Some of you may be asking where on earth I am. Others of you will know that I'm overseas gathering research and doing interviews for my new book, Burnished Gold. I brought with me a flash with the last of the coping skills on it, plus new material I'd like to share. Unfortunately, the flash refuses to work on this tiny laptop notebook - no, it's not a fancy iPad but a cheapie that in most other ways does very well. So what with the non-working flash - or its inept operator! - and battling pneumonia I caught along the road, I'm afraid there won't be much by way of healing blogs until I get home next week. If I think of something I want to share, I'll get to work . . . .
Another reason I came here to India was at the invitation of a woman who owns a guesthouse in Pondicherry, in the south. It's called Gratitude and my role here is as Writer-in-Residence. When I first walked into the courtyard, all beautifully landscaped with tiles and places to sit under great big trees - mangos and whatnot - with birds flying about and tiny squirrels that look like chipmunks peeping through the branches, I had to have a small conversation with myself about deserving.
Even after all these years of healing I still sometimes hear that little voice mocking me, who do you think you are? You don't deserve this. You're not good enough. Et cetera and so on and so forth. To which I usually reply - inside my head - $%@# #%& followed by Of course I do.
REMEMBER: You deserve the best. We all do.
Getting close to the end of all these coping skills, many of which may not apply to you. There will be other ones you didn't realize helped you survive. There'll likely be two or three most posts on this subject before I move along to a new topic. Here's today's offering:
*Sleeping Difficulties - Insomnia, over-sleeping. Staying awake helps guard
against something bad happening; "keeps an eye on things." Over-sleeping helps
*Workaholism - Helps us avoid our inner life, the feelings of badness, shame, unworthiness, etc. Can also provide a chance to be in charge (control) and excel.
*Chaotic Living - Creating drama and excitement, living in chaos. Keeps the adrenaline running. Familiar since childhood when we never knew where the ‘bombs’ were hidden or when they’d go off. Keeps away memories as well as pleasurable feelings (which may feel painful and unsafe).
REMINDER: Be kind to yourself. You may imagine, perhaps, that you don't deserve kindness, but you absolutely do. Do one nice thing for yourself today. I'm staring out the window at the sunlight playing at the tops of trees. Then, because I have a bad cold, I'm going for a nap. I'm lucky only having to look after three cats and myself.
The main thing when we look at our personal coping skills is to honour the resourceful child, teenager or young adult who used - perhaps still uses - them to cope. Gradually we replace the ways we cope that aren't beneficial to who we are now. We may struggle with depression, which many people don't realize is connected to the chemistry of Post Traumatic Stress. (Please note I did not say Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When we got through trauma in the best way we could at the time, I think it's incredibly rude for anyone to tell us we're disordered.) Depression is treatable though it's sometimes difficult to find exactly the right medication and specific dose. Some people find a long brisk walk or some other form of exercise, or certain foods, keep depression away. It's your choice what you do.
* Depression. Helps you feel invisible, in a fog, isolated, cut off, separate from life. Sadly, you miss out on the potential joy as well.
* Hypervigilance. Spinning personal radar making sure we're safe. Trouble is it's exhausting. Try taking some time-outs for relaxation somewhere you feel safe.
* Running Away. Part of the 'fight or flight response'. It's reasonable to run from
abuse but moving frequently, changing jobs, etc. is sometimes a response done from old habit and not for any other reason. Trouble is, we take our personal baggage with us.
* Living in Another World - in fantasy or the intellect; watching TV, playing video games; reading, painting or writing excessively. Staying in our heads protects us from our feelings, keeps us distanced from ourselves and our stories, as well as other people.
There are some coping skills that need professional intervention. Try to find a counselor, crisis line, or even a friend who won't shame you or make you feel crazy, but who will really listen, offer you choices and support if you feel you're going to seriously harm yourself or another person, especially a child.
*Isolating - Protection device for coping with feelings of loneliness, shame, rage, pain.
Sometimes leads to depression, self-harm (or hurting another) or suicidal feelings or attempts.
*Self-mutilation - Helps draw attention to inner turmoil and pain. Gives a sense of control in an out of control life. Gives a release for unbearable or overwhelming feelings. Helps relieve numb feelings (physically or emotionally) and return a sense of 'aliveness'. Releases natural soothing opiates in the brain. To self-punish. The abuse was not your fault. Punishment should go to abusers, not you.
*Suicidal Ideas - Powerful stuff. Thoughts, plans, or attempts. Makes you feel like you're in control of your own destiny; that you have choice. Except that your abuser wins. Abusers want our silence above all.
It may not feel like it when you're in deep, terrible pain but it is worth healing. That's why I urge you to get help when you're in crisis.
Remember - In crisis: BREATHE. HAVE A GLASS OR WATER or CUP OFF TEA. CALL A FRIEND or CRISIS LINE or YOUR COUNSELOR. GO FOR A WALK. TAKE A BATH or a NAP.
The abuse wasn't your fault. The shame is not yours. It belongs to your abuser(s).
BE GOOD TO YOURSELF. LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE.
ABANDONMENT is a basic issue for abuse survivors. It's a terrible painful feeling to sense the whole world has gone away leaving us to fend for ourselves without support of any kind. When we were being abused, we maybe had clean clothes, food on the table, a roof over our head and people around us. But who was there to stop the abuse?
Some of us were physically neglected and had nothing and nobody.
Everything is on a continuum that stretches from best possible to worst case scenario or situation. We don't need to decide where on this line we were or are. All of us will grieve what we didn't have - that's part of this healing business. A wise counselor, who specialized in working with sexual abuse / incest survivors, once told me, "The deeper the grieving, the deeper the healing."
Gradually, the feeling of being abandoned, the anger and sadness, fade. I wish I could tell you it happens overnight or by next weekend, but that wouldn't be true. For what it's worth in my experience, those feelings still pop up from time to time. Over the years they pass more quickly, rather like a weather system, though there are always those times when some system rolls in to stick around like an arctic outflow or grey days with rain, rain, rain that seem endless.
I thought I'd raise this issue of abandonment because I'm feeling guilty that I haven't written anything in this blog since July, 2012. I hope you won't hold it against me, I just got overwhelmed trying to do way too much, and in a way abandoned my self. New Year's day is when people make resolutions. Ha ha - we all know about those!
My intention for 2013 is not to abandon my self.
Black Humour = helps hide our pain, keep people away emotionally. Behind every joke is a grain of truth. Humour helps control the pain inside. Keeps people around, which makes us feel good - until the humour gets so sick they go away, proving we’re “unworthy.”
Being a Sex Object = treating ourselves in the way our abuser(s) treated us. Being an object keeps us distanced from our painful feelings, our real self and others. Wearing revealing or tight clothes, stripping, working as a porn star, posing as a sex goddess are all part of this. Helps us avoid intimacy. Survivors’ self-esteem and identity are often caught up totally with sexuality - especially if we were sexually abused from a very young age. What other way do we know how to be except as a sexual toy?
Shutting Down Sexually = keeps us safe.
Sexualizing All Relationships = avoids real intimacy. Hides who we really are.
Avoiding Relationships = no one can hurt you.
REMINDER: Figuring out your personal coping skills is hard work. You deserve a special treat. Maybe an ice-cream or a fruit.
Muffy in a box
Cats know about fight or flight but they don't use the brilliant coping skills we dream up in order to survive. Not sure that I can come up with a list of literally 101 but I'll give it my best shot over the next couple of blogs.
Rationalization = we excuse or explain away the abuse. For example, “He was drunk.” Or, “She couldn't help it.” Sometimes we say, “I was a bad child.” Or, “I deserved it.” Or, “I should have known better.” These excuses protect the abuser we thought loved us, and protects us from the horror of the truth.
Minimization = keeps the pain way. We don't have to admit the abuse was really as awful as it was. For example, “It wasn't really that bad.” Or, “It didn't really affect me.”
Denial – or what I call Emotional Pepto-Bismol = pretending the abuse never happened. Makes life more palatable and is perhaps the best protector of all.
Wearing Masks = Hides your real self. Acting one way while feeling another. Anything from wearing too much make-up, bizarre dress, layers of clothes, your hair all over your face, sunglasses, etc. so people can't see how ashamed and bad you feel.
Performing = You get noticed. You may get negative attention but any attention is better than none at all. Or maybe you try to conform to what you think is expected of you. You get some needs met but you have to make sacrifices.
Controlling = You're in control so you feel more powerful. Bossiness, talking non-stop, calling the shots, talking when others are speaking, manipulating. Sometimes keeps others away. A good thing if you don't want them close, but what d'you miss out on?
Acting Out = Surefire way to get noticed, defy authority, test to see who gives a damn. Destructive behaviour, accident-prone, aggressive, tough, cynical, feigning indifference. Makes you feel invincible, powerful or may be a cry for help.
Read these through and see if you can identify any you use or have used. Sometimes coping skills such as those above really annoy us in other people. When I reflect on why those traits in others piss me off so much I find they're the same traits I use to cope. Like I can't stand control freaks. Guess who does that one really well! Me -- even though I've tried hard to tone it down.
Once you begin to identify your coping skills you can choose when and if you want to moderate or change that behaviour.
Reminder: Don't try and do it all at once. This isn't a race or a competition.
Fun with toy boat.
Know that you earned the title 'survivor' if you have come this far. Used and abused as children, some never make it to adulthood. Likewise, some adults never heal. Their lives have no quality or they end prematurely.
The trouble with most survival skills is that while they got us through the abuse, they become part of us and sooner or later work against us.
You may feel shame about some of the ways in which you survived. Forgive yourself. If this is difficult, ask your counselor and/or group for help. You will probably discover, especially if you're in a group, that other survivors have similar secrets to share.
You have the power to change. Do it from a place of acceptance. That's what this work is about. You will need a plan of action and lots of support.
Some of your survival skills may still be useful. These you may want to keep for now. You decide.
It cannot be emphasized enough that the healing journey, although sometimes excruciatingly painful, is worth taking. At times you may wonder if you should continue. If any of you are moved to write about the pot of gold at the end of the healing rainbow, please do. It would be of service to others struggling along behind you. Your emails are completely confidential. Absolutely no one sees them except me. And if I put a list on my blog on why healing is worth the effort, I won't use your name, initials or anything else that might hint at who you are.
Reminder: Don't kill yourself or your abuser(s) wins.
Even a 5-minute walk round the block can clear your head and help you feel better.
Whenever we're faced with a frightening or dangerous situation our basic instinct is to strike out or run away. This is called the Fight or Flight Response.
When you were a child your abuser was bigger, faster, stronger than you. While it may be questionable as to whether s/he was more intelligent than you, s/he certainly had more power and so could easily outsmart you.
Since you could neither fight off your abuser(s), nor get away (although you may have tried), you likely had to create other ways to endure what happened. You had no choice.
It takes considerable skill to survive childhood abuse. You may not be fully aware yet of the ways in which you did survive. Nor that you have used many of the same skills to cope with life ever since. It is important, once you have identified your coping skills, to honour them.
Many of us get stuck with labels – medical terms like syndromes and disorders – that suggest there is something wrong with us.
Nothing is wrong with you. You had a crime committed against you and you did what you could to get through.
REMINDER: Have you had fun today? Fun is the mandatory ingredient in healing. Watching animals or birds - even on television - always cheers me up. Or playing with my cats.
There is much to be gained by those in power who would silence or discredit those of us who have had crimes committed against us. There is nothing for survivors to gain by making up memories of abuse. In fact, it is more likely that a survivor will retract or deny disclosures of being abused (especially sexually abuse) in childhood than dredge up 'false memories.'
Not only is it scary to face our truth, it's downright frightening to tell our story. If we reveal what happened to our abuser, s/he will do everything to avoid fessing up. Sometimes s/he will threaten us. That's why sometimes it's the lesser of two evils to deny our truth and pretend we just made up a story.
Healing childhood sexual abuse is profoundly painful emotional work that sometimes takes years to complete, as I mentioned before. Part of the necessary work is remembering what happened to you. You have the right to remember, to piece together your truth, so you can understand how the abuse affected your life.
If hearing about such things as so-called False Memory Syndrome upsets and discourages you, don't become helpless and give up. FMS and the foundation named after it came about as part of a backlash that encourages society to deny, or at least minimize, the damage childhood abuse causes. FMS serves only to protect offenders and blame victims.
Being a survivor of sexual abuse is not an illness. You had a crime committed against you. Anyone accused of incest or the sexual abuse of a child has every reason to try and avoid jail. He (or sometimes she) is considered by prison inmates to be the lowest of the low and treated accordingly.
It takes enormous courage to look at our pasts and heal abuse. Think of yourself as not only healing yourself but helping heal those not yet able to. You are breaking a cycle, a beacon shedding light into shadowy corners.
REMINDER: Be part of the solution not the backlash.