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Dizzying Dance of Disclosure

I’m thankful for the once a week where I can walk into a room where trauma isn’t a foreign language.  I’ve been spoiled in this sense.  I can walk into therapy, sit there and say nothing and be understood.  (I’ve done this once, in fact with almost a full session spent in absolute silence, and I totally don’t recommend this.)

Though this implied understanding served me well there, I’ve not branched into explaining my trauma to others in my immediate circle.  Which has led to innate lack of understanding by those around me.

Let’s be honest, who WANTS to talk about trauma?  As I discussed in a previous post, trauma stories are the elephant in the room that no one asks about.  So when I was finally asked about it outside of the room of understanding, I was unprepared.  Enter, my massage therapist.

Bodywork is a very vulnerable place for a survivor of sexual trauma to be in.  Starting a relationship with a new body worker typically involves explaining why one is there. This goes like this.

“Hey.  I’m *****, I’m here because I was assaulted in 2000.  I injured my back & neck which flares up from time to time.  I suffer from migraines and sleep issues. I’m on a cocktail of medications to help me ‘life.’ (they ask questions) Yes, still. (they ask questions)  No, I have issues from time to time with emotional trauma flare-ups because of Complex-PTSD from the assault. (they ask questions) No, I didn’t have x-rays or an exam.  I went to the hospital but didn’t stay.” (wait, what? This is about the time where the person flirts with the idea of asking more questions or not. This is also where I IMMEDIATELY know whether a provider is a sexual assault survivor.  This one line of “I went to the hospital, but didn’t stay,” will fill in the details to most survivors of what happened.  If they pick this up, I can usually dance a bit more into disclosure.  If they move into confusion, I tend to move into another topic.)

Often this intake discomfort leads to a survivor staying with a provider for longer than they should, simply because they don’t want to go through this whole inquisition AGAIN. We get used to the routine, even if the routine isn’t ideal.  We get used to the office, the room, the person, the routine etc.  If we do find someone that makes us comfortable, we may even be wary of disclosing things in order to make sure to not make them uncomfortable from our story.

This dance of disclosure is dizzying.

It had been a while since I had to vet a new provider, and I was not looking forward to the process.  Body work is already a tight wire to walk for a team to walk, survivor and bodyworker.  I found my massage therapist through a recommendation of a trusted friend, who explained that this LMT had worked with trauma survivors.  I had recently fired my previous body worker as she had worked on a part of my body after I asked her not to (due to flashbacks I had experienced earlier in the day.)  I was wary already about meeting a new person, and on edge due to the previous experience, but in desperate need of a new #team member to help remedy some of the major damage left from the assault both emotionally and physically.

Fast forward to now.

I survived intake.  I’ve been with my LMT for 6 months now.  One of the best things about her is that her energy/craniosacral work is amazing.  She spends enough time allowing me to unwind and just be.  Over time she’s been able to access some hidden chapters in the story that has been written on my body.

For a long time, I put off turning off the emotional barrier I kept up to protect me from crying.  She mentioned that several of her client’s dialogue with her during sessions, where I liked to be silent (spoiler alert, so I didn’t have to talk about feelings.)  Over time, however, she’s been able to access further into the story of my body, and only recently I agreed to give it a try.

I’ve gleaned interesting insights.

  1.  Crying in a massage is really vulnerable.  You’re mostly naked, feeling exposed, and crying.  I still have a really REALLY hard time with this. First, I hate crying anyway.  I was told that crying was weak, and I just dislike feeling like the weak one in the room.  During my church days, the leadership looked down on the “chronic criers” as needy, so I learned fairly quickly to shut that shit down.  (Side note:  I realize that this church was/is emotionally and spiritually abusive, yet old habits die hard.)  I still worry about seemingly silly things.  (“What if she gets my tears on her?” *And yes, I’m laughing as I’m typing this.* “What if I’m the only client who cries?” *Because THAT’S likely* “What if I cry EVERY.TIME?” *This is becoming exceptionally likely.*)
  2.  Disarming the body is a moment by moment process.  (And god, I hate the word process.) I spent a lot of time in my massage working on trying to disarm my body.  As a trauma survivor, and someone who lives with PTSD, I often forget how “on alert” my body is at all times.  I didn’t realize HOW “on alert” until I met my LMT and had an experience where my body fully disarmed for a period of time.
  3.  Relaxation is not disassociation, but sure as hell CAN feel like it.  During my rape, I disassociated and left my body behind.  When I am able to totally disarm in massage, I am unfamiliar with what it can feel like to feel totally relaxed, it can feel like disassociation.  It can feel disconcerting, and it is a feeling I’m not totally comfortable with, not having a hyper awareness of every part of my body at all times. (And, if I disassociate in the massage room, I am safe, and I will be taken care of.)
  4. Letting people into my world is okay. Letting people out of my world is okay.  This isn’t a statement of my value, but of theirs.  Not everyone will understand the language of trauma, but I can slowly give them a primer.  MY comfortability speaking the language will inevitability lead to their comfort level being exposed to it. I will choose wisely, but so far, my gut has been doing pretty well.
  5. Breathing is good.  This seems obvious, but one of the first things to go during a trauma scenario is the breath.  Only recently have I even been SOMEWHAT comfortable with my LMT being anywhere near my belly or chest.  It’s where I carry anxiety, trauma, pain, sharpness.  Just today I *disclosed* that is where I was carrying tension, which in itself was a big deal because I knew that was an invitation to have that area be paid attention to.  Saying that I have anxiety, causes anxiety.  Saying “I have a hard time breathing” causes me to catch my breath.  If you can do nothing else, you can breathe.
  6. Expect empathy. I was reading The Empathy Exams, and read this amazing quote:

    A 1983 study titled “The Structure of Empathy” found a correlation between empathy and the four major personality clusters: sensitivity, nonconformity, even temperedness, and self-confidence.  I like the word structure. It suggests empathy is an edifice we build like a home or office- with architecture and design, scaffolding and electricity.  The Chinese character for listen is built like this, a structure of many parts; the characters for ears and eyes, a horizontal line than signifies undivided attention, the swoop and teardrops of heart.

    I just love this.  Expect that others have the ability to empathize, and offer empathy, (ears, eyes, undivided attention and your heart.)

  7. Give yourself some damn grace. You/I am doing the best we can.  We’ve got this. Carry on, Warrior.
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And Afternoon says “What’s Up?”

 

October 9, 2015, I penned these words into my journal:IMG_20170823_211324233.jpg

Less than a month away from the 15th anniversary of the rape, just coming out of a traumatic court experience and then just learning how to parent again after my broken body was knitting back together…

…I was drowning.

As women, as mothers, as survivors of trauma, we are expected to “have it all together” to live this life of denial of hardship.  I took this responsibility seriously.

And Silently.  As one does.

Sitting in therapy, 2x a week I felt like I simply couldn’t breathe for more than 4 days unless I had a place to expel the build up fear, anxiety and trembling that built up in my soul.  I experienced a full out panic attack.

A Panic Attack is the sensation of scalding water being poured up your spine spreading through all the capillaries of your lungs. Anxiety is the feeling of long spindly fingers grasping around your chest and squeezing gently, waiting for you to exhale, not allowing you to take the next breath while squeezing again.  Fear is another set of hands grabbing your skull and forcing you to watch films in black and white of every horror film of your past, present, and future (whether it happened will happen or not.)  Your heart starts to jump around like a caged animal, noticing all the chaos, trying to run from this terrible scene. Your mind mocks you the whole time telling you this is really happening, and you’re going to die.

“We need to have a plan”, she says.

I only partly hear her.  I’m preoccupied with making sure Ethan is being parented expertly, and that I am the best and most capable wife and did I empty the dishwasher? I’m managing the memories of trauma that even most of my closest friends don’t know that pop up while I brush my teeth.  I’m in the middle of analyzing whether or not Ethan will remember the few times that he triggered me enough into a trauma flashback that I reacted without knowing, enough to make me retreat into my room sobbing wondering if I should just pack my bags and leave because I’m sure there is a better mother out there who won’t react how I do when he throws his socks at me.  I’m busy managing my rapist who is on the other side of the door, comforting the sexually abused girl in the courtroom I saw a few weeks before, my present and future failure as a wife and mother, and why I couldn’t get my act together enough to tell all those people off who gaslit me for so long when I was younger.

Do you think you need to get away for a while?” She asks. (The story I tell myself is that she is going to take me away from my family. Which made no sense given the circumstances, but Trauma is a liar. Depression is a liar.  Fear is a liar. Anxiety is a liar.)

I start to plan my escape from this room. Can I leave?  What would happen if I just walked out the door?  I look at my purse, I slide my shoes on under the little ottoman and try to remember where I put my keys.  She notices I’m looking at the door.

At this point, I recall she just stopped talking.  This was an eerie thing because she typically has a lot to say, but likely she read that I was spinning everything she was saying into the web of doom.  So she waits me out.

Slowly the hands around my ribs loosened.

“I’m scared,” I say.  Likely the first authentic, raw thing I had said the whole session.  “I think I need medication to get through this.”

And Afternoon says WHAT’S UP.

 

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The Reckoning: Walking Into Our Story

Brene and I went on our first date at Chez Rising Strong two years ago, almost to the day. She demands a lot from me and yet I come back for more.  Four books in, three variety pack highlighters and more swear words in the margins than I care to admit and with a fifth book just released, our relationship is complicated.

I opened Rising Strong to write this first story and noticed that my first swear word is not even in the first chapter, but the introduction.  She did me in with this sentence, specifically the part in italics:)

Too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others. Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed.

What interests me is that I didn’t highlight the following sentence;

“Emotional stoicism is not badassery.”

I have to admit, even looking at that quote NOW, I question it.  When we see people who have it all together, do we not see them as badasses?  “Look at them!  They have xyz going for them and they are just working.it.out!”  To give this a full explanation, a background would be helpful.

Following their much needed and overdue divorce, my father joined a local megachurch which primed me follow suit.  Some church environments are quite loving and healthy, but this church (due to its leadership structure) was an example of manipulative gaslighting.

As a young girl in my pre-teens-high school, I watched the leaders speak poorly behind closed doors about the people (particularly girls/women) who often came up for prayer due to their home/psycho-social needs.  Looking back, their requests for support were highly warranted and they were bold and strong for asking for help.  However, I saw the ugly side, where they were seen to be weak, over emotional, lacking faith/strength for asking for help or having strong emotions about their situations.  So, I did what any young person does, I learned and adapted.

I learned at that point that to earn the respect of the elders, to keep my feelings inside and to be “strong.”  A very strong wall was built between myself and the outside, but little did I know that I also built a wall between myself and my feelings as well.

Thus a Castle was built to keep others out and away from accessing my feelings, but the irony was, there was a drawbridge that went up, that kept ME from accessing those feelings as well.

There that fortress stood, facing me in an emotional stalemate for years.

I recall sitting down and feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders despite having a beautiful family and a solid marriage.  All the stories of my life got filed away into these cabinets in the fortress and I felt as though I couldn’t talk about any of them freely for fear of the whole castle crumbling.  Even so, these filing cabinets would open at the seemingly random times and it was starting to affect my relationships. I felt so heavy with the burden of my life of stories, threaded with abuse, assault, neglect, and hardship (some of that I didn’t even have names for yet, or awareness of the weight of them all).  I didn’t feel as though I could sift through these stories on my own but understandably felt very vulnerable presenting them on a silver platter to be judged by another.

I spoke with a therapist when I was younger, but I never felt any clarity, and looking back it was my lack of disclosure due to my mistrust of all people in authority due to their views on emotional disclosure.  I had tried to tease out some moments with this therapist to see if they would help me by slipping in some hints that I was in real trouble, but they didn’t seem to catch it or didn’t seem to care.  So, after a few months, I decided that it wasn’t worth my time to sit there, or their’s and I stopped going.

Reaching out to a new therapist was a large leap for me, as trust wasn’t something I was going to give freely to anyone. I didn’t figure I was going to last long there, so I did what any responsible adult would do, I went to the internet and googled ” {my city} trauma therapist” and picked the photo that spoke to me.  (And yes, I AM laughing as I’m writing this now.)

Night one at my new therapist’s office was hard for me.  It was situated in an area that wasn’t super safe feeling, and I had to wait outside and ring her cell to be let in.  Waiting outside for someone I didn’t know in an area I was unfamiliar was a bad start.  She had two strikes against her already.

When we went up to her office, I felt quite unsure.  What DOES one do at the first therapy appointment? I feel like there should be a guide book for this (much like “do you take off your socks at the OB/GYN?” Seriously, do you? I still don’t know.) So, I launched into why I was there in a story-of-my-life, what I know now as “floodlighting”. I was only going to be here for a couple of sessions, you see, then get everything off my chest and run away and never answer her calls never have to see her again sort of way.  The opposite of vulnerability.  I was going to use her, then dump her.  It was genius.

I ran into one big problem. She saw through all my bullshit.  She was insightful.  She used curse words in my session.  She’s covered in tattoos. (I mean who IS this person??) She stopped me mid life story and told me that I shouldn’t tell her any of this yet.  I didn’t really know how to explain that my openness (faux vulnerability) had an expiration date.  So I returned the following week.  And the next week.  Three years later (again, almost to the day) we still are going steady, doing hard work. She’s helped me save my life, several times over.  She got me to be curious about my story. She’s one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today.

When I think of vulnerability, that room is where I have been the most vulnerable. There will be countless stories here, from there.

The Rising Strong Process (Step One)

The Reckoning: Walking Into Our Story

Recognize emotion, and get curious about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave.

~ Brene Brown- Rising Strong