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.

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Some thoughts.

abuse, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, therapy

It is physically painful for me when people thank me for writing, or helping them, or tell me I’m brave or a role model. I’m not a role model. I wake up most days hoping to die. I don’t know how or why I’m still alive. D.’s theory is “sheer dumb luck,” and I think he’s right.

I am a junkie. I cold-turkeyed it over a year ago, but not for noble reasons. I stopped because it was no longer taking away the physical and emotional pain in one fell swoop. It simply stopped working, so I quit. That’s all. I still think about it every day and I think I always will. This is one thing I’m proud of, however—that I was able to stop and stay clean despite all the awful things that have happened in the last year.

My therapist told me last night that I’m the toughest woman she’s ever met. She’s in her 60s, so I’m guessing she’s met quite a few people. I’m not tough because I want to be or try to be. I’m tough because of my animalistic survival instinct–in other words, I’m tough because I’ve had to be, not because I want to be.

I vacillate between strong feelings of self-loathing and guilt and equally strong moments of self-esteem where I actually feel good. But those feelings are always tempered by the fear that my meds have stopped working, that I am manic again, that I am going to ruin things and use people up like I have countless times in the past.

Right now, my pride is wounded and I feel terribly alone. I know I have good people in my life who care about me, but none of them can relate to being raped innumerable times and having people blame you for it because you were too afraid to actually say “no,” to trusting someone completely for the first time in your life and having it unravel all at once, to visiting your mother in prison as a child.

On top of it, I’ve been having horrible nightmares again and the partial memory that strongly suggests I was molested by one of my mother’s boyfriends when I was five is beginning to come into focus at a time in my life when rehashing sexual abuse is the last thing I need.

My therapist referred me to a clinic that specializes in sexual abuse and PTSD. I didn’t take it personally—as an aspiring counselor myself, I understood where she was coming from when she said that she didn’t want to risk making things worse because she doesn’t have much experience in sexual abuse or trauma. I’ve been through enough therapists to know that I wasn’t being “fired” as a patient. Therapists, it seems, are the easiest group of people for me to trust. Their motives always seem to be pure, and the confidentiality helps, I think.

I’m thankful for all the support I’ve been getting, both for the blog and in my personal life. Words cannot express how much I appreciate each message and each person who reaches out, whether it’s to reassure me or tell me how I’ve helped them. That’s what keeps me going—fighting the good fight. I want to feel strong. I want to beat this thing. I want to help people. If I can make things even a little lbetter for everyone living with a mental, I’ve accomplished more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. If you’d told me what I’d be doing now when I was a motherless, lonely child being bullied and dealing with the prodromal phase of bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second.

My family, for all their dysfunctions and refusal to discuss the dark side (the way bipolar disorder has spread like wildfire down through the generations), has been immensely supportive. While there was a rough period when I first started my column in my hometown’s newspaper at age 19, they quickly warmed to it and realized that I was doing something most nineteen-year-olds wouldn’t be capable of and that I was taking all the pain and trying to turn it into something positive.

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother and beloved great-aunt and other aunts telling me that I was talented, that I had something special that I needed to hold onto. It’s difficult to believe some days—as we all know, knowing something and believing it to be true are two entirely different things.

But I’m trying. I do what I need to do in order to get through the day. Some days are easier than others. Some feel impossible. I’m a big believer in the “fake it ’til you make it” mindset; while it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s served me well over the years. At the very least, it allows me to save face and present as “normal,” even if I’m completely falling apart on the inside.

It’s another bad weather day in my head, which I guess is my reason for writing this. I also wanted to reach out to all of you and say that I’m here for you, too. I’ll always listen if you need to talk—all you need to do is reach out and I’ll be there. It’s the least I can do.

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’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.

Some days, my need for acceptance and praise is really disturbing.

abuse, major depression, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, suicidal ideation, therapy

I say this because of the things I know beyond a doubt: I am attractive, there is nothing wrong with my body. But I need reassurance about the physical things because of the most important parts I can’t accept—the thought that I am worthy and lovable and worthwhile and that I don’t ruin everything I touch.

*

I had a particularly disturbing dream last night that D. suddenly decided he didn’t love me, never had. I told him I was feeling suicidal and his response was something along the lines of, “Actually, that’s the best thing that could happen to me right now.” I woke up in a panic, convinced that it had been real. I had some terrible dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream experience last night, and it’s left me a little rattled. I know the dream is just my subconscious vomiting out the particularly horrible bits of all the abuse I’ve taken—the dream situation is ripped almost verbatim from something that happened countless times in a past relationship—but it’s still upsetting.

It’s upsetting because after all these years and how far I’ve come, I still feel like a victim. It’s upsetting because my childhood would have fucked me up enough without the awful part in my teens where I realized that even if someone tells you they love you, they can still hurt you terribly. In some cases, they can hurt you more after they’ve said it.

*

A stranger once complimented me on my eyes and followed it with, “But there’s something unquiet about them.” It took me a long time to realize that everything I’ve gone through has turned me into a haunted house. If the eyes are windows to the soul, then the restlessness in mine is because of all the horrible memories, all the ghosts.

*

D. and I were discussing “Inception” the other day. “I wonder what my subconscious would look like,” I said. He replied, “I’m pretty sure it would be full of monsters.”

*

I’ve been reading a lot about self-harm and how it relates to prior abuse (the book I’m currently reading focuses on the theory that childhood abuse is completely to blame, but for me, it’s been more of a cumulative effect). I have to go slow because it’s very triggering for me, but it’s also hauling some useful anecdotes up from the depths and forcing me to confront a lot of hard truths about myself—about what happened to me during the first twenty years of my life and how those experiences have shaped almost everything about me.

*

I’m heading back to therapy on Thursday, and I’m feeling particularly anxious about it. I’m not sure what to expect; I already know my prognosis for ever coming out of the dissociative state is pretty grim, and that it’s likely I’ll be in therapy for the rest of my life. We have to move so maddeningly slow—working through the trauma without awakening my defense mechanisms is like trying to sneak past a sleeping dragon in a cave. If it shifts in its sleep or makes a sound, we have to go back and find a safe hiding place until it passes.

My therapist is wonderful. She’ll start off by prompting me to share what’s been going on in my life, and then she’s somehow able to zero in on what I need to talk about during that session. She reassures me that it’s okay if I can only handle remembering things for a minute or two—she says it’s a lot healthier than going at it too hard and making the dissociation even worse.

I’ve gotten pretty good about just accepting the way things are, the numbness and the detachment. But there are times when it makes me want to scream, when I just want to feel something other than all the pain and numbness. I want to be in the moment all the time instead of faking it. I want hearing “I love you” during sex to feel good instead of scaring the shit out of me and causing me to shut down.

I want someone to turn me off and fix me. I wish I had a factory default switch, that I could go back to being an infant and be born into a situation that wouldn’t cause so much damage. People say I’m lucky; the abuse has given me an endless source of inspiration for writing, and most people with “normal”/stable home lives have to work harder.

To that, I say: Fuck you so very, very much. If any one of those people had to live like this even for a day, they’d probably end up putting a gun to their head before sundown. No one wants to live like this. No one.

*

I know this post has jumped all over the damn place; please bear with me, as I’ve been dealing with some pretty brutal cycling as of late. I want to close this on a positive note, so let’s just appreciate that I made it through two suicide attempts, nine months of self-harm, and a lot of substance abuse—and that’s just this year.

I want to live the rest of my life without ending up in a hospital. I want to make it through this without dying by my own hand. I want to be happy, if I can’t be completely well ever again.