Core Beliefs

Okay, I’m going to get right into it.  How do you heal from trauma? From the profound shit that keeps you locked up inside yourself?

Well, let’s talk about that because I finally hit the motherlode.

Core beliefs.  F*cking core beliefs.

What is a core belief? It sounds innocuous enough.  I’m going to use my personal definition.  A core belief is something that your subconscious believes to be true even if you cognitively believe the opposite.  I’ll give you a basic example.

A person might have come to believe on a deep, emotional level that they are worthless due to how they were treated in their family of origin and subsequent, confirming life experiences.  After growing older, reading self-help books, practicing a meaningful spirituality, building rewarding friendships, and going to therapy with a good therapist, they learned that they were in fact not worthless at all.  They learned about family dynamics, invalidation, and the toxic power of shame.  They learned about emotional regulation, adaptive coping strategies, and mindfulness.  For the first time in a long time, things felt different.  But sometimes something dark and familiar returned.  That cold, clinging fear.  The dread that accompanied the voice: “What if you really are worth nothing? What if everyone finds out? What if you are just a fraud? Everyone will know the truth about you.  And then they will leave you.  What then?”

This is a core belief.  It is buried in these “What if…” questions and there’s another one coming up.  What happens after the “What then?” What happens after everyone leaves? What is necessary to prevent that? Running? Being perfect? Pleasing everyone? Self-annihilating? Core beliefs like these are the lies that fuel our self-sabotaging behaviors, and they are biologically embedded in our subconscious through repeated exposure to trauma.  EMDR is one way to root them out.  Here is another way.

After I started EMDR I knew that my brain would open up the compartments and let the memories come forth.  How did I know this? I’ve done trauma work before.  I’ve also done an inordinate amount of cognitive work.  Twenty years of it.  I know what’s true.  At this point, I don’t need therapy to work out the ins and outs of human behavior or discuss pathologies.  I needed therapy to deal with fresh trauma or old trauma that was activated due to fresh trauma.  The blessing in this is that uncovered core beliefs from days of yore were discovered.

My root core belief seems to be “I am void”.  Apparently, I have gone for self-annihilation.  This core belief has permeated my personality and everything I do in various ways.  I have struggled with assertiveness.  Self-advocacy has always been next to impossible.  I do not like attention.  I do not like compliments.  I do not want to be noticed.  I do not want my picture taken.  I prefer to sit in the back of every room.  I am overly accommodating to the point of self-sacrifice.  I will “take the hits” in most relationships to the point of literally taking the hits.  I will make myself as small as possible to the point of trying not to exist if I feel under threat.  I used to be a chronic apologizer.  I even don’t move when I sleep so as not to disturb my partner.

In my mind, I know that I am not void.  I am not existentially wrong, but I somehow viscerally believe this to be true.  There is literally a fight going on within me over what is going to be the truth, and this needs to be settled.

How would something like this develop? My therapist observed, “You survived because of this belief.” Please note that.

Our core beliefs helped us survive.

He went on to say that I had to make myself as small as possible around my mother lest I draw too much attention and be in her crosshairs.  The same was true with my father.  Plus, my father tried to kill me.  When a parent tries to do that to you, you will struggle with feeling like you should not exist.  You will either shut down completely or try harder to prove that you have the right to be there.  I continually apologized for existing while, at the same time, tried harder and harder.

“It is common in PTSD,” my therapist said, “for a person to cognitively know what is true but for the subconscious to hold onto a belief that the person denies.  This is because the subconscious mind says, ‘I’m not getting rid of this belief! You are alive today because of me! You need me so I’m keeping it!'”

There it was.  A core belief sticks around in the brain because a part of us is convinced that we need it for our survival.  Because we did, on some level, survive due to believing that! Sweet mother!

“You did survive because of this belief.  Your belief that you needed to void yourself kept you alive.  It kept you alive in captivity.  It kept you intact with both your parents.  And it served you somehow in your marriage.  Is it any wonder you are struggling now?”

Core beliefs are adaptive even if we don’t cognitively believe them! Son of a…

So, why is there so much pain involved in the process of healing from trauma then? Well, there is a special kind of existential pain when your higher cognitive functions try to tell your subconscious limbic system what to do.  There is a space in between what we want to believe and what we truly believe on a deep, visceral level, and that space is filled with uncertainty, pain, and fear.  It is what we have known from past experiences and what we do not know about the future.  It is the terrible friction of the rubber meeting the road.  The grind of the turning of an old thought process into a new one, and it is terrifying.  The learning of a new thing when the old has served us even if only maladaptively in the present.  And the whole thing is there to prevent the Great Fear from ever visiting us again because we can’t endure such a thing.  Not again.

No matter how adaptive these core beliefs might have been at one time, however, they are often wrong.  What’s more, they act as translators for all our experiences, thusly, sabotaging our attempts at building better lives.  It is painful as all get out to discover them and confront them because they were put in place by bad things like trauma.  We held onto them most often to survive.  Humans are built for survival.  This is why core beliefs can be so bloody hard to let go of.  Humans will eat other humans to survive.  We will do extreme things to stay alive.  We will believe what we have to–even if it’s a complete lie and prevents us from ever being happy or fulfilled.

Furthermore, these beliefs come online when we are not calm.  They come online most often when we are triggered.  When I feel threatened in some way–even in a small way–the negative “What if” cycle begins and I begin voiding myself.  It happens every time.  I know some people who begin running.  One perceived slight, and they hole up in their house.  All communication is cut off.  That’s a form of running–isolation.  People pleasing? Oh, that usually starts with incessant texting from people who ask if someone is okay.  They don’t do it out of generosity.  They do it from a place of fear.

So, what do we do about it then?

Isn’t that the question though.  Well, you have to challenge the core beliefs.  What does that look like?

That’s the next post.

The Power of What If

This idea came to mind yesterday as I was beginning to dread my next EMDR session.  EMDR itself is fine.  It’s the time in between sessions that I truly dislike.  My brain has gone into hyperdrive, and traumatic memory after traumatic memory is pouring forth like Old Faithful.  It’s unpredictable just like Old Faithful, too.

In an attempt to make the best of it, I’ve been trying to play Match the Core Beliefs.  In my thinking, these memories aren’t coming forward without cause.  They must have something in common.  So, I’ve been writing them out in an attempt to uncover any hidden core beliefs.  It’s actually been a good strategy.  As I’ve done this, I’ve felt a bit better–less hypervigilant and irritable but irrationally fearful.

Fearful of what? Nothing and everything.  Just…randomly afraid.  Afraid that someone I know will die.  Afraid that everyone I’m close to will suddenly decide that I’m too something (fill in the blank with whatever quality seems most repellant) and run away.  Afraid that another catastrophe will befall my family.  Maybe it’s just the ebb and flow of general panic.  I am keenly aware of all of it.  I can even observe it from a rational distance.

So, this notion popped into my head yesterday as I was observing the flow of my rather anxiety-provoking thoughts.  “What if you told yourself the opposite of what you feared to be true? What if, instead of all the cognitive distortions that might actually be legitimate based upon your life experiences, you actively engaged your self-talk and told yourself the opposite?”

Well now, that sounded positively ludicrous! My brain spins tales that make the Brothers Grimm sound like Mother Goose! How could I possibly tell myself something…positive?

Then another thought: “You let yourself get all worked up and run over by the negativity in your mind.  Why not let yourself get built up by positivity that you deliberately create? If you are willing to respond emotionally to negativity, then why not take some control and respond positively to better thoughts that you have a say over?”

This little voice had a valid point.  I would have been offended were I not somewhat fascinated.

“Okay, how do I do this?”

“What’s making you the most upset? What is weighing on you and causing you anxiety?”

“Where do I begin?” I replied sarcastically.

“The most anxiety?”

Sometimes the answers that come forward are surprising.  We think that we know ourselves so well, and, in some ways, we do.  Other times, we don’t like something we see in ourselves because it doesn’t line up with our values or our self-assessment.  We want to be viewed by others as one way when, in reality, we aren’t that way at all.

I am excessively self-reliant, and it is a value that both my parents upheld fiercely.  To ask for help was akin to admitting to stealing.  Needing help was a character flaw.  Needing help was selfish.  If you needed help, then something was wrong with you.  It’s like they were raising a tiny Teddy Roosevelt.

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“Just look at her! We’ll have her naming national parks and riding a horse in no time!”

My father insisted that I learn to tie my shoes when I was 3 because I should not need his help for anything.  I learned to dress any wound that I had at age 4.  As an adult, I find asking for help very difficult, but, at the same time, I find excessive self-reliance as displayed in my parents ridiculous.  Asking for help is appropriate and good and yet I have been criticized for my self-reliance.  I am, however, heavily conditioned never to ask for help.  I was punished severely for needing help as a child.  A visceral response occurs in me at the moment that I need it.  On some level, I am convinced that people will actually abandon our friendship should I seek their help.  This is what one would call a core belief.  Core beliefs are not rational.  They are often conditioned responses that rise up within us under pressure.  I was taught that asking for help=selfish=punishment=abandonment.  So, under no circumstances can you let anyone see you sweat.  To need is to be abandoned.  To need is to be innately inadequate.  To need is to be somehow inherently repulsive.

I don’t intellectually believe this at all, but there is a part of me that has been conditioned to behave that this is true.  I fear that this is true.

Well, now what? I am very uncomfortable with admitting this.  Furthermore, asking anyone for help makes me almost sick to my stomach, but I know that being allowed to help someone is very validating.  I also know that refusing someone the privilege of helping can cause feelings of rejection and illegitimacy.

“Ah,” my fearful mind says, “what about being beholden to people?” My mother used to help me and consider it a debt.  Nothing was ever given freely.  Strings were always attached.  That is another reason for my excessive self-reliance.  There was no such thing as a gift in my family.  I learned early on that everything was quid pro quo.

My reassuring mind then says, “The people in your life now love you, and they know you.  They want to be there for you.  You can ask them for help.  They are not waiting to hold your past against you or even your weaknesses.  Love does not do that.  So, you can tell yourself that you are safe, loved, and valued in the present, and the people whom you have chosen are for you.  No one is going to throw you away or run from you because you feel like you are too much but not enough at the same time.  Or, you can continue to buy into the nightmares your brain throws at you.”

Well, that’s cheeky, but it might be true.  A part of me gave another part of me a stern talking to, but it got my attention.

When do we say enough is enough in terms of fearful and negative self-talk? If we can go down the “What if…” road that leads to hell, then we can just as easily go down the “What if…”road that leads to heaven.  “What if this all goes to shit?”…”What if this turns out so much better than I ever thought it could?” Two mindsets.

Which one do I choose? I know which one I want to choose.  I want the path of hope.

It’s hard, and it is a choice.  So, keep at it.  It does pay off.

 

A Gastronomic Warning

Firstly, I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  It can be a difficult holiday for people with complicated family circumstances.

Secondly, I offer a warning.  Take heed.  Day-old ham smells like the business end of Holstein.  How do I know this? Well, my lovely friend and her husband were supposed to join us for Thanksgiving dinner.  Keeping with tradition, I cooked.  I usually cook everything.  I, however, never make a turkey.  I don’t like turkey.  I know, I know.  It’s unpatriotic.  The turkey was almost our national bird and symbol.  I blame my mother and her after-Thanksgiving turkey soup that was, by all accounts, the most disgusting, gelatinous hot mess to ever hit a soup bowl.

Anyway, I won’t make a turkey, and my kids won’t eat one either.  My ex-husband really loved the Honey Baked Ham.  That then became the tradition, but I’m a vegetarian.  Another one of my daughters is also a vegetarian.  So, there we were.  What would the centerpiece be? My lovely friend and her husband suggested that they would bring some smoked ham for the omnivores.  Excellent! Unfortunately, my friend got sick on Thanksgiving Day and was unable to attend.  Her husband kindly dropped off the ham for dinner.

One of my daughters was all over that smokey meat as was my neighbor who always joins us for major holidays.  It was a fine evening of games, good food, and superlative deipnosophy although lessened by the absence of my friend and her husband.  I was up and out of the house very early the next morning, and, upon my entrance into the house, I was practically smacked in the face with a disgusting odor.  I yelled out, “Why does it reek of farts in here?”

My ham-loving daughter was the only person within eyeshot, and she looked somewhat culpable.  “I don’t know,” she casually said.

“For real.  I mean it.  It positively stinks in here! It smells like someone lit it up for hours! Why?!” I asked again.

I went into the kitchen, and it was then that I saw it.  The ham.  Sitting on the counter.  I stepped closer and smelled it.  It may as well have been emanating green vapors.  J’accuse, oh guilty pan o’ham!

At that moment, my oldest daughter came downstairs and yelled out, “Sweet mother, why does the house smell like ass?!” She is a colorful personality with the mouth to match.

Sadly, we had to take the ham out back and shoot it.  It is no longer with us.  And, I had to open almost every window in our house for an hour.

I learned later that one of my kids took the ham out of the fridge after I’d gone to bed and left it on the counter overnight where it sat until the next day.

Ah yes, refrigeration of leftovers is key to preventing bacterial proliferation.  So, heed my warning, and always refrigerate your leftovers lest your house smell like ass, too.

 

 

 

Breathwork and Healing

It feels really weird, for lack of a better word, to write about trauma in such a personal way.  I prefer to write about it from the bird’s eye perspective.  Flying above the minefield.  It feels like it’s not personal anymore.  Like it happened in another life, in a land far, far away.  Maybe like it all happened to another person.

But, the past informs the present, and the present will no doubt inform the future.  We must make certain that we stay on top of that which tries to stay on top of us, or there is no future worth having.

It’s a little too convenient to write about trauma like that particularly when it’s your own.  How will anyone know if it’s possible to actually heal? How will I know? I’ve come this far, haven’t I? How much further can I go? I intend to take it to the absolute limit, and I took it one step further today.

As Providence would have it, I won a scholarship to work with a practitioner who does breathwork.  I didn’t really know what breathwork was outside of what I had done in physical therapy after a car collision.  Admittedly, I really hated that work.  I wasn’t too jazzed about doing more breathwork, but I had a feeling it could be beneficial.  Additionally, it wasn’t going to cost me much at all.  What the hell…

As it turns out, breathwork is a lot like EMDR for the body.  Just as trauma lodges itself in the mind, it also rests itself in the body.  The breathwork loosens the body memories and enables the trauma to pass from the body while tapping into core beliefs just as EMDR does.  On paper, this sounds perfect.  It’s a two-pronged approach to recovery and healing, and the timing was perfect.

In practice? I felt dubious.  What would it be like? Would I hate it as much as I hated the physical therapy?

My first breathwork session was today, and I was blown away.  I thought that it might be an emotional experience.  I was not prepared for what came forward.  Ten seconds into the actual breathing I felt a strong feeling of suffocation.  As I lay on the mat on the floor, I actually felt like I was going to suffocate.  I heard myself saying internally, “I’m suffocating…”  My rational self tried to reassure me by saying, “No, you are not suffocating.”  I told Sarah, the practitioner, what I was feeling.  She reassured me.  I kept breathing, and the feeling grew stronger.  I felt like I was going to choke.  I actually could not breathe even though I was breathing.  Hot tears were streaming down my face as I breathed in and out.  I was suffocating.  I was certain that I was suffocating.

Suddenly, the feeling passed.  It was easier to breathe, and I felt chilled.  I began to tremble from the cold.  A space heater was blowing on me, but I couldn’t feel the heat.  I only felt cold.  Sarah put a comforter on me as I continued to breathe.  She said, “You probably know that when trauma leaves the body, the body can become very cold.”

When the session ended, Sarah asked me if anything came to mind as I felt that I was suffocating.  Initially, nothing had come to mind.  All I could hear was a voice in my mind saying, “I’m suffocating.”  Then, I began to remember all the times I had awakened from surgeries with oxygen masks on my face, in pain, being told to breathe.  I recalled a particular time when I had almost died in an ICU from my airway closing.  I had actually almost suffocated then.

She then gently suggested, “Is it possible that your response was from pre-verbal abuse? Your father sexually abused you orally.  You would have choked and most likely felt as if you were suffocating then.”

I was stunned.  “Is that possible? To have that body memory? All this time?”

“Yes.  That is exactly what this work is for,” she said.

I was speechless and grateful at the same time.  To finally clear such a long-standing body memory is, for me, so unexpected.  I had no idea that such old, pre-verbal memories could be effectively addressed much less healed in meaningful ways.

I feel quite hopeful.

I left the session in a strange dreamy state.  This was not an easy thing to do. I have ten sessions left.  I don’t know what lay ahead of me, but I think the process will be very valuable.

Breathwork.  Consider this as another avenue for healing as you sojourn.

Resources:

Breathwork Alliance

Phoenix Rising

I did not do EMDR at my last session.  My therapist was correct.  My brain caught on very quickly that it was time to “open it up”, so to speak, and every unresolved trauma left came pouring forth  with relentless haste.  I was none too pleased about it, but, at the same time, I wanted to grind it out as soon as possible.

Let’s just get this done! I’m ready, but then again…

There were details emerging that I had forgotten.  I “forgot” them for a reason.  I never wanted to remember them again.  I had to go in my room and collect myself more than a few times.

One of my father’s preferred methods of behavior shaping was torture–animal torture in specific.  He would torture and kill animals in front of me making sure that I understood that the animal was a proxy for me.  If I were to ever disobey or defy him, then what I was witnessing in that moment would be done to me.  Yes, this is brutal and horror-inducing.  It was supposed to be, but my father had no problem doing that.  He had a craving for sadism, and he was very good at planning and carrying out torture in all its forms.  The US government had paid him to do it for years.  He had a gift after all.

Recalling it all in such detail was, needless to say, extremely unpleasant, and that is what was discussed in therapy.  How does one put meaning to the meaningless? Truly, how?! This is why some sorts of trauma–the nihilistic sort–are so hard to come back from.  Watching your parent torture and kill animals in front of you all the while knowing that he would really rather be doing that to you counts as an annihilating sort of trauma.  It breaks you down in a way that few other things can, and the brain can never make sense of it.  It is next to impossible to adaptively process it.  It goes right alongside something like incest.

So, what does one do? How do we adaptively process something so unspeakably horrible? Evil even?

My therapist actually hit a wall in session at this.  Speaking only for myself, I can usually process something if I can add meaning to it.  No matter how horrible, if I can take meaning away from it, then I can adaptively process it.  That is how I’ve managed to make peace and heal from almost everything I’ve experienced–even the trafficking.  But, some of things my father did have languished in a compartment in my mind, untouched, because I did not know what to do with them.  The time has come, and all I have been able to do is circle those memories like a wolf under threat.

During session, as my therapist sat in his chair looking puzzled, the story of a Jewish man came to mind.  He had survived Auschwitz and immigrated to America to begin again.  He lost his entire family.  All of them.  He was completely alone in the world.  He enrolled in medical school as a non-native speaker and became a physician.  He got married.  He had children.  He built a life with everything against him.  Can you imagine the horrors he witnessed? The depth and weight of the grief he carried? Can you imagine having no one to speak to about it? Can you imagine there being no one in the entire world left who knew you? You would be a stranger everywhere you went.  No friends.  No family.  No countrymen.

So, how did he get up again? That is the question I asked in session.  This man.  Many, many people have done what he did.  They overcame insurmountable odds and built something much bigger than they were.  What is that quality? Why even bother? I eventually said, “I think he must have continued on because he had hope.  Why else would a person continue to try if not for hope?”

And that was the moment that my therapist looked at me and said, “Is that why you keep going? In all the absolutely terrible things that your father did to you and made you witness, how did you continue to get up again?”

I had to think about it.  It was hope, yes, but it was something else.  He never broke me, and that is what he had tried to do.  Yes, he did torture me, but I never called him ‘sir’.  I never gave him what he wanted.  And, I always believed that if he was ever successful in breaking me down to a point that I did break, I would get up eventually.  I would resurrect.  He was powerful, but I was somehow more powerful because he could not snuff me out entirely.

And I was right.

And therein lies the meaning to all of the meaningless trauma.

If you are alive and breathing, then you were not completely annihilated.  You were not broken down into nothingness.  You may have seen and experienced things that you worry you won’t ever be able to tell another person lest you traumatize them in the telling.  I understand this.  But, your breath and heartbeat both tell you that you can rise again, and that means more than you might realize.

Your life might look like a pile of ash right now, but sometimes starting over from nothing is exactly what is necessary in order to build something new.  Discovering that you can’t be erased, that you have what it takes, that you are, in fact, a survivor removes the self-doubt that has kept you from getting up and walking an uncertain road.  Once you know, however, what you’re really made of, the uncertainties that lie ahead aren’t nearly so scary because you’ve already been scared.  The future? As uncertain as it is, you know you have what it takes now.

And knowing that you have what it takes to face every uncertainty is worth more than almost anything.  That is how you turn trauma into meaning.  Lead into gold.  That is emotional alchemy.  And that’s how you get up again.

So, keep going no matter where you are in your process.  You might still be dealing with lead.  Just get up.  Start walking.  That is how it begins.  Every story must have a beginning before you get to the middle.  And every narrative has a dénouement and a terrible villain; otherwise, there would be no need for a hero.

And every phoenix needs fire and ash before it rises again.

Keep going.  Make that your mantra.

 

Another Saturday Night

I was prepared to publish a completely different post, and perhaps I will.  But, as I was cleaning my kitchen, another thought came to mind.

Why do so many people with deep trauma never reveal it even if much of it is adaptively processed? Why? Why do we refrain from telling our stories or tell highly redacted versions?

Aside from the obvious reasons like stigma and boundaries, are there other reasons? I think so.

The healing process takes so damn long.  Healing from deep trauma feels like the work of a lifetime, and, in my experience, people grow weary of that process.  So many well-meaning people grow tired of the subject, verbal processing, and resultant affect, and the inevitable question arises: “Why can’t you just be happy? Isn’t it time for you to move on?”

Funnily enough, for many of us dragging that deep trauma around, we ask ourselves the same question.  What’s more, it isn’t that we aren’t “happy” per se.  It’s that there is work to be done, and, like the mail, it just keeps on coming.

There is a unique weight associated with deep trauma, and it’s hard to explain what it feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it.  Why can’t we just get over it? Frankly, I don’t know.  Why can’t I just get over it? Why can’t you just get over it?

Imagine all those Syrian refugees.  Do you think that they will ever be able to “just be happy”? I can’t answer that, but I do know that they will never forget their current and past experiences.  Victims of human trafficking? From personal experience, I can say that you can go on to build a good life if you survive it, but it takes a long time.  And, no, you don’t forget any of it.  Should you be unfortunate enough to witness other people get tortured or even murdered…? No.  You will not forget that, and you will likely never get over that.  If you yourself survive torture, then, no, you will not forget that.  And, sometimes, your brain does not survive it fully intact.  Deep trauma leaves trenches.  Not small scars.  Your brain is actually changed on a neuronal level by trauma.

Sometimes you find yourself wanting to simply talk about it particularly if a long-dormant memory springs to life, but you won’t.  It’s not that you can’t.  You won’t.  Why do we not talk about our past experiences? Honestly, it’s because they are too horrible to inflict on another person.  It takes a special person to be our witness, and, truthfully, it’s almost worse to see the shock and horror followed by the pity that overtakes people’s faces when they hear the narrative account.  They reel back fully incredulous.  You can almost see them begin to wonder if you are really a sane individual; or, maybe you’re just a big faker feigning normalcy.  Either they lose their words and stare at you, or, worse, morbid curiosity sweeps over them; and the uncomfortable questions begin.

“You were actually abducted? Wow.  How did that happen? How did you get away? Like…literally…how? What happened to you when you were there? Did the FBI get involved? Did you see really bad things? Oh! What was the worst thing that you saw?”

What is the worst response? Being blamed for whatever it was that ended in your experiencing trauma.  The victim blaming response.  “What did you do to cause this? Surely, no one would ever do a thing like that if you didn’t instigate it.”

The problem with all of this is that you know that nothing in all of this is to be normalized, but, since this is all a part of your story and life experience, it’s your normal even if it is as far from normal as the East is from the West.  This is why it is so alienating.  You are on the outside of the bell curve in terms of life experiences, and you don’t know who your people are.  Do you even have a people? Where do you go if you’re a refugee, a torture survivor, a survivor of prolonged abuse of any kind? Who do you talk to about your inner darkness? Who might understand it? Who won’t grow weary of hearing about yet another terrible thing that happened to you? Who won’t blame you for your own suffering or judge you in some way?

For me, it gets put aside and processed, for the most part, alone because blame and judgment slow my process down.  There are some things that I fear to bring to the light of another person.  Judgment is more than I can bear at this point.  I grow tired of saying, “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.”  It does matter on some level not because I long for approval.  No, it’s not that.  It is something quieter and deeper and harder to get at.

I think that when you’ve grown up being thought of so poorly by the people who were supposed to be your biggest fans and supporters, the idea of being accepted and even approved of becomes almost a fantastical notion.  A dream.  One develops a veneer in order to survive and push forward.  At some point, however, the need to be cared for, liked, and accepted becomes apparent.  A desire for devotion emerges.  To feel chosen.  Preferred.  Wanted.  Safe.  Special even.  So, to endure even more judgment for trying to fight to heal from events that were undeserved and completely out of one’s control just brings on pain and further ontological alienation.  It is easier to say nothing or omit information by broadcasting an edited reality to the world beyond than to be honest.  And, I sometimes wonder if this isn’t the reason why autoimmune disorders are so common among people who have experienced trauma.

There is great comfort when we are invited to talk about what we’ve experienced and how we are experiencing it now in a validating and safe environment among people who truly care for us and won’t grow weary of the arduous journey.  Being able to authentically work our process in safe relationships without fear of judgment is probably one of the best entry points to a quickened healing process.  This is a true gift.

So, as you make your way in your process, be on the lookout for that environment and those people.  They do exist.

A Hard Saturday Night

I want to pause the EMDR button and talk for a moment.  I have to process something, and I do that most often through writing.  This is germane, I think, to this blog’s content in some way.  So, I’ll do it here.  Plus, it just might speak to someone.

Have you ever felt completely misunderstood? Not in words.  Not as if you misspoke.  No.  Something worse.  Existentially misunderstood.  As in you were unseen for who you are.  Worse, not seen, accepted, or understood by someone you thought actually did understand you.

I had that moment a few weeks ago, and the feeling won’t leave me.  It comes back to me on and off when I’m not even thinking about anything related to, well, anything important.  It just appears, and I’m right back in the moment.

I had been in my house, doing whatever, and I was asked, out of the blue, “Do you ever do anything fun? Like…ever?” Actually, it wasn’t really even a question.  It came out more like a statement.  A judgment.  And it landed hard.  I felt stunned.  I didn’t know what to say.  I was instantly hurt, but I lost my words.  I wanted to stand up for myself, but I didn’t know how.  What could I say? I felt awash in inadequacy and shame.

Do I ever do anything fun? How do I explain this?

I am a single mother with four daughters, but in order to explain this I have to go back in time.

I write another blog all about my experiences with mental health and my daughter, Grace.  In 2011, unbeknownst to everyone, she was in the prodromal stages of what appeared to be childhood-onset schizophrenia.  Frankly, it was nightmarish for my entire family.  My youngest daughter was born screaming.  Literally, she was pulled out of me screaming, and she did not stop screaming.  The nurses had to move us to a separate room away from the other new mothers and babies because she was causing such a disturbance.  She continued to scream for two years solidly.  For real.  She rarely slept for four years.  I developed terrible migraines due to extreme sleep deprivation and the car accident I experienced while pregnant with her.  She was diagnosed with a slew of developmental issues one of which was, of course, an autism spectrum disorder.  I thought that she was going to be it, so to speak, in terms of stress.

Nope.  Schizophrenia in a fifth grade child is an entirely different sort of terrible.  I had little to no rewarding personal life when Grace became ill.  My entire life was about caregiving and special needs advocacy already.  Grace didn’t achieve meaningful stability until 2013, and, by then, I was a shell of a woman.  For a year, I could not predictably take Grace out of the house.  I had to let all ambitions for a personal life or even a future go.  No.  I did not have fun.  Ever.  I lived and breathed caregiving.  Social workers and therapists were in and out of my house weekly because Grace could not go to them.  Her diagnosis was so serious that we qualified for state assistance.  Every therapist and social worker we saw had never met a child with her diagnosis.  It was a terrifying time.

All I did was go to her school to meet with someone.  Go to specialists.  Go to the hospital.  Meet with neurologists and neuropsychologists.  Try and build a care team that could help her.  And, I did this entirely alone.  I had three other children whose needs were skyrocketing.  Plus, I had a husband who decided to entirely check out of the marriage as well as all parenting responsibilities while generously deciding to throw in the occasional round of abuse when it felt good.

No.  I was not having fun.  I was getting very sick.  First, my neurologist thought I had MS.  I had multiple MRIs.  I had a lumbar puncture.  Numerous blood tests.  I was put on more and more medication.  I was sent to a rheumatologist.  I was diagnosed with SLE.

No.  That was in no way fun.  I had no family support because I have no family.  I have a few friends.  That’s it, but who wants to rely too heavily on friends? Friends have lives and their own responsibilities!

These were very dark days.  There were moments I just wanted to fade away and die.  I started to lose hope.

So, here I am now.  Building something from the ashes of a former life.  I feel really good about it actually.  My daughters are very proud of me.  I’m proud of my daughters.  We pulled together, and we took steps to turn our lives around.  I’m not in a domestically abusive relationship anymore.  My health is improving, and I am learning to have fun again for the first time in literally years.

So, to be judged so directly for having a life that doesn’t measure up to some arbitrary standard of what “fun” should look like when I’ve come so far was very painful for me.  And, I have not even discussed the effects of domestic violence on one’s identity.  Even if I were to have had completely healthy children, I endured years of abuse in my primary relationship.  Learning to recover and heal an identity after that takes time.  Learning to speak up, learning to practice self-care, learning to even know what you want when you’ve been deprived of being allowed to want, learning to stop hiding your personal tastes lest you be mocked, learning to relax enough to engage in fun, learning to give yourself permission to enjoy life again…this is all part of the healing process.

I thought, perhaps naively, that this process was understood and who I was as a person was seen.  To feel “on the outside” in a relationship is painful.  It’s alienating.  There is no intimacy there.  Just a feeling of bleakness.  Desolation.

I don’t wish to experience these kinds of interactions.  Sometimes I find myself wanting not to disclose anything to anyone.  It is far easier to simply play a part.  No one needs to know anything because it feels as if one is judged anyway.  These are my feelings speaking right now–not my reasonable self.

Yet we are wired for intimacy and connection.  There are people in the world, very rare people, with whom we do connect.  Those kindred souls who truly get us.  When we are with them we feel like we’ve come home.  We are on the inside of something grand and almost magical when we are with them.  Sometimes I find this human need for others almost unfair.  As my daughter says, “I just want to live with the cats and not bother with people.”

But my cat puked on me when I was sleeping last night.  So, I don’t know what to say about that.  Alas, we humans are not meant to be alone.  Sometimes feeling truly understood for who you are, where you’ve been, how you’ve suffered, and why you do the things you do is the most healing thing of all.  It is exactly how you need to be loved in order to recover and grow into the next stage of becoming.

It’s just a hard Saturday night.  That’s what it is.