church, Process, Spiritual Abuse, Vulnerability

When Being Human Feels Like Imposter Syndrome

For me, nothing feels more vulnerable than not being able to perform at the level I’m used to.  I find solace in the idea that if anything I prove my worth by doing ALL THE THINGS.   Over the past few months, my health has taken a weird turn, requiring me to really pare down how much I am “doing” throughout the day.  I’m consistently tired, thus needing to pass some of the workloads I’ve previously owned, to my husband.

At the same time, I’ve been in therapy with Jessica for over three years now.  I’ve been working through years and years of trauma and abuse, while simultaneously trying to {adult/wife/mother}.

I have a lovely husband, an amazing child, and a great life.  But my trauma keeps me from enjoying it the way I should.  I feel like an imposter in this life, as if I can’t play all the parts I should to deserve it all. I sit in therapy and spin in circles about the human I am, who I was supposed to be, and the complex factors that created who I am today.

Despite her not giving me a single reason to, I’ve consistently challenged Jessica’s dedication to me as a client by calling her out on various things she says that trigger me.  (Interestingly enough, she probably finds this totally helpful and empowering for me to do.)  Every few months I seem to hit this Wall of “OMG WHY AM I NOT “BETTER” YET?”  Today she mentioned in response to the Wall, that therapy for complex trauma survivors can take 10 years + to move through.

I was dumbfounded.  Then she drops this:

“When you’ve grown up in persistent and systemic abuse, with incident after incident, complex trauma, therapy is a process of totally rebuilding a new human being.

Of course it’s going to take a long time.

Not only that, but it’s expected and okay.”

I left shaken, and in tears of both shame {for feeling this way} and relief {maybe I’m not broken?} I turned on a podcast and started listening to my weekly “geek-out” of Psychology in Seattle about Imposter Syndrome.

The podcast got me thinking.  I feel like just existing is imposter syndrome for me.  I consistently question my own reality because of the spiritual abuse I experienced.  The church shunned facing trauma head-on and working through it.  I recall ministries that would have you bring your trauma to a weekend retreat and be expected to let god heal it all {read: never need to worry about, deal with, or mention said trauma again}.  If you did struggle with that trauma afterward it was because of {a lack of faith, a lack of reading your bible enough, a lack of prayer, unconfessed sin in your life}.

Perhaps this is why the formerly religious struggle so much with trauma.  Without a forum to safely express feelings, doubts, and struggles,  how is trauma to be resolved? {Or maybe not even resolved, but integrated into our lives.} When lack of healing is connected with lack of faith, there is little motivation to explore struggle with past trauma.

When I was in the church, I was basically cattle.  I was being raised to fulfill certain duties {youth leader/wife/worship leader} and to not stray beyond that.  Purity was of the utmost importance, and the appearance of being unblemished was critical for those roles.  The girls, specifically, were raised with a goal of a marriage and children.  There was little room in there for humanity or cracks in our perfect porcelain plates.  In order to have a great match, endorsed by the pastors, we needed to have an appearance of perfection, and a lack of struggle to be holy.

Upon exiting the church, I felt everything I was and formed myself to be was called into question.  I was wandering among the world we were taught to not be of, with huge gashes from childhood and young adult complex trauma, with no support system.  I felt so vulnerable because the part I was groomed to play was suddenly taken away from me.  An arranged marriage to a member of the ministry, all my friends, my musical self {worship team}, and even my family.  My sense of self was systemically taken from me {or never allowed to develop}, piece by piece during my childhood through to my young adult days along with countless others.  {Some of whom are still deeply involved in the church life to this day, and now a cog in the spiritual abuse wheel.}

Thankfully, I’m a member of several FB groups where deconstructing religious experiences and spiritual trauma is an everyday discussion.  I feel less alone when I see similar stories of spiritual abuse, and how their experiences in the church have cause people significant and ongoing harm.  It hurts me to know that a group of people can hurt people so badly, and even after a person leaves there is significant, ongoing wounds that pop up.

On the flip side, at times a topic will be brought up that turns my world on end again.  This goes along the lines of “know better, do better.”  I will suddenly have a realization that something I experienced wasn’t normal, or was downright abusive, which puts me back in the trenches of needing to deconstruct my long-held beliefs.

I frequently doubt my ability to reconstruct a whole human being from the broken parts I’ve gathered over the years.  I feel a sense of obligation to be further along in my process than just 3 years.  When I struggle to be the perfect wife, mother or friend, I have little sympathy for myself, or grace.  I am keenly aware this is a result of the unbending black/white thinking I grew up in, but cutting myself the slack to know that I’m not going to break my child by reacting a certain way when I’m triggered… my husband isn’t going to leave me because I need to rest and not unload the dishwasher… I’m not failing at life because I sit in therapy every week spinning on the same issues over and over… is difficult.

 

 

Process, Vulnerability

Be Still

As we enter into the holiday season, my heart starts to settle a bit.  My assault anniversary is now behind me, and I find that my heart starts to still.  What comes with outward stillness, is inward movement.  My brain is famous for stirring up all sorts of memories and thoughts and I find that I start to spin a bit.

This year was a bit different.  I am and was dealing with a health crisis around the time of the assault anniversary, leading to my need to backburner my feelings.  As the emergent issues of that health issue passed, I found that the refuse of the anniversary remained, strong as ever.

So what happens when life around is still, but your mind is moving so quickly? What happens when there isn’t a big T trauma happening?  Where does your mind go?

For me, I start to spin on trust. My physical issues have led me to need to step back from my roles as wife/mother more and rely heavily on my partner to take care of a lot of the day to day things I’d typically do.  This dependence has created a feeling of vulnerability in myself.

What IF our value was simply based on what we contribute?  And if that is the case, when our ability to perform those roles diminishes, what do we become?  Are we less worthy?  Are we less of a partner? Are we less of a value?

When looking at the 5 love languages, I fall STRONGLY into the quality time and acts of service camp when giving love to others.  I deeply desire to connect authenticly with those that mean most to me, and when possible, meet needs.  Over the past months, my ability to do either one has gone down severely causing me to question my value in my friendships.

Being still, and vulnerable is a very big struggle for me.  What am I if I am not at my best?  Then, to unpack that further, what is “best”?  Once boiled down, “best” equates to optimum efficiency and output, as if I am a wifebot, mombot, or friendbot and my value is based on what I can do, how much and how well I can do it.  And isn’t that the kicker?

What if they don’t find me valuable anymore?

We all just want to be seen, heard, connected and valued.

 

 

 

 

Process

Same office, different hour.

Once (sometimes twice) a week I walk into a room where I don’t have to speak French to talk about trauma or “not trauma.”  I can walk in and speak about whatever I want, and know that I can be understood.

At times, that is the most freeing experience ever, and at times the most frustrating as I can’t hide anything.  I can’t hide my microexpressions, my breathing, nothing.

Trauma is isolating. Survivors are isolated from the world, from non-survivors, and from each other.  We are on an island.  I don’t get to therapy early because I don’t want to sit there in the waiting room and see other trauma survivors and not talk to them.  It’s already so isolating.  I don’t even look at anyone in the eyes in the office because I know that they have a story I can relate to, but I’ll never know it.  It’s worse to be surrounded by them, and know that you can never know.  Being aware these are your people, and you’ll never know them, it’s incredibly hard.

It’s worse to be lonely, than alone.

One day when I walked into Jess’s office there were drawings left over from the previous hour, another client… a drawing of a spider, on pink cardstock… with the words “fuck u.”  I saw that and just got them.  I got IT.  Sometimes that’s just how we deal.  We sometimes feel like we are just balloons floating around the world that doesn’t get it.

For me, I often have/had to approach the world with a “fuck u” attitude.  You think I can’t make it? Well, fuck you.  You think I need to trust everyone?  Fuck that and fuck you. (And so on.)  The Survivor’s Guide to Life is defense AND offense.

This little glimmer of the Fuck U spider was a moment of the humanity of someone else battling their own war.  Jess cut it out for me, and I have it in my wallet, to remind me that even though I don’t see them, somewhere out there, there is someone out there who gets it.

Over time, I’ve formed a music playlist that has been my go-to source of inspiration, and often play it in therapy.  I shared it with Jess and she asked if she could share this list with another one of her other clients.  Music is a huge part of my soul, and to pass it to another going through trauma was a gift I was thankful to share.  It gave me comfort to know that the notes that I curated into this list were being given to another.  Eventually, the idea was floated to connect the two of us. This person had no name, it’s like they weren’t real.

Until they were.

 

I got an email in my inbox, from the same office… different hour.

Subject line: Insert Awkward Subject Line Here.

Right then I knew, Hannah was good people.  Right off the cuff she was snarky, fun, and made fun of the therapeutic process, as we hardcore PTSD clients are prone to do. (It’s a coping strategy, don’t judge.)  Within days we developed a good rapport where we were able to express some of our challenges (what brought us to our hour) with ease.  It was amazing to be able to not only talk about those challenges without needing to interpret why xyz might be complex for us, but also knowing Jess allowed us to understand how that expression might play out in the hour.

My therapist offered a bridge between our two islands.

Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so alone.

Process

Brokenness

Broken

a :damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
:having undergone or been subjected to fracture 
:not working properly 
:disrupted by change
:made weak or infirm 
:subdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
:cut off 
:imperfectly spoken or written
:not complete or full 
The vulnerability project was born of brokenness. Of a desire to put together pieces of my soul and spirit in a new and unique way sure, but at its core, out of brokenness.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been processing an event that occurred more than a decade ago.  Part of trauma is the constant cycling of information in your brain, the recycling even of new ways of looking at the same event.  My therapist would refer to it as processing (UGH).
I’ve loved, truly loved, two men in my life.  I’m married to one of them.
This event involved the other.
More than a decade ago, I worked at an overnight camp and fell in love with an amazing person.  He was strong, kind, and knew what it was like to live through something hard.  At the time, I was still going through night terrors and reliving my own trauma, and he was able to empathize as he was a vet with PTSD himself.  The ability to speak the same language with him, without ever actually talking was unique and powerful.  For the first time in years, I felt like I wasn’t alone.
So much could go unsaid. But not like in the outside world.  Words could go unsaid because finally there was understanding.  I could bring up a trigger, and I didn’t have to go through the full story.  He could do the same.  It was like being in a book group, with someone finally reading the whole book, just like I did.  It was a breath of fresh air.
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I felt broken for years, alone, like a jagged shard of glass, but around him… since he had his own trauma, I thought perhaps we could be more like sea glass.  We could tumble a bit together and become something less sharp, if only because we had a mutual understanding.
Maybe together, we could both heal.
One night in the pitch black we went walking together in the neighboring regional forest next to our camp, after work.  It was dark, but I was with him.  I was with him. We were just talking.  I said something that caused him to be upset with me.  I recall he stopped. We stopped. and then he left me there.
And suddenly I was alone.
I remember my thoughts running in fast forward.
Where did he go?
Why did he leave me here?
Where am I?
I have no way of getting back, what will I do?
I.AM.ALONE.
I am going to die here.
And then I started to panic.
My mind flashed.
Suddenly I wasn’t in the forest, I was in my assault, and he put me there.  He left me alone in the middle of the woods, he knew what he was doing, and he left me unsafe.
Someone I loved, someone I trusted.
someone WHO.KNEW.BETTER.
I came back to my body in a violent landing, like a comet hitting the Earth because that’s exactly what I had done.  I was on the forest floor on my hands and knees, wondering why it was so loud.  What is that horrible noise?  What is dying?
That noise was me, screaming.
Time stood still.  I screamed and screamed.  I had no way of getting back, I didn’t know where I was in the park because I thought I was walking with someone safe,
someone I loved,
someone who would protect me.
He was in the army for god sakes, leave no one behind?
I thought I was going to have to wait until daylight to return back to camp, and if I had to scream until then, I would.
Time passed.
Days.
Years.
Minutes.
Seconds.
He finally returned.
We walked back together, and by that I mean somehow his body and mine shared space along the way to where we needed to go.
I moved my things out of his cabin that night, and he kept moving them back in.  I recall sleeping next to him shaking.
I spent time thinking about this throughout the following days/weeks and made a conscious choice to put it aside in my memory.  “You’re broken,” I thought.  “This might be your chance.  He gets that you are broken, and stays anyway. This might just need to be the way it is.”
So we moved on.  We stayed together for several more months together until we broke up in the fall.
Years go by, and we reconnect.  He has married and has a lovely wife and kids.  I do too and we realize that we still both deeply care for each other.  We have great conversations, and I look forward to any time we are able to talk.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago.
Out of nowhere, he says (I’m paraphrasing) “You know, I’m sorry for what happened in the forest. I knew it would trigger your PTSD.  That’s why I stayed nearby, you couldn’t see me, but I was nearby.”
……… And I look at those words and my heart sinks.
He had left me there and heard me suffer.  While he listened nearby, triggering me into a trauma space.  And as someone with PTSD himself, doing that knowingly.  Suddenly my narrative of the situation drastically changed.  I thought he had left and then returned when he noticed I hadn’t made it back.  Instead, he was nearby, listening to me scream.
I spoke with him via skype because I needed to know what he was thinking.  I needed to know one thing.  Had I triggered HIM, with something I had said?  This was the ONLY reason I could come up with, the only acceptable purpose for him leaving me in that moment.  It was the first time that I had HOPED that I had royally messed up and done something egregious.
But I hadn’t.
And I knew I hadn’t.
He said I hadn’t.
I had “frustrated him” he said.
I started to spiral and went into a very dark place.  How could someone I loved so deeply do this to me?  Could I trust anyone to not do this to me?  I had recently lost a friendship with someone I had cared about who hadn’t valued my friendship, was this a pattern?  Am I broken?
Could I trust myself, my heart, with a person who would purposely do something to trigger me into a deeply traumatic space, regardless of our history?  I found myself mourning the idea of losing someone who had been a big part of my life, and someone who was truly one of the only people who spoke the trauma language fluently in my life.
This relationship is broken.

Broken

a: damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
bhaving undergone or been subjected to fracture 
cnot working properly 
ddisrupted by change
emade weak or infirm 
fsubdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
gcut off 
himperfectly spoken or written
inot complete or full 
e3594e608b8a8ad58cca8201613eb1df--vikings--vikings-lagerthaI HATE that this situation has now spun me into questioning whether other people I love and care about will also “leave me in the forest” triggered, and terrified for reasons that aren’t equivalent to the amount of terror that it imposes on me.
Will my husband?  Will my friends?   Will my care team?
I feel vulnerable.
I feel that I let my guard down, and I’m now reaching for my shield again.
Process

You Have The Floor

Recently I’ve identified as being numb.  This is a scary place to be.  When one feels nothing, there is no place to go but down.

I sat on the floor of my therapist’s office (yes we do this), today and expressed how numb I felt to life, and this alarmed me.  Typically little things like the sound of my child laughing and my husband kissing me on the forehead would bring a smile to my face, but I just had no reaction to them anymore, other than straight apathy.

For 30 minutes I sat there describing my apathy, my numbness while Jess deftly navigated around how I presented.  Until I came to the realization that numb is another presentation for emotionally flooded.

I’m currently overwhelmed with feelings, and when I am overwhelmed, I tend to go inward and shut down.  For the past 6 weeks or so, I’ve been a metaphorical emotional black hole.

11855765_10100430304967611_6629280669820837149_n

 

I have a pattern of being very frustrated with the pattern of cycling back on a topic that I feel I’ve “dealt with” in the past.  If I’ve brought the trauma to the surface in the past, talked about it “to death,” picked it apart, and “processed it” I feel like it should be done.

Right?  It’s that simple.

I feel deep shame when I circle around to an issue that I’ve brought up before and feel like I’ve met a conclusion with.  As if there’s some sort of failure curve in therapy.

I’ve wanted to write, and every time I open this page, I felt this pang of failure.  I have a big topic to discuss but felt like it wasn’t the BIG trauma, thus, not important enough to write about.  This came up on the floor today too.  I couldn’t talk about this other trauma because it’s not like my life was on the line here.  I wasn’t going to die in this situation.  So it wasn’t important.  So I turned those feelings inward to apathy.

IT wasn’t important.

So *I* wasn’t important.

I need to get to writing.