The Cycle of Abuse

abuse, ptsd, relationships

Last night, I had the privilege of counseling a young woman named Jane (not her real name). Without giving too much away, Jane’s fiance had recently been abusive toward her and she was wondering what to do. They’d been together for several years and this was, she said, only the third time something of this magnitude had happened. We talked for a little over an hour and she asked me several times what I would do in her situation.

I told her that only she could make that decision, but we explored her support networks (friends, family, and so on). She said she doesn’t feel comfortable telling them about what’s been going on because she wants her friends to like her fiance and, in her words, she wants everyone to get along. She wants the abuse to end, not the relationship, which is not an uncommon sentiment.

This got me thinking about my own experiences with relationship abuse and, by extension, the cycle of abuse. My fiance and I spent some time discussing the cycle of abuse after my shift had ended; I don’t often identify strongly with my texters, let alone experience such a visceral reaction to their stories, but my conversation with Jane really got to me.

My fella stated he doesn’t quite understand why victims of abuse stay with their abusers, so this morning we had a follow-up conversation about the cycle of abuse (pictured below).

Cycle-of-Abuse.png

Source

I explained to him, using my own experiences, how someone can end up so thoroughly entangled in the messy web that is an abusive relationship. The concept was so utterly foreign to him that he’d never given much thought to it, and we had a very productive and healing (for me) dialogue about it.

At the Risk! live show in Milwaukee in November 2015, I spoke about my relationship with “Chad,” which was profoundly abusive in every way and lasted from when I was seventeen to age nineteen, when I had a moment of clarity and decided I was too young to live that way anymore.

In the beginning, there’s the “honeymoon” period. The exact length of this period varies from person to person; in my case, things were dysfunctional from the very start, but I also grew up in a fundamentally dysfunctional family and was already carrying around over a decade of trauma from my childhood. To this day, I believe that those early experiences led me into the relationship.

I’m not blaming my family at all–I was loved and cared for, though there were some serious problems (mostly stemming from witnessing my mother’s own abusive relationships and later, her internment in a state correctional facility). However, early relationship modeling is profoundly important when it comes to developing a lovemap (a person’s view of an ideal relationship or partner), and I simply didn’t witness any functional, respectful romantic relationships when I was growing up.

Back to the story. You can listen to my Risk! story here for a more in-depth description of the abuse–obviously, the content may trigger some people, so please listen at your own discretion.

My “honeymoon” period with Chad–that period where the excitement of a new relationship is especially intense–lasted only a few months before the emotional and verbal abuse began. He never trusted me around other men; even being friendly and occasionally chatting with coworkers was a cause for suspicion and accusations of cheating (which I later learned was him projecting his own behavior onto me).

As this was my first “real” relationship where I actually cared deeply for and trusted my partner, his words were incredibly damaging. Deep down, I knew how wrong this was, but my self esteem had already been so low when I entered the relationship that I didn’t think I deserved better. I remember crying a lot in those days. After a while, I just went numb.

I can’t even remember how many times we broke up and got back together over the course of those two hellish years. Every time, I begged for him to come back. He apologized, albeit in the “I’m sorry, but you made me ____” way that is so typical of abusers.

One time, we were having our reconciliation in the basement of my grandmother’s house, where I grew up and lived until age 20. We were sitting on a couch taken from my great aunt’s house when she moved in with us, and I remember him brushing my hair away from my face as I cried and apologized over and over again. I had no idea why I was even saying “I’m sorry.”

He looked into my face and said, “You have the most beautiful eyes. They’re like glaciers, and when you cry, those glaciers melt.” I will never forget those words. I knew how messed up the whole thing was, but all I felt in that moment was relief–relief that he had taken me back, broken as I was, and relief that I had someone who truly cared about me (although I suspect some part of me knew that this was nothing like “love” was supposed to be).

We went back into the honeymoon period, and then the whole mess repeated itself. Over and over and over.

In May of 2008, when I was nineteen, there was a huge thunderstorm. The power went out and I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, back propped against my bed, looking into a candle. At that moment, for no particular reason, I decided that I didn’t want to live like this.

I went into my aunt’s bedroom, which was across the hall from mine, sat down on her bed, and said, “I don’t think I want to be with Chad anymore.”

She looked up from her book, patted my hand, and said, “That’s okay.”

He was on his way home from his cousin’s graduation when I called him. I broke it off and actually told him verbatim that he’d been abusive to me. He freaked out and accused me of being the abusive one. Other words were exchanged, but the point of the story is that I finally broke it off.

In the weeks and months that followed, he blew up my phone with apologies, claimed that he was going to hurt himself, and eventually threatened suicide a few times. I responded by calling his parents and telling them what was up. He never bothered me again.

But I still feel those effects like an aftershock to this day. They don’t come knocking often, but when they do, I instantly feel like that sad teenage girl who was so lost and frightened and desperate for love that she stayed with a profoundly abusive man for two years. Two years.

I don’t view that period of time as a “waste” or anything similar. I learned a lot about myself and after it ended, I found a level of freedom and, for lack of a better word, lightness that I had never before experienced.

I plunged headlong into a less abusive but highly dysfunctional relationship only a few months later which culminated in a desperately unhappy marriage. My divorce was finalized in October 2015 after nearly two years of emotional estrangement (we were, for all intents and purposes, broken up but were stuck living together for financial reasons).

I still say that the divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I met a great guy, got into my first relationship that was truly loving and respectful, and got into graduate school. I am now a student at Johns Hopkins and am engaged to said fella–we’re going to get hitched next November!

The point is, readers, that it can take a while. As depressing as it sounds, your first abusive relationship may not be your last. The patterns we learn from being abused “stick,” often in insidious ways. It’s not uncommon to be totally unaware of the lasting effects of the abuse. If anyone has a statistic for this, I would love to see it–for some reason, I’m unable to find the actual percentage of abuse survivors who end up with another abuser.

In my case, I thought I was totally fine–a newly single, empowered woman who had survived something terrible. In reality, I had not given myself enough time to process and heal, which led me into another unhealthy relationship because I was afraid of being alone.

LoveIsRespect.org is one of my all-time favorite resources for abusive relationships. The website provides a chat, warning signs that your relationship may be abusive, and a quiz, among other information that can help you (or a loved one) escape an abusive relationship.

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely. And most importantly, remember to be kind to yourselves.

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News Day Tuesday: Jane Doe V. Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Hickman

News Day Tuesday, stigma

For my first News Day Tuesday, I’d like to cover the case of Jane Doe V. Harris County, Texas, and Sheriff Hickman, which I believe is a prime example of the shoddy treatment rape victims receive when they seek help from the justice system. I know that this is not always the case–however, Jane Doe’s case is a particularly egregious example of the abuse that can occur when a mentally ill person is jailed instead of receiving proper mental health care.

You can read the entire transcript here; however, to paraphrase, Jane Doe was raped and had a mental break while testifying against her rapist. She was taken to a psychiatric facility for treatment; however, upon her release, she was arrested and jailed

While in jail, Jane Doe was subjected to physical and psychological harm. She was repeatedly assaulted by both inmates and jailers and denied access to necessary medical treatment, most notably her psychiatric medication.

At one point, jailers tried to convince her that her grip on reality was so distorted that she was the one being charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault and that her rapist was the victim.

Jane Doe later filed a lawsuit against Harris County, Texas, and Sheriff Hickman.

Again, you can read the entire document for yourself here, but please be aware that the content is disturbing and may be distressing to some readers.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it can be a scary and dangerous world for us, the people living with mental illness. I believe even one story like this is too many, and it baffles me that people continue to wonder why rape victims often don’t come forward, let alone pursue charges against their abusers. The risks, simply put, can feel too high for the potential “reward” of seeing their rapist behind bars, especially in a time when having a mental illness is still seen as a character flaw and a punishable offense.

Be safe out there, readers.

Pain.

a cure for what ails you, abuse, memories, ptsd, relationships

My last pain doctor suggested that my history of abuse (especially sexual abuse) might be the main source of my pelvic pain, along with neuropathy. I have muscular trigger points that cause low pelvic pain, despite having had two injections and a nerve block. It’s true that my endometriosis has progressed from stage one to stage two, after essentially being “reset” by a laparoscopy in March 2011, but I’m taking two forms of birth control to at least slow the progress, if not completely stop it.

I have no more options for controlling or reversing the endometriosis. Lupron didn’t work—all it did was leave me with horrible acne scars on my left cheek and $2,000 poorer. Another surgery is out of the question, mostly because of finances but also because there’s a very good chance it could cause more scarring and adhesions and actually make things worse. All this has led me to reconsider my stance on the mind-body connection, which I’d previously scoffed at.

I was looking up information on pelvic pain related to a history of abuse and found a study on the topic from 2000 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11084180). Some highlights:

  • 22% of patients with chronic pelvic pain were sexually abused before their 15th birthdays
  • 25% of women with chronic pelvic pain were exposed to emotional neglect, especially during childhood
  • 38% were exposed to physical violence

I haven’t written as much about sexual abuse as the other forms I’ve suffered, and I think that’s probably because I still haven’t connected with any of it emotionally. Now that I’m in a functional relationship with a good person who makes me feel safe, appreciated, and generally cared-for, I’m beginning to feel better about myself and more secure and confident in my self-worth.

In short, I think I’m finally ready to talk about it, though in the interest of protecting their privacy, I’m going to avoid all but the vaguest references to abuse within my family.

I’m still not completely sure whether or not I was molested as a child, although more therapists and psychiatrists than you can shake a stick at have all told me that my partial memories, repression, sexual precocity, and general attitudes toward my body and sex are strongly suggestive (no pun intended) of early abuse. I was terrified of men until I was fifteen—I stopped crying and completely losing it around them around age seven or so, but I kept my eyes down, or at least averted, and would cross my arms over my chest and hunch over—anything to keep them from seeing me or even noticing that I was there.

My mother had a boyfriend who made me profoundly uncomfortable from the time I was five until she went to prison a year later.

I remember crying whenever she left me alone with him. They both drank, but I was especially frightened of him. He was tall and overtly masculine in a swarthy sort of way with dark eyes and hairy arms. I will never forget those arms, which I think explains my penchant for mostly hairless men with less testosterone-loaded features.

I have a memory from when I was about five-and-a-half of lying in bed in the room he’d set up for me in his house. (We frequently stayed overnight, and I’d always cry when she insisted I had to go with her.) They’d gone out on a date and had left me alone with his son, who was fifteen at the time and very kind and protective of me. He used to read me books before bed, but because he was pretty severely dyslexic and I was way ahead of the curve in terms of language and reading ability, I usually took over and read him to sleep on the living room floor before putting a blanket over him and tucking myself into bed.

For some reason, I was still awake that night when they came home, albeit in a drowsy twilight state. I remember them opening the door to check on me and seeing the dim, watery yellow light flooding in through the crack in the door. She walked away and he lingered there for a moment. I remember seeing him hesitate, then approach my bed. I remember his dark silhouette against the thin light from the hallway. I remember that hairy arm stretched over my chest, and then everything fades to black. The memory ends there.

It bothers me, not because of the implications but because I pride myself on being annoyingly self-aware and don’t like the idea that my brain, which I know so well, is still hiding things from me. I want to know. I don’t want to know. I’m curious, but I know there’s probably a good reason my brain is blocking that memory. What good would it do, anyway, knowing for sure whether or not anything had happened? I know that he was abusive toward both of us in other ways, and I feel like that should be enough.

But sometimes it’s not.

I’ve written about the other abusers—all four of them, for a grand total of five—in other posts and may revisit the topic later. But for now, I wanted to finally speak out about the one incident from when I was a child that’s still bothering me, that I still haven’t been able to untangle, in hopes that it might strike a chord in one of my readers. I don’t like to think about other people being abused, but I know it’s one of those horrible realities I have no choice but to face, especially since I want to specialize in trauma therapy.

It feels wrong to hope that someone will be able to relate, that they will reach out and that maybe we can have a dialogue and reach some sort of insight together (or at least achieve catharsis), but I feel like it would be incredibly helpful right now. I’ve learned that we need to lean on each other, because no matter how good the intentions of our friends, partners, and families might be, there is no substitute for being able to talk to someone who’s experienced what you’ve been through.

I am here for you, readers. If you need help, I will help as best I can. And if you need to howl into the void, I will be your void.

Anniversary.

abuse, memories

Today is a happy day.

Seven years ago today, at about 9:00 PM, I told my abusive ex that I was leaving him, that I didn’t want to do it anymore, that I didn’t want to live in violent cycles of rejection and acceptance. I told him, for the first time, that his behavior was abusive.

It was terrifying. I had just completed my first year of college and was living at home with my auntmom and grandmother. There had been a huge thunderstorm and the power was out, and I was sitting in my bedroom, back against my bed, staring into the flame of a candle.

I started to feel restless. My aunt-mom was reading in bed, so I wandered into her room and sat down. “I don’t think I want to be with — anymore,” I said slowly, unable to meet her gaze. She nodded and patted my hand. I left and made the phone call.

He threatened suicide several times but some weird strength had possessed me and I called his bluff. The next few weeks were miserable—he blew up my phone, told me he had started smoking and drinking because I’d hurt him so badly, and made comments that made our mutual friends uneasy.

But it passed. It always passes. And today, I am celebrating my freedom and thanking the universe for that out-of-the-blue ferocity I needed to finally make a clean break after two years of hell.

The persistence of memory.

abuse, memories, ptsd

The atmosphere at my job is refreshingly relaxed—they don’t care what we wear as long as we’re presentable, I have ample downtime (for writing and working on my latest Stupid Human Trick, which is teaching myself Russian), and we listen to the radio all day.

A few days ago, “Tequila” by The Champs came on and I was hit by a massive wave of nostalgia. I’ve heard the song dozens, if not hundreds, of times since this memory was formed, but what sprang to mind with the opening notes was vivid and visceral. It’s one of the few memories I have of the period between ages four and seven that’s genuinely pleasant, untainted by the constant conflict that lived with us in my grandmother’s house. Given how many of its contemporaries have been emerging lately, I’m glad it decided to come back when it did.

I first heard the song when I was five years old. My mother and I were driving from my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa to Oshkosh, Wisconsin with her rich boyfriend (who possibly sexually abused me as a child and certainly dealt out some heavy-handed emotional and physical abuse, pun most definitely intended) to visit the Public Museum—specifically, to see the Apostle Clock.

We had taken his red Corvette—he had a thing for classic cars, along with drinking too much and throwing his girlfriends down flights of stairs—and stopped at a gas station. “Tequila” was playing softly in the background as we rolled up to the pump. I was sleepy and tilted my head back against the silky cream-colored leather of the seat to stare up at the sky. It was dark; few stars were out, and I remember feeling carefree as I let the muggy night air, cut with a cool breeze, fill my smoke-worn lungs.

We stayed in an apartment in the city. I’m not sure whose it was, but I remember marveling at the deep-pile white carpet; at home, we had slightly worn oak floors, polished and neglected enough times in the house’s thirty-odd-year history to have accumulated a thin, uneven coat of dark residue. The next day, we arrived at the museum. It must have been June or July, because we visited shortly after a fire destroyed most of the third floor. I was charmed by the clock, of course, but what really drew my attention was the small collection of charred, water-damaged items that had been rescued from the fire.

“Come on, you don’t want to look at that,” said my mother’s boyfriend, placing a large and hairy hand on my shoulder in an attempt to draw me away. But I was transfixed by the blackened head of a baby doll, one eye burned away, one eye still open in an eerie nod to the horror movies my mother and I loved to watch. This penchant for the macabre has only intensified as I’ve gotten older, and I enjoy puzzling over what these things mean in relation to who I am today and whether everything really is connected. As a nihilist, I’m inclined to believe that nothing has any inherent meaning, which adds another dimension—if all significance is unique to each person, it should make relating to one another more difficult. I’ve found that to be true more often than not, but I’m not surprised, given my…unusual set of memories and experiences.

It’s strange, isn’t it? Certain memories—in my experience, the ones that seem the least-significant at the time—become indelible, while other, larger ones—being present the night my mother was arrested and having only fringe sensory memories of it is a good example—fade into the background. They slip away so easily that at times, it seems that they were never there at all. Was it a memory or a dream? And in the end, does it make much of a difference?

Nietzsche famously said that ‘The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to our mind when we want them to.”

Readers, what has your experience with memory been like? What’s your earliest memory? Are they sensory and blurred around the edges, or is every aspect perfectly crisp? Have you ever thought about what your memories say about you? 

As always, I’m eager to hear from you!

Affirmations.

a cure for what ails you, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Last summer, I met a wonderful woman completely by chance. I was heading home from a nearby gas station after a cancer run and wished her a good afternoon. I wandered over to her patio, noticed she was reading a book called “Fuck It Therapy,” and struck up a conversation.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to drop by for chats, and she revealed that she’s been journaling about her life for several decades—no small feat! I was particularly impressed because I’m notorious for purchasing pretty journals in hopes of actually sticking with the one-entry-a-day plan, only to give up after a week or two. She invited me to leaf through them, and I happened upon an entry where she’d written a list of affirmations.

They resonated with me because she’d managed to put to paper the types of things I tell myself when I’m feeling particularly low—things I’m good at, things I like about myself, and so on. But her entry contained one vital piece that my own thoughts were lacking (disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing here) : I am worthy of being loved not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because I am human.

I’ve been even more introspective than usual over the last few weeks (if that’s even possible) and have been ruminating about what’s behind these words. It occurred to me that while I may tell myself these things, I’ve never stopped to digest what they mean, particularly in the context of my life.

It’s an important thing to consider, but it’s been particularly helpful recently because I’ve been feeling pretty low and down on myself. I’ve been having nightmares about the rapes almost every night and on top of it, the formerly repressed and still-patchy memory of possible molestation that I’ve been carrying around since I was five years old is starting to come into focus.

My ex-husband is seeing someone new; this person is wonderful, but I’ve been comparing myself to vim a lot, and as a result, my self-worth and self-esteem have been taking a huge hit. Combined with my brain “thawing out” and the defense mechanisms lowering a bit, life hasn’t exactly been easy lately. We had a good chat this afternoon, the first discussion we’ve had since we split in September that’s left me feeling loved and cared-for. I’d been seeing myself as a failure, something not meant to be happy or loved because I’ve been through too much. I am spiky and emotionally cagey and, as of the last few months, unable to handle physical touch from anyone outside my family without having a mini panic attack and dissociating even more. (It’s worth noting that I still consider D. family, and vice-versa; you can’t go through what we’ve been through and not remain close to the other person, even if you’re no longer romantically involved.)

But I have bright spots most days, even if they don’t last that long. I’m starting to see my worth as a person, totally independent of the J. who survived decades of abuse and plays the piano well and is bilingual and a writer and applying to grad school to become a therapist, the J. who is pretty and funny and interesting and outgoing, even if the “outgoing” part is often affected.

Humans deserve to be loved. We need love. We need affection. Every person on this earth, no matter how objectively terrible they may be, is worthy of love and care.

This revelation makes me feel better about my decision to become a therapist, as “misanthrope” and “counselor” are a somewhat unusual pairing. But I’ve been capable of stashing my inner life away in favor of objectivity for most of my life, so I’m hopeful that my ability to compartmentalize will help me in the long run. The fact that I can think of literally every person other than myself in such a positive light seems laughable, but I guess we’re all our own worst critics.

Baby steps, baby steps. Where are you in your journey to loving yourself?

Last night, I felt dirty.

abuse, ptsd

I felt weird for most of the day yesterday, and the actual “dirty” feelings set in sometime late that afternoon. I’ve felt this way before, but not in a long time, and I’m still not sure what triggered it.

I spent an hour or so lying in bed last night feeling as though my skin was too tight for my body. I couldn’t relax and the feeling kept getting worse. This is what rape does to you.

I still have no idea whether or not I was molested as a child. As I’ve explained in previous posts, every therapist and psychiatrist I’ve seen, as well as quite a few of the people in my life, think that it’s extremely likely that something happened (based on my attitudes toward sex, my body, relationships, and my general well-being, as well as my sexual precocity and early sexual behavior).

I don’t know. I have flashes of memory, thirty-second clips of film that play inside my head at all-too-frequent intervals, but there’s nothing conclusive. I’ve recovered a few memories of my mother’s arrest, but that’s all. With that in mind, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to assume that there’s more lying dormant inside my head that I can’t access. I pride myself on being incredibly self-aware, which makes my inability to grasp at these memories all the more frustrating.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever feel clean again. Ages 17 to 19 were particularly horrible, and though I know that everyone makes mistakes, the abuse and my subsequent promiscuity take more of a toll on me than I’d like. I keep most of this discomfort from others and only confide in a select few people. As always, I’m extremely comfortable telling pretty much everyone about what happened, but I always conveniently neglect to discuss my feelings in the narrative. No one asks, and frankly, it’s a relief. As long as I don’t let emotion sneak into the equation, I can remain detached and objective, which is pretty much my default state anyway thanks to the dissociation.

I try very hard not to let myself get lost in my own head, but I find it happening more and more frequently these days. I know it’s my mind finally processing the sexual abuse, but I’m a little lost as to what to actually do about it. 

Rape is the ugliest word in the English language.

I remember.

abuse, explanations, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

I remember the way the cold March wind felt against my pale blue spring jacket as I stood alone on the playground, looking up at the dead trees creating a black labyrinth against the white sky.

I remember that wind, warmer now, ruffling my hair on an overcast day.

I remember rainy early-summer days where it was so dark outside, the lights in the living room were on and cast a soft glow on the miniature city I’d constructed with my figurines.

I remember painting the room overlooking the garden at my friend’s house. It was, again, overcast, and the coolness of the dark hardwood floors beneath my feet, spattered with seafoam paint, was the most wonderful thing I’d ever felt.

I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood at sunset after a thunderstorm, inhaling the heavy air and taking time to admire the myriad of colors in the oil spots on the wet pavement as if committing each one to memory.

I remember waking up in my mother’s boyfriend’s house in the spare bedroom he’d made just for me. They had just returned from a date. I remember seeing the door open, his frame silhouetted against the yellow light of the hall, and then nothing.

I remember my very first mixed episode. I was fourteen and stressing over what outfit to wear to a “graduation from middle school” party a wealthy friend was throwing. In my frustration, I grabbed a coat hanger, desperate and aching and crying and full of rage, and slashed up my upper arms. I wore a sweater in May.

I remember waking up before dawn and walking to my aunt’s station wagon in the frigid air. I piled blankets and my chapter books into the back in preparation for the two-hour ride to the penitentiary where my mother was being held.

I remember the twelve years during which my mother and I communicated only by phone and letters.

I remember going up to see her at age 19 with my new boyfriend, who later became my husband. She was already drunk when we picked her up, but I think we had a pretty good time.

I remember when my great-aunt died. She was like a mother to me. I got the news early in the morning on the day I planned to visit her in the nursing home, then promptly sat down and churned out a 20-page psychoanalysis of Dorian Gray. Then, I spent the next two weeks crying. We sent out our wedding invitations the day before her funeral.

I remember the first time a boy ever hit me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy ever told me I was worthless. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy raped me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the last day I cut myself: December 16, 2013.

I remember the first time I felt stable and glad to be alive in years; it was three weeks ago.

 

Baby steps, readers. Don’t let anyone tell you your past doesn’t matter; it is your story and has made you who you are. Just don’t let it repeat itself.

Stay safe and lovely, readers.

– J

I’ve been feeling like a raw, exposed nerve lately.

ptsd

I’ve been dealing with a particularly ugly batch of memories lately, one that I should have dealt with sooner: the sexual abuse/coercive rape in an otherwise abusive relationship I was involved in during my teens, and a sexual assault that occurred last summer.

Let’s back up. I had my initial consultation at a local pain clinic last Thursday, and while the attitudes of the doctor and his PA were certainly off-putting and had me feeling as though I was on trial, guilty of something, it was one particular portion of the physical exam that triggered me.

From what I understand, physicians are supposed to begin with “neutral voice, neutral touch” when approaching “private” areas. The first portion was okay, though the pressure on my lower abdomen caused quite a bit of pain (I have endometriosis, which is why I was there in the first place). The problematic part came when the doctor instructed me to sit up. Then, instead of letting me know what he was going to do before he did it, he slid his hands up my skirt, onto my inner thighs, pushed my legs apart, and then sat back to wait.

“Push your legs together and let me know if it causes pain,” he said. I did; no pain. There wasn’t any actual inappropriate contact; it was just the circumstances (abrupt touch and being in a closed room with two men who had already put me on edge with their accusatory attitudes) that happened to trigger me. The part that baffles me is that he kept referencing my bipolar disorder and (especially) my PTSD. He had a problem with the fact that my mood stabilizers put a damper on most of his plans for treatment and wasn’t afraid to tell me so.

The worst part was when, upon noticing my escalating anxiety, began commenting on my PTSD and saying that I need to find coping methods, need to work with a therapist, and so on. As he was heading out the door at the end of the visit, after we’d discussed a procedure involving a nerve block (which he had initially said would require only a local anesthetic), he looked over his shoulder and said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll want you very sedated for that procedure.” By this point, I was a nervous wreck; my hands were shaking and I had pushed myself as far back in the chair as I could, trying to make myself as small as possible.

I’ve put in a call to the complaint department and have asked for a new doctor, though I haven’t heard back yet on either count.

Moving on, I finally confessed (is “confessed” the right word?) to my family about the rapes and the assault. My mother and auntmom were infuriated but not surprised, considering they hated the guy I was dating at the time and knew I was being abused, though they never really tried to intervene. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering I wouldn’t have listened at the time, anyway; as we all know, abusive relationships come with a lot of brainwashing. On Sunday, I also “came out” to another aunt about many of the things I’ve kept hidden from my family for the past seven years, including the sexual abuse, the trauma I suffered as a child, the bullying, and the miscarriage I had at five weeks when I was 19.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying couple of days and I’m struggling to get back on my feet and regain my characteristic toughness. But dealing with all of this so directly and all at once has definitely taken its toll; I feel anxious when left alone and, unfortunately, have found myself feeling apprehensive around men over the last few days. D. and I were unloading bags from the car this morning and there was a portly man in overalls, a stained t-shirt, and a John Deere cap—basically, the stereotypical “farmer” type you see around here—standing next to his pickup truck in the parking space two away from ours. He was staring at me. He didn’t move, he didn’t smile, he didn’t say anything. He just stood there and stared.

Normally, I would have met his gaze fearlessly and unflinchingly until he looked away or left, but today, I just….couldn’t. I put my head down and kept my eyes locked on the ground as I walked as quickly as possible toward the building, thankful that management recently added locks to the outermost doors as well. D. followed close behind and agreed that the guy had been creepy, but the commiseration didn’t help much; I felt dirty for a while and hated myself for bitching out, for not being able to act like the bold broad everyone seems to think I am.

Right now, I feel vulnerable, exposed, weak. That incident on Thursday ripped me wide open and I don’t know how to close it up this time. I’m not sure why my mind decided now was the perfect time to deal with things that happened six years ago (though the sexual assault was last summer), but at least I have the wisdom to know that all I can do is cope to the best of my ability and ride it out.

If any other survivors of rape/sexual abuse/sexual assault/whatever you want to call it have any tips for coping, I would love to hear them.

Stay strong. Stay beautiful.

I’m not afraid of anything, except feeling.

abuse, major depression, ptsd, therapy

This is something I think I’ve known for a long time, but I never fully realized it until my most recent re-reading of More, Now, Again (Elizabeth Wurtzel), where Wurtzel’s therapist tells her the exact same thing.

One of the ways I managed to survive, for better or worse, was by learning to numb myself to all the “big”/important events that would normally have provoked a lot of emotion. To this day, I can recite all the details of being abused and neglected as a child, or what it was like to visit my mother in prison, without shedding a tear or breaking out of a monotone. I can tell you exactly how it feels to be terrified by verbal abuse from a romantic partner, what it’s like to have them hit you for the first time, what it’s like to be coerced into sex (which is a form of rape), what it’s like to be sexually assaulted by someone who initially seemed like a nice guy. I can describe all of these things down to the very last, tiniest detail without feeling any of the emotions behind them because I’ve learned to store those emotions as far back as possible, but for some reason, my memories stay right up front, almost as fresh as the day they were formed.

It’s safer to feel sad about old people in general than to cry over the fact that I am terrified of losing my grandmother, who raised me and is like a mother to me. It’s safer to get upset about the minute details I remember about the days when the abuse (both as a child and as a teenager) was at its worst than to release all the emotions that pertain to the actual events.

This is why I’m so detached. I put all of my energy into feeling depressed and hopeless over seemingly insignificant things because once I open the floodgates about the really important things cluttering up the back of my mind, I can’t turn it off. Instead, they languish there, floating around like bits of shrapnel and inflicting more and more damage as time goes on.

I think this is why therapy doesn’t work for me. It’s like an ouroboros, really; we can’t get at the roots of what’s fucking me up because of my defense mechanisms, which are touchy and what’s keeping me so numb. But without working through the underlying issues, there’s no hope of ever relieving some of the numbness and the angst…it’s an ongoing process. Right now, I’m not seeing my therapist because money is an issue (but when isn’t it?).

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep myself occupied as well as I can, considering I’m unable to work. D. and I have been talking about me going back to school to finish up the last few credits for a B.S. in psychology, then on to grad school. I’m not sure if I want to go into counseling or go down the forensic/criminal psych path yet, but there’s plenty of time to figure that out.

Trying not to turn into my mother seems to be taking up most of my time these days, but I’m also trying to balance that with keeping myself alive. My coping methods really suck sometimes, but the general consensus (from friends, my husband, even my therapist) has been that even if something is problematic in the moment, if it can get me through a crisis alive, it’s okay. We can work on that bit later, but in order for any of the work to get done, I have to be alive.

I am alive. I left the house on a small errand today, and though the dissociation was a whole lot worse when I got home, I’m still relatively okay. That has to count for something.