not keeping the abuse a secret

a child-sexual-abuse survivor's blog


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the dress girl and other mes

I honest to goodness thought there was just one of me.

I won’t go so far as to say, I thought I knew me…  Before my breakdown and even in the early years of my work with Carol-the-trauma-therapist, I often felt quite befuddled by me (although, I admit to having regarded “the many sides” of me as “quirky” and, a plus?  I.e., I was probably, not boring?).

But I did not think there was “more than one of me to get to know,” so to speak, so imagine my surprise when Carol mentioned nasty phone calls I was making to her.

“Horrible,” she referenced them with a surprised face and knit brows.  I had laughed — ME?  I don’t think so.  Not my style.  I hadn’t made any phone calls to her let alone mean or nasty ones, good grief; What was she talking about?!

“So it wasn’t you,” she said.

“Nope, nada.  Why would I even do that?  I like you.”  (Well, most of the time.  True, she did tick me off now and then.)

“It sounded like you,” she persisted.  (And apparently the content was relevant.)  “Has this ever happened before, has someone ever ‘thought’ you’d made calls to them that you had no memory of?”

Now I’m just merrily giggling away.  Hee hee hee.  What a concept. 🙂

We talked a little about dissociative identity disorder (DID).  I had never had any experience of any other mes but me running the show, nope.  Well, okay, Dr.-Josephson-the-psychiatrist I’d seen a couple times way back in the early 1970s had one day questioned a casual statement I made that I’d walked to his office from campus “on auto-pilot,” no memory of what I saw or heard along the way — this was in response to his asking me about “the weather out there” or some such, I forget — leaning back in his chair and hooting with laughter, saying, “Not possible.”  To which I, genuinely puzzled, had replied, “Oh, possible; I do it all the time.”

All the time?!”

I revised this.  “Maybe half the time, but at least half.”  Good grief, like, doesn’t everyone?  You know, sort of highway hypnosis but on foot.

Josephson answered in the negative.  Smiling at me though, like, What a neat idea, so when he next asked, “And just out of curiosity, where are you when you’re on auto-pilot?,” I didn’t feel threatened and confided, “You know, just, not there.”

Well he just seemed to love this.  What a creative girl I was [as opposed to, Oh gosh, we just might need to lock her up in the loony bin?]

“You’re simply ‘not there’ ,” he repeats.

“Ya.”

“For about half the time.”

“Uh-huh.”  I shrug my shoulders.  Big deal.  Like, who needs to “be there” to do a simple task like walk down the street, or, sit in a really boring class, or, just sit with people somewhere?

“I do,” he says.  “Most people probably do, or they’d walk into a tree or a parked car.”

Huh!  I guess I was more graceful than I thought.

“So, you’re not there in classes too, and social situations?”  He was thoughtful.  “What kind of grades do you get in the classes you’re not there in?”

“Yes to the first part of your question, and, As or Bs — you have to be there for hard classes; I’m never not there except for easy ones.”

He regarded me thoughtfully.  I can still see his face puzzling away.

Josephson was a good doc.  Smart.  If I’d had health insurance or could have otherwise afforded it, I would have continued to see him.  His was a wonderfully easy-going manner, and, although male, he behaved in such a completely non-threatening manner that I felt safe.  I bet he could possibly have helped me.

I can’t even count the professionals I saw who were as helpful as a rock and, knew their business half as well.

But back to Carol-the-therapist and the bad phone calls.

“I didn’t do it,” I protested, laughing.  Gosh — who was this rogue client of Carol’s?  “I’m always ‘present’ on the phone.”  Oh wait a minute — Was I?!?  Drat.  Wow, if I could walk places and, sit in classes and get As & Bs yet not “be there,” Shoot…  Maybe I could do other things, too, “not being there” — like making phone calls?  But it seemed so far-fetched that I was still mentally merry, thinking things like, Quite the accomplished gurl here, could this be showcased somewhere?  Ha ha ha.

Okay, there was that weird time in the Rathskeller when brother Pete’s then-girlfriend Christine had claimed I’d said, “I wish I was dead,” to which Christine had turned to me and said, “I’m glad you’re not dead;” to which I’d replied in irate astonishment, “Well Jeez Christine I’m glad I’m not dead either!  Where the heck did that come from?!;” to which Pete had said very gently, “You just said you wished you were dead.”  Which was preposterous, I had said no such thing.

Or, Had I?  What was going on here?  And it all stopped being funny.

Weeks, months, years of therapy with Carol pass and I work up the courage to indulge my love of dresses.  (Long ago I used to make them.  In my late teens, early 20s.  I sewed a lot back then.  Even on consignment for a local boutique, at one point.)  I buy a dress, at the Gap.  I decide to return it though:  It really needs a belt, I decide, yet I don’t have one that quite works and, I don’t feel the dress is much of a bargain if I have to spend more to belt it.

So a week or so later I head back over to the Gap.  I’m at the register and I tell the cashier, “I’d like to return this, please,” and I hand her the dress and the receipt and, hum dee dum, she’s processing my return and, another clerk whispers (loudly) to her, “She’s worn that!  She was just IN here, IN it, the other day!”

Well I never!  I am quite indignant.  “I have not worn the dress,” I say firmly, with a glare in the direction of the offending clerk.  But as the words come out of my mouth I suddenly know they are not true, as, like a deck of cards fanned out in front of me, I see a series of snapshot-like images in my head.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  Memories, clear as day, but in weird snapshot format.  Me, standing in my apartment-complex driveway about to cross the street, wearing the dress.  Me, browsing at the Gap, wearing the dress.  Me, in a dressing room at the Gap, taking off the dress so as to try on a different one.

Oh my Lord.  I am blown away.

Thankfully, my cashier just pooh-poohs the other clerk and speedily processes my return and I am able to leave the store, because, I need to sit down somewhere, man.

So:  Dress girl.  Phone girl.  Girl who wishes she were dead.  (Person or persons “present” when “I” walk places “on auto-pilot”…  Person or persons “present” getting those “As & Bs in ‘easy’ classes” when “I” am “absent?”…  [Complicated, huh? 🙂 ])

Carol-the-therapist and, literature on the subject calls these “discrete alters.”  This seems a misnomer to me — I would have to classify most of my own “discrete alters’ ” doings as quite indiscrete, i.e. imprudent, lacking good judgment — but ordinary discretion, or lack of it, is not, of course, what “discrete” here references.

One website reads pretty generically but clearly on the subject, “In some people, dissociated memory and experience fragments are organized…into discrete ‘personalities’ or ‘identities’ which can be experienced internally as having separate experiences and histories.  Often personalities are so compartmentalized that they are not aware of each other’s existence.  This is called an ‘amnesic barrier,’…”

Aha.

I can especially relate to the amnesic barrier idea, as, I tend to experience my life memories as, snapshots here, mostly brief videos there — i.e., in pieces, not as a continual flow, which certainly is suggestive of something amnesiac going on.

Meanwhile:  the Dress Girl wants to wear dresses (and makeup).  I’m pretty easygoing, so, I’m working up to accommodating her on that.  (In fact, more & more, I’m thinking, I might like to wear dresses & makeup, too. 🙂 )  The Phone Girl doesn’t feel comfortable? safe? whatever, expressing anger at? dissent with? confronting?, people, so, I practice that one in the safety of Carol’s office.  (And interestingly, no more nasty phone calls to Carol…)  The Girl Who Wishes She Were Dead:  my last suicide attempt was in the mid-1990s and, it will stand AS my last:  I’m here for the duration now.  “You tried to murder yourself!,” Carol sputtered.  Angrily?  With tears in her eyes.  (This moved me greatly, notwithstanding that my first reaction was a giggle.)  Yes, I did, I register in surprise.  Horrified, Gasp.  Yikes — I never looked at it that way before.  (And, let me tell yoU, I am no murderer!  Indignation.)  The person or persons “present” when “I” walk somewhere “on auto-pilot,” and, who gets the grades in the “easy” classes when “I” am “absent:”  for these, I work on what may seem simple to some but has not been for me — “being present.”  Being more mindful, across the board:  mindful of where I am; mindful of my feelings; mindful of what I say; mindful of what I do.  Mindful, mindful, mindful.

~~~

I like to think of it all as a “What About Bob” [the 1991 comedy starring Bill Murray & Richard Dreyfuss, directed by Frank Oz] thing:  Baby steps, baby steps…  They’ll get you there. 😉

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joy and quality of life

Joy.

Quality of life.

When Carol the therapist first threw that word and concept at me my outer reaction was an eye-roll. My inner, something on the order of, Oh give me a break.

Quality of life was jargon-speak in my world. I was alive. Period. Single mother of a teenage son, I lived paycheck to paycheck and my credit was not exemplary — no child support from my son’s father for the first 14 years. (They couldn’t catch him.) I didn’t even own a car — could not afford one — for the first dozen years of my child’s life.

“No no, you’re confusing quality of life with income,” this hopeless Pollyanna said. (She’s not a hopeless Pollyanna but 20 years ago when I found & started seeing her, I was a pretty hopeless cynic.)

“Well, I live in The Real World and quite frankly, okay, I have no idea what you mean,” I told her.

I was seeing her from a point of desperation: I had just pretty much experienced what they euphemistically call, “a nervous breakdown.” (I had always wondered, What exactly IS a “nervous breakdown?” I sort of visualized someone nervously twitching all over and then, I don’t know, making sounds akin to when you move a finger horizontally up & down against your lips as you speak? After which, dissembling in a pile on the floor, perhaps. That is not what happened to me.)

Following my breakdown — more like an emotional collapse or dissolution — I actually continued my slow unraveling, but having had emphatically crappy success with the therapy community in the past, I was at a loss where to turn.

So I spent a goodly amount of time researching my personal array of symptoms on my own, arriving at the conclusion that, by golly, I was experiencing post traumatic stress symptoms.  (All these years later?!)  This was such a moment of revelation & Aha! for me. And also irritation: for crimineys sake, if I could figure this out, why the hey had none of the three thousand five hundred seventy-six psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and/or therapists I’d seen? 😡

Well, this was a relatively new field [we’re back in 1993 here], I was to learn. Oh. (Well, still!) This sort of floored me — I think of the county psychiatrist years back [1960s…  dark ages yet where such as this was concerned] who actually dismissed a 13-year-old me after a brief 10 minutes with, “You handled all this really well,” “all this” being the abuse; then shaking my hand, smiling at me like I had handed in extra credit and earned an A+ on it, and that was it. Goodbye. — but, okay. Oh.

So I called a national incest helpline number several states away — listed in one of my research books — asked about childhood trauma therapists in my area and, here I was.  In Carol the therapist’s office.

“Look, I don’t want to talk in meaningless psychological jargon-speak. I need real help here.” If I wasn’t such a polite person I might have snapped my fingers at her.)

~~~

That was 20 years ago. I have since learned firsthand, that, there is just plain living — drudge-like, a, just-make-it-through-another-day sort of living, and there is that hard to describe concretely, yet, vital thing, “quality of” life, living where one actually experiences moments of, yes, joy.

Joy, it turns out, is not only real, but, can be photographed.
Herbie, Jul 26, 2011 at 2.42 PM
Above, a new cat-baby’s first day home.

Below?

Quality of life and joy rolled into one: a view of an area adjacent to my apartment patio that I made into a garden, giving me joy every minute working in it & also, all those spent just sitting near it…

2013-08-09, looking down fr Steph's--  cropped
Long walks outdoors? — calm inner demons, are good exercise plus fill me with joy.
walk--farm by back Elver
Here is to joy and to “quality of life,” not just jargon-speak after all, but more importantly? — here’s to the healing they promote. As difficult as healing from abuse is, it’s worth every painful moment to be even one small bit less at the mercy of your abuser(s) and of those who would keep the secret.