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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"I'm allowing this to be part of my story. It's not my only story..." --Beth Stelling

This is a quote from a celebrity who was a domestic abuse victim. I'm not sure why, but when I read her story, those words felt like my own. When I look through my blogs, I realize that for many years they were about me - my past, my present, my friends and family, things I found funny or joyful. And I think I wanted anyone visiting those blogs to notice that I had many stories; abuse and rape were only a part, not the whole.

And then my life became unmanageable and I allowed PTSD to become my closest companion. My blogs became a place to vomit the symptoms and thoughts and feelings I could not control. There were no other stories to tell.

I think the people in my life, those who are a part of my daily or weekly existence, know well that PTSD is not me. I think they understand that the part of my story that is horrible and frightening is not the whole of who I am. I believe I am the one who is making it my only story.

There is a part of me that is grateful I was able to do the therapy work that moved me beyond the pain and desperation of living silently and never speaking of trauma one has experienced. But there is also a part that is embarrassed that I "allowed" the dissociation that had to be mended. I understand it was a defense mechanism required so that I could continue to live. I understand that the daily abuse put me, as a child, in a position where I could not thrive without forgetting what that child endured. I understand all that.

Still, there it that part of me that is ashamed I couldn't hold it together; a part that is embarrassed to talk of dissociation and the pain and work of integration - the part that labels me "crazy" because I did not know a better way to survive.

It's a small part of me, but one that is destroying my self-esteem and robbing me of the desire to interact with people who know about that small part. It convinces me that I am less. Other people go through difficult circumstances. Other people endure trauma. Most of them don't dissociate to the point that looking in the mirror is terrifying because they do not recognize the person looking back at them. It feels as if something is terribly wrong with me because I experienced that.

I don't experience it anymore.

That last sentence was written in a frenzied need to reassure myself and anyone who happens to read this blog that I am less crazy today than I was then. Again, I am mortified that I needed such a coping device.

I think this should not embarrass me. It does. I think I should not worry what people will think, should they find out the lengths I went to for survival and the things I had to do to become whole. I do.

The conflict surrounding this is confusing, to say the least. On the one hand, I know what it took to proceed through the integration process. I understand how difficult it was to say that the experiences that child went through were my own. The enormous amount of strength and courage required to embrace that child and make her me still leaves me breathless and exhausted.

This was a huge accomplishment. And I did it.

But there is still the lingering belief that if I was truly strong and courageous, the dissociation would never have happened at all. That belief leaves me feeling that I must protect everyone I love from me. Something is wrong with who I am. I need to limit time with them, and above all, I must not allow them to touch me. That would not be good for them.

Protect. Always the need to protect.

I purposely provoked the abuser in my life so that my younger siblings would not have to feel the emotional and physical pain, or would feel it to a lesser degree. For many years I remained silent about being raped by a cousin because I needed to protect the people I loved from feeling anything about what happened to me. Many of them had good relationships with that cousin. I feared their disbelief, but I also feared what would happen if they did believe me. It would cause them pain. I needed to protect them from that.

But mostly, throughout my life, I've been protecting people from me. From the wrong parts of me. From my responses to the things that have hurt me. I'm still doing it.

I believe this is one reason for the sadness from which I've been unable to emerge during the past year. I think I'm too tired to protect people anymore. And there is part of me that longs to stop apologizing for dissociation, for sadness, for being the person I am and having trauma as a part of my story.

Recently I've been thinking about safe people and safe places. I did not reside in a safe place as a child. When I was nine I found safety in the solitude of my backyard mountains. Prior to that, we lived in cities where that was not available to me, so I was the child who disappeared beneath my bed or inside a closet, or in the branches of a tree. I sought out places that felt safe. As a young adult, I could no longer rely on my physical safe places so, through dissociation, I left the part of me behind that needed one. When I was integrated, the need for a physical safe place reestablished itself. I have found some safe places, but none that feel impenetrably safe. It causes me distress.

I don't believe I've ever thought people were safe. Even after marrying Darrin, I wondered if he was a safe person. I think, after 20 years, I finally believe that he is. But I'm fairly certain the real reason I struggle with believing people are safe is because I don't believe I, myself, am a safe person. Because I'm unstable and crazy. Because I have PTSD. Because I was dissociated and integrated, and real people don't really do that.

So my tentative plan is to return to therapy. Therapist has not agreed to counsel me through this next portion of my journey because he is unsure that he has the expertise to guide me. But he has agreed to meet with me, listen to my goals, help me draft a plan, and refer me, if necessary.

Almost a decade ago I was diagnosed with PTSD. At the time I insisted that this would not be a lifelong disorder. I would figure out how to manage and recover from the trauma such that PTSD would be gone, or at the very least, completely unnoticeable. My diagnosing psychiatrist said that was unrealistic and pointless. It would be better to accept the disorder and take steps to learn to cope with it the rest of my life. I knew he was wrong.

And I did gain ground as I worked to heal and to rid myself of PTSD. But then life happened and that ground was almost completely lost. But as I have read and researched during the past decade, more and more experts are agreeing with me that, not only is severe PTSD avoidable in some cases, but it is looking more and more like complete recovery from trauma and resultant PTSD can be a reality.

Armed with the information and current research, I'm believing again that I don't need to cuddle with PTSD the rest of my life. And I also think it's time to figure out how to become a safe person, unembarrassed by the survival techniques employed by me throughout my life. And one day I want to feel that it's okay that I once spoke in third person of the child and teen who was me, because I don't do it anymore. And I want to be able to recognize that the process I went through to become whole was admirable - maybe even a little bit heroic. I want to be able to speak of it without excuse or apology.

Mostly, though, I want to figure out how to believe that the people who love me most don't condemn me for my need to survive, regardless of the path I needed to take to do so. And I want to be able to believe that they're proud of me for taking the steps necessary for me to reclaim that part of me I discarded. I want to be able to believe they're really glad that I chose to live, that I'm alive today, and that I have many more stories yet to be told.

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