Saturday, November 15, 2014

What's my life like after therapy for Complex PTSD?

It's hard to believe that I have been here in my new home in Chehalis, Washington, for almost a year, now.  It's been a while, a couple of months, since I last took the train to Portland, Oregon, and visited my therapist in her office, and it's been almost a year since I have had regularly-scheduled in-person sessions.  For a while, beginning in about February or March of this year, my therapist and I met once a week for a Skype long-distance session.  By July or August, we were meeting via Skype less frequently, and now we have an "as needed" agreement.  How do I feel about this arrangement? 

It rocks!  That's how I feel.  Since I have been living in this small Western Washington town, I have not really felt the need for therapy sessions.  In fact, when my therapist and I were doing our weekly scheduled Skype sessions, those sessions became a burden to me because I disliked having to stay home on Thursdays.  I had other things I really wanted to do.  However, I respected my therapist's belief that tapering off our sessions was better than going "cold turkey."  And she was right--several matters came up that I needed to spend time discussing with her.  So I am glad I hung in there. 

Five years ago, my inner life was so painful and so turbulent that I had given up leaving my apartment unless absolutely necessary.  It seemed that no matter where I went or who I was with, I was constantly having to deal with PTSD triggers.  Separating and hiding my inner life from my outer life took so much of my energy that I was ready to give up.  Fortunately, I don't give up easily, and I made one last attempt to find a person who had the knowledge and experience to help me.  Bingo!  After contacting the former head of the psych department in a well-known local research hospital, I got the name of a therapist who was able to diagnose me accurately and then offer me the help I had been trying to find for the past thirty-some years. 

Now, I have always been a person for whom having a personal goal is essential when I engage in an activity that is important to me.  My goal when I began seeing my therapist in 2010 was to do the work I needed to do in order to reduce and manage my PTSD symptoms so that I could enjoy the final part of my life.  Well, I worked my tail off in therapy, and I achieved that goal.  I hung in there, forced myself to go to my sessions even when I didn't want to go, spent hours and hours at home working on my Ego State Therapy dialogue, and now I'm finished.  My reward?  A state of inner peace I have never had before in my life and what I would call a relatively normal life--normal for a 75-year-old senior living in a small town, that is.  Even more:  I am able to manage any distress I feel before it gets to the point where symptoms might recur. 

Yes, I've learned in therapy how to gather my ego states together so that we might iron out any difficulties that could cause distress.  For that, I don't really need a therapist's help now.  Five years ago, I did! 

Oh, yes, I need to define my new "normal" life here in a small Western Washington  town of about eight thousand souls.  I'll tell you about this life.  You may not find it appealing, but I'm so happy to have it!  First, I sing in my church choir at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.  I also sing in the female "barbershop" group that one of our choir members put together.  We call this group "Joyful Noise," and the name fits.  Sometimes it's more noise than music, but we are working on it.  Our choir now has tee shirts with St. Timothy's logo on them to wear on December 13th when we participate in one of the community Christmas events.  The children's choir is going to join us, and I bet they steal the show!  So I look forward to that event.

Recently, I've begun volunteering at our local community college, something I love doing!  I'd forgotten how much fun it is to work one-on-one with a student.  I'm helping twice a week in a post-ESL class, giving students individual help.  In addition, once a week I will be facilitating an English conversation session with students who want to practice their speaking skills in English.  For me, this work is fun, and I'm just happy that my head is peaceful enough so that I can use it for other things now instead of therapy. 

Overall, I'd say my life now, post-therapy, is pretty typical of the lives led by many women my age (75).  I don't feel a need to explain myself, as I used to, because I feel that I blend in with everyone else.  I no longer feel that I am a freak or even that I am weird--whatever those terms mean!  "Quirky" I may be, but not freaky.  Now that I no longer have a war taking place in my head, I am able to simply be a part of life and enjoy the experience--the bad and the good of life.  I like knowing that now I can usually roll with the punches and not experience flashbacks and other symptoms when the going gets difficult.  That new feeling is awesome!

Will I stop posting to my blog now that life has settled down for my ego states and me?  No!  But I won't post as often as in the past.  I'm simply going to be too busy living!  So now you know what I will be thankful for this Thanksgiving and now you know that my greatest Christmas gift will be from me to me, the experience of living without the daily torment of PTSD symptoms.  At the Thanksgiving table this year I will say a prayer of thanks for my therapist and all her help, and I will thank God and the powers of the Universe for giving me the stamina and the powers of insight needed to do my work in therapy. 

To conclude, below is a British saying adapted to fit our American Thanksgiving: 


 
(Google Images)
 
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and don't forget to thank the Universe for
being there for you!  You exist--now take the next step! 
 
 
 
 
 


Friday, August 1, 2014

I’ve had lots of therapy—But has it helped?


 

Meet Cowboy, the ego state that has helped me hang in there through life and through therapy!

 
 
The past few years since I’ve been maintaining this blog, I have encouraged you, my readers, to seek competent help in healing your Complex PTSD.  I thought about this as I drank my morning coffee today, and it occurred to me that even though I have used this blog to describe much of my own healing process as I have gone through it, maybe I need to actually provide a more left-brained and analytical  overview and evaluation of my own therapy process.  Perhaps by doing this I could give you a clearer idea as to just exactly how I have benefited from therapy.  Maybe then, if you are still trying to decide whether therapy is for you, you will have more specific information to help you make a decision. 

Now, in order to tell you how I have benefited from therapy for Complex PTSD, I must look at the matter from a perspective that differs from my usual perspective.  I need to step back from my process and observe it much as a scientist observes a lab experiment.  I’ll do my best, but it won’t be easy.  Describing the process as I went through it was relatively easy for the  most part.  I simply let you watch me connect dots, respond to my experience, and then place the results of my work into the whole context of my life.  Now, in order to put into words just how I have benefited, I will need to see my therapy differently, and I don’t know how well I can do that.  I’ll try!  At least, today I will make a start at this project.  

First of all, I am still transitioning from being a person in therapy to being a person who is not in therapy.  Over the years, I have discovered that for me, at least, life is filled with processes—big ones and little ones.  In 2010, I went through a process to find a competent therapist.  That process was blessedly short, thank goodness.  Then establishing a working relationship with her was another process, a process that occurred side by side with the process of actually getting into the therapeutic process so I could heal.  Now, finally, my mind has said, “That’s it, at least for now.”  The therapeutic process/healing process has wound down to the point where now I can just “live” and experience life without the therapeutic process taking so much of my head space.  This is a natural ending to the process.   

In the past, I have had to shut down the therapeutic process/healing process deliberately, like turning off a water faucet, because external circumstances have forced me to do that.  Deliberately stopping the therapy process is difficult!  But this time, the process is ending on its own, naturally.  And it’s ending easily.  Now I am truly beginning to reap the benefits of all my hard work.  Where do I start in discussing these benefits?  I’ll first describe one major benefit that is making a tremendous difference in my life right now, and  as time passes, I will be aware of more benefits and will tell you about them.   

Benefit #1:  I am able to see myself in relation to others now with more accuracy, I believe.  I am better able to see how I fit into society in general.  Now I know that I DO fit into the complex tapestry that we call humankind.  In the past, before entering into this latest therapeutic round, I felt like a freak, as if I didn’t belong anywhere.  Maybe some of you have experienced this feeling throughout your lives.  Now, however, after this past round of therapy, I realize that I fit as well as most people, and I am not a freak.  I’m not sure just how I have arrived at this insight, but I have.  Before I began the work in 2010, I felt like a freak; now, after the work, 2014, I do not feel like a freak.  I can legitimately conclude, I believe, that the work I have done in therapy has brought this new concept about.   

This benefit, then, is HUGE!  From the time I was four years old and was sexually assaulted, I have felt isolated, a failure as a human being.  When I was a little girl, in fact, and learned about lepers in Sunday School and how they had to ring a bell and cry “Unclean!” to warn others of their presence, I decided that I needed to withdraw from others so as not to contaminate them with my wickedness, the “wickedness” of being a victim of violent child sexual abuse.  I made this conscious decision to withdraw myself from other people when I was seven or eight, and I have withdrawn all my life.    

Now I don’t feel this way.  I know now that the abuse really had nothing to do with me but was all about my abuser.  I was convenient for her, a handy potential victim who could be groomed to meet her needs. It wasn’t about me or my perceived wickedness at all!  Now, after isolating myself for some seven decades,  I’m beginning to feel as if I’m part of the tapestry of humanity rather than a dangling and loose thread that needs to be trimmed off.  What did I do in therapy that brought about this change in my perception and feelings about myself?  Having a reliable, mutually respectful, and deeply human relationship with my therapist, doing Ego State Therapy work, and discharging trauma energy through EMDR work are all factors in bringing about this change.    

So what difference has this insight made in my life?  I feel more confident now when I interact with others.  I feel as if what I have to contribute is worthy of other people’s attention.  Until now, I had never felt that way in my whole life!  Mind you, this is a beginning.  I’m not all the way there yet with this concept.  But I’m entertaining the possibility that I am worthy as a human being and that I am valuable.  Never before could I truly say this with any conviction.   

In addition to the above insight, I now can feel the grief as I awaken to the realization of what my abuser took from me—my innocence and my sense of my own value as a human being.  Now I “get it.” I also “get” the fact that I experienced my childhood abuses through the mind of a child, and I took personally that which I would not have taken personally as an adult.  If I had been an adult with a fully developed brain and a sense of self worth at the time I was abused, I would not have allowed myself to be abused.  I would have seen the situation for what it truly was, another person’s attempt to act out her sickness on anyone who was handy, and I would have likely gone to the police and reported her behavior.  But I was a little girl who loved to be cuddled and loved attention and who got none of that at home, so I fell prey to a person who took advantage of my need.  Sad, sad, sad!  As an adult, I am ANGRY!  And that’s good.  I have spent many decades of my life using the energy of my anger to drive constructive behavior.    

How will I put this new concept of my self worth to use?  Now that I realize that I am valuable and that what I do may be valuable and useful to other people, I have several projects in mind.  One is to use YouTube to explain the process of therapy I have been through—to demystify my therapy, in other words, in order to make the prospect of therapy in general appear less daunting.  Another is to speak to groups using my own story as a means of illustrating how child abuse changes the course of a life and can limit a child’s potential for growth.  Yet another project I have in mind is publishing my blog posts in book form.  Because my head isn’t so busy processing material related to the therapeutic process now, my “internal hard drive” has more space to do other things, and I have these projects in mind.  However, I also want to enjoy simply being a person, a real person who has fun and enjoys reading and does iconography and sings in the church choir and goes to parties and has friends.  I can do all this finally!  And I can enjoy doing these things.   

Coming next:  Benefit #2.  I’m not sure yet what this will be.  Stay tuned.   

May your day be filled with blessings
Like the sun that lights the sky,
And may you always have the courage
To spread your wings and fly!
Celtic Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tribute to a Fellow Blogger!

This morning as I was going through my email messages, I noticed that I had received a post from a blogger who calls herself Cat’s Meow.  I follow her blog because she is describing her experience as she heals from Complex PTSD, and she is working much as I have worked—with her personality parts, ego states.  Here is the link to her blog and the post I read this morning: http://livingwhilehealing.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/telling-the-untellable/.   

All along, I have been amazed at the candor and the courage of this blogger.  She takes her reader by the hand and leads the person through her therapy sessions, revealing not only her pain resulting from horrendous childhood abuse but also giving her reader a picture of her interaction with her therapist.  As I have followed her posts, I have been able to witness her healing, and this witnessing has given me inspiration as I have struggled on my own healing journey.  I can only believe that others have benefited as I have from reading Cat’s posts.   

Cat’s Meow has come a long, long way in the year or two I have been following her blog, and I have faith that she will, as I have, reach a point where she will know she is ready, finally, to “just live” and not need the support of formal therapy.  This day will come for her, I am certain, for she has persevered and “kept on keeping on” through times that would lay many people so low they would give up.   

I highly recommend this blog to you if you are considering getting help healing from childhood sexual abuse.  To get the most help and inspiration from Cat’s posts, it might be useful to begin reading her early posts and progress through them to her present posts.  This will help you get a sense of the progress she has made over time, and you will also understand why I say she is such an inspiration for others who are making the same journey.   

Also, you might find it helpful to read the following information on ego state therapy, parts therapy, to gain some understanding of the parts concept: http://www.esti.at/index.php/about-ego-state-therapy.  Here is another article that you might find useful: http://www.clinicalsocialwork.com/overview.html.   

For those of you who are considering getting help but have not yet done so, for those who are in the process of healing, for those who have reached a point where you no longer feel the need for therapy, and for everyone who feels the need for protection and comfort, I will share with you this Celtic circle prayer I found while looking for information on the Celtic saint, St. Cuthbert--

 Circle us Lord,

Keep love within, keep hatred out.

Keep joy within, keep fear out.

Keep peace within, keep worry out.

Keep light within, keep darkness out.

May you stand in the circle with us, today and always.



See more at: http://kathwilliamson.blogspot.com/2009/10/celtic-spirituality-circling-prayers.html#sthash.WRG2PcWX.dpuf

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Of Therapy Ending, Granny Bullies, and Small Miracles: The Warp and the Weft of It All


The Chambered Nautilus:
One of Nature's Miracles



If somebody were to ask me to describe my life in one sentence, I might, depending on my mood, reply, “My life is a series of sucker punches, unexpected events that may knock me off my pins at the time but which later become inextricably a part of the old, familiar tapestry I call ‘life.’”   

At first glance, this description of my life may not make much sense or it may seem shallow or incomplete.  But the more I reflect on my statement, the more I see its truth.  For example, when I consider the matters of ending therapy, dealing with grannies who are mean-spirited bullies, and recognizing and appreciating miracles, I know that while these three matters may seem disparate and be, each in its own way, a shock to my system at the moment, I will soon understand why they are important and how they relate to one another.  And then each will find its place in the warp and the weft of my life’s tapestry, and the tapestry will be made all the richer. 

In my previous post, July 6th, I discussed the matter of ending therapy.  I indicated the reasons why it was time for me to end my therapy sessions and mentioned that my therapist and I would come to an agreement on this topic when I had my July 10th session.  Now, ending therapy is not a step to be taken lightly, as you probably know if you have been in therapy for PTSD or C-PTSD.  I know this for certain because I have ended therapy with many therapists—16 total!   

However, this time the process of ending therapy has been different from all the other times.  Why?  This time I am ready to end therapy!  There is a huge difference between ending therapy because  it’s simply time to end therapy and ending therapy for other reasons.  This time I have known intuitively that I am ready for formal therapy to end, and ending has been easy.  My therapist and I have formulated a plan together.  I have a session scheduled for late August, and in between now and then, I am on an “as needed” basis.  But I really doubt that I will need a session before late August.  I’ve checked my body for a response to this decision, and the only perceptible reaction is a slight twinge of anxiety in the pit of my stomach when I think about stopping my formal sessions.  The twinge is no more intense than the twinges I get when I know I have to speak to an audience, and I know that as time passes, the twinges will fade.   

When I have ended therapy with other therapists, I have not really been ready, and not being ready has made ending difficult.  For example, I ended therapy with my first therapist because she retired and moved away.  I grieved the loss of this relationship for years until the memory faded and drifted to find its place in my life’s tapestry.  This therapist and I had been close.  She was there for me when my psyche fragmented into bits and I couldn’t put myself back together.  She was the person who helped me through the process of turning my husband over to the police when I caught him violating our daughter.  She was there for me as I filed for divorce and endured the usual nastiness of the legal battle.  And just before she left, she was there for me as I began a new job and embarked on a new path for my life.  What neither of us knew, however, was that our work together was merely the beginning—I was not ready for an ending, for in 1983 Complex PTSD was a diagnosis yet to be discovered.  I had a lot of work ahead of me!   

I ended therapy with other therapists for various reasons,  mostly because I relocated or they relocated.  I left a few because they were unprofessional and caused me harm.  I wonder why none of those therapists, such as the one who slapped me and the one who became angry at me because I did not appreciate the way she touched me,  accepted responsibility for her behavior and apologized to me.  When I ended therapy with these therapists, I felt relief but also pain from unresolved issues with them.  Because they had not apologized to me for their contribution to my pain, I was left to clean up the messes they made in my psyche.  A few times, I had to see somebody just to get help repairing myself after having been abused by therapists.  I doubt that any textbook mentions this reason for seeking mental health help.   

So now I am truly ready to end therapy—I feel it in my bones, and I also know it in that part of my mind where rational thought resides.  And I have proof that I can manage my life without needing therapy.  For one thing, I have been tested and have passed/am passing the tests—and this is where the “granny bullies” enter the picture.  

Because I am seventy-five years old and rely on Social Security and my small teacher pension for my income, the HUD people consider me to be a “very low income” person and eligible for subsidized housing.  I have lived in six housing complexes for low-income seniors, and of those complexes, three were HUD-related subsidized complexes and three were what is known as “affordable housing” complexes.  Rent at the “affordable” complexes rose alarmingly, so I have made peace with the fact that I will probably spend the rest of my days in HUD subsidized housing where my rent will never be more than 30% of my adjusted income.   

As I have relocated and moved from one housing project to another, I have done a casual sort of research project on the phenomenon that I call “granny bullies,” elderly women who spend their time gossiping about other tenants and bullying those tenants who appear most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves.  In general, I have found that the places where I have paid the least rent are the places where the bullies are most active and most vicious.  When I lived in Sherwood, Oregon, a pack of “granny bullies” delighted in tormenting tenants who were on disability due to mental health problems.  These elderly women also sold their pain medication to earn extra income.  I’ve heard psychologists say that if you want to know how a person will behave in the future, look at past behavior.  If there is any truth to this guide, then I can imagine that the bullies at the Sherwood complex have been bullies all their lives.   

How did I handle the Sherwood bullies?  I did my best to avoid them.  I was scared and lacked confidence in my ability to defend myself.  The level of my fear rose one evening when I came home from choir practice.  I lived in a second-floor apartment, and my door opened onto my balcony.  From there, I had to share the stairs with the woman across from me.  On this night, I reached the landing of the stairs and was confronted by my elderly neighbor who blocked my way.  She told me that she would allow me to pass if I told her that I would join her and her bully friends in tormenting another tenant, one who had a psychiatric diagnosis.  I told her there was no way I would participate in bullying, pushed past her, and entered my apartment.  I considered calling the police, but I was too afraid she and her pals would retaliate if I did that, so I just let the incident go and began searching for a new place to live.   

Fast forward to the present, the summer of 2014.  Again, in my present complex, the “granny bullies” are alive and active.  One has chosen to pick on me.  She pounded on my door and ranted one Sunday because my friend who brings me home from church was parked in the fire lane.  A lot of people park temporarily in the fire lane, but she chose to rant at my friend and me.  Luckily, my friend is an extrovert and an expert at dealing with obnoxious people, so she ranted right back.  The bully will be back, however, because I ignored her the other day when she came to my door.  She wanted me to sign a petition, and I was on the phone and let her know I didn’t have time for her and her petition.  Bullies do NOT like to be ignored, and she will let me know that, I’m sure.  But this time, I’m not afraid of her or the others in her circle of bullies.  Bring them on!  I have confidence now that I did not have when I lived at Sherwood, and whatever the bullies may do, I will take care of the matter fully and legally.  I realized in therapy that I am smart and resourceful, and I can deal with whatever the bullies dish out.   

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve passed the “ending therapy” test and know that I can handle my life without needing to schedule therapy sessions.  My reward for staying with therapy, gaining new confidence, and ending therapy?  The reminder that yes, life is filled with miracles, little gifts of love that help me continue to grow.   

I was part of one such miracle last Thursday.  For weeks, I have had to contend with the cigarette smoke from my upstairs neighbor’s apartment.  Every time she has smoked in her living room, her smoke has drifted through my open living room window.   As a result, I have fretted and stewed about this.  Should I risk knocking on her door and asking her if she could please keep her smoke to herself and hope that she did not explode in my face?  Or should I simply bypass her and talk to the manager?  I’ve lived here for six months, now, and my upstairs neighbor has remained an unknown quantity.  But last Thursday, when the smoke was particularly noticeable, I made my decision.  I decided to make the trip up the stairs, knock on her door, and ask her if she could help me solve the smoke problem.   

When I knocked, the woman came to the door carrying her little dog.  I told her that her smoke was coming through my window and into my living room and explained that I’m allergic to cigarette smoke.  As I talked, she began to cry.  I asked why she was crying, and she told me that she was so relieved that I had come to her rather than take my complaint to the gang of “granny bullies” who sit at the round table in our front yard.  After I replied that I would never, ever go to the bullies for that reason, she explained that at one time, she had been part of their clique but they had been so nasty to her and another lady who smoked that she felt like a leper.  Now she is so afraid of those women that she seldom leaves her apartment.   

When I left my neighbor, we parted in peace.  I told her that I would appreciate anything she could do to minimize the smoke, and she assured me that she would try her best.  I let her know that I don’t expect perfection, but I’ll be happy if she can at least cut down the amount of smoke.  So far, so good.  I don’t know what she is doing, but I’m not getting nearly as much smoke in my apartment as I have in the past.  I plan to let her know that I appreciate her efforts.  I also will reinforce the fact that others I have met here feel the way I feel about the women who sit at the table in the yard.  My neighbor is not alone.   

What, exactly, is the miracle?  I went, unafraid, to ask my neighbor to help solve the problem.  My attitude was not accusatory or blaming—I simply wanted her help to solve a problem that was clearly partly hers.  The miracle was that I decided to approach her directly and with love and courage rather than with fear and trembling.  And she was grateful!  We both gained from the experience—she received my assurance that I was not going to attack her or bully her, and I received her cooperation in reducing the cigarette smoke coming through my living room window.   

I see my neighbor differently now.  I no longer see her as a malevolent person who is trying to make my life miserable with her smoke.  I see her now as a person who needs to be reminded that not all the people who live here are against her and that she is no more a leper than those women whom I call the “granny bullies.”  And difficult as it is to admit—the incident has reminded me, also, that inside each bully resides a person who is possibly just as scared as the victims of her bullying.  I say that this is difficult to admit because in seeing bullies this way, I am forced to admit that even bullies need my compassion.  For some reason, it’s easier to be angry than to have compassion at times.   

While this experience may not seem like a miracle to others, it is a miracle for me.  As I was making my decision to approach my neighbor directly, I remembered Christ’s command in the Book of John, King James Version:  A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  In the past, I have not usually called upon the principles I learned as a child in Sunday School, but now that my mind and my heart are not so distracted by my therapy, I am more inclined to think about and apply those principles to my everyday life.  In this case, I am so glad I did!
 
Following is a quote about miracles that is attributed to Albert Einstein by many people but is not attributed to Albert Einstein by other, more skeptical, people.  Frankly, I don't care who wrote it; I choose to see the miracles in life and to let them lead me. 
 

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Time of Peace



To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.  
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), King James Version of the Bible
 
 
 

 

If you follow this blog, you have probably wondered why I have not posted recently.  Have I lost interest in writing?  Have I lost interest in therapy?  Am I “cured” of my Complex PTSD?  The answer to those questions is “NO!”  I have not lost interest in writing or therapy, and I most certainly am not “cured” of my C-PTSD.  But I AM at a point now where I am ready to end therapy.   

When I began therapy with my present therapist, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating people who have developed Complex PTSD caused by abuse, I was at a point in my life where I knew that if I did not get competent help and get it soon, my symptoms would cause me to isolate myself to a point of no return.  In other words, I would withdraw from all social interaction to a point where I might not be able to return to the “real world.”  Why?  The flashbacks and the other symptoms I experienced were so daunting that I simply did not want to be where other people were.  Also, because I lived in a big city and used public transportation, my symptoms were constantly triggered every time I left my apartment.   

Thus, I knew in April of 2010 that that I needed to find help, the right help.  Over the previous thirty years, I had seen a succession of therapists, only one of whom had given me an accurate diagnosis.  He could also have helped me, but he moved away before we had time to get started.  The others?  Well, some were well-intended but were not capable of diagnosing me and then offering me treatment options.  Others wanted to stuff me like sausage meat into their well-practiced treatment modalities and force me to accommodate myself to their requirements.  A few therapists during this time wanted me to be their therapists.  They were more in need of help than I was.  In total, during this period of thirty years, I saw fourteen therapists.  By April of 2010, I had given up on finding competent help.    

Then one Monday evening in mid-April, 2010, I suffered a flashback so debilitating that it took me five days of hard work by myself to get back on track, and I decided to try one last time to find somebody who could diagnose me and then help me to heal.  I phoned a woman who had been the head of the psychiatric department at a prominent teaching hospital and asked her for some names of psychologists who worked with trauma patients, and then I began calling those names until I reached my present therapist.  During my first session with her, this therapist not only gave me an accurate diagnosis, but she gave me treatment options.  I chose the option that sounded like the best fit for me, and—as people say—the rest is history.  

Now, slightly more than four years later, I am ready to stop therapy.  How do I know I’m ready?  For one thing, my symptoms have abated to the point where they simply do not interfere with my daily life as they once did.  I know that they can always reappear, but now I am no longer afraid of them and no longer afraid they will reach a point where I cannot control them.  Now, when I am in a situation where I begin to feel spacey—a signal to me that something about the situation is not working for me—I take a “timeout,” analyze the dynamics, and help my ego states work together to restore my inner equilibrium.  

Another reason why I know I am ready to stop therapy is that I simply don’t have time for my sessions.  When I began four years ago, I met with my therapist twice a week, 2 ½ hours per week.  If I had been allowed to, I would have met with her every day, for my mind was working full tilt at getting myself out of my psychic “mess.”  I did, however, work on my Ego State Dialogue almost every day, and by doing that, I accomplished what I needed to accomplish despite not being able to see my therapist every day.   

By the end of the second year with this therapist, my PTSD symptoms had faded in intensity, and I was able to focus on other aspects of my Complex PTSD and to do some important EMDR work.  Recently, in the past month, my therapist has taken a few weeks off.  Did I miss my sessions with her?  No!  I was glad to have the time off and not structure my Thursdays around my therapy session.  I missed seeing her, as I would miss seeing any friend or person whom I liked and enjoyed, but I did not miss my sessions.  I’m just too busy now for a session per week!  I’m too busy for any sessions at all now!   

Finally, I now live in a small town, and I am feeling confident about my ability to deal effectively with any social interaction in which I am involved.  Life in a small town is not so overwhelming as life in the big city was, and I feel quite capable of taking care of myself.  I’ve already gotten myself into and out of some sticky situations that could have been nastier if I had allowed them to be.  But I didn’t allow them to grow nastier—I called them as they were and put up my boundaries and probably “unfriended” a few people in the process, but I have no regrets.  They were what they were, and I’ve moved on.   

This next Thursday, July 10th, I will have one more session, and it will be my final formally scheduled session.  My therapist and I have discussed the fact that I am ready to end therapy, and she is okay with my decision.  I plan to let her know that I’d like to be placed in the “as needed/if needed” category.  Of course, I don’t know for certain what she will say, but I would like to think she will be happy with my decision.  It’s time.   

In closing, I would like to thank my therapist by quoting the following:    

New Blessing in the Celtic Style 

I lay my head to rest
and in doing so
lay at your feet
the faces I have seen
the voices I have heard
the words I have spoken
the hands I have shaken
the service I have given
the joys I have shared
the sorrows revealed
I lay them at your feet
and in doing so
lay my head to rest

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Recognition and Appreciation of My Body, MaundyThursday, and Freedom to Choose to Love


 
Maundy Thursday


 If you have been reading my posts, you know most of my story.  You  know that during the three weeks surrounding Easter of 1981, I went from being a a wife with a husband and a young teenage daughter and living a small-town middle-class life to being a single mom living on the edge of poverty.  You also know why this happened:  I caught my former husband in the act of using our daughter for his own selfish sexual and self-satisfying purposes, and I reported him to the local police.  Did you ever think that one phone call could bring about such a dramatic change?  Believe me, in my case, it did!  And I’m still reeling thirty-three years later!  No doubt, my daughter is feeling the effects of my phone call, also, but I can only speak for my own response with any certainty.  And sometimes I’m not even certain of own feelings.   

Today is April 17, 2014.  If your daily life is guided by two calendars, the secular calendar and the ancient liturgical calendar that marks the seasons, festivals, fast days, and feasts of the church year, today is Maundy Thursday.  Easter is late this year.  It falls on April 20th.  In 1981, Easter Sunday fell on April 19th—just one day earlier than the date this year, 2014!  “So what?”, you may ask.  I believe that the proximity of Easter this year to the date of Easter in 1981 partially, at least, explains the peculiar symptoms I have been having for the past few days.   

I’ve never experienced a true panic attack, the sort that mimics a heart attack, complete with chest pains and shortness of breath, but on Monday, April 14th, I came close to this experience.  I felt sick to my stomach, spacey,  fragmented, numb, and I wanted to run as fast as I could, to get away from danger, but no danger was present.  My present living environment, unlike my living environment in 1981,  is safe.  Chehalis is a small town, and the local news reporters seem to go to great lengths to find evidence of any criminal activity.  A gunfight in Portland, Oregon, might make the headlines; here, an elderly man clad in a bathrobe, digging through a front-porch trash bin made the headlines.  I do not share my apartment with any creature other than my cat, and she poses no threat to my well-being.  On Monday, then, I used my powers of reasoning to keep myself grounded in the present and simply waited, trying to use my willpower to make the feelings go away.  Eventually, the acute reaction faded a bit, and I was left with the old familiar sense of panic in my gut.  

Because I had experienced this gut feeling at various intensities since I was four or five years old, I was accustomed to the feeling and able to go through Tuesday and Wednesday with close-to-normal functioning.  However, for some reason, I did not connect the dots—I did not understand why I had my Monday’s experience.  I also did not understand why I was more aware of  my gut feelings of panic and anxiety on Tuesday and Wednesday than I normally am.  But this morning, Thursday, April 17, 2014, I knew when I awoke that I had connected the dots during my sleep:  My body remembers what happened those thirty-three years ago.  My body is telling me something important, and I need to pay attention.  My body is saying to me, “Hey, I was there, too!  Don’t forget that!  Everything that affected your psyche,  your mind, your soul, and your heart those Eastertide weeks in 1981 affected me, too.  I remember!”   

As I lay in bed this morning, pondering my new insight, I knew that an apology was in order:  I felt moved to acknowledge and praise the work my body has done for me throughout my life, especially through the years of my childhood and my marriage.  For all those years, my body steadfastly housed and protected the rest of me as I endured childhood abuse and neglect and, later, spousal abuse.  My body faithfully saw me through a successful four years in graduate school and, later, through my community college teaching career.  Now that I have been retired a while and am considered “elderly” at age seventy-five, my body is showing signs of wear and tear, but I can forgive it for that.  After all, the stress of my experiences has taken a toll on my body.  I consider myself to be fortunate to have been as healthy as I have been to this point.  

Thus, this morning I thanked my body for all its faithful work in sustaining me thus far.  After giving thanks,  I apologized to my body for past neglect and lack of appreciation and pledged to be more mindful of my body’s needs for tender care in the future.  I don’t know how many more months or years I have left in this life, but that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that I be more attentive and tuned in to my body and that I consider my body’s needs and choices when I make a decision as to what to eat or drink or how to spend my time.  This will be a start, at least, in letting my body know that I appreciate it for all its faithful work in the past and that I value its contribution to my future well-being, whatever that contribution may be.   

But back to Maundy Thursday:  This day during Holy Week is the day when Christ is fully aware of his fate.  He knows he is going to die on the next day, Good Friday, according to the ancient liturgical calendar.  He knows that one of his disciples is going to betray him, and he knows that his fate is sealed.  He cannot escape his purpose and his sacrifice.  And yet, despite all this, he gives the commandment that I find absolutely amazing!  After he washes the feet of his disciples in preparation for the Passover meal, he commands them “to love one another as I have loved you.”  (John 13:34)  Amazing!   

So what does this day, Maundy Thursday, signify for me today?  And how does it relate to my insight of this morning?  For one thing, on this Maundy Thursday I am acutely aware that I am mortal, and I know I am going to die.  I don’t know when I will die, but I know that I will die.  I am fully human, and human beings die.  We mortals do not live forever.  Today, on this Maundy Thursday as on every other Maundy Thursday in my life, I am more aware than usual of my mortality. 

Also, I am aware on this day that I have a choice.  I can choose to die a slave to bitterness and hatred, or I can die a free person with a loving heart.  Since I do not naturally seem to tend toward hatred and bitterness, I do not foresee dying enslaved by either condition.  However, I can’t be sure of that unless I make an effort to increase my awareness of those two conditions and then change what I need to change to avoid being caught up in them.  God knows, to anyone who examines the first forty-two years of my life,  it might seem that I have good reason for bitterness and hatred!  But I don’t feel bitterness toward my past situations nor do I feel hatred for those who abused me.  I just don’t!  I seek to understand my abusers more than I nurture hatred for them.  From what little I know of hatred, I can say that hatred is a feeling that I do not want—now or ever!   No, I choose to die with a loving and peaceful heart, and I cherish the fact that I am free to make that choice.
 

By the end of the winter the bird had found and given away so many crumbs of bread that they would have equaled in weight the loaf upon which little Inger had stepped to keep her fine shoes from being soiled; and when it had found and given away the last crumb, the gray wings of the bird suddenly became white and expanded.

"Look, there flies a sea swallow over the sea!" the children said as they saw the white bird. Now it seemed to dip into the water; now it rose into the bright sunshine; it gleamed in the air; it was not possible to see what became of it; they said that it flew straight into the sun.

(Excerpt from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Girl Who Trod On A Loaf.”)