The Safe Place That Saved My Life

 

soccer-writing

 

The physical aspect of child molestation eventually ends but the emotional destruction does not leave the tiny shoulders carrying the burden. Instead, it grows with you and casts a shadow of overwhelming darkness for years, decades and sometimes for life. I was molested for 8 years of my childhood and its residual effects ripple through all aspects of my life, flowing like a river from guilt and shame to self-hatred and unworthiness. It takes only a few minutes of trauma that severe to change everything you had known to be true; to shatter your ability to trust words or actions; to instill a fear that chills your tiny soul and fill you with the confusion of what is right, what is wrong and what is normal.

The first time I was molested I was five. I remember it as clear as the movie I watched last night. I remember something related to every sense. I remember the color of the couch and the blinds that draped the sliding glass doors. I recall the taste of the banana Popsicle I was given when he took me back outside to play like nothing had happened. The details are not necessary, but as you can well imagine after that day I became a different little girl, all in just 10 minutes. My ability to trust teenagers and adults was shattered, as was a piece of my soul.

In many cases of molestation the perpetrator is a direct family member, relative or someone you know and trust well. My abuse took place outside the home and involved multiple offenders, both teenagers and adults. When I was younger, there was a piece of me that believed that this was all normal; that this is what happened to everyone, not just me. There were not a lot of kids my age on my street so for me the norm became if I wanted to play with the older kids I had to spend time in the garage first. I was about 8 or 9 years old before I realized there was something wrong, but starving for attention, lonely and running from domestic abuse, I went back, over and over. I would rather go through that 5 or 10 minutes of hell than be alone and without friends. This routine continued with a few different people until I was 12, and convinced myself that promiscuity was the only way to get attention. This way, I felt I had some control over both the perpetrator and myself.

I am often asked how I survived through the actual physical incidents and the accompanying pain. The answer is not difficult to explain, however unless you have been through childhood sexual abuse, it is something you will never understand. The brain has its own built in defense mechanisms, flight or fight being the most common example, but when the trauma is too much to cope with, a part of the brain shuts down as its method of self-protection. I believe the correct term in today’s world is dissociation, but there were much fewer labels in my days, so simply put I went to my safe place. Everyone’s version of a safe place will differ, but the reasons for its creation are generally the same. For me, I closed my eyes and went to the one place I felt safe and confident…the soccer field. I had played since I was five years old, and immediately took to it. My confidence, my safety, the game, all things I had some control of on the field. I was needed and wanted without the dreaded precursor that was my life off the field.  I was a part of a team and felt like I belonged somewhere for the first time in my life.  So, when my mind needed to shut down to the extent of full protection, my body followed suit, which somehow lessened any physical pain involved. For whatever period of time it was, I learned to quickly get to my safe spot and not leave until it was long over, and that became habitual. You do what you know.

I would like to say that I have dealt with every incident and am completely healed from the abuse. I would also like to say I have a million dollars, but neither statement holds truth. I have done my best to skim through the pages and end each chapter, but the ripple effect is continual in my life. It still casts a shadow over my ability to trust, form healthy relationships and develop a full bond of intimacy. There will always be triggers and for me, certain scents, textures or sounds will send me back to those times of horror, but this time as an outsider looking in, feeling helpless to save the child below. The visits are short and emotionless now, and although I no longer have to retreat to my safe place, I do believe it will always be with me.

 

 

3 Ways I Struggle With My BPD

bpd.jpg

 

 

Although Borderline Personality Disorder is becoming one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses; it continues to be one of the least understood.  Perhaps its diagnostic frequency is due to the wide range of symptoms it presents. At some point in time in most people’s lives, I am sure they have exhibited a trait or two off the list of BPD criteria, however, I have all but one, and the symptoms and  mannerisms are not once and a while, but every minute of my day that I am awake. So, in an effort to enlighten as many people as possible, I am going to share some of my personal experiences related to the recognized symptoms of BPD.

  1. Impulsive and Risky Behavior

Borderline Personality Disorder is a life of extremes where we bounce from happiness to sadness, each emotion felt at a level far more intense than the average person.  Impulsivity is the tendency to act with little regard for restraint and without considering the consequences. For many people affected by BPD these bouts of impulsivity and risk taking behaviors go along with the periods where we are at the extreme top end of the scale. The BPD symptoms of impulsivity can present itself in many ways but some of the most common are:

  • Substance abuse
  • Overspending
  • Gambling
  • Self- Harm/Suicide
  • Promiscuity
  • Binge eating
  • Reckless driving

I have an addictive personality by nature and genetics. I have been through a gamut of both recreational and prescription drugs becoming addicted to a few different things along the way.  My drug addictions were all short term and I was able to “control” them by replacing the heavier substance with a lighter one, until I was weaned off one and addicted to a lighter drug, the supposed premise being that I replace the more damaging substance with something a little less harmful.  In most cases however, until the source of the addictive behavior itself is identified and dealt with, the addiction will always linger.

I also struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts and have done so for the majority of my life. Obviously my suicide attempts were unsuccessful but my body tells a story with its scars; each one tells a tale, and I wish I could tell you I remember what  they all represent, and why they are there, but those memories are limited to only a few. The common denominator however is the instigation factor, rejection, whether it is evident or perceived it is completely real to me. The suicidal thoughts become so heavy I feel like I am anchored to the bottom of the ocean floor, dark and drowning. I have learned to allow myself to have those thoughts, and feel the corresponding emotions, as fighting them only seems to increase the urge. I will say that although I may not have control over these thoughts, I have learned to make sure they only stay thoughts and do not turn into actions.

  1. Unstable and poorly regulated emotions

BPD feels like having your emotions on constant sensory overload or like being in the eye of an emotional hurricane. Regardless of which emotion, the intensity presents at a level which is almost indescribable. The best comparison I can think of is…imagine your most devastating moment of grief, pain or anger, double it and live with it daily. My feelings can get so intense I feel like the only way to deal with them without physically hurting myself or verbally abusing others is to shut down emotionally, or dissociate from those feelings. It has been a safety method I have resorted to since before I can remember, and a skill I have yet to let go of.

Adding to the intensity and unstableness of my emotions is the frequency they occur. On a good day I am lucky to have only 3 or 4 mood swings, ranging from anger to tears, lasting maybe 15 minutes to an hour each time. On a bad day, I can expect at least double that amount and the length of time varying so much it is too difficult to keep track of. It is like living in a state of hypo or hyper arousal every single day, which on paper would look like the ups and downs of a physically unstable person on a heart monitor. The lines go way up, then drop way down with no real predictable pattern.

So now I am rampant with intense emotions bouncing from feeling ok to being severely depressed, emotions I can barely understand and yet I am expected to have complete control over them. I am working through therapy to try and get a grasp on them and will admit that my defeats far outnumber my victories in this category.

 

  1. A pattern of unstable relationships

Given what has already been mentioned above, there is no surprise that Borderlines have a greater difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships of any kind. My relationships may be very intense, unstable, and alternate between the extremes of over idealizing and undervaluing people who are important to me. It stems from fear of rejection and abandonment and encompasses a whole lot of push and pull and testing, almost like a child would test a parent, to see if you are just another person who will leave. I lost a lot of friends due to this aspect of my illness, as the average person cannot understand why one day I am their best friend and next I’m pushing them away, simply to see if they will come back. If you do this enough times, most people don’t come back, as they simply can’t handle the emotional whirlwind. For me, it makes perfect sense. I have to test over and over and if you come back, I am able to build trust. I guess this is why I have very few friends and trust very few people.

This pattern of unstable relationships is not only confined to friends, but affects family, co-workers and just about anyone I come into contact with for any extended period of time. I am always so afraid that people will leave that in order to maintain some control; it is easier if I make them leave and they don’t do it on their own accord. It makes socializing with friends and family terribly difficult and establishing relations with co-workers just as hard. As my resume would indicate, I have a hard time holding a job for more than a few years as the random emotional outbursts are generally not welcomed in a workplace.

Being social and wanting to have people to love and who love you is a part of human nature. It is something I desperately crave, yet at the same time, doing so leaves me vulnerable which usually ends in me getting hurt. It feels like the proverbial being stuck “between a rock and a hard place” and simply not yet having the skills or tools to dig myself out.

So, I continue to try a bit more each day. I try to be conscious of my push and pull and attempt to lessen the number of times it occurs. I try different techniques so that my anger does not unleash its fury instantly. I try to limit the amount of time I allow myself to feel suicidal, not that it always works, but the effort is there. BPD is a constant learning experience, and it’s a good thing I am up to the challenge.