Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Broken in the right direction (EMDR therapy session)

Since my last therapy session, I have felt a little fragile. At one point I told Todd, "I think Wendy broke me."
He replied, "Yes, did she break you in the right direction though?"

I had another session today. Before I got there, I was debating what direction to take the session in. Do I need to slow down and give myself a break? Or just push forward and deal with whatever comes?

I chose to push forward. Let's just get through this as much as we can as quickly as we can (while not forcing it, because that just makes things worse.)

The memory that came up the strongest today was from about eleven years ago.
I was sitting outside the bishop's office. I felt shaky and sad and scared and ashamed. My prayer was the same as it had been for years:
Please God, make me different. Make me stop being so selfish and so needy. Make me stop wanting so much from others and help me be happy where I'm supposed to be happy.  I am fighting and working so hard to be good, but I obviously can't do it alone. Please help me be a better person. Make me different. Change me into something good.
I thought there was something wrong with me that I needed and wanted love and help. I wanted someone to care about me, and for someone to care for me. I was hurting so much, and I couldn't explain why. I felt anger and believed I shouldn't be angry - somehow I should find a way to be happy with how I was being treated. I wanted to die, but believed that was only a weakness of my spirit. If only I could be strong and willing to endure all of the pain and hardships that were my life at the time... and I wanted to be loved.

I wanted to tell the me back then what I know now, so I started talking. (I kind of love how therapy this way doesn't require me to explain anything to Wendy. She might ask questions after the fact, but she pretty much follows my lead when I feel like leading. She only offers suggestions when I feel stuck.)
"You are not selfish for wanting to be loved. You are not selfish for wanting help. You are not selfish for wanting to be treated with kindness and compassion. You are not selfish for sharing your pain or for needing someone to be there for you. You are not bad for feeling anger - anger is pretty natural and normal and wonderful in the circumstances you've been in. Your anger is telling you to make changes, and it's okay to listen. You don't have to be happy where you aren't. There is nothing wrong with you. Who you are is strong and amazing, and you can't see it yet, but you will. Right now, you're using your strength to find help. There will be people to love you and support you and help you. God isn't going to make you more good - at least not in the way you think he should. Any God that made you, made you this way. He made you with a fighter spirit and a strength that nothing can squash. It's not your fault you're hurting. It's not your fault you need help. You are not to blame, and there is nothing. NOTHING. wrong with you."
She was paying attention to my body, and the tension in my shoulders. Thinking about the memory, my reflexive left shoulder started spasming. (Somehow the muscles on my left side are attached to frozen memories. I can't explain it, it just seems to be the case.) I told her I really wanted to be loved and held, but also wanted to scream, "don't touch me".

Wendy asked if I wanted to work on this, and I said yes, so she moved to my left side.
She told me to focus on her caring energy. "I care about you. Just focus on that while I stand here next to you."

I felt a desire to run, a desire to hide, and a desire to crumble on the ground. Part of me wanted to be held, to be loved, by her in that moment, but at the same time, everything in me was screaming "no". My whole body was shaking and every muscle on my left side was so tense, it felt more like a charlie horse than just muscles tension.

I could not let her touch me. I could not let her love me. (It's not her, just her because she was the one standing there.) Then she put out her hand, as if I could take it. My mind switched immediately to trying to figure out if that's what she wanted, and if I could just do what she wanted, my anxiety would go away.

I stopped shaking. I stopped crying. Everything went numb. It's called dissociating - for me it looks like dizziness and numbness and passing out. Sometimes it still looks like seizures when it's late at night and I'm in bed. I know what it is now, and I am pretty adept at staying present through breathing and paying attention to my senses. Today was not one of those adept times. Instead, I couldn't do anything but sit down. She asked me to start focusing on what I saw, what I heard, what I felt, what I smelled (yay for horse farts being a great way to get present).

Then Violet (the horse) and I just stood together. Violet breathing on my face (thank goodness she didn't sneeze. I don't mind horse snot, just not on the face), while I rubbed her neck.

It's been a long time since I felt that kind of disconnectedness and dissociation hit me.

The moment I thought she wanted something from me, I wanted to do what she wanted. That became my focus, and then I was out of my body fast. For a split second, I believed if I could just do what she wanted, the anxiety would go away. In that same second, I felt so unsafe in my own body, I had to get out of it. I've learned to survive by doing what I think others want, and that helped in some situations. (If you're dealing with a man who will violently rape you if you fight him at all, and you can't leave the situation, it's better to let it happen without the violence. It's a damn good survival skill.) In other situations, it keeps proving NOT helpful. (If I can't trust myself to keep myself safe by standing up for myself, the world feels unsafe. I can't trust other people if I can't trust myself to set boundaries. Does that make sense? Doesn't matter. That's how it is to be me.)

I've improved, but there still seems to be that part of me that is still stuck back in the past. There's still a part of me that feels like I will be hurt if I don't figure out what is wanted of me and then do it. That same part of me also hates being used, raped, molested, etc., all while I go along with it.

Since my session, I feel tense and tired and raw. I also still feel a little broken, but I think it's broken in the right direction.

Monday, May 14, 2018

PTSD Processing: What it looked like for me yesterday.

PTSD symptoms have been stronger lately. I don't know if it's EMDR therapy, or doing the Mormon Stories interview, or just my brain saying, "Hey! Let's deal with this stuff some more!".

Probably a combination of it all.
It kind of sucks, and I also know how to cope and move through it and that usually after I get through rougher times like this, I usually have processed more and am changed for the better.

Yesterday, we had a friend invite us over to his house. I didn't want to go. I felt uncomfortable. His presence triggers something in me that makes me hyper vigilant. I'm aware of his movements when he's in a crowd. I don't think that makes him unsafe, but it makes me feel unsafe. (Those things are different.) I didn't want to go, but I didn't want to be rude. Then we got there, and I felt trapped (not him again, we were just standing in his yard, but I didn't want to be rude, so I felt like I had to stay. My body and my mind wanted to leave, but I kept dismissing my own thoughts and feelings and stayed.)

Dismissing myself and my own thoughts triggered the hell out of me.
Not while I was standing there. Not even when we got home and I had nothing I had to do for several hours, so I read and played on my phone and worked in the yard. Not while visiting my family for Mother's Day. Not on the drive home or while sitting watching TV once we got home.

At 11 pm, while getting ready for bed, my thinking brain turned off, and the rest of my brain took over. I felt afraid and panicked and not all present. Todd was sleepy, which made him unsafe to be around. (PTSD brain thinks tired men can't control themselves. All of the evidence to the contrary means nothing when thinking brain is off.) I sat on the edge of the bed, paralyzed. I couldn't go get ready for bed. I couldn't lay down. I couldn't get up and go do something else. I just couldn't move.

Part of me knew it was time to go to bed, so I should just lay down no matter how panicked I felt. Part of me knew laying down in bed does not help when feeling panicked. Part of me knew if I let myself start talking and stop trying to control the panic, I'd get over it faster.

Eventually, that's what I did. I started talking.
"I'm not comfortable going to his house, so can you take me home first?"
"I want to leave now. I'm going to go sit in the car until you're done."
"I think I'll go for a walk, call me when you're done."

And then the less rational came out.
No. NO. NO. NO.
I won't do that. I just want to go home. Don't touch me. Don't hurt me. That's not okay. I want to go home, and I want my mom. I wish I had never married you. I want to go home, but now my home is supposed to be with him, where can I go? I want my mommy. Please don't go to sleep. I'm so afraid, and I'm hurting, and I don't want to be alone in the dark.
(These were all connected to different memories. Different flashes that didn't fit together at all with the present, but somehow all of these different things were triggered.)

I cried for maybe five or ten minutes. My body shook for a little longer than that.
Then I got up, got ready for bed, and though it took me a long time to get to sleep, I didn't feel panicked while Todd slept.

This is what processing looks like for me. It doesn't take long once I stop trying to control it. All of the connections and emotions get felt, my body shakes, I use my voice to express things that don't make any sense, but luckily Todd understands enough to just listen and roll with it.

Then I'm done. I'm usually really exhausted afterward. It might take a day or two to feel totally human again, but I do.

Also, all while going through this, I'm trying to pay attention to what is happening, because the whole process is fascinating. I want to remember. I want to write it down, so maybe those that aren't as far along or who can't pay attention or who don't want to write about it, can read about it and have some understanding if they're anything like me.

I also wonder what I will think of all this if I ever come back and read it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Mormon Stories interview experience

I recently did an interview for the podcast Mormon Stories.

I'm not sure what I expected. I wanted for Todd to be able to share what it was like to be the bishop and be torn in two directions: a wife that wanted him to stay home and take care of her, and the responsibility he felt to take care of and care for his ward members. I wanted him to have a chance to talk about what it felt like being totally unprepared and uneducated, but wanting to help all of his ward members in whatever way he could.

He truly wanted to be like Christ and care for the least of these. He paid attention to those who needed someone to care. I had given up on anyone helping me. I wasn't interested in his help or support, but he insisted, and I am forever grateful.

I also wanted to tell enough of my story to help people like me. I remember what it was like to not know anyone who had recovered. I've talked about it on this blog often. I wanted to be able to say, "I survived. I am thriving. I am happy. It will be okay for you too." When times were really hard, I would imagine future me (present me?) telling (past) me how she got through it. I'd imagine what it would feel like to see someone happy - really happy, and not just faking it - and hear that they had been through hell too.

I met a few people eventually, but not when I was at my worst. (How do you go out and meet people when you are crippled with pain, seizures, flashbacks, nightmares and night terrors that prevent you from sleeping for days on end? I was lucky I showed up for work most days. Friends and outside activities were not a possibility back then.)

I wanted people to understand that I was not crazy, and how trauma deeply affects everything in a person's life. I thought of McKenna Denson, and the way they discredited her. I thought of what her bishop said about her, and understood that might have been why I was so often dismissed. Why I wasn't helped, but instead sent home to read books about marriage or go to the temple more or submit to my local leaders better... all of the things that made my life worse. I believe every bishop meant well. Not one of them thought, " How can I make this girl feel more worthless and more like she has no authority or say in her own life? How can I make her life a living hell?"

They didn't. They did the best they could, and their best sucked!

I thought of the other leaders and members that said horrible and stupid things. I knew I might not be able to make them understand and do better, but I wanted to try.

I wrote out an outline of my life. I wish I had picked more specifics to focus on, so that I could be really clear on a few things. I didn't. I let John guide me, which was mostly fine. It was really helpful considering how nervous and anxious I was. It's amazing how easy it was to forget things when I was on the spot.

I'm glad I did the interview.
It was posted live on the Facebook page, so I had friends see it live. I hadn't really thought about that until after it was over and I had old roommates from BYU commenting and friends from high school sending me messages.

The one message that made me sit on my floor at the office and cry came from a girl that told me she wasn't going to go into details, but we probably saved her life with that interview. Others told me they'd never heard dissociation described that way, but they had lived it and always felt crazy.

There are a few things I wish I had said, but didn't.

I wish I had listed out what Todd did right, so it was more clear.
  • He believed me. He told me he didn't understand, but he would listen to me as long as I wanted to talk, and he would do his best to understand.
  • He apologized when he said things that were uneducated or not helpful, and he didn't say those things again.
  • He told me NOT to serve more, but instead to take care of myself. He told me I needed to do less to try to prove my worthiness and more to find true recovery.
  • He asked me if I wanted him to call the police (on abusive husband).
  • He helped me find a therapist that was outside LDS Family Services and specialized in Eating Disorders and a small specialty in trauma. (I think most eating disorder therapists work with trauma patients. They usually go hand in hand.) Eventually, I would find a more trauma specialized therapist, but I wasn't ready for her quite yet back then.
  • He made me feel loved and seen and like I mattered. He never once told me I was crazy, instead he told me my behavior made sense with all that I had been through.
  • He studied PTSD and eating disorders and sexual abuse. He started with church sources and when those failed him, he scoured the internet.
  • He read about abuse and how to get out of abusive relationships. He read about how to support someone who is in an abusive relationship.
  • He shared some of his trials and struggles with me. 
  • He told me to stop coming to church because it was too triggering for me. (I didn't listen to him. I waited until the next bishop said the same thing, and listened to him.)
  • He sent me texts during general conference telling me, "That talk is not for you. Don't listen to him."
  • He gave me a place to stay when I couldn't go home anymore.
  • He sat with me while I was in pain. He tried to fix it with priesthood blessings, but when that didn't work, he just was there with me. His presence made me feel safer.
  • He helped me research different treatment options, and constantly told me he trusted me to tell him what I needed (instead of telling me what to do).
  • He didn't stop caring just because he got released.
  • He spent three hours telling the next bishop about what I was struggling with, so I didn't have to try to explain to him. He also talked to the next bishop a few more times when I was struggling to get new bishop to understand. (New bishop was worried about me breaking up the marriage, and wanted to get me to move back in with husband as quickly as possible. I couldn't explain to him why I just couldn't yet.)

John also asked me why I didn't talk to Larry about how much I hated sex.
I forgot how much I tried to talk to him, and how I usually ended up apologizing for being a failure as a wife. I forgot how it made him mad when I moved or made a noise while he was having sex. I forgot how I locked myself in the bathroom because I didn't want him to touch me, but I couldn't stay in there forever. I forgot that I believed I could only talk to Larry about it - to go to someone else would be betraying the sacredness of marriage. 

I mentioned that I lacked the knowledge and the vocabulary to talk about sex. I could have gone into more detail.
I didn't like it. I had never felt sexually attracted to anyone, so I had zero place to even begin. I wanted to like it. I wanted to do my duty as his wife. I knew that no woman liked sex, I just didn't know I would hate it as much as I did, but my hatred of it was just a sign that I was a horrible person. I still wasn't worth anything. The only way I could show that I was worth all the money spent on my treatment was to get married in the temple. The only duty of a wife is to keep her husband happy and to have sex with him when he wants it. And I wasn't willing to do that. I was still worthless.

John also finished the interview by asking how Todd and I got together.
I honestly couldn't remember how that happened. The truth is, it was so gradual, I didn't know it was happening.

He was my bishop. He gave me shelter when I needed it. He was my friend. I went through a divorce and started distancing myself from the church. We were both in therapy and doing assignments together. We rode horses together. We talked all the time. I worked for him at his business. He told me about his struggles in his marriage. I encouraged him to talk to her. That didn't work, so after a year and a half of her refusing to go to therapy to work on the marriage, he moved out, but it was still too close to his soon to be ex-wife. He was overwhelmed with trying to deal with all that he was going through and had to get away. He decided to move himself and the business a few hours away. I rented a room in his basement. His family shunned him even more than he was already experiencing, so I was his only support for a while. I loved him for the way he'd helped me, and the way he was trying to be honest, and for how hard he was fighting. I talked to his wife trying to help her understand why he had left her, hoping that maybe they could work things out. They didn't. We still rode horses and worked together. We talked all the time. We started going fishing together. I became friends with his sister. We went together to visit her in Montana. I realized I liked spending time with him and family, so started inviting him to my small family gatherings. We decided to move to a new house. My room was across the hall instead of in the basement. We signed a lease together! I realized I wanted to be with him, and I wanted him to be with me. Not sex. Just together. We went on a cruise with my family. Slept in the same bed. I felt safe and wanted to sleep next to him all the time. We bought a house together. We are now each others' family, and I love that. Sometimes people call him my husband, and I don't freak out about it.

But I really like the word partner.

The last thing I wanted to talk more about, but didn't was in response to something John said about marriage being hard and your spouse will hurt you.

I still think that life is hard, but marriage shouldn't be.
That requires a lot of self awareness and that's not easy. You can't just decide to be self aware. You have to work your ass off to learn how to talk about emotions, what your own triggers are, how you express certain emotions, what you do when you're tired, hungry, or emotionally vulnerable.

Yes, there are moments when Todd or I might say something accidentally hurtful, but he has never intentionally tried to hurt me. He has never once said something to cause me pain. And I can say the same about him. When the accidentally hurtful has happened, we've talked about it and we are both aware enough to be able to say, "I'm sorry," and "I'll do my best not to do that again."
We also are aware enough to say, "I know you didn't mean it this way, but I am feeling insecure and sad, so what you said really hurt," when that is the case.

We also talk about what we expect, because a lot of hurt comes from unmet expectations that are never talked about. By talking about expectations, we can also say, "I can't do that for you," or, "I will gladly do that for you." We know what we have to work with.

We aren't married. We plan on being together for the rest of our lives, but if there comes a time when this is not a healthy and happy place for both of us, we won't hold each other here. That's the kind of thing that can happen with a lot of work on yourself and being in a relationship with someone who is also working hard on themselves. This relationship doesn't feel like work. It feels like I have a partner to share my life with.

Everything else in the interview, I feel good about. I haven't listened to the podcast, because I am pretty sure if I heard myself talking, I'd feel self conscious and might hate it all. I know I was nervous and shaking.

I hope I said something that will help people have more empathy and will help people know there is life after abuse and trauma.

What you're saying is, I'm like a horse? (A therapy session with horses)

This post and my next post are going to be out of order of the way they happened in my life... I had a therapy session two days ago that is still kicking my butt. I feel like I have to write about it, so that maybe I can move through it more quickly and more effectively.

Also, a trigger warning for this one. Sexual abuse and stuff. I don't go into detail, but I list some of the memories I was flooded by, and it might be just enough detail to trigger you if you've been through similar experiences.

Last week, Todd and I did an interview with Mormon Stories. It was basically to tell the story of the abuse I had experienced, the complex PTSD I lived through (and feel like I am recovering from), and the way Todd had handled it that damn near saved my life - both as my bishop, as my friend, and now as my partner.

It is on video on the Mormon Stories Podcast page on Facebook, it's also available on YouTube and on the mormonstories.org. I plan to write more about that experience, but first... therapy that came a few days after that interview.

I told Wendy that many of my stories were fresh in my mind because of that interview. Some I had told, some I had chosen to gloss over or not tell at all, some that I had forgotten while I was trying to talk but felt very invasive in my brain now that I wasn't in front of a camera.

She asked what I was feeling in my body.
Tightness in my chest and throat. Tenseness and shakiness in my whole left side.

Since one of my very first sessions with her and her horses (three?) years ago, we both noticed that if she moved in to close to my left side I flinched. Not always, but if there was any emotional energy coming from me or her, I'd flinch. I wouldn't ask her to move. I rarely even moved myself. I just felt my left shoulder muscle tense. We've both made the connection to trauma and trying to protect myself and that seems to be the only body response I had when I first started seeing her that showed I was uncomfortable with her (or any other human) in my space.

We have experimented with horses moving up on the left side, and I don't feel any reaction. I'm also fine with horses moving around behind me, and don't feel the need to be aware of them most of the time. (Though, when a horse is more worked up, I do naturally pay more attention to them. Wendy has wondered if that is just that I actually am pretty in tune to energies, but humans just all make me uncomfortable.)

We started EMDR focusing on the tightness and tenseness. She asked me if I had anything to say.
"I'm sorry for speaking up. I'm not sorry for telling my story. I'm sorry for not protecting everyone from my story anymore. I'm sorry for telling people the things my ex husband did - especially since I know he has done so much work to change. I'm not sorry. I carried so many secrets and protected him and everyone for so long, I don't want to protect them anymore. I need to talk, and I want to help others who can't talk, but I'm really sorry... but not sorry."

And then I cried. My whole left side started shaking hard. I was flooded with memories.
Being in the car, and getting hit while he was driving.
My little brother touching my butt, and turning around and slapping him (without even thinking, I just did it.) Then getting in trouble, because that was never an acceptable way to deal with someone touching you. 
Sitting in the car next to the Stake Relief Society President. I told her that being touched by any human felt incredibly painful, like lightning going through my whole body. She then kept rubbing my neck and arm and asking, "does this hurt?" Back then, I froze. I just nodded, and my body shook a little, but I couldn't talk or really do anything more than sit there.

Back in the present, I wanted to strike out with my left arm and scream, "Don't fucking touch me. I just told you that hurts. What kind of a sick person then does things I JUST SAID HURT ME? STOP!" and, "I slapped him because he touched me. That is the perfect way to deal with that. MY FUCKING BODY. DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ME!"

Then I was flooded with memories of Larry. In my interview with Mormon Stories, John asked me why I never talked to Larry about wanting a better sexual relationship. The thing is, I did. But Larry got angry. He got mad. He told me that a woman was disgusting when she was turned on. She got wet down there, and it was so gross. He told me if I moved, that ruined his experience. When I cried, and begged him to stop, he put a pillow over my face or told me to shut up. My voice was completely useless. I also lacked the sexual experience and vocabulary to really express what was going on for me and what I wanted if I wanted anything. Because mostly I wanted him to stop touching me. Leave me the hell alone.

I told Wendy the energy in my left side felt like it wanted to fight, but I wasn't sure I had any real fight in me. She had me push against her hands (see the picture below). My left arm shook hard even though I don't think I was pushing hard against her.

This is an exercise I've done in therapy more than once. It seems to be a way to use my body to help the energy of the emotions move through me. The first time I was able to effectively use this, was when I realized I am a fighter, and I am proud of being a fighter. (see this post if you want to read more about it)
Then she did the most horrible thing she has ever done. She moved over to my left side. She has warned me this may be something we try in therapy. She even asked my permission a couple weeks ago. She put her hand up, so that I could push against it. I did, and then the whole left side of my body crumpled. Emotionally, I felt almost nothing. Cognitively, I was fascinated by my body's response (but unable to figure out why this was happening). Physically, I was standing, but only because I was hanging on to the rails of the horse (fence) panel with my right side. Daisy the horse had her nose up against my hand. Violet the horse was standing behind me. I felt very supported by them, so I kept trying to pay attention to the sounds of them licking and chewing and stomping their feet (and at one point Daisy squealing and kicking towards the fence away from me while still keeping her nose calmly touching my hand).

Wendy stepped a few steps away, put her hand down, and turned to face the same direction I was. (So if we were touching, we'd be shoulder to shoulder.) That helped my body to calm down a little, but still I was so tense and shaky, I was struggling to talk and breath for a few minutes at least. Then, just when I was feeling steady, she asked me to put her hand on her shoulder - as if I was pushing her away - but not actually to push her away unless I wanted to.

Again, I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I also felt like crying and curling up. I couldn't talk. I couldn't think. I tried with everything I had to remember why I was doing this, and to understand why this was so damn hard. There was zero brain available to me at that moment. As I started to get lightheaded, she moved herself back to facing me. I started breathing.

Then I asked her to explain what was happening.
PTSD caused a freeze response in me. My body froze in trauma over and over and over. It became a way to feel safe. It became a way of life. All of that trauma is now stored in the muscles, the nervous system, every part of my body has been affected. Specifically it seems it is now stored in my left side (for whatever reason). She wanted me to let the energy move through me, but then I got flooded, so she decreased the energy (put her hand down, turned to stop facing me, put her hands behind her back, etc.).

I laughed and said, "so I'm like a horse. Training my body is like training horses."
She shrugged her shoulders. She pointed out that she is trained in trauma and in horses. She tries to think about ways to help me. Sometimes she's right. Sometimes she's way off. We are experimenting together. But in this instance, she feels pretty confident, she was right, though the energy of her hand up and facing me was too much energy.

That session was two days ago.
I spent the afternoon after the session with my niece. We rode horses together. We spent a lot of time outside with the horses. We painted. We played with toys. Having her there was both a great distraction and a great reminder of the life I live now. I am dealing with past trauma, but it is not present at all. In the present, I live with Todd and horses and have so many amazing little kids in my life, and I was grateful for the respite.

My niece and I riding Sunny, the horse. I can't believe how happy it makes me to share horses with her and all of the other little kids (and adults) in my life.

That evening, we went to Hope of America to see Todd's granddaughter sing. I felt anxious the whole time. It was a big struggle to be able to just sit there. When they started singing about the military and how some will live and some will die, I ached. Some will live, but never be the same, and I'm angry that we don't do more for them. PTSD is awful to live through, but we keep sending people out anyway. Can we PLEASE find a better way? Or at least do more to take care of those we as a country keep damaging? The crowds of people felt overwhelming. Having people touch me - even brush up against me as we walked back to the car - I wanted to jump out of my skin.

Yesterday, I again felt shaky and teary and the muscles on my left side were so sore, I couldn't get them to relax. I was supposed to help teach a casting clinic (fly fishing), but couldn't imagine trying to focus on casting when my brain didn't quite feel like my own.

Last night I kept having nightmares, and woke up this morning crying.
I was being flooded with memories - just quick flashes.
A penis coming at my face. Waking up to being touched on my breasts and genitals. Waking up to being raped. Holding my own legs out of his way. Unwanted hugs. My boss rubbing my shoulders and being unable to ask him to stop. Feeling fear at night that kept me from falling asleep. Being hit in the car. RS President touching my neck. Stake President wanting a hug. Nightmares I had when I was a child of my grandparents' basement. Being coerced into performing oral sex when it made me sick and I wanted to bite it off rather than the pleasure the bastard it was attached to. Pillows over my face as I cried. Begging him to stop. Fighting him off, but it didn't help anyway. Dissociating and watching from the corner of the room as Larry did his thing and I just laid there like I was dead or a limp doll.

At the same time, feeling the energy in my left arm. (Now the muscles were downright spasming!) I laid there in my bed, and hit it with my left fist as hard as I could and yelled, "Don't fucking touch me!" over and over and over.

(Then I thought about that one time ten years ago when Wendy had me beat a couch cushion with a tennis racket. She was trying to do the same thing for me then that she's trying to do now. I'm a lot better at it now.)

I feel a little better now. I still feel sad and tense and maybe a little broken. I also know this won't last. It's nothing like I have experienced in the past (though the most intense I have experienced since starting therapy with Wendy and her horses).

I was supposed to help with a fly fishing clinic again today. I am not. They didn't need my help - taking people fishing is one thing our fly fishing club is good at, so they had enough volunteers. I wanted to go, because I wanted to be involved in something I enjoy and love doing and teaching it to women who have never fly fished before would be an awesome experience. Except, I needed a day to sit down and write. I needed a day to spend time with my own horses. I needed a day to be alone to process all that my poor brain and body is trying to process. I am missing something I would have really enjoyed if I wasn't going to therapy to work so hard for a better life. I also feel lucky that I could take part of a day just for me. (I also worked for a bit and will probably work more. Sometimes my brain needs a break, and there's some work to be done. Not much since we had planned to take the day off to go to the fly fishing clinic.)

Anyway... My latest session. If I could stand to have someone give me a massage, I could sure use one. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

EMDR and Horses - just another session. This is how I process past traumas.

I haven't written about therapy sessions for a while... I've continued doing EMDR with horses. It continues to seem almost magical to me. The nice thing seems to be that I easily compartmentalize therapy. When I am with Wendy and the horses, I experience emotions, flashbacks, and memories. Then I leave, and they mostly stay there and I enjoy the rest of my life.

As I drive to therapy, my hands start to get shaky. I have to consciously breath  since my chest becomes tight and it doesn't come as naturally.

I don't usually have a plan of what I will talk about or even which horse I will work with. I kind of leave all of that up to my gut as I start each session. I don't know that it matters which horse I pick or what we do, but after I've made the choice and finished the session, the choice feels like it was important.

A few days ago, Todd and I were driving home from work. He was driving. The road narrowed, and the car behind him sped up to keep him from merging in. The car in front of him slammed on its breaks. Todd swore. I felt afraid, but didn't move, didn't flinch, didn't speak. I may have even said something agreeing with him. (I honestly don't remember if I spoke or not, but I know I sat very still.)

Once home, I hid, curled up in a ball, and cried. I felt confused. I have been through the feeling of being in both the past and the present enough times that I recognized it. It's hard to know in that moment which is more upsetting: the past or the present. I'm living in both. I know I felt afraid in the car. I know I felt afraid of Todd when he swore. I don't know if I had a reason to be afraid in the car. I know I felt frozen and like anything I did or said would make things worse for me, but I'm not sure if that is because of Todd or somebody in the past. I wonder if it's helpful to stay quiet and not move, and if that somehow keeps us all safer. I wonder if not bracing and just sitting motionless is the healthiest way to handle that split second where we could have hit the car in front of us... or had the car behind us hit us... and I don't know. I don't know how I'm supposed to respond.

And.

I want to say, "Calm down. It's not worth getting this upset. Pull over if you need to."
Part of me wants to take a ragged breath. Grab onto the door handle. My body wants to react to the fear I feel, but it is frozen. I can't do anything.

Back in the house, curled up and crying, Todd is sitting in front of me. He points out that it is okay to be human, to react to stimuli around me. He promises I am safe and asks if I am mad at him. I have no answer, because I really don't know. I also know I am safe to tell him, "I was afraid. I don't know what to do with fear, but I felt it. I wanted you to calm down, because that makes the situation safer for everyone. You, me, the other drivers."

I ask him if it's okay to say that in the moment, or would that make things worse?
He promises he will never hurt me, and sometimes a calming voice to remind him not to react is helpful, but sometimes it won't be.

In therapy, I told Wendy about that one situation. It's not a big deal, and I understand that it is passing, but I also want to get past the freezing place in fear. One of the things I have been working on is dealing with the way trauma has made it almost impossible to sleep sometimes. I want that to be different. I want to plan camping trips and trips to Texas to visit friends and sisters' weekends (whether with my own sister or with Todd's sisters) and not feel afraid to try to sleep around others. I know part of that fear is that when I am afraid or hurt or... fill in the blank... I freeze. If I freeze, I can't protect myself, and the world feels unsafe. Working to get past freezing seems like a good start.

(Maybe I should write more about sleep and trauma one day, but not today. Sorry if the above paragraph doesn't make sense. Just know it's something I have been working on a lot.)

As we talked about the situation in the car with Todd, we also started EMDR. Violet (the horse) moved in close. I could feel her breath on my cheek and her shoulder muscle at my back. I slip into a place that feels like both the past and the present.

I feel afraid of being hurt in the car. I feel afraid of my (now ex) husband's driving. I feel afraid of what will happen to me if I say or do the wrong thing. I also feel the horse near me and Wendy's hands. I hear the other horses very close by and I feel safe with him. I remember what it was like to feel so powerless as (my now ex husband) screams and rages and drives, but also that I still got in the car and rarely asked him to do anything different. (Sometimes I fought and screamed and raged and freaked out myself. But those aren't the memories I lived today.) I also felt what it was like to start asking for what I needed when I first started riding horses. The big animals that never had to do what I asked, but moved with me and let me ride them and worked with me. I feel how empowering it is to let myself take up space without berating myself and without shame. I also feel sad that if I stand up for myself, I'll be alone. At that thought I feel Violet (the horse) move beside me. I also hear the words in my head that I wanted to say. There are some specific memories to go with the words, but mostly there are just words.

"Calm down."
"Stop it."
"Fuck off."
"NO!"
"No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No."

At that moment, Wendy reminded me that when I am with horses, I don't use my voice. I still mostly use non-verbal cues, because I am not comfortable using my voice. I laughed, shook my head, and told her what was going through my brain. She encouraged me to speak them out loud.

"Don't talk to me like that."
"Don't treat me like that."
"YOU leave until you can stop acting like that."
"Pull the car over until you can calm down and not put us both in danger."
"It's not my problem. I won't fix it."
"I won't apologize for that."
"No. No. NO! No!!" (At this one, Violet the horse moves her head over my shoulder and starts wiggling her lips as if she's talking back. I am only slightly aware of her. Apparently Wendy is really struggling not to crack up. We laughed about it together later.)
"It's not okay to treat other people like that, and I won't tell you it is."
"Being married to you doesn't mean I have to agree with you."
"I won't do that, because I don't want to."
"No."

I continued speaking all of the things I didn't say, but wanted to say. My whole body shook. Daisy (the horse) moved in close to my other side. I can kind of hear Xyla (the horse) moving not far away too. Apparently all three were tuned into me. I'm mostly just aware of Violet. I feel really grateful that she is still there so close to me. I said, "No," and she didn't leave. Wendy is also still there. I am shaking so bad, I can barely stand.

Then, the shaking calms. I feel myself stand straighter. I feel bigger and stronger. Violet puts her nostril over my nose, so that I laugh.

My (now ex) husband was violent and scary when he was angry. He wasn't always angry, and he wasn't controlling when he wasn't angry. I didn't realize how much I had adapted to trying to keep him "not angry". I think I dismissed it - especially because for a time, I got really self destructive. When he'd get the slightest bit irritated, I would purposely push his buttons until he lost control. It became a way to control the situation, and to eliminate the feeling of constant fear wondering when he would snap. I'd just choose when he would snap. As I've started doing more "body releasing" trauma work (like EMDR and equine assisted therapy and the combination of both), it has become more and more apparent that I need to deal with that trauma more. I also wonder if enough time has passed that I can process all of that. It took ten years before I was ready to deal with the trauma of marital rape, and even longer to deal with childhood sexual abuse. Maybe my brain just takes a long time to process things.

As far as writing this and putting out in the public, I guess I just want it out there. If anyone is struggling with PTSD, I want them to know it gets better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

My Return and Report: "How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?"

For anyone interested, my mom gave me a report on the RS meeting. (From my post a few days ago.)
The president started by reading part of my email to her and then asked the women how we can love people.

The comments were more concerned with bringing me (they didn't know it was me, but the sister who wrote the email) back. Then it turned to women talking about how ALL of their family were still active and temple worthy and if we just stick to our convictions no matter what...
My mom raised her hand at that point, and she said the RS Pres looked relieved, and called on my mom. She talked about how she has a child that has left the church, and in the process, she has learned how important it is to just love unconditionally. She doesn't love me, SO that I will go back. She just loves me. She talked about knowing the eternal nature of progression. She trusts a loving Heavenly Father to work things out. She knows He just wants us to be happy, which is all she wants for her loved ones. Shunning or loving conditionally will only hurt people, and that can't be what Heavenly Father would want.

When they broke off into small groups, people thanked her and commented that I seem truly happy, so that makes them really happy.

The RS Pres also told my mom my email has really made her think, and she plans to have future lessons/discussions on the topic, so that they can do a better job of loving those who need our love the most. She also told my mom that I seem really happy, and my mom said, "happier than I have ever seen her. What more could I want?"

I am still impressed with my mom (and the rest of my family) who has (have) somehow figured out how to hold both her (their) love of the church and her (their) love of me at the same time.

I also keep thinking about those who told me I couldn't make a difference if I left, because no one would listen to an "ex-Mormon". I feel pretty empowered by the whole thing, and also really grateful.

I also feel like all of this comes at a pretty amazing moment for me.
In therapy (EMDR with horses), the thing I have been doing most recently is confronting the feeling of being treated poorly by the people that were supposed to help and also having nowhere else to go. I kept going to bishop after bishop, because who else could I turn to? Some of that has linked to feeling let down by parents and grandparents - the adults in my life who didn't know what to do, couldn't do what I needed, weren't aware, caught up in their own grief, thought they were doing the right thing, etc. - I am aware everyone was doing the best they could, and somehow that hasn't taken away the emotion all stored up inside. (which sucks, by the way. If only it was as simple as understanding everyone is doing their best. No one meant harm, and who cares about the ones who did mean harm? It doesn't work like that.)

I haven't wanted to write about any of that, because I feel bad. I feel bad that I needed more from my parents when I was a kid. I don't want to hurt them by putting that out there (anymore than I already have). At the same time, I have been pretty committed to talk about this whole PTSD-recovery-journey here. Just in case it might help someone else, I wanted to put it all out there.

I'll admit, it's incredibly painful to do that kind of work in therapy. Emotions are intense and I feel sad and angry and I do a lot of shaking, crying, curling up in a ball, and then being comforted by horses and therapist.

Today, I just feel amazed. My parents may not have done what I needed earlier, but they have done everything right in the last ten years. That helps me at least have good perspective when I go down into the trauma that seems locked in my body.

It just feels so perfectly timed just for me.
For that, I feel very lucky and very grateful.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My thoughts on "How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?"

Because I am a still a member of the LDS Church on their records, and my membership is still in a ward, I get emails from the Relief Society of that ward. I suppose I could ask to be removed, but most of the time I like reading the updates on the people that are in the ward. (They send out a prayer list that talks about what is going on for some of the people in the ward. I've known these people most of my life, so I like knowing what's going on. When one of my best friend's from high school's mother was really sick, I knew about it and could reach out to my friend.)

This week's email was about the upcoming lesson/council/discussion. I haven't been to a relief society meeting in nearly ten years, but I read the email just because I was bored... and then I had a lot of strong feelings about it.

Here's the email:
Agenda for Sunday Relief Society Council Meeting, 03/04/2018
Reading Assignment: “Apart, But Still One” by Elder Joni L. Koch, of the Seventy (November 2017 Ensign, P.110)
Sharing: Last month our action item was to look around us and to become aware of the needs that were around us, and to seek ways that we could help with those needs. I want to give you an opportunity to share any thoughts or experiences you have had this past week on this topic.
Today's Council: How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?
  • As we talk today about this topic, think about someone who was once active in the gospel, but has now become less active, or think of those who were less active and have returned (this could even be yourself). I want you to make comments that you feel prompted to share. This council should invite the spirit to give each of us personal revelation as we share information and experiences.
  • Iceberg Example from Sister __
Possible Discussion Questions:
  • Our reading assignment of Elder Koch's talk, “Apart but Still One,” pointed out a few possible events that can occur among members of the church that can contribute to disunity among members. Did you find any insight from the article that relates to our topic that you would like to share?
  • What experiences have you had or observed that have brought loved ones back to the faith?
  • Read messages of hope from our living prophets (taken from quotes page that will be passed out at Relief Society)
  • Action Item: What is one thing you can do this week to help or accept a loved one or associate who has become less active?
 I called my mom to see if she would be in this meeting. (She's the stake primary president, so she is often not in Relief Society, because she is taking care of stake business.) She will be in this one, so I asked her to say something. My family did a great job of helping me know I was loved when I left the church. (You can read about it here.) I like what I wrote, but I love what my mom wrote in the comments even more,
"I had some preconceived notions about what a family looked and felt like and that's what I tried to bring about, but eventually I figured out that what a family looked like, didn't matter. What a family felt like did.
I know you think we aren't normal, but I think there are a lot of people like us, who just love their family no matter what they look like to the rest of the world.
Thank you for being so patient with us while we grew up as parents. Love you tons!"
She has some wisdom she could share, but I know how hard it is for her to speak up in a group. (She struggles with it even more than I do, and that's saying something!)

My mom suggested sending an email to the Relief Society President. I don't know what to say, so I thought I would start with just writing here and see what comes out.

The Letter

Dear Sister __
I know I am not the target audience of the emails to the relief society. I haven't been to a relief society meeting in more than ten years, and have no intention of changing that. I know many people think it is sad that I have distanced myself from the church I was raised in, and I know many people want me to come back - for my own good they say - because they don't understand why I left and how a different path could be good for someone. I understand that. I was once a member who believed there was only one path and one true way to happiness. I was wrong.

I am happy for the members who are happy being members. I am so glad the church and its teachings bring my family so much happiness and peace. I would never want to take that away from them. I also want to say many of those same doctrines and teachings brought me misery. You've known me since I was a teenager, and probably remember how I didn't fit in even when I was 14. I tried. After my teenage years, I gave it a really good try. In the end, for my own health and well-being, I have left the church behind me.

Many members (including the gentleman who gave the conference talk that was the assigned reading for this week) give reasons for people leaving that aren't complete. I am sure there are people who stop going to church for the reasons listed in that talk, but there are so many more reasons why people stop attending and/or resign their membership. For the purpose of this email, I don't think it's important to list those reasons... In fact, I think it is really important to ask people who no longer attend what their individual reasons are. Most probably won't talk about it, or they will try to protect you from knowing what they have learned. Many won't trust that you REALLY want to know. My family has had to work really hard for me to trust them with my own thoughts and reasons for leaving, because I didn't trust them in the beginning. I'm grateful for the work they have put in. I'm grateful they have asked me why I chose to stop attending instead of assuming they knew. I am grateful for their unconditional love and acceptance of who I am.

I'm really glad you are having a lesson on how to interact with and love people who no longer attend. I know way too many people who have been completely shunned by their family because they have left the church. Last week, I spent hours listening to three different men who are facing the possibility of divorce because their wives don't know how to be married to (men) who don't believe the church is what it claims to be. They are losing everything, because they are being honest about what they believe. It's heartbreaking. I have witnessed other men and women who have children, parents, siblings, and friends who will not spend time with them because they have left the church. They have been disowned by their families completely. It is beyond heartbreaking to know that your family can't love you and doesn't want you, no matter how old you are.

I sincerely considered coming to the meeting on Sunday, just so that I could say one thing:
"PLEASE, please don't love people so that they will come back to church. Just love people. Don't try to manipulate them or coerce them. Just love them. Trust them in their journey. They might come back. They might not. In the meantime, your love could be a lifesaver.

I honestly believed my family would prefer I was dead than that I left the church. I almost made that happen for them. Luckily, I decided to give them a chance first. Luckily, they took that chance and supported me and loved me wholeheartedly. I am alive today because of that choice.

I told my mom she could just stand up and tell the whole room to be like her, but that's not really her style. But seriously, be like her and my dad."
I also don't know if I would be heard. I am an outsider now, and I know it. I also feel nervous sending this email, because I enjoy coming back to accompany (my brother and sister) in their musical numbers at church. I would hate to be excluded from that in the future, because I tell you what I really think and who I really am. (If I actually send this message), I guess I have decided it is worth the risk. 

I know part of the goal of the relief society meeting is to bring relief to those sitting there. Offering people a way to bring their loved ones back may bring a lot of relief. I have found love, friendship, community, compassion, and relief from outside that space, so I understand it's asking a lot to think about me while sitting in that room and in that meeting. It might be selfish of me to ask, and I guess I'm doing it anyway.

Please think about me and others like me as you have this discussion on Sunday.
Much love and gratitude,

Jen


(I did not send the following, but I thought about it. I just decided it wasn't the message I wanted to send right now.)

P.S. In case the above wasn't enough, here are a few other thoughts I had:
This blog post was written a while ago, and it might help you understand how to be helpful.
https://johnpavlovitz.com/.../what-church-people-really.../
It's not a Mormon perspective, but it fit with what I needed (and probably still need) from "church people".

Some things church members can do:
  • Talk to us with no goal of trying to get us to do anything. 
  • Invite us to social events (especially the kind where there won't be lessons)
  • Ask us how you can be a good friend to us.
  • Acknowledge how hard it is to leave what we have known all our lives. We are pioneers, and it is hard to be a pioneer. 
  • Tell us you don't know what to say, but you also don't want to say nothing.
  • Listen.

Things not to do:
  • Don't send us scriptures, ensign articles, or links to why we should do something different. 
  • Don't call us to repentance or tell us how to live our lives. Even if you really, really want to.
  • Don't tell us what to do.   

An hour after I sent the message, she had responded with the following:
"Dear Jen,
Thank you so much for your absolutely honest and sweet email. I love you whether you are in the church or out of the church. And I know many others would do the same. 
Yes, we will respect your journey. You are correct in understanding that families are heartbroken when their children leave the church. But, it is because they do strongly believe the doctrine of eternal families. 
Sunday our discussion will include how to love and accept the decisions of those who have chosen to step away from activity. And, yes, we do plan to discuss how that talk illustrates just a few of the many many reasons that people do not want to be a part of the church. 
I always enjoy seeing you when you come to play your beautiful music or when I see you at other activities. I hope we will always be friends. 
You would be so welcome at our meeting on Sunday. And I hope that your mom will be there and share her thoughts, if you are not there.
Love you lots,
__

Also, if it seems OK with you and it seems good as I proceed through the council, may I use A few of your statements in your email, if I don’t give names?"
I am happy with the exchange. My mom says she'll report back on how she feels about the whole discussion. I thought about going, but would rather get together with our Uncorrelated Mormons group (which meets at the same time).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I won't apologize if it's not my responsibility, except, I'm really sorry you're late.

I'm not exactly sure where or when this thought process came from. It's one of those things that just seems like it's always been a part of me, but I also know people aren't born believing they have to take responsibility for everything all the time.

Here's my example:
Todd had an appointment today at 10:30. It's thirty minutes away, so to be on time, he had to leave at 10. At 10:08, I looked at the clock and said, "You have to leave. Like, now!"

He thanked me for paying attention, and I apologized for not noticing it sooner and for making him late.

As he rushed out the door, he said again, "Thank you. I wasn't paying attention. The proper response to that is, 'you're welcome.' Love you."

I cried. I cried, because I really deep down believed it was my fault he was running late. I really deep down believed it was my responsibility to pay attention to the clock and make sure that he left on time. I really deep down believed, I deserved to be yelled at for not doing what I was supposed to. I really deep down believed that I was not good enough. I didn't anticipate his needs (without being naggy or controlling, because that is even worse than making him late...)

If I go deeper, I was afraid of being hurt for not doing what I was supposed to be doing. My failure creates intense fear. I know that wasn't there when I was a kid. As a kid, my failure might result in someone else getting hurt, but I wasn't afraid for my safety.

My safety became a fear by being in a marriage with someone who couldn't take responsibility for himself. He couldn't handle his own emotions, and I paid for that. I still cower in fear while also being unable to explain the fear.

I don't think this is who I am.
This is not who I am, which means that with time, work, self-awareness, and whatever else it takes, I won't be afraid, and I won't feel like I have to apologize for something that isn't mine to apologize for.

Monday, January 22, 2018

It's not just toddlers who have meltdowns.

Protect LDS Children has a petition going around that has recently gained traction among my believing friends. I didn't really feel like I had a dog in the fight - I don't have children, I no longer have anything to do with bishop's interviews, and I don't feel like it's my place to try to change a church I don't believe in.

Then this morning, I was reading my friend's comments about it. She is a strong, believing, active member of the church. She has told her bishop that he can't be alone with her children, and the bishop has told her it isn't possible for her (or any adult) to be in the interview with him and her child.

I suddenly felt sick inside. (Can I blame that I've been doing EMDR therapy, and it makes things seem bigger and stronger emotionally than they use to?)
I distinctly remember my mom begging me to go to a temple recommend interview when I was fifteen. The Mount Timpanogos temple dedication was coming up, and I needed a recommend. I couldn't explain to her why I couldn't go, but I just could not go into that room alone with the bishop. It seemed stupid to me, since I'd been in interviews my whole life. I'd been walking in those rooms alone since I was seven years old.
As I thought about it this morning, I also remembered feeling anxious and afraid going in the bishop's office when I was seven. I didn't want to be there alone, but I wanted to be good. I don't know if I said anything to my parents or not. I do remember the fear sitting in the room alone with Bishop K and eventually getting over the fear because he was nice.
At fifteen, I was going through puberty, which was bringing up all kinds of shit and generalized anxiety over men most likely because of past sexual abuse. It could also be the fear I had of my own father. Whatever it was, I was terrified of men. The thought of going in there and having him ask me questions made me want to die. (I was already very self-destructive, deep in an eating disorder, deep in shame and self-loathing, and deeply hated who I was. Worthiness questions could have also added to my fear. It's hard to say since I was fifteen and confused as hell about what was going on for me. It was a lot easier to starve myself, cut a little, and just flat out refuse to go to the temple dedication with my family.)

I started talking to Todd about it, and my strongest objection to bishop's interviews was the way it grooms little kids into trusting men of authority and ignoring their own discomfort.

I think it is pretty rare that a bishop abuses a child. VERY RARE. I think damage is more likely to come by sending a child into the room where an adult man that is almost a stranger asks them questions about themselves, and the kids are just supposed to answer because he's the bishop. It's teaching a child a lack of boundaries that isn't healthy to learn.

As an adult, I went to the bishops for help. I trusted that they were the ones that could help me. They couldn't. Most didn't. Most caused me more harm than anything. One fought for my life like no one ever has before or since. One listened to me and tried to do right and help me. Every single other one made things worse for me, because I thought they knew what they were talking about. They had no fucking clue. They didn't mean to cause harm, but they did.

I shared some of this with Todd, and I said it was just so upsetting, and he responsed, "because it taught you who you were in relation to men in authority," (or something like that. I wish I could remember exactly, because it was perfect.)

I sobbed. Hard. For a good thirty minutes.
Then I went and signed the petition on Protect LDS Children. I wrote about it here. I commented on my friend's post. For my own sanity, I have to do something. I want to change things for other little kids.

I didn't have a good relationship with my parents, so as a teen, I would not have wanted them to come with me. (Though actually, I remember the bishop coming to the house, and I felt more comfortable with him there when my parents were there than when I thought about going to an interview... so maybe I would have been better off.) I love the idea of the child choosing an advocate. I would have chosen one of my young women leaders. I had several that I felt comfortable with, and I would have been totally fine with them sitting there in the room. Even if they didn't say a word, I could have handled an interview if I wasn't alone. (I think.)


I don't know if that would have made a difference in my life - my life is pretty fraught with a lot of shitty things - but maybe?

Anyway, I don't have time to go back and edit this or make it sound smart... I just needed to get it all out of my head.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

EMDR Therapy (with horses) works

I had my second session of EMDR this week. We started by talking about a moment in the present:

I realized recently when Todd is around, I ask him how to do things I am perfectly capable of doing. As I thought about it and tried to source that behavior, I came to the conclusion that it was about doing things the way he wanted. It was important to me to anticipate his needs, wants, etc. before he told me. At first, I thought it was out of fear of being hurt. In session with my therapist, I felt like it was more about being who and what I was supposed to be. 

In the discussion, I felt shame. I wanted to curl up, hide, disappear. I also pictured being in the kitchen with Larry on one specific night. 

He had forced me to have sex when I didn't want to from day one of marriage. On this night, I fought back. I don't remember what made it so different, but I kicked and screamed and then curled up into a ball trying to keep him from getting my pants off, climbing on top of me, and forcing himself inside of me. Eventually, he won the fight. Then he got up and yelled at me. He was upset because I had fought and forced him to do that to me. All the fight was gone out of me, and I stood in my kitchen and apologized to him. I promised I would never do that to him again. I knew it was my fault, and there was something wrong with me for not letting him do what he wanted. 

That moment has always been emotionally charged for me. I feel deeply ashamed for both fighting him and for apologizing. I felt sad and angry and hurt and scared when I thought about it. At the same time, I had a hard time recalling it. I saw it as if I was outside my own body watching myself. (The picture was of me standing in my Mickey Mouse pajamas in the doorway of the kitchen with the living room behind me.)

In session, my therapist holds my hands and taps on the back of them, alternating back and forth between the hands. I also do therapy in the roundpen with a horse. In this session, she was wandering freely around us. 

As I described the moment in the kitchen, Wendy (therapist) had me focus on how the shame felt. I felt like curling into a ball, so I did. She followed me down to the ground, and Violet (the horse) stood guard while I cried. 

I cry often, but not in therapy. I am usually too self-conscious and hyper aware of everything around me to let myself cry. This time, I wasn't self conscious, and I was completely unaware of everything except Wendy and Violet. I have no idea how long I cried - just until I was done. Then we stood up and Violet nuzzled my face while Wendy and I talked. 

(This is when I learned that Violet had started licking Wendy's butt and legs - yet she didn't lose it. She didn't even laugh or flinch. She's got rockstar focus.)

Wendy asked me what I would do if put in the same situation now as I was that night. 

"I'd get up. Put clothes on. Leave and go to the police. There's no reason to take that kind of shit ever again."

It has NEVER occurred to me that I could have gone to the police; that I would have been believed; that THAT is what you can do when your husband is physically and sexually violent. 

Since my session, I recall the kitchen, and I can picture what it looks like. Instead of seeing it as if i was outside myself, I see it from my own perspective. I no longer feel sad, or ashamed, or scared when I picture the kitchen. I feel strong, which is weird and cool. 

I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about that day. I've expressed anger about it, I've talked about how the shame isn't mine, there's nothing for me to be ashamed of, but nothing has been as effective as EMDR (with horses) at changing me. It's kind of amazing, and I keep wondering if it's real... but if it's not real, it feels real enough that I don't even care. 


I just wrote about all of this, and still, all I feel is strong. That is very different from any experience I have ever had before. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Day After EMDR Therapy

My first EMDR therapy session was yesterday morning. I left the session not sure how it helped or didn't help. By the end of the day, I felt emotionally fragile and tired. I wanted to cry, but couldn't say why... so I just let the tears flow for no reason. (This is one of those moments where I feel very grateful for the relationship I have with Todd. There is zero pressure to not cry, or to talk about it, or to explain the tears, or to do anything but cry if I want. He sat next to me and held my hand. That's all.)

This morning, I woke up with every muscle in my body sore. At first I thought maybe I was coming down with a cold or flu-ish something, but then I realized: My muscles aren't achy like I'm sick, they are sore like I worked out really hard. I didn't work out really hard yesterday. I just went to therapy, where every muscle in my body shook for at least a half hour (and maybe longer, it's hard to tell when I was going through it).

It makes sense to be sore.
And I would just like to say, our bodies and our brains are amazing. To both hold emotion and trauma, so that I don't have to experience, and then to process it using every single muscle, it's amazing.

I still don't know if it was helpful. It's kind of hard to say, but if pain is gain, then it was helpful.

P.S. If you want to read about the actual session, it's here. If you want to read about anything else I've written about EMDR, check out these posts. C-PTSD means no EMDR, and Moving Forward

I'm thinking after reading these posts, it might be good to do a post about what EMDR actually is. If I get to it, you'll get to read it, otherwise there are some good books and posts about it.

Check them out here:
EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma 

The EMDR Coloring Book: A Calming Resource for Adults - Featuring 200 Works of Fine Art Paired with 200 Positive Affirmations

http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Equine Assisted EMDR

I've been working with a human therapist and her two horses (and whatever barn cats come by) for theee years now. Working with horses has been helpful - it gets my whole body involved in processing - which seems to work a lot better than sitting on a couch talking.

Because of my chronic pain, I've been looking at EMDR.  My pain has all sorts of visible and diagnosable causes, but I've still wondered what connections there are to trauma. I've got a lot of years emotions that were held in while going through some kind of intense trauma. It makes sense to me that it would add to a pain feedback loop. Besides all that, PTSD and trauma emotions and memories are still a part of everyday of my life. I've learned to cope, and I've learned to manage, and I function really well. I'm overall happy and healthy, and I also recognize it could be better if I'm willing to put in more work.

Insurance refused to pay for EMDR therapy. They said because they cover therapists who treat trauma, they don't need to cover that therapy. I don't have the cash available to pay 100% out of pocket, so I hadn't thought much more about it until my therapist told me she was getting trained in it.   I figured, "What the hell? Let's give it a go."

Today was my first session.
First, I am glad she didn't get offended when I couldn't help but laugh as she moved her hand back and forth. It's a little weird, so let's laugh about it.
Second, I couldn't keep my eyes focusing on her. When I dissociate, I get lightheaded and there seems to be a block between the rest of my body and my head. So she used tapping on my hands. That helped me stay more grounded, feel more connected, and made me feel safer on an emotional level.

Since I have learned that sitting in an office is less effective for me, I chose to go out with the horses while also giving EMDR a try. Having two horses tuned in to me, and one licking my hand and resting her nose on my cheek, arm, or leg, was calming and grounding for me. I know some people don't feel calmer standing in a pen with two horses, but I do.

There really wasn't much to it. Talk about a memory - or a cluster of memories with similar emotions.  Wendy (therapist) tapping my hands while Daisy and Violet (horses) do their thing, and I stand there and shake until I'm done shaking.

Since I can recall memories without pain or intense emotions, it's hard to tell if it was helpful. I can disconnect and dissociate while still staying present and look connected. (It's a helpful skill to have if I'm being totally honest, but it's not necessarily how I want to live my life if that makes sense...) l will see how it goes and how I feel between today and my next session in two weeks.

It's really hard to describe what it does and how it works. Equine assisted therapy is like that too. Somehow, it just works for me. I am able to process things on an emotional and body level that gets me farther than just talking. I'm smart. I can say and do what needs to be done, but sometimes it actually works better to NOT work that way, and let emotions take control and lead the way. Like I said, hard to explain.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sometimes my brain sucks... still

It's  been a while since I've done an "in the moment" post. I thought it'd be a good time. PTSD recovery is like a roller coaster: intense ups followed by intense downs. Today (not really all the day, just this moment) has been a down. 


You know what sucks? My brain sometimes. 

I came to help guide people fly fishing. They are veterans who are part of Project Healing Waters, which uses fly fishing to help wounded veterans. 

I really enjoy fly fishing, and while I wouldn't say it has played a big part in my own PTSD recovery, it is something that has helped. It gets me outside and moving (while obsessing over catching fish instead of exercising). When I catch a fish, every other thought goes away. I forget about everything except that fish. I want to share that with others. 

Today, my brain won't let me. It has decided today is a good day to experience many PTSD symptoms. Memories that won't stop playing. Anxiety with no known cause. Fear that is so intense, I feel paralyzed. Sadness that makes me want to cry, but I can't because of my fear. Shaking which would probably go away if I let myself just cry. So, I turned the guiding over to todd and the others, and I'm hiding. 

I can be more gentle with myself today, I've been working hard with physical therapy and therapy. I know to expect "flare ups" like this. I also know that one on one situations bring up so much anxiety that the general anxiety is bound to trigger more specialized anxiety. Being not needed (there are more volunteers than participants today) makes it easier to fall apart. If I couldn't turn over responsibilities to anyone else, I'd do my best to teach... but thinking of that makes me hyperventilate a little... so I'm glad I'm not needed and I can just expose myself to thinking about guiding somebody. 

There's also the pressure to be a good guide. What if they don't understand what I'm trying to teach? What if they don't catch fish? What if they hate fishing with a girl? What if I screw it up for them and they never try fly fishing again because I sucked so bad and fly fishing could have been the thing that helped them the most but they'll never know it and it's all my fault? What if I hadn't shown up and they'd have gotten to go with someone who knew what they were doing? What if it was just better if I didn't exist at all? (Wow. It's crazy in my brain. It's just a day of fly fishing... and we are all volunteers. I'm as good as some people and no where close to as good as others. I've not guided before, but the only way to learn how to do that is to try. Todd didn't know how to guide a couple years ago, but he tried it and now he's pretty good.) It feels a little better reading my crazy thoughts back to myself. Those are some silly thoughts. 


I still have the memories that keep playing. I still feel a little scared and sad and anxious, but less crazy. I think today, I will take pictures. If I get some good ones, that might be helpful to the project. If I want to, I can even tell people why I'm not guiding but taking pictures instead. Some of the vets might understand senseless anxiety, and some of the other volunteers might too. That might make it easier next time. Maybe next time, I'll even be ready to actually guide. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I am a fighter, and I am not ashamed of it

Fighter. 
I've never identified as one, and definitely didn't want to be one. I wanted to be a peacemaker, kind, gentle, meek, submissive, quietly wise, and never NEVER violent. 

Last week, I had physical therapy for pelvic floor issues, but she spent most of the session doing trigger point releases in my neck. During the session, my whole body started to shake and I just felt sad. I cried a little, but couldn't identify what caused the emotion. 

Several times over the last week I have had panic attacks. I didn't show my panic, but just felt it. My chest was tight, breathing was difficult, I wanted to cry but couldn't, and ended up walking out to the horses to see if that could help. 

Today I had therapy, and was sharing the experiences with Wendy. She asked me to breath into the tension I was feeling. 

I felt sad and tired. The thought was, "I'm tired of fighting. I've fought so long and so hard, and I feel tired."

I had two memories flash in my head. 
  1. When I was 16ish, and my dad was forcing my sister to go to church by picking her up and throwing her in the van. (She was 8ish.) I stood up to him, and told him it's not okay to treat people like that just because you're bigger and you can. 
  2. The only time I fought Larry. The only time it looked like rape looks like on tv. My memory is still from the corner of the room, as if I'm an outsider watching him rape another person. 

The emotions for both memories were similar. I felt guilty for fighting. I knew I shouldn't. I couldn't help it; something in me had to fight. I had to stand up to protect my sister. I had to fight for myself against Larry (even though I later apologized for fighting and making him do that to me. I never fought him again. From that point on, I held my own legs out of his way. But that night, I HAD to fight.)

As we talked, I felt so much energy in my arms. Wendy has pushed me to do this exercise before: we stand facing each other. She puts her hands up and braces herself, and then I push on her hands with all the energy in my arms. In the past, I couldn't really do it. This time, as I pushed, my arms shook. For five minutes my arms and my whole body vibrated. As the energy dissipated, all I felt was pride. 

Proud of the way I've fought. Proud that I'm still here. I'm alive because I'm a fighter. I fought for what I thought was right as a kid. I fought for myself with Larry. I fought my way out of the marriage. I fought my way out of the church. I fought, because I wanted more. I didn't always know what that meant, but I fought for it anyway. I've fought for my health; I've been to doctor after doctor after doctor (and then more doctors and physical therapists and more doctors). I wanted my life to be better, and I've fought for it. Up until that moment in the barn (I see my therapist at the barn with horses around), I was ashamed of the fighter in me. 

There have been so many outside forces pressuring me to give up that fight. My parents (entirely unintentionally), the church, its teachings and it's leaders (mostly unintentionally), Larry, and other abusers all told me to quiet, or change, that part of me. I prayed and hoped and wanted that part of me to change or go away or die. I couldn't kill it, and I couldn't stop it. For the first time ever, I am so damn proud of the fighter in me. 

I'm a fighter.