To discuss trauma or not?

Over the years I have encountered many therapists, I have seen people of varying levels of expertise and the way they work has been very different. Most of those who I saw in the past had a keen focus on the trauma itself, desperately wanting me to regurgitate the events of my childhood. But is that the best approach for recovery, does it help to go over and over the bad things that happened.

 

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Due to my dissociation I have many gaps in my memory of my childhood, my brain has been good at protecting me and locked many horrors away. I have found over the years those memories spilling out into the here and now, snap shots of trauma which often haven’t been the full details of an incident. The memories have often been just enough to give me a clear idea of the event, what happened without all the terrifying finer details. Sometimes they have been drip fed to me, so a snippet of the event one day and then a week later another piece of the event. Weeks pass and eventually the whole horror of an abusive event has been revealed. Other times the memories come flooding back in an instant, with a flashback or body memory overwhelming me and sending me into a bit of a frenzy.

 

There are times when I really can’t cope with what I’ve remembered, it becomes too overwhelming, too consuming, and yet I have learnt to process in a better way too. So I can say I can’t deal with this particular trauma memory now I need to wait till therapy to think about this in any detail, it’s my way of protecting me. I can now accept sometimes that I’m not at risk right now, but it’s not easy and any trauma memory holds feelings of terror and pain.

 

Trauma and abuse have been a significant part of my life, it started when I was small and continued for years, in fact all through my childhood. I can’t name all my abusers but I can at times see their faces, I can tell you much of what happened because my memory has now revealed many of the horrors I endured. But I still have gaps in time and I still have periods of abuse were I only have part of the memory.

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In therapy for much of the early years of treatment, the professionals who treated me wanted me to share that trauma with them. They felt that me and in turn my alters revealing the past trauma was important to recovery. I would be encouraged to share the past, to regurgitate the horrors in all their gory detail, often through tears and great pain. Yet I never had the ability to process those memories, I never felt attached to them.

 

For much of my early years of treatment I felt irritated at the thought these people wanted me to share my inner most secrets. I recall one therapist and I falling out over the fact she would push for more graphic detail, when I felt it wasn’t needed. I didn’t feel able to share my secrets and I knew I didn’t have them all, my memory had stored them well away, locked out of even my reach.

 

 

One would push for information which I didn’t have, causing me to dissociate in session and thus losing time. She would expect me to spill the beans as she put it, yet I didn’t know what the fragments I had meant and I just wanted to understand. Throughout this time I wanted to know what had happened in my past, why I lost time and why I would dissociate. It just led to more and more confusion and concern, which at the time didn’t help me or my recovery.

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One therapist insisted on naming my parts and seemed to want to give them identities, I felt that my alters were totally different people and their memories were not mine but theirs. I now realise of course my alters are parts of me and the memories they carry are mine, locked away from me to ensure my safety and sanity at the time. I also now understand we all dissociate every single one of us, you and me, when we drive a familiar route and suddenly realise we are further on than we thought – that’s dissociation.

 

Of course I dissociated in a bit more of an extreme way, I switched off as a child to avoid the horrors of my abuse and it probably kept me alive. I know now that my alters are just parts of me, not separate people as such but fragmented parts of me, they formed when I dissociated as a child. Unlike most people who grow up in a seamless way, my 5 year old me wasn’t able to become 6 year old me she stayed locked inside of me – held by the terror of that time. Hence why I have lots of parts, lots of different bits of me who today are my alters, they carry memories of my past that I didn’t know. They need time, nurture, parenting if you like and they have skills and talents which I so value today, but until recently didn’t realise I had. Some have a function, like my protector whose job was to carry the frustration of not being able to protect myself as a child. I couldn’t protect me back then, but today she ensures we are safe and protected especially when threats similar to the past come to the fore.

 

So the idea of giving them separate lives and detailed identities wasn’t in reality so helpful, the memories they hold are my memories. I need to process those memories as my own not someone else’s. But do I really need to regurgitate my past in all its gory detail, do I need to try and reassemble each trauma memory in order to recover from my abuse.

 

My current therapy does involve trauma work, but not in all its minute detail, the aim isn’t to regurgitate the past as such, it’s to process the emotions that are attached to those memories. I don’t need to divulge every moment of a trauma event, but I do need to explore how that trauma impacts in my today. So I am having to process the emotions that go alongside the trauma itself, but I don’t have to start going through incidents in the way I was forced to years ago.

 

Processing trauma is an integral part of therapy but how that’s done can vary greatly from one professional to another, I know for me the key hasn’t been to regurgitate the past, it’s been to process the emotions that go alongside the trauma, those emotions that co-exist with the trauma. Emotions matter more than the actual trauma itself and learning to understand that and deal with them is so important on the road to recovery. I do not see myself ever regurgitating the past trauma again, it will be discussed in a more generalised way. Instead I will be focusing upon the feelings and how it impacts me now, rather than trying to remember every little detail of my past.

 

 

Copyright DID dispatches 2015

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Facing the demons of my past – learning my bedroom is safe

As many of you will know I have found sleeping in a bed and a bedroom difficult, the fact is these caused huge triggers for me. So as a result I have become accustomed to sleeping on my sofa for what feels like forever. But slowly over recent months I’ve confessed my difficulties to my psychologist and he has begun helping me to break down the fear that has had such a strong grip on me. 
  
We started with just actually getting upstairs and into the room, I couldn’t face staying in there more than a few seconds at first, but this slowly built up to minutes. Each day I’d visit the room I named Bertie and my task initially was to move one object from the pile of clutter. Clutter that had suddenly build up in there and I had to decide if I needed it or I could throw it away. I found this a huge challenge at first, but spurred on by my psychologist and the fact I knew he’d ask me about it at our next session, I attempted it most days. 
Bertie was no longer just a room he gained an identity, an identity that I could seize hold of and build a relationship with. So each day I’d visit Bertie and I’d enter and say hello, Bertie didn’t seem as scary until I thought of him as a bedroom. My visits each day soon built up in time and I found some days I could sort out a few objects in one go. Eventually the clutter disappeared and I felt I had a room I could work with, a room that no longer felt so overwhelming and frightening. 

Yet I still could not visualise sleeping in there and I certainly couldn’t visit him in the darkness of night, parts of me felt itchy and fearful just going up the stairs. I had to keep telling myself it was safe, we were safe and that the horrors of the past were no more. After sorting the clutter I had to build up time in there, so I started to go in there and just be there for ten minutes at a time. Some days I could sustain this and others I was so agitated and upset I had to leave after just a few minutes, but I was assured it was best to not push too hard. So leaving wasn’t a failure the attempt was all that mattered it would seem and we were by now doing that every day. My alters and I felt we could achieve this and some parts were great at pushing me, by reminding me to go visit Bertie. 
  
I acquired a couple of new cuddly friends who we decided must stay in Bertie, the idea was it would be helpful to see it as a safe room, safe for them and me. Shortly after about Three months after my confession I found myself progressing into sitting in Bertie and we would watch a program or cartoon whilst in there. I didn’t achieve this every day as sometimes just going in there was all we could achieve, but we had more days of sitting than not. 

Then about a month ago my Psychologist suggested I build a tent in there, I remember thinking he was a bit bonkers but tried anyway. The tent was erected about 3 weeks ago having borrowed my daughters, I’m sure people must think I’m bonkers, but I don’t care. I soon managed a couple of periods of sitting inside the tent, snacks in hand and iPad too. I made these visits to Bertie’s tent fun, after all camping is meant to be fun isn’t it. 

After my recent holiday I came home and visited Bertie, I decided it was time I moved to the next step so bought an air bed. Just over a week ago I decided to set up the tent for a night time adventure, torch, snacks, magazines, blankets and extra treats. One night I went up to watch a cartoon sitting inside the tent, when I began to feel tired. I decided I should try and fall sleep inside the tent, all the while knowing I could leave if it didn’t feel right. My psychologist had told me that if I tried and it didn’t work I could easily go downstairs and back onto the sofa. He had made me realise that if I had to go in the sofa it want a failure, trying was what mattered. 

  

So with a bit of bravado and not really assuming it would work I ventured to try and sleep, the next thing I realised it was the early hours of the morning. Tired but now awake I did a bit of a reality check inside and decided that I felt able to try and return back to sleep, which we managed to do. The next night I decided to try again and we were quite stunned when we were successful once more. 

That’s not to say that some nights since then haven’t had some difficulties because they have, some nights I’m having to spend quite a bit of time reassuring myself. I’ve had some disrupted sleep and have found myself stressing in the middle of the night, but so far we have managed to remain in the tent. Now over a week on and we haven’t slept on the sofa and boy it feels good, I’m not being too pressured though. So if we have to sleep downstairs some nights that’s okay, in fact it’s more than okay it’s the trying that counts. 

This week in my therapy session my psychologist suggested I might want to start looking for a bed soon. In fact we have now set a date well a month, by which I need to try and be settling into a real bed. This may not sound like a great deal to many people but for me beds have been a place of nightmares, horrific body memories and trauma, so sleeping in a bed it’s a big deal. Though I’ve set the date I know it’s an approximate measure, if I don’t make it that’s not a failure either, but strangely I actually think we will achieve this. 
  
I firmly believe that by breaking down the steps into tiny manageable chunks I have desensitised myself and built up stronger coping strategies. It’s been and continues to feel manageable, it doesn’t feel as scary neither does it feel too overwhelming. Currently I’m enjoying camping in Bertie, it’s not something I’m use to doing so it is quite an adventure. Bertie isn’t such a frightening place anymore in fact he is just a room with walls and a door, yes being there might trigger memories, but I know now that’s all they are. Memories of the past which took place in a room located far away from Bertie, far from this place I now call home. Coming to terms with the past isn’t easy but for the first time in my life I don’t feel afraid of the bedroom in fact it’s as safe as any other room. Now I just need to go bed hunting and I intend to make that an adventure all of its very own. 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015 

  

Body Memory

Trigger warning please exercise self care when reading this post.

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This morning I woke and instantly felt fear, it’s not a pleasant feeling at all but then neither was the fact parts of my body felt numb. Numb in a way that reminds me of times long ago when I was being abused, numb in areas that I don’t want to feel numb. My body was basically talking to me about the past, about the abuse that was inflicted upon us years ago.

When I have flashbacks or body memories I feel myself spiral into that moment of terror that is so hard to escape from. Today I initially thought here comes the whole darn memory, and unable to move I had to wait, wait for the feelings to continue to build. It’s as if I am there in that time, it’s happening all over again and here I am in 2015 unable to stop my body fully recount being raped.

I can’t tell you how old I was when the incident occurred because it could be the memory of any number of events that span an age range that well covers too many years. I know I’m a child, I know it haunts me and my body to this day and I know I’d rather not experience these moments today. But they are a way of my body telling me what happened when I dissociated away back in the distant past when the original abuse took place. It’s also a way for my alters; parts of me, to share with me the horrors they endured.

The numbness meant I couldn’t actually move, my legs and other parts of me didn’t want to respond to the messages from my brain today, instead they were recounting messages and signals from the past. I lay there desperately telling myself I was safe, it was 2015 and I was secure in my own home and yet the numbness and feelings continued. I endured the various feelings that followed, desperate to stay in the here and now and yet trapped in the terror that builds in my mind. I kept trying to focus amidst all of the sensations and feelings, telling myself that it wasn’t for real, it wasn’t happening now. But if I’m honest it felt like it was happening, my body felt like it was hurting and I was powerless to stop those feelings.

Eventually the feelings stop, as suddenly as they start and it wasn’t as bad as some memories after all I didn’t feel the worst bit. I felt enough to know what was being remembered but my body and the part of me it relates to saved me from the worst, I’m thankful for that. But my legs still felt unable to move I was so traumatised I guess it takes a while to settle back and regain control.

I did regain control of this body of mine and I was off the sofa where I’m sleeping as soon as I could. I wanted to just move away from the moment, to be free of it, to no longer be trapped in that horror. Of course I didn’t at that point know whose memory the body had recounted and so began the gentle questions and reassurance to my alters. The first thing I did though was clean myself, I always feel dirty after a body memory like this, so I needed to do that physical act of washing, though in truth I’m not dirty I’m clean. You see I haven’t been raped or abused this morning, it is just a memory, but it’s hard to tell yourself that in the moment.

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I then grabbed a drink of tea, I use that mug of tea as a security blanket so much in my day to day life, in meetings, in therapy, at home.  People who know me well know I drink a lot of tea in a day, I need the physical reassurance of holding a mug of tea, knowing it stands between me and the world like a shield. I so needed that shield this morning.

Then began the fact finding mission in earnest, I asked who was around which parts of me were there, soon a little voice responded. My little me was clear but frightened all the same, she just said ‘bad people hurt me, I don’t like bad people’. How do I answer that, she’s right bad people long ago did hurt her, hurt me, and nothing can change that fact, it happened. But it happened a long time ago, it didn’t happen today and so I had to reassure her that she was safe with me.

I tried to ask if this was her memory, did she remember this and to be fair she can’t tell me and I’m not going to push her. I know that for whatever reason my body recalled that moment today it wants me to know about it and whichever part took that abuse when I dissociated as a child, they want me to know too. Other parts were also around this morning and so in the end I decided not to ¬†push for more information they will tell me when it’s the right time, all I’m to know right now is that it happened and it hurt. Maybe I’m to know they couldn’t move, or that they were terrified, or that my body was numb, felt weighed down and heavy. I’m not fully sure but I know they will tell me when the times right, so all I can do right now is wait.

It may sound strange but I thanked the alter whose memory it was, I thanked that part of me for sharing this information. Because as horrible as it was it is only by sharing information between us, by breaking down amnesic walls will I be able to deal with the trauma of my past.

My little me wanted me to write it down in the journal we keep, so I have done, at her request and then well we sat and did some self care. We watched cartoons, we read a little, we listened to the birds, all the while reassuring us all it was ok now, we are safe the bad people aren’t here anymore. Body memories they come without warning, they sweep in when you least expect and they leave you feeling fragile and vulnerable. The reality is that it’s the past impacting upon life today, in a way you’d much rather it didn’t and yet that’s just part of life after trauma, its part of life with D.I.D.

I wonder how many people out there in the world truly realise the impact abuse has on people like me, decades of turmoil, decades of pain and decades of body memories like I encountered today.