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 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.


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."

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."

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.