We All Just Want To Be Healed

blog-healing-heart

 

We all just want to be healed. Regardless of what type of traumas we survived as children or adults, or which illnesses we have been diagnosed with, the end goal is the same. We want the pain and the burden of guilt and shame that we have carried for a lifetime to be eased. We yearn to somehow lessen the effects of our traumas that we drag along like a ball and chain, be it with medications, therapy or a combination of both. We’re looking for our piece of happiness and a sense of peace, but it seems that at some point in time, we all hit our “breaking” point and perhaps that is what starts us on our journey down the seemingly elusive path of healing.

The road to healing is unpaved, unstable and full of unseen hills and curves, yet we trod along, often taking one step forward and falling three steps back. We may see some progress and then suddenly become overwhelmed with emotions which send us spiraling down into the darkness of depression, yet somehow with the lure of being healed, we eventually manage to claw our way back up to continue our fight. This cycle of ups and downs may slow down our progress but as long as we advance in a forward motion, we will get there eventually…or at least that is what my therapist tells me.

As much as healing is the ultimate goal, I struggle with two major issues down my path, the first being, what exactly is healed? The concept is not only completely foreign to my mind but also seems completely unattainable. I can imagine it would be like the weight of the world being lifted off your shoulders, or like being able to have days where your mind does not perpetually attack you and send you into a state of emotional frenzy for minutes, hours or even days. I picture fewer tears, less ups and downs and less fear. I imagine rising in the morning and not having those instant few moments of wishing I hadn’t awoken. I picture a more emotionally stable life with healthier relationships and positive choices. Is that being healed or a fantasy I have created of what I wish things could be like?

What is often forgotten on the path of healing is that in order to get there, I have to give up my two best friends, in my case, depression and anxiety, both of which have lasted longer than any one person or thing in my life. Even though I despise the depths of the darkness I am pulled into, there is a sense of comfort there simply because of familiarity.  I have been wading in those waters for so long I no longer know the feeling of walking on dry land. I would have to walk away from the safety of my passive suicidal thoughts, the one thing I can control. I may not be my illnesses per say, but they have certainly been with me long enough to become a small part of my identity, regardless of the obvious negative aspect, and I am supposed to just lose pieces of me and trade them in for the unknown?

The same applies to my negative coping mechanisms. I have been in weekly trauma based therapy for over a year and have been taught many new, positive ways to handle different situations. I have learned different techniques to recognize where my emotions are coming from, that perhaps they are a trauma response from the past. I have been shown how to try to regulate the impulsivity associated with BPD. I have listened, learned, read books and done worksheets and yes, have even taken a few steps forward. However, learning and putting into practice are two different things. When I am of rational mind I am calm enough to remember these methods and perhaps even put them to practice, but when I am emotively driven, the new habits are kicked out the door by the old ones which have become instinctual. They may not be the healthiest ways to cope but for me, they are tried, tested and proven. They have helped to get me through the hardest of times from the earliest of ages. They have kept me safe and alive until this very day, and again I am expected to surrender them and replace them with methods that in my mind are yet untested and unproven.

The path to healing involves a whole lot of uncertainty and blind trust. It means being willing to lose those parts of you that have provided safety and comfort for all those years. It requires an open mind, an open heart and the aspiration to learn. Don’t get frustrated with not making instant or even quick progress, as it takes hours and hours of practice to replace a negative coping mechanism with a healthy one, which will take patience and dedication. All of these twists and turns on my path of healing have tested every emotion and reaction possible, they have pushed me back as I am struggling to step forward, yet I continue on. I am not yet at the point of replacing all of the old with new and have found that as long as I have the comfort and availability of the old tucked in the back of my head, then the new seems a little less frightening. It’s like wading into the deep waters but knowing there is a lifeboat within reach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dread of Losing My Sanctuary

 

no-sanctuary-for-blog

 

I have lived in the same place for 13 years now. It is a small, cozy apartment in a historic house in a quiet, old area tucked in the suburbs. Over the years I have made it as much my own space as possible. It is well suited to my needs and most importantly my budget. When I first moved in, it took quite a few months for me to feel just physically safe. The blackness of the backyard, the creaks of the floors above and the surrounding sounds kept me alert at night for months on end, and despite me being surrounded by my possessions, it was well over a year before I started to feel the emotional safety I desperately need. Having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and major depression, I tend to isolate myself from people and places as much as possible. When I am alone and safe, I can be me without worrying about others reactions or feeling insecure I can cry, scream, shout, be in the silence or do whatever it is that comforts me at the time and I don’t have to deal with the anxiety from the stigma surrounding mental health.

My house is being torn down for property development.

Very often, survivors of childhood trauma have difficulty finding a sense of both physical and emotional safety. For me, it comes out as an intense feeling of uneasiness in public places and increased anxiety in social situations. My mind and body have become hyper-sensitive over the years which leads to me feeling like I am always looking over my shoulder, keeping my senses and emotions on high alert.  Most survivors have created their own place of safety, whether it’s at your therapist’s office or your home, a room in your home, it is a sanctuary; the one place you can just be you without fear of stigma or judgment. It is a space that provides you comfort, ease and a sense of peace.

Nobody enjoys moving. It is a big change and causes anxiety and stress for many people but when you have the addition of a mental illness to the situation those feelings increase tenfold. There’s the organizing, the checklists and the packing. There is the packing and unpacking of the truck and organized chaos while boxes are being carried to their according spaces. There is the hassle of having to dig through stacks of boxes to find the simplest of necessities and the frustration of not being able to do so. You desperately want to unpack everything, find its place and put it away as soon as possible in order to gain some control over the chaos that has become. Chances are you did not pack your home in a day so it is somewhat unreasonable to expect to unpack within the same time frame. Sure, you can relax somewhat now that the biggest part is done, but that does not necessarily put you at ease. For me, there is the stress of getting to know a new area, with new neighbors and new landmarks. There are the new creaks and noises to adjust to while I lay in bed at night. There is the gradual acclimation to the new places and spaces that I have filled with my décor to turn the new into the comfortable.

The specifics of when I will have to move are one big unknown. I have a rough idea in my head, but the fact that it is not concrete, leaves it out of my control, and has me at great unease. I have about four months to save for first and last month’s rent plus moving expenses, and that is even if I can qualify given I am on Long term disability right now. I have made countless lists of what needs to be done, down to the smallest detail and am as prepared as I can be this far ahead of time, and yet my anxiety spikes and my depression spirals down every time I think of it. Quite simply put, for me, it is far too much change. It requires time to adapt to a new environment but being able to make it a safe place, a sanctuary could take months, and that leaves me emotionally vulnerable, scared, depressed and anxious. I understand that I will have with me the things that make my home comfortable, but for a survivor, feeling comfortable is far from feeling safe. It means I have to deal with the loss of my safe space and a period of limbo until I can create a new one.

So in the meantime, I can do little other than wait. Wait and hope. Hope that the fear and anticipation won’t push me deeper into the darkness. Hope that my anxiety does not continue to snowball into a million negative scenarios and enhance the issues from my BPD. Hope that things will work out the way they are meant to be. Those thoughts however do not seem to be easing my fears.  Change is inevitable.

 

 

Just A Quick Note

I wanted to sincerely thank everyone who takes the time weekly to read my blog. It really does mean a lot to me and is very humbling. I try to post weekly but wanted to  inform you that for the first Monday of each month I have been asked by a good friend and fellow survivor to be a guest blogger on his site, so if you are still interested in reading you can find the posts at mindbodythoughts.blogspot.ca. My regular posts will be on here except for the beginning of the month.

Be well and stay strong.

My Lack of a Blood Bond

 

broken-family-blog

 

I always knew I was adopted. It wasn’t sprung upon me in my teenage years causing to question my upbringing, nor did I find some conclusive sheet of paper which would turn my life upside down. It simply was a subject that was open for discussion at any point in time. I was 18 months old and had bounced around the foster care system since birth, and by the time I arrived at my parent’s home, not only was I emotionally and physically scarred but I was also aware that this was yet another family who might get rid of me like the rest had. I know I did not understand the word adoption, or perhaps even the concept, but I knew it felt different.

My mom was up front with me from day one in explaining that I had a birth mom, but that I was chosen by them to be a part of their family. As I grew older she let me know that she would help me look for my birth parents if that was something I was interested in and over the years, curiosity popped in and out of my head…who did I look like? Who had the blue eyes? Who was responsible for my pudgy little fingers? While those questions were always at the back of my mind they never became much of a priority, unlike the constant nagging of the “why” question. All I knew at the time was my birth mother was young and unable to take care of me and given that none of my foster homes opted to keep me, there must have been something wrong with me, and the fear of being “given back” was a constant shadow in my mind.

Growing up, there was not a lot of time or emotional space to think about finding my birth parents, as the domestic abuse in my home started when I was five and ended when I was 13. My sexual abuse, which occurred outside the home also started at five and ended at 14 and my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13 and lost her battle after six long years. I was 19 when my mom passed away and although over the years, the curiosity of my origins had grown bigger, the guilt about doing it after my mom died was overwhelming and once again I pushed the issue to the back of my mind.

In my early 20’s, I was given some information about an Ontario adoption registry that allowed both adopted children and their birth parents to register on a computer program which would then search for a match. I filled out the form, forgot about it and continued on with my life. Out of the blue, when I was 24 I received a big unmarked brown envelope which I proceeded to hand to my girlfriend at the time, told her to open it, thinking it may be a book from a college I had looked into, and ran in to get us coffee. Upon my return to the car, I find her in tears with the envelope in her hand saying “it’s your past”. To be honest I had forgotten completely about it and the shock set in as I started to read the first of the pages.

My birth mother was half black, half Irish and because she had died that year in a fire I was given her identifying information, her name and birthdate etc. She had indeed been a young mother with a history of addiction and mental health problems. My birth father was of Italian descent with blue eyes and darker skin and there was very little other information about him. My birth mothers mom was still alive, and I was also informed I had two half-sisters, and with my permission and a few exchanges of letters, a meeting was set up. It is a very strange feeling to be handed family and expected to have some sort of instant connection simply because we share some DNA, especially considering that blood relations had never been a part of my life.

As the meeting approached, I anticipated the many scenarios that could occur, and although I can say honestly that I wished for a close knit family, I went in with as few expectations as possible. It was odd to finally look at someone who has some sort of resemblance to me. My birth mothers mom was a kind, elderly lady who was just thrilled to meet her grandchildren, and like many people of that generation, was not willing to divulge much information about the past. My middle sister had actually lived with our birth mother on and off for five of six years, however following numerous suicide attempts, she was permanently removed and placed into foster care. My youngest sister has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) complete with minor facial and hand deformities and is mentally challenged but was thrilled to meet her sisters for the first time. All in all, the meeting went well, and with the promise to remain in contact, we all went our separate ways.

I noticed within the following weeks a sense of resentment and anger building up towards my birth mother. I get she could make a mistake and not have the ability or support to quit her addictions, and therefore would lose custody of me, but the fact is, she was given six months of after my birth to clean up and prove herself as a worthy parent. She was given supervised visitation rights which she repeatedly showed up high, or still drunk from the night before, and as the weeks passed, the visits lessened until one day, she just never came back. It started to eat at me, what type of woman could prioritize alcohol and drugs over her children, not just once, but three times. Why could she not have at least tried to get me back, not just wash her hands clean and get back to her routine, free from the burden of a screaming baby? How could the cycle just continue to repeat itself with no intervention until a child has to be born with mental deficiencies and physical deformities? Were there more than just the three of us? Perhaps someone who didn’t register, or did she finally figure out that birth control was not as rare a diamond?

As I aged and became more aware of mental illness and addiction and the effects they can have on someone’s life, I began to be able to make a sense of peace with the anger I was feeling. Yes, I will always feel abandoned, but in this case, perhaps it really was the best scenario. My birth Grandmother passed away within a year of the meeting, and I would love to say I have two sisters who I am super close with, but despite my numerous efforts to reach out, the reality has become Christmas or Birthday text, usually initiated by me, and often lacking a response. I have made peace with that as well. I have no expectations of either of them, and as I said, you can’t just put three strangers in a room and because of one common factor, a birth mother, expect a bond to form instantly, or in this case, at all. I care about them of course, but do I love them? Hard to love someone you don’t know.

A blood bond means nothing to me. A chosen bond means the world.

 

Accepting Grief for a Lost Inner Child

 

grief

 

Grief; the one and perhaps only word that could invoke more emotions than the word love is near impossible to describe. It’s like a tsunami of emotions that suddenly overwhelm you to a point you did not know you could reach, while your mind is caught in the eye of the storm, spinning out of control.  It is a physical pain that encompasses your whole being, tightening every muscle in your body while sucking the air out of your lungs; even breathing becomes painful. The tears stream down your face uncontrollably and if it is possible, your heart physically hurts. Grief involves a major loss of something we are attached to, and is not limited to what it is most associated with…death. There is often grief involved with the loss of a home, job or even a friendship.

There is no timetable that comes with grief; it is completely individualistic and situational. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it, there is only what is best for you. Sure, there are common stages that the majority of people will deal with when it comes to grief; the denial and anger, the bargaining, depression and eventual acceptance, but each person will experience them differently. These stages may sound familiar if you have suffered a deep loss, like a death, as you may have passed through them on your path to healing.

We learn how to mourn for other people, great losses and even material attachments, but have we ever been taught, as survivors, that it is ok to mourn all that we lost?  We lost our innocence and our ability to trust. We lost our voices out of fear and shame. We lost the developing identity that may have been, had we not been violated. We became empty shells with no functional ability to process the trauma occurring. We could not fight, nor flight and so we froze, and the survival portion of the brain took over, to save us from the trauma we could not handle. In essence we lost our childhoods, and we need to grieve such an immense loss in order to heal.

Grieving for an external loss seems to come more naturally than trying to grieve for oneself. Trying to understand the loss of your inner child not only involves having to acknowledge that you still have an inner child, but also accepting the fact that the “little you” was hurt and violated and bears no responsibility for the trauma endured, which is something many survivors struggle with for years. We became experts at denial the instant we were defiled and we continue along that path until we are emotionally strong enough to deal with the truth.

Anger is almost innate for most survivors. It starts with the abuse and sometimes lasts a lifetime. We are rarely presented with the opportunity to express the anger we are burdened with to the source that caused our pain, and despite carrying it around for so long, we are often incapable of outwardly expressing it appropriately. When anger becomes internalized, as a child we act out in a multitude of ways, and as we age these behaviors can lead to self-destructive habits such as addiction and self-harm as methods of coping. We may be able to get help dealing with and properly expressing our anger and recognizing its effects on our present day lives through therapy, or a workbook and although I believe it eases up in time, mine certainly has, but I think it is something we shall carry with us to some degree through the rest our lives.

Bargaining is the normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability in a desperate attempt to regain even just a small piece of the control we lost as children. For years, we play the “what if” game, wondering  if we had only done something differently or if we had spoken up,  would things have been different?  As children we can’t do much bargaining because we are unequipped to do anything other than go into survival mode. As we age, beliefs depending of course, we sometimes try bargaining with a “higher power” in an effort to trade or give up anything we can think of if the abuse stops. Sadly, however most survivors do not end up dealing with their trauma until adulthood and by then, bargaining seems futile.

Depression, I would say, affects nearly every single survivor at various degrees, during their lives, sometimes sporadically sometimes never ending. It may have started when we were young but was not recognized until we were teens or adults and therefore it is often not until we are in our twenties and thirties or later that we can even begin to truly process and try to heal from the trauma we suffered as children. With the grief of any major loss comes such a heavy sadness and emotional weight not only at the time of the event but often for years after. Depression is certainly not limited to grief but is a true indication that something deeper lays beneath the surface.

Acceptance for survivors is multi-faceted, non-linear, and for some may never happen. It is difficult to accept any loss, but to accept losing a childhood that can never be reclaimed is a long and arduous process. It becomes further complicated because often our abusers are family members or friends making it even more difficult to acknowledge such a betrayal as our truth. With proper support and perhaps therapy we can to try and learn to accept the traumas that have melded us into the people we are today.

So grieve. Grieve for your inner child and all the losses that you suffered, but show yourself the same support and caring that you would give to anyone else.

 

Do I Have a Fear of Fear

 

blog-fear

 

A while ago, a friend of mine told me to write about what I am afraid of, and so I promptly wrote a blog on the first topic that popped into my head, abandonment, then I closed the topic on fear. Fear is individualistic and what makes me afraid may be nothing to someone else, but it was pointed out to me today, that perhaps I am afraid of a lot more than I think, or may be willing to admit. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, fear is something that is deeply ingrained from whatever moment it was that forever changed your life. Fear is an emotion that is most commonly brought about by a perceived threat or danger and usually induces a reaction of flight, fight, or freeze.

As children, when we are being abused there is not the option of flight; if I could have run away, I obviously would have. Having the ability to fight back is also not possible given the average size difference between a child and a perpetrator. I am small in stature and always have been and I gave all the fight I had but could not hold off a teenager or an adult. That leaves only one option; to freeze. To be so afraid, you literally are physically and mentally frozen is our only way to survive the experience, and because we are most likely molested multiple times this reaction becomes habitual and becomes a repeated pattern throughout our lives.

I think I am afraid of fear, if that is even possible. One thing I do know is I’m tired of it. I’m sick of it kicking my ass at every corner and causing me to look over my shoulder both physically and emotionally. I am exhausted from being bouncing between hyper and hypo sensitivity. I blame it on my illnesses and convince myself there are other reasons…I’m too nervous to go there, I am too shy to talk to them, I’m too insecure to try that, and the list goes on. Sure, they are likely enhanced by my disorders but the common denominator, regardless of what I try to label it as, is fear; the root cause of so many emotions. Even as I write this now I find fear of what you, the reader, will think, lurking in the back of my mind.

When I become overwhelmed with life, or with my illnesses, the freeze instinct kicks in for me. I feel so inundated with thoughts and emotions that my mind can no longer differentiate between a past threat and a perceived one, so my habitual response is to shut down and become emotionally and physically disabled. My mind can’t handle the intensity of so many emotions, so the instinctual answer is to shut down all emotions, thereby removing the perceived fear which will lead to me being hurt again, while physically, my body becomes exhausted and numb from being riddled with tension. It is those periods of time, which vary in length that I find it difficult to focus or get anything done. I am in survival mode and whatever strength I have left is used to bring me out of that frame of mind.

The fear of failure is a big one for many people but it does not necessarily mean it will stop them from trying to achieve or accomplish something. Being a survivor with the added bonus of having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) takes whatever emotion, in this case fear, and enhances it to a level that feels like sheer terror. To step outside my comfort zone feels like jumping off a cliff with a parachute and not only convincing yourself that it won’t open but actually preparing for the disaster, with not even a glimmer of hope that it might actually open. So I spent most of my life staying within the confines that I had set and became very good at the things within those boundaries, but did not venture much outside of those lines, for fear of not succeeding. For fear of what not only others would think or say, but fear of my own inner critic which I already battle with daily.

The fear of being vulnerable is also incredibly difficult for survivors because as children someone took advantage of us when we were most susceptible. I think that is why so many survivors build such a thick wall of emotional protection around them, anything to avoid that feeling again. I know for me allowing myself to be emotionally vulnerable is a daily battle, like splitting the day between being a bricklayer and being part of a demolition crew. It involves stepping outside your comfort zone if you are to let someone in and that for me is incredibly difficult. I feel like a turtle extending its neck to take a look around and perhaps get a different view, which then suddenly gets spooked and reverts back into its shell, becoming more afraid to come back out each time.

As with the rest of my healing process, I am a bit impatient and would like to speed the whole process up until I get to the point that fear no longer rules my life. I want to just wake up and feel safe and confident enough to take on the world. I am, however, a long way from that, and so as with everything I proceed forward with baby steps. Starting this blog and allowing my writing to be put out there for others to see is a step in the right direction and as with anything although the first step is the hardest, the second is required to move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Enduring the Emotional Drain of the Holidays

 

 drain

 

I, for one, am glad it is all over. The hustle and bustle, the rushing, the stress, the pressure, the preparations and the nonsensical expectations placed on a single day. It’s not like it’s a once in a lifetime kind of day but rather the type that reoccurs as yearly as the seasons. It’s not just the recently passed Christmas and New Year’s but any other day of the year that qualifies as a holiday that often triggers survivors, and people struggling with a mental illness. Societal pressure to find the right gift, to spend the right amount of money, to visit the right people and act in the appropriate manner and to make the occasion perfect all add to the already heavy load we carry daily.

Society’s representation of the perfect family gathering for the perfect holiday occasion is shoved down our throats in T.V shows, movies and advertising. Take Christmas for example, the generations gathered happily around the extended dining room table, passing the stuffing and mashed potatoes with a smile, to be followed by an evening of family stories around the piano, filled with song, laughter and good times; the stereotypical storybook family. For survivors of trauma, just the very thought of the above scenario can send us into a downward spiral, as it is likely that for us, it is no more than a fantasy, since more than likely our fairytales were turned into nightmares long, long ago. It is more apt that our guards will be up and we will be walking on eggshells and protecting boundaries while the argument about the stuffing rages and Uncle Bob has already passed out on the couch. It is likely that the dysfunction will trigger our past traumas leaving us to revert to whatever coping mechanism we can grasp.

We hardly have time to open our gifts when the Christmas items are ripped down off the shelf and replaced with Valentines, then by the time we open our heart shaped box, the Easter Bunny has taken over, and this societal norm continues for every holiday, year after year. Marketing lures us into all the holiday hype when in fact, most of us have forgotten the actual meaning of the day. Does no one else wonder how a religious rebirth turned into chocolate bunnies?  The entire premise of Valentine’s Day is to show your loved one how much you care on Feb 14th with flowers and chocolates, but what about the rest of the days? Why can’t love be shown in random ways on days we don’t have Hallmark cards for?

Many survivors feel as lonely as I do on holidays. It doesn’t seem to matter who we surround ourselves with, what festivities we attend or how distracted we try to keep ourselves. There is a perpetual, nagging sense of emptiness and loss that is carried daily and entirely enhanced on holidays. Perhaps we wish for just one page from that book of fairytales. Perhaps we still wish for all the things we lost and cannot reclaim. Maybe we want just one family gathering where we feel loved and can be true to ourselves, free of judgment and shame. Maybe we wish for one Valentine’s Day where we are the recipients of the tokens and acts of love that we have never received, or did so with strings and repercussions.

So surviving the actual day is one thing, but the emotional crash that often occurs after the holidays can be just as intense for a survivor as the actual holiday itself. I know for me, it takes an immense amount of emotional energy to deal with the both the holiday build up, and the end of buildup. The depression tends to set in quickly and heavily afterward and regardless of my attempts to keep my hopes and expectations lowered out of instinctual self-protection, there is always a sense of disappointment;  a reminder of my loneliness on days when there is societal pressure for family, or outwardly expressed love.

So be good to yourself around any holiday. Surround yourself with the things or people that make you happy and bring you peace in the present moment, because no amount of hope will change the past. Remind yourself that despite the label, a holiday is just another day, another 24 hours, and that you have managed to get through all of them so far with strength and resilience, and the next one will be no different.