that life is inherently fair so we aren't driven crazy by the fact that bad people get away with bad things all the time, and most of the time it seems that the victims are the ones who pay most, if not all, of the price for it. Popular culture also tells us that when you seek revenge, you turn into the thing you hate the most. There must be thousands of movies with that message. (I just saw Blood: the Last Vampire last night.) As Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” (I found that quote in my brother's room after he died. It reassured me that we really did understand each other.)
Maybe I'm choosing to have faith in justice because I can't live with the alternative, but who cares. I don't really want revenge because what good does more suffering in my family do me? I want accountability, but it's out of my hands now. I did everything I could do. The best thing I can do for myself is let it go.
Guilt requires that you feel you had a choice, you had options, and you blew it. You need to have had some power over the situation. Abused children don't have the power to end the abuse. Guilt is a terrible thing to live with, but the one thing it does for you is give you a sense of power. At the time, it was better to feel guilty than helpless, especially when I was trying to convince myself that I had power in my own life, if not over my abusers. I directed a lot of my desire for influence and responsibility into my brother. I knew that I was a lost cause- all my efforts to stop myself from being abused were failures and I would never amount to much, but I could pour my efforts into taking care of and encouraging Jeff because he would do well in life. It didn't matter that my life was totally chaos as long as he was moving towards his potential. His suicide really pulled the rug out from under me. As painful and confusing as my life had been until his death, at least I had my other half. The good one. The normal one. The one with a future and parents who loved and cared for him (so I thought). The guilt keeps me tied to a time when I had few ambitions for my own future, but no doubts about the unconditional love, support, and stability I shared with the one person who was truly family. I wasn't lonely or worried about the future, and I didn't care what anyone else thought of me.
Without the guilt, there's just sadness over all the things he missed out on, all the conversations I'm missing out on, that empty space in my life. I think of him whenever I do something he's be proud of me for, like graduating from college, moving to L.A., playing hockey, or I experience something he would have enjoyed, like Obama's election, the Simpsons movie, Anime Expo, Comic Con coming up. Every day I feel it, but there's nothing I can do except continue to bang my head again the wall or chose to accept it, as wrong and messed up as it is that I'm the one who survived. I've felt so much survivor guilt I can't do it anymore.
(The title is from the song "Eyes on Fire" by Blue Foundation. The song was in the movie Twilight, but if you're not into the whole Twilight thing, don't be a hater. The band is amazing anyway.)
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Write about the strengths you've developed because of the abuse. Think of what it's taken for you to survive. What are the qualities that enabled you to make it? Perseverance? Flexibility? Self-sufficiency? Write about your strengths with pride.
I've had to really think about this one, because every time I think about the qualities that have helped me survive, I also think about what they've cost me. Every strength can be a weakness, and every weakness can be a strength. People often tell me how strong I am, and part of me thinks, I don’t want to be strong, I want is to be happy and at peace with myself. I don’t want to work so hard at surviving. I'm tired of feeling like I always have to be strong, that I can't be vulnerable or let someone else be strong for me every once in a while. Of course I am self-sufficient, flexible, and persistent- I've fought hard and worked hard to survive and get to where I am, and I am proud of everything I've accomplished because I did have to work hard for it.
Somewhere along the line I developed an unwavering belief in myself, and especially when I am challenged, I rise to the occasion. I figure out what I need to do to get around obstacles, and I find a way to do it, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. I do things that don't come naturally to me, but I find a way to make it work. (I guess that's flexibility and persistence.) When I started business school, I was terrified because I knew I'd have to do presentations, which meant public speaking. I was so anxious about public speaking I thought about quitting school before I even started. Rather than do that, though, I joined Speakeasy (the public speaking club, kind of like Toastmasters) and forced myself to go. I would stand up in front of the small group of people who came to club meetings (usually less than 10) and give my assigned practice presentations. I would shake so hard my knees knocked together, and I would sway back and forth. My mouth would go dry and I was breathing so hard I could barely get the words out. I thought I would hyperventilate and pass out. I think I almost did a couple of times. I felt humiliated, displaying my insecurities about myself in front of everyone like a little kid trying to talk to a room of pitying adults, but I kept doing it and kept trying to get better.
At the beginning of my second year of grad school, I stood in front of the entire incoming class (about 100 people) and encouraged them to join the club. People came up to me after and said they couldn't believe I ever had difficulty talking in front of people. (My response was that’s totally my point! You should join!) Now I conduct the SOX training for my company, and I'm regularly complemented on my communication skills. Probably no one but me knows how hard I worked and how much anxiety I overcame to get comfortable with public speaking. I am very proud of myself because I do know how awful I used to feel every single time I even tried to talk in class, and now public speaking is pretty easy for me. I still get nervous, but it goes away quickly. When you've survived the humiliation and terror of sexual abuse, you know that nothing you go through after that will be as difficult. When life does throw you something more difficult, the suicide of the person closest to you, and you survive that too, you really know you can get through anything. Even grad school.
When I think about my persistence and drive, I am proud of myself and all that I've accomplished, but I also think about how I got that way and the emotional pain involved. I may have been born with certain qualities or tendencies- I'm fairly smart and creative and extroverted, and I'd probably be that way no matter what had happened to me in childhood. But I learned to be driven growing up with a dad that criticized and picked on me (picked on is kind of an understatement, maybe tormented, mocked, tried to make me cry on purpose and then hit me for crying would be more descriptive), and that I was always trying to please so he would stop abusing me and maybe he would actually like and respect me if I was really good, if not love me. I had an emotionally unavailable mother that I was always trying to get the attention of, who thought the sexual abuse was my problem, so I was singlehandedly trying to and thinking I could get it to stop while managing my dad's death threats should I try to resist spending time with my sexual abuser. I had a brother I felt responsible for taking care of (since our parents were obviously of no help), and I felt like a failure when he took his life. I almost felt like I had murdered him myself. I believe in myself so much that I believe everything that happens in my life is under my control, and everything that goes wrong is my fault, even when clearly other people are involved. Abusers brainwash you into thinking that you are causing the abuse, that it’s happening because you are bad, and you grow up feeling guilty because you weren't able to be good enough to fix the situation and make the abuse stop. That guilt and way of seeing the world as your responsibility to make everything work can definitely haunt you as an adult.
Part of my motivation for succeeding in school and work has been rebellion- a "screw you" to anyone who treated me like I was worthless, part of it is the satisfaction and pride I feel when I take on a challenge and I am successful, and part of it is trying to make up for my "failure" to win my parents over, get the sexual abuse to stop, and to save my brother. Sometimes I feel that people look at me or people like me and think we have overcome our difficult childhoods and risen above it, and are on some higher plane far away from it, because obviously it hasn't held me back at all. (Maybe that’s just what I expect of myself.) In fact, the abuse has shaped me and my life in ways that are impossible to get rid of. Some of it can be seen as positive (much as I hate to think of it that way), but there's no way to know who I would be or what I would be like had it not happened. Its part of me now, maybe intensifying qualities that were already there or maybe giving me things I never would have had. It is true that I've done well for myself in my external life, but abuse damages you emotionally, internally, and external success can feel kind of hollow and unfulfilling when, despite everything you accomplish, you still feel like crap inside. It can also make you feel like a fraud and a phony and that it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out you are just a bad, worthless person who deserved all the abuse you got. You can hide those feelings, you can suppress them, you can try to counterbalance it by being really competent and awesome in the rest of your life, but they poison the well until you work them out.
Now, not to end on a negative note, I return to the unwavering belief in myself. That belief in myself goes much deeper, and is much stronger than any of the bad messages I got growing up or any of the guilt I am still holding on to. I don’t just believe in myself because I needed to in order to survive. I like myself. I am my own person; I am unique (some have said weird, but however you characterize it I wouldn’t have it any other way); I am strong regardless of how I got that way; and I like to think that I have a lot going for me. I know I have internal challenges to overcome still, but I like challenges. I am good at them. I know I can do this, just like I knew I could get off the streets, I knew I could get into college, I knew I could become a CPA and get my dream job. There is no doubt in my mind that I will rise to the occasion emotionally just as I found my opportunities and figured out how to be successful in school and at work. If I can go from a shaking ball of terror to public speaking with ease, I can do this.
P.S. Yeah, that's totally me with MC Hammer. Or Hammer, if that's what he's going by now.