Self-Awareness & Self-Doubt

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PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PARTICULAR POST DEALS WITH CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE AND MAY THEREFORE BE UPSETTING AND/OR TRIGGERING
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During the last two weeks the frequency of flashbacks I’ve been having has been steadily on the increase. This is never a nice thing and inevitably makes me very anxious that I might be heading for one of those truly horrendous periods where the flashbacks become relentless and I get no respite from them at all. Thankfully, things are not at that stage, but the fear is still there, and I am having significantly more flashbacks than I usually have in a day. So it has been hard. Especially since A. has been away, and I’ve not had my usual space to process things. [A. being off isn’t the reason for the increase in flashbacks; the escalation had started before she went away, but lacking a place to talk things through doesn’t help].

Now, having flashbacks is something which I live with all the time [to a greater or lesser degree], but there is one thing which has been very different about this particular increase of flashbacks: normally, my flashbacks tend to be very random in terms of which abuse situation they are about. There might be one from when I was four and a half, then one from when I was seventeen, then one from when I was twelve. Some will be of things my brother did to me, others of things that the foster child who lived with us made me do. In short, it tends to be a completely random mix, with no specific order to them.

But this time, nearly all of them have been about a very specific situation, something which happened over the space of about twenty hours when I was nine. The flashbacks haven’t been sequential, it has been bits here and there, and it has all been absolutely sickening. What happened over that period of time are some of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced, and so it follows that the flashbacks are equally horrendous.

A few days ago I tried to desensitise myself a little by saying out loud [to myself] what happened, but I simply couldn’t do it. It felt too frightening and the words were too charged. Instead I turned to another form of expressing myself: drawing. I drew the whole situation, and I drew it in a very specific way, I drew it from his point of view. In other words, I drew what he would have seen: me, tiny, naked, frightened, tied to the radiator [which he had cranked, just because he thought it was funny when I was in pain], the various objects he was using [when he wasn’t using “his body”] – the whole situation. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because, writing about it – like talking about it – is a bit too much for me [and may also be a bit too much for you, the reader]. I did think about posting the picture I drew, but in the end decided that it is simply too graphic for general view. [Also – although the intention with the drawing is very different – legally, in some places, it would be considered child pornography, as it clearly depicts a young child being sexually abused.]

I really don’t know why so many flashbacks have been centring around this particular situation. I mean, yes, the things that happened were incredibly traumatic and cruel, but that has always been the case and it doesn’t explain why this kind of ‘zooming in’ of flashbacks is happening, or why this change is taking place now. I am still trying to work that out.

The idea to draw it, to really focus on it – allowing the emotions – was something I did in the hope that it would decrease the frequency of flashbacks, but that’s not really worked; it hasn’t at all influenced the number of flashbacks I’ve been having. [For the better or for the worse].

What it has done, is allow me to see that I really was a very young child. I don’t remember ever feeling that I was a child, I always felt like an adult, but I think it is important to recognise that although I didn’t feel like a child, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a child. The other thing that it has done, is that it has made it possible for me to see the whole situation, meaning that I could see for myself how truly awful it was. And that helps, because it makes me feel that maybe it isn’t so strange that I am still struggling with what happened; it tells me that I am not over-reacting.

Sadly, in contrast to all of this positive recognition, all this self-awareness, there has been another change inside of me. A very different one. One which isn’t nice at all, and is almost the polar opposite of what I just described..

Up until now, if anyone has ever suggested to me that maybe I carry some sort of guilt feelings about what happened inside of me, I have always vehemently denied this. I’ve always maintained that this is not the case; that I am not a typical abuse victim who blames herself for what happened. I am perfectly able to see the abuse for what it was.

But in the last two days, I’ve been completely overwhelmed with self-doubt. Doubt about whether or not maybe, just maybe, there was something I did to make this happen. A sense that, because there were two different people who abused me – separate from one another – there might be something wrong with me, that maybe I was sending out some sort of unconscious signal. That I didn’t do enough to make the abuse stop. Etc etc etc.

I can honestly say, that I have never felt this way before – certainly not on a conscious level; when I have protested to any suggestions like those mentioned above, it has never been in order to purposely mask my true feelings, or to make myself clever or anything like that. I have simply never felt this way before.

This isn’t a case of suddenly feeling 100% sure that I must somehow be to blame for what happened, rather it is an ambivalence about it, an uncertainty about who is to blame, which is now coming into the open. It is more than likely a fear that has always resided deep down inside of me, but it isn’t until these last two days that it has been allowed to enter the realm of the conscious. What I am trying to illustrate here is that all of a sudden there is a very tangible discrepancy between what I can intellectually understand [that being a child I couldn’t possibly be to blame for the abuse, that I was powerless to stop it etc], and what my inner child emotions are telling me. And it makes me feel awful. It makes me feel like I am not as far along the road to recovery as I had thought.

Of course, I can see that having my true feelings surface is probably a good thing, that this could be viewed as “a step back in order to ultimately move forward” [you can only work through things that are in the open]. In the short term, however.. well.. it has me on my knees. Completely. And, as much as I hate to admit it, on three occasions, I have resorted to escaping these very painful feelings through self-harm. This worries me, since my favoured form of self-harm is coiling a cord round my neck and pulling until I pass out, a variant which is undeniably dangerous, as there is no way of knowing that the cord will release once I have lost consciousness.

I am trying to not be too hard on myself about the self-harm. Firstly, being disappointed and angry with myself doesn’t help the situation, it only serves to make me feel even worse. And secondly, in some ways it makes perfect sense to act out like this; for as long you are unconscious you can’t feel anything. You could even go so far as to say that this particular form of self-harm is a desperate attempt at putting these now conscious feelings back into the unconscious.

But, of course, it would be much better if I didn’t feel a need to do this to myself, and I am hoping that when A. is back, being able to talk all of these different things through will be enough to help me cope with these new emotions without putting myself at risk.

I just need to somehow hold on until then.

xx

Bulletpointing My Life

I had to go see a clinical psychologist for an assessment not very long ago; I needed a statement to say something about my mental health. It’s a long and rather convoluted story why I couldn’t simply get A. to write this statement, but in short: it was An NHS Thing and for whatever reason psychotherapists simply don’t rank very highly within the NHS. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been seeing them or how well they know you, it doesn’t even matter if they are both UKCP and BACP accredited, the only letters that matter within the NHS are N, H – and you guessed it – S.

So, in the end I was given a number to call in order to book an appointment with an NHS affiliated clinical psychologist, who would clearly possess almost magical levels of insight, as she would apparently be able to conduct a full assess of my mental health in thirty minutes flat, having never met me before and knowing absolutely nothing about me, my background or my mental health history.

I had resolved to stay calm, but the second I was given the address to the place where the assessment was to happen, I realised it was where I had gone for an assessment five years earlier, where they ultimately deemed me too high risk and unsuitable to be in therapy.. [Being rejected by the NHS is the reason why I had to go private; while I agree that I was very high risk, there was no way I was going to accept that I wasn’t suited to be in therapy..]

Either way, I rolled up at the place with plenty of time to spare, giving my anxiety abundant opportunity to hit the roof and then proceed through it. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Dr NHS Clinical Psychologist was an hour [yes, an hour!] late.

But – eventually – I did get to go in for my assessment and as it turned out Dr NHS Clinical Psychologist really wasn’t too bad. It’s just that, when you meet someone for the first time and you have thirty minutes to talk about yourself, your background and your mental health history, well, what do you say? where do you start?

We covered the usual ground: I was adopted, I was sexually abused by my oldest brother for twelve years and for a year by a second person, I have a complicated relationship with my whole family, my parents are separated, my father lives with his male partner, my mother is bi-polar, etc etc etc. We then moved on to more recent times, talking about previous suicide attempts, self-harm as a coping strategy, the flashbacks, the recurrent depressions and so on. I have to give Dr NHS Clinical Psychologist some credit here, because she also allowed some space to talk about the more positive aspects of my life; my relationship with my sisters, my amazing friends, my studies, my volunteering, but, coming out of the meeting, while I felt that she had listened to all I had said, I really wasn’t sure what she would actually write in her statement.

It’s a strange thing when you are asked to summarize your whole life and your entire being in a very short space of time; it really highlights something, forces you to really think. And it’s exhausting.

So, the next session I had with A, was spent debriefing. It’s quite hard to look at the different parts of your life in this very concise way. It’s almost a bit of a shock to the system to go through it all like that. I mean, none of these aspects of my life are things I haven’t spent hours in therapy thinking and talking about, but there is something quite extraordinary when you have all these life stories mentally bullet pointed before you.

There is one part of me that thinks that considering all the things I’ve been through, all the unorthodox aspects of my life, I’ve actually done quite well to not be completely broken by it. And at the same time, there is another part that chokes and goes “It’s going to take a looooong time to make some sort of peace with all of this..”

But, thankfully, in spite of that assessment five years ago, I am in therapy and I will continue to give it my best shot to somehow make sense of it all.

xx

Pain, Fear & Courage – Daring To Say How You Feel

A couple of very raw nerves were touched in my last session with A. Early in the session I made a statement to the effect that I feel un-anchored, adrift, floating with no direction. Later on A. commented on this, saying – and I’m paraphrasing here, I don’t remember the exact words – that even though I say that I feel un-anchored, it seems to her that I am perhaps a little too anchored. To the past, to old thoughts, old feelings, old memories. She then went on to saying that she can understand why that is.

I felt instantly hurt by this, because, what I heard was perhaps less of what she was actually saying and more an echo of what others around me have either said or through actions have made me feel: that I’m holding on too hard to the past, to the abuse I experienced. That I am overreacting and should just let it go. In my immediate feeling-reaction I discarded without thought the part about A. understanding why this is, and allowed the first part of the comment to hit me at full force; that I’m stubbornly refusing to let go of what happened to me as a child.

I was able to articulate this to A., to explain that what she had said left me hurting, but that I also recognised, even in the moment, that my reaction was not necessarily to what she had said, but to what other people have said, and that while I did in a physical sense hear her say that she has some understanding of why this holding on happens, the first part, the direct echo of other peoples’ views, was the part that was ringing in my ears.

Objectively I can see that she wasn’t actually repeating what others have said or made me feel, but emotionally, that is what I heard and what I responded to. In the moment, the “can understand why” didn’t feel very convincing, felt like it might have been something she just added to soften the blow while letting me know how she really feels about me and the way I live my life-.

I fell silent after my initial explanation, feeling unable to say more. Hurting too much, and trying to self-soothe, to reassure myself that A. doesn’t really think I’m overreacting or refusing to let go, that that wasn’t at all what she was saying. But it didn’t work particularly well.

During my silence A. took the opportunity to remind me that it’s OK for me to feel things about her, that she already knows I do. It was probably needed, her saying that; I am notoriously bad at expressing my feelings about A. openly and directly to her, and it was all said in the gentlest of ways; an offer for me to express freely how I felt about both what she had said and how I feel about her, but I just wasn’t ready for it right then, had too much fear inside. She went on to very honestly say that of course she couldn’t promise she wouldn’t be affected by what I might say, but that she can deal with it.

Only this shifted my focus to another sore, another deep-rooted fear; that I actually don’t feel at all certain that she can deal with it, that she can cope with me. I said as much to her, but, I feel I failed to really convey that in an odd way this isn’t something personal to her, that it’s not a case of me thinking she’s not a strong enough person, but that it stems from the simple fact that, as much as I intellectually know that this – coping with me, with what I bring to session – is her job, that it’s what all that training was there for, that she is (that dreaded word) a professional, to me, she is first and foremost a human being and no amount of training can change that fact. And my experience of human beings is that they can’t cope with me, can’t deal with me. That sooner or later I become too much, sooner or later I break people.

And that’s a hard one. Because, if this is how I feel deep down, then has my therapy got any chance of bringing about change? If I am so terrified of breaking A., then will I ever be able to truly open up? Will I ever find the courage to risk it, or will that fear forever stand in my way of letting my emotions out?

There is a part of me that wants to close the door and run as far as I can, and another that wants to be brave and carry on, beginning with exploring this immense fear. Together with A.

I still don’t know what I will do, but I know this:

My three and a half year honeymoon with A. is over.
And maybe, just maybe, this is where real therapy begins.

xx

Making Sense Of Abuse & The Need To Feel Heard

I really shouldn’t be writing this. I ought to be writing an essay on attachment. Especially seeing as I’m working to an absolute deadline, having already exhausted all opportunity for extension. Only I simply haven’t got the head space to do any studying. Or anything else, really. In fact, if you find this post a bit fragmented that is because it has been written in fragments; a sentence here and there whenever I’ve had a short break from the hellish onslaught of constant flashbacks I am currently experiencing.

I’ve spent a lot of time in these past ten days [or however long it has been] talking both to the Samaritans and the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Line. Talking to them doesn’t stop the flashbacks; I will often continue having them even while I’m on the phone, but at least, when I come out of them I’m not alone. Also, I’ve come to realise that what I really crave is to be allowed to tell my story. To share what happened to me. And, more importantly, to feel heard. To hear the reaction of others, when they hear what happened to me has played an important part in coming to see that what went on while I was growing up was actually quite bad.

Rather unsurprisingly, I’m very good at minimalising the abuse that I was subjected to as a child and teenager. Minimalising what went on is in essence how I got through it. I genuinely believe that had I allowed myself to see the magnitude of what was going on at the time there is no way I could have survived it. At least not with my sanity intact. So I dissociated and numbed myself to the whole experience.

But, there comes a point when you have to begin to look openly and honestly at what really happened. There is no way that you can forever keep running from it. Sooner or later you have to find the courage to look the past in the eye or you will never be able to heal. By that I don’t meant that it is necessary to explore in minute detail every single abuse situation you were ever in, but that one has to face one’s own emotions about what happened.

When I think back to the things my oldest brother did to me – not through flashbacks, but simply by normal recall – I can’t say that I remember feeling much at all. Maybe, very early on, when I was little, I have a vague memory of feeling confused, but that’s about the extent of conscious emotions. The rest is something of an emotional void. What is happening now with the flashbacks – and what makes them so terrifying – is that it is as if I am now reliving what happened, with the emotional response I should have had, but couldn’t have, as a child.

As a child, even from very early on, I always knew what was happening didn’t feel right, but in order to cope with it, I very soon began to understand ‘not feeling right’ as a the normal state of being. The abuse became so routine that it seemed no less normal to me than going to school or doing my chores. It was just one of the many parts that made up my day-to-day life.

I think the abuse began around the time when I was about four and a half, because that’s the earliest I can remember, and my brother says that was roughly when it started. Of course it could have started earlier, but I simply haven’t got any memories – happy or sad – from before that time.

It went on for a very long time – all the way until I was 17 – and only came to light because I tried to kill myself. There was one occasion, when I was about seven, when I did try to tell my mother about what my brother was doing to me [although my mother says this never happened, that I never told her], but unfortunately that ended disastrously with my mother unable to take on board what I was saying to her, and I never again tried to tell anyone. For years I held on to that question mark posed by my mother, that maybe I really hadn’t told her, because that idea was so much easier to cope with, so much less painful, than the idea that I did tell my mother and she was unable to do anything about it. There are definitive mitigating circumstances in terms of why my mother couldn’t cope with what I was telling her, but the unavoidable fact remains: as a consequence of my mother’s inability to intervene the abuse carried on for another ten years, which is – of course – and absolute eternity.

There was one year, when I was eight going on nine, when things could have changed quite dramatically. That year my brother was away from home, doing his military service – which was at the time mandatory. In a tragic twist, that same year – which could have been an opportunity for me to get to experience what life without abuse might be like – my parents decided to take in a foster child, a much damaged 16-year-old refugee boy from the Lebanon who had seen war up close and who was deeply disturbed by it. Cut a long story short, he began abusing me almost immediately after moving in with us.

What happened with this person was something I was completely unprepared for. You see, with my brother, what he got off on, was the idea that what went on was something we both wanted. So he would constantly be asking me questions. Do you like this? Does this feel good? What would you like to do? And I soon learned what was expected of me, learned to step into the role he wanted me to play. With this other person, there was something entirely different that motivated him. What he enjoyed was to see me terrified and in pain. Whereas with my brother I could choose to either step into a role – in a sense choose to not be me – or to dissociate and go somewhere else in my mind while he was doing what he was doing, with this other person, he wouldn’t allow me to do that. If he noticed that I was zoning out, he would slap my face to bring me back to the present, or he would hold my chin and peer into my eyes, thereby ensuring I couldn’t escape him or what he was doing to me. He had a knife strapped to his leg, concealed underneath his jeans – he called it his Rambo knife – which he would hold against my neck while he was raping me. Not with the sharp edge, but with the blunt back of it, just as a mind game making sure I could never be sure if this would be the time he would finally kill me. Even in completely normal situations he would play these horrendous mind games with me. For example, we would all be out in the garden, him, my brothers and I, playing football. He would then kick the ball far away, my brothers turning their backs to us, running after the ball, and as soon as they did, he would grab me by my throat and throw me against the wall of the house, choking me – and then immediately let go the second my brothers were turning back, as if to drive home the message that it doesn’t matter where we are or who is around, I can do whatever I want to you, whenever I want.

I had a very good session with A. earlier this week, where I for the first time ever, talked about the way the abuse happened. Not details of what actually happened or specific incidents, but the ways in which I was made to be compliant with it, both through things that were said, and through things that didn’t need to be said.

I spent an entire year in fear of this other person, and what happened with him; the violence, the threats and the psychological mind games matched exactly the stereotype painted by media. It took years for me to appreciate that what my brother did, the subtle grooming, coercion and indirect coaching, was also abuse.

But it’s all coming back now – all the pent up emotions – in the form of flashbacks.
And it’s really really scary.

xx

When You Have No Voice – Making A Decision To Communicate

It’s been a long time, I know, but I’ll try to put you all back in the picture, as I know you will have all been eagerly awaiting my next update. [What? No?]

In the last few weeks I have been dealing with one of those much dreaded periods of flashbacks, and things have often felt completely and utterly hopeless. The flashbacks have by no means gone, but there have been a few days every once in a while when there have been fewer, and I’ve been able to find at least a little breathing space in between. When things are bad, that’s the time to focus on small blessings.

At the beginning of last week I had to go into hospital for a whole battery of tests and examinations. Part of these was a gynaecological exam, which for me is essentially an equivalent to psychological torture through physical means. I always try to prepare whoever is doing the exam by explaining that I come from a background of having been sexually abused as a child, and that these exams are pretty much garanteed to trigger off flashbacks; in short that they may need to brace themselves for my emotional response. They then usually say something along the lines of “Don’t worry, darling, I’ve seen it all before”, which is of course very kind and much appreciated, but it generally tends to become apparent that this is not really the case. When they’re faced with the sobbing heap these exams turn me into, it’s often clear that I react worse than most people they’ve examined. This then spirals into this odd cycle of them feeling sorry for me, and me feeling sorry for them having to carry out the exam on me..

So, not nice at all.

This particular nurse was absolutely fantastic, though, I have to say. It was very obvious that she was affected by my reaction to what she was doing, but because she was very open about that, I found that somehow reassuring and it in many ways it helped bring me out of the flashbacks and back into the here and now where we both were.

Concurrent with the flashbacks and general depression I have this week come down with some seriously nasty bug. This bug, by the way, is completely unrelated to the hospital thing, unless I have really lucked out and managed to contract MRSA while I was there..

At first I thought it was just hay fever, as this is the season when I usually have to stay indoors with my inhaler close to hand at all times. Had a very painful throat – not sore – painful, something I don’t usually get with my hay fever, but initially I just assumed that my body had decided to take my allergies to the next level. As it turns out this wasn’t it. Came down with a 39C temperature [that’s 102F, if you’re so inclined] in the middle of the week, and it’s been going ever since. So, what with the painful throat and the fever I’ve essentially had to be on paracetamol non-stop. It’s not great, Ibuprofen tends to be more effective, but for various reasons I am currently banned from taking that particular pain reliever, so there you go.

Feeling miserable on all levels is not a great place to exist and things have been unbelievably difficult. I know my last entry was pretty dire, and from there I suppose you could say things went south. Having no therapy has been really challenging, it feels like years until A. returns from maternity leave. But, I am still around, still fighting – even if the evidence of this has not been posted on my blog.

This Friday I had been invited to two sedarim – the special meal eaten by Jews on the first night of Pesach, but instead I spent the evening in bed, fighting flashbacks and this blasted bug. Last night I had booked a place at the communal 2nd night seder at my shul together with many of my friends. I did make it there, in fact even went for a pre-seder drink with one of my friends, but didn’t make it through the meal. Was feeling incredibly rough and then began having flashbacks, and I had to make the decision that I needed to make sure I could make it home safely before things got even worse. Hated having to leave, but as it turns out it was probably a wise choice.

This morning I woke up having absolutely no voice.

I have lost my voice in the past, but never quite this completely, and it’s kind of an interesting thing; the second you discover you have no voice [in my case when I began recording a voice message for my sister] you realise how much you rely on it.

I don’t usually use my phone or computer on Shabbat or during religious festivals. This is not so much because it’s biblically and/or rabbinically decreed that one should not use iPads or Blackberrys during festivals, as much as – being a modern reform Jew – I’ve made the informed decision that for me stepping away from all my techie gadgets and disconnecting for a bit makes those times different to other times. I am normally contactable at any given moment, day or night, be it through texts, Facebook updates or tweets, and so I like to make Shabbat and festivals different and special to other days, through unplugging in this way. Admittedly, most of my friends think this is completely bonkers, but hey, it’s just the way I roll.

However, since that accidental-on-purpose over-dose the other week, I decided that it’s actually a lot more life-embracing to temporarily break that self-imposed rule than to keep it. Which is why you are seeing this update today, during a week I would normally steer clear of modern technology.

To help me through particularly rough patches over these past few weeks I have often sought support over the telephone from my sisters, my friends and the Samaritans, regardless of whether or not this has been on Shabbat. Being able to talk about what’s going on, both physically and psychologically, makes me feel less like I’m on my own in this.

So, as you can imagine, waking up this morning, with no voice at all, has come as a bit of a shock, and has left me feeling very vulnerable. Which is why I’m sitting here now, writing this..

I guess that even when you haven’t got an audible voice, you can still find ways of making yourself heard.

Do be kind to yourselves,

xx

Whitney Houston, Eating Disorders & The Greatest Love Of All

“Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfil my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe

No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity..”

The words above seem more poignant than ever today, as news of the death of one of our generation’s greatest voices spread around the world, via texts, tweets and status updates. My own reaction was not, I imagine, dissimilar to that of many other people who, like me, grew up listening to her music. A sense of sadness and loss, not only of a fine singer, whose life was cut short, but a loss of the era she represented. For all the fanciful make-up and hair spray [not to mention those horrendous shoulder pads], the 1980s were also the time when I discovered the joy of music for real. It was a time when music sounded like it had a life not only through the melodies or the words, but through the very record, with their unique individual kinks and scratches. Back in the day when such imperfections could not easily be remedied in a computer program, and listening to my father’s copy of Whitney Houston’s now iconic 1987 album was a completely different experience to listening to the same record at a friend’s place, since their copy had different scratches and kinks. I was only 11, but I remember the feeling as if it were yesterday..

The picture of Whitney Houston on that album cover trigger other, very different, memories, too. It reminds me of one of my cousins who had a large poster with that picture on the wall in her room. I only ever visited her once in her home, as she and her family would normally travel up north to see us [and the rest of our family] for Christmas and Midsummer, and I didn’t even know her that well, because she was almost ten years older than me, and would usually hang out with my other older cousins. And yet, she left a big impression on me, and I think of her often.

My cousin died young.
For much of her life she vacillated between battling anorexia and bulimia, and in the end, even though she had got to a stage where she was ready to accept the help she so desperately needed and had begun the twisting road to recovery, it was too late; her heart was literally broken and it gave out.

I don’t often talk about her. I may mention her, but I rarely say much more than what I just wrote. That she died young, of an eating disorder. But, she’s often in my thoughts.

I haven’t got the best of relationship to food myself; I tend to comfort eat when I feel down, or to not eat at all – and being a survivor of sexual abuse I am automatically at higher risk of being caught in the claws of an eating disorder.

Physical abuse [sexual or other] has been shown to have a huge effect on the way we view ourselves, not only in terms of our personality traits, but also in terms of body image, and I know that my own need to be in control of things could easily encompass my eating habits. So I have good reason to be extra aware of thoughts of this nature. The memory of my cousin helps with that, helps me to not just brush it off and think of it as not a big deal, but to recognise that anorexia and bulimia are real illnesses, illnesses which people die from.

I remember my cousin and honour her memory by making myself at least try to improve the way I relate to food [and by extension, my body]. It doesn’t often last very long, this improvement, but long enough for me to catch myself before getting stuck in that very unhealthy pattern where you feel you have to be in absolute control over what you eat..

Of course there are no guarantees, I – like anyone else – could slip, could forget; if it was easy to avoid the trap of eating disorders then no one would suffer from them.. But, I really feel that the memory of my cousin, and the way she struggled, gives me that extra kick to keep my alarm bells powered up.

So I guess, in a backwards kind of way my cousin has been a role model to me, and even in death she has left a legacy.

As has Whitney.

‎”..I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be..

Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all ..”

xx

Extracts from The Greatest Love Of All © Michael Masser & Linda Creed

Flashbacks, Therapy & Change – An Entry About Finding My Way Back To Life

I had an email from someone who has clearly been following my blog for some time the other day. He [or she – could be a she] asked “What happened to your real blog? The one about your life? I mean it’s interesting to read about Reform Judaism and all that, but I kind of miss the real updates. Like, what happened after you left Drayton Park? How have you been doing? What’s happening with your therapy?”

Now, firstly, I would like to point out that to me the posts about Judaism, and my conversion in particular, are every bit as real as any of my other updates. Being Jewish is part of who I am, and a big part, at that. But, I do take the emailer’s point: it has been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on with me. And it’s not by chance. I’ve simply needed some time to reflect without sharing, rather than reflecting while sharing, if that makes sense.

About two months have passed since I left the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. And it’s taken me all this time to slowly, slowly get back to myself. In fact I’m still not there yet. I still have days that are very very difficult, have days when I just don’t make it out of bed at all. But I also have days when things seem a little bit better.

The flashbacks still come, but usually it’s a case of having maybe one flashback every few days, and as horrible as it is to have them, it doesn’t compare with the torrential flashbacks I was suffering from a few months back. They still disrupt my life, still make me feel like absolute crap, because being thrust back into an abuse situation without warning is just never going to be a pleasant experience, but on some level they are manageable in the sense that there is enough space between them to be able to look at them and think about why they are happening.

Mostly, they tend to be about things I remember happening, and I think the key in these flashbacks lie within the feelings they evoke, not necessarily the content. I try to allow those feelings to surface, and to – hard as it can be – accept that there is a lot of fear and shame. My conscious memory of the abuse, particularly the abuse my brother subjected me to, doesn’t really conjure up images of myself as a very small, powerless and frightened little girl, but through the flashbacks I can tell that I must have been, even if I at the time was too cut off from my own emotions to recognise this. So I guess what I am doing now is to acknowledge this side of me, this truth which I have kept under wraps for a long long time. To allow Little S space to truly exist.

Therapy is going well, feels helpful. It’s my space to just think out loud. That said, the other session I talked about how when I really get going, when I feel I’m on to something, I often drift off – almost as if I forget that I’m supposed to share my thought process along the way. I just grow silent and still and think inside my head, and I’m sure this must be frustrating for A. at times, but I guess it’s just the way I work. Also, the fact that I am aware of it, that I’ve been able to talk to A. about this tendency to just go quiet, means that I can work on it. And it’s given me the opportunity to talk about why I think I do this, what it is I find so frightening about sharing thoughts that aren’t fully formed, what it is I might be trying to protect or prevent from happening, through leaving A. [and others] out.

While I was at Drayton Park, A. told me something I already knew, but had not wanted to think about; she’s pregnant. I knew this even before going home this summer, but because A. hadn’t said anything about it, I essentially buried it, chose not to think about it. But now that it’s out in the open, well, naturally, it has an immediate effect on my therapy, both in the here and now; the themes that come up in my sessions, and the more practical side to it: that there will be a major break in my therapy in a not too distant future.

There is no getting away from it: there are absolutely days when it is really really hard to come to session and see A. sitting there looking oh-so-very-pregnant, when all I’ve ever wanted for myself is to have a child, feeling very aware that time is slipping away from me and my worst fear; that I may never get to be a mother, forms an icy shell around my heart. There are moments when I feel insanely jealous of her, her baby, her life. But there are also times when I feel genuinely through-and-through happy for her, excited about this amazing little miracle growing inside of her, and noticing subtle changes in the way she responds to the things I talk about – a soft gentleness in her tone, especially when I talk about that frightened little child I was back then.

So, there is progress in my therapy and in my life in general. Tiny tiny steps forward, towards a better understanding of myself, of who I am, of how I relate to others, and how others relate to me. And I feel I’m on the right track. Feel I’m getting somewhere.

But it’s not easy.

And it isn’t over.

There is much to be done.

Be kind to yourselves,

xx

A tiny musical gem; Janet Devlin singing Adele’s Someone Like You

Remember September & Stepping Into The New Year

It’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I know. Things have been very difficult and it’s all felt too raw to put it down in black and white. To pick up where I left off: I went to the assessment at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre and was offered a place the same day. It was very hard going back there, having not needed that kind of help in quite a few years. So much of my time at the therapeutic community I was staying in was designed to keep you away from the NHS mental health system, to find other ways of getting the support you need, preferably away from medication and hospital. So it was a big decision going back to Drayton Park. But needs must sometimes, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just accept any kind of help you can get.

The whole first week and a half at Drayton I spent virtually all of my time in my room, feeling unable to be around people other than my named support workers. I simply felt to embarrassed to be around people while I was fighting the near constant stream of flashbacks, as the things I do to ground myself can look quite odd if you don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I did have quite a few people come visit me, which felt more OK, because they were all people who know what I’m usually like, and who I knew could handle seeing me in that very very difficult emotional place. I know it’s hard to see someone you love struggle in the way I was – constantly having to fight this torrent of intrusive flashbacks.

Flashbacks aren’t a new phenomenon to me; regular readers will know that I suffer from single flashbacks frequently, and experience periods of sequential flashbacks every so often, but this was on a scale I’ve never known before. I’ve always understood the single flashbacks as an indicator of sorts that I am ready to perhaps deal with that specific incident in my therapy, and the periods of flashbacks tend to begin either when A. is away or when I am very stressed out about other things. But this, it was just something entirely different. A whole different ball game. As I said earlier, initially I was experiencing an incessant flow of flashbacks, most of them reasonably short and all of things I already knew had happened. Though never a pleasant experience, I was able to come out of them fairly quickly. What was really wearing me down – apart from the re-experience of the abuse situations – was the fact that they were so frequent. It felt very much as if as soon as I had worked my way out of one flashback another started, like one flashback triggered the next, and it took essentially all of my energy to remain fully in the present.

Then, one day – and I still don’t quite know why – the flashbacks changed. They became less frequent and were about things I had no conscious memory of. Although the reclining frequency was a welcome break, making it possible to at least go out of my room and spend time in the art room, it was absolutely terrifying. I always knew that there were gaps in my memory, pertaining to one specific person, but some of the things that came out were things I had absolutely no recollection of at all. I know that what emerged in those flashbacks did happen, that they weren’t figments of my imagination [although at times I tried very hard to convince myself that maybe they were].. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was remembering things I had forgotten I knew. These flashbacks tended to be more like long sequences, and were a lot harder to come out of, I think, in part because they caught me so unawares, memorywise, but also because the content of them were cruelty on a whole new level, and I felt paralysed by fear, unable to do the things I usually do to come out of the flashbacks. And I have to say, I’m still dealing with those memories now, feeling utterly traumatised by what those flashbacks unveiled.

I ended up spending a full three weeks at Drayton Park, and throughout those weeks, being stripped of the release and relief my various means of self-harm offered, they were probably the worst three weeks in my entire life. Every day I would ask the staff – pleading with them – to please, please let me have my scalpels, just for a little while, just to get a small break from the flashbacks. And each day my support workers told me no, because although their policy is that they recognise self-harm as a genuine coping-strategy for some people, they felt that my cutting would not be safe and could end in me, accidentally or intentionally, cutting to kill myself rather than to just relieve pain. Also, owing to my previous track record at Drayton Park, downing a pint of anti-freeze in a bid to end my life, my trust/credit rating with the staff isn’t the greatest, so their decision to not allow me to use any form of self-harm to cope, is entirely understandable.

I am now back home. Things are still difficult. The flashbacks aren’t as frequent, but I still have them fairly regularly, and it seems that an underlying depression is rearing its ugly head, and I am often struggling to get out of bed at all, unless I have to. I push myself to get to therapy and to not completely disappear in my own misery, but it’s hard work.

One thing that is good is that we’re now in the middle of a period called Yamim Noraim, [lit. Days Of Awe, commonly referred to as the High Holy Days, is the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur] – so there are a lot of things going on at shul, and so I have more things than usual that I need to get to. Also, on the days I simply haven’t been able to go to service I’ve been able to follow it online, and I’ve made a point of always making sure I am up and appropriately dressed, even if I’m only attending service via the internet.

All in all, it’s still a bit of a roller coaster; one good day, one bad and so on, but I suppose that it’s better to have some better days than none at all.

So, for a better and sweeter new year,

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

xx

OK – so this isn’t for this new year, but this Rosh HaShanah video from Michelle Citrin still makes me smile. I mean, c’mon – I named my blog after one of her songs, after all.

Papers, Memories & Being Believed

It’s nearly half nine in the evening. I have a million things I need to do. Sorting, packing and throwing; getting ready for my pending move. Only a week to go now.

I had two goals for the day: 1) go through my various piles of papers to decide what needs to be kept and what ought to be chucked and 2) go through all my clothes, shoes, linen etc with the same objective.

I’ve managed to do the first part. It’s taken me hours. Never realised how much paperwork I’ve actually got: bank statements, invoices, council tax paper, student loans etc etc etc. You get the picture.

Now the job wouldn’t be quite so hard if it were only those things to leaf through. Admittedly I’ve got a somewhat compulsive need to hoard bank statements, but even so I’m not really that emotionally attached to them. No, it’s all the other paper stuff that makes this job hard. The postcards, birthday wishes, letters, little notes. Those are the things I struggle to let go of.

I found a piece of paper from some years ago with lots of little messages scribbled all over; the remains of an impromptu game played with my sisters and co some years ago. The words in themselves neither grand nor particularly meaningful, but somehow I still find it hard to make myself throw this piece of paper away, because it’s attached to the memory of all of us sitting in the kitchen passing the paper round and round, writing those little messages, the sillier the better. Precious moments of togetherness.

Then there are papers which I feel I need to keep for other reasons..

Quite early in the day I came across the legal paperwork from the court hearing against my brother all those years ago. The two versions of it. One – the publicly available version – which has nearly all of my testimony and most of his blanked out – and the other, the one only I and my brother have the right to access, where the testimonies remain intact, carefully transcribed by the court clerk.

And, of course, I had to stop and read through them. Couldn’t just put them in the expandable folder without first reading them, despite knowing full well that no good would come from doing so.

I’ve not read them that many times; once when I first got them, just after the verdict was passed, and once again a few years ago when I requested copies of them. And yet, despite this, there are passages in there which I could easily quote word for word.

Having read through those papers I put them away, but – of course – the memory of the court hearing stayed with me. The feeling of not being sure whether or not I’d be believed by the judge. Not knowing how my brother’s repeated statement “I can’t deny or confirm. I don’t remember” would play out against my detailed, if emotionally detached, descriptions of sexual abuse.

The written word has always been very important to me. Ever since I can remember I’ve kept a journal, writing about my life, about the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows. During the court case one of my journals, a small black moleskin note book, was submitted as evidence against my brother. I had kept it hidden for a long time, this secret diary – separate from all my other journals and locked in a metal box so that no one but me would ever be able to read it. In it I had for the first time written down the things my brother was doing to me. It was written in code, a childish attempt at disguising who the abuser was. The code was of course easily cracked once the truth had come out about my brother and read like a memoir of abuse. It had never been intended to be read by anyone, it was just a way for me to try to deal with what was happening when I got to the point where I simply couldn’t keep it all inside, but of course the police, and later on the prosecutors, viewed it as a goldmine of proof against my brother. Some sort of physical proof of things that had happened. A paper trail.

Ever since then my journal writing changed. I still write as much as I ever did, but I write differently. The knowledge that what I write can have such an impact, can hold such power, has changed it. I often find myself noting down where I am or what time it is when I’m writing, almost as if somewhere at the back of my mind, I worry that one day this journal, too, will be read by someone other than myself; that accuracy will be paramount, lest I be thought to have made things up.

I’ve talked about this with A. in my therapy; this self-imposed obligation to express myself in a very precise way, to make sure that I don’t make statements I’m not entirely sure about. The fear that should I be found to have made a mistake it may also be assumed that I might have got other things, important things, wrong.

Of course Adult Me knows that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, that everyone stretches the boundaries of truth sometimes, and that doing so does not mean that nothing she says will be believed, but Little S.. well, Little S still fears that Adult Me might be wrong. And so, every so often, Little S goes to battle with Adult Me, and every once in a while Little S pops up in Adult Me’s journal, checking that there are no discrepancies, making sure that she could never be accused of making things up.

It can be hard, that internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. It can be tiring, confusing and sometimes painful. It’s a constant balancing act, ensuring that Little S feels heard, while allowing Adult Me to move beyond the childlike constraints of Little S’s experiences.

Anyway, it’s time for both Little S and Adult Me to go to bed now.

We have a whole day of packing ahead of us in the morning.

Sleep tight!

xx

Powerlessness, Asthma & Echoes From The Past

Feel like I ought to be given some sort of medal or badge today. It’s been one week since my last therapy session, and so far it’s been manageable. Moments of feeling somewhat lower than usual, but absolutely within the range of what I can cope with without freaking out.

That aside, today I feel like a prisoner in my own home.

The last few Fridays I’ve not been attending our Friday meetings, because B. – a former therapist of mine, whom I chose to terminate therapy with – is doing a student placement as part of her training at those meetings. I have been trying to explain both to others and to myself why I feel so strongly about her coming here, but it’s really hard to put it into words, aside from stating the obvious, that I chose to end therapy with her for a reason, and to not want to have to see her again, even in a group setting, seems – at least to me – a not unreasonable request. I would have thought that most people would not be particularly keen on having to see an ex-therapist once they have terminated therapy with that person. No?

But, of course, it goes deeper than that. It’s not just having to see her; at a stretch I could possibly, maaaayyyybeee, cope with that. No, I think this is tied in to the fact that I’d not just be seeing her anywhere, but actually in my home. And I have a feeling that this is a large part of what is getting to me; that living in this therapeutic community I ultimately have no choice in who to let in or not into my own home.

Now, let’s put this into context of my own background.
I grew up in a house where I was put through some pretty severe abuse by people living in my home; my oldest brother and also, for a time, by a foster child placed in my family. At the time I didn’t feel able to stop it, didn’t know how to speak up [lots of complex issues, as anyone having experienced abuse will know]. In the end, the only way out I could find – and not before having already suffered through twelve long years of abuse – was to kill myself. It was the only control I felt I had over the situation; the option to live or to not live. So, at the age of 17, I opted to take a cocktail of painkillers and my mother’s various medications.

Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, and – in fairness – looking back, I can see that this was probably a cry for help, for someone to see that something wasn’t right.

To an extent it worked; the abuse came to light and it stopped. Would I call this a happy ending? No. Absolutely not. While the abuse stopped and things came to light; even went to court, I couldn’t call it a happy ending.

You see, even after all of this came to light, after by brother was convicted for what he had done, and despite the fact that everyone believed what I said had happened, I was still expected to carry on seeing him at family dinners and holidays, essentially giving the message that what happened to me didn’t really matter, and his place in the family was still more important than mine.

Me being me, having spent my whole life acting as if everything was fine, of course reverted back to that old habit of acting as if I was OK, as if these messages did me no harm. Not good.

Going back to the present situation, with B. coming into my home [even though this time I have expressly stated that I don’t want her here] it evokes in me the same feelings of being helpless, of having no power over who is let into my life; that what I want doesn’t matter.

Realising that the situation wasn’t going to change, that whether I felt OK with it or not, D. would be doing her placement with us, I was faced with a choice. A) To go to the meetings, reverting to the old pattern of pretending that things are fine, putting a brave face on it. Or, B) Not go to the meetings, feeling somewhat driven out of my home, as I don’t want to be around when she’s there, even if I don’t actually attend the meeting.

So far I’ve chosen option B. I say so far, because, of course, there is an option C) Going to the meeting, and not pretend that things are OK, but to speak up with her in the room.

Now, I can certainly see that there would be some value in option C), but – and this is a big but – I honestly don’t feel I am at a place yet where I would be able to do that. And as long as I feel that way, as long as I feel that going to the meeting would make me go back to acting OK, I simply don’t see how that would be a healthy choice. And so, for now, I do the second best; I preserve the boundaries I have set up by choosing not to attend the meeting. I accept that I can’t change B. coming to my house, but I don’t need to be around when that happens.

Except today.

Today is a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in London. Gorgeous, really. It is also the perfect weather for death-by-asthma. The government has even gone so far as to issue a smog alert for this bank holiday weekend.

Despite this, not wanting to be in the house when B. is here, I still tried to brave it this morning and went out. Unfortunately, I had to turn around and head back to the house, because I just couldn’t get enough air in my lunges; the weather and the pollution was simply too much.

So at the moment, I’m in my room, using my inhaler, feeling more than ever as a prisoner in my own home.

Oh well, at least I have the internet here, and I can spend my time exploring where my feelings stem from, and then plague the world with my findings in the form of a blog entry!

Happy Easter, Passover or Spring – whatever floats your boat!

All the very best and much much more,

xx

PS. The trick is to keep breathing.