Archives for the month of: September, 2013

I feel so scared. Something just feels wrong inside my head and I don’t know what to do.

My partner and I went to see Insidious 2 today (don’t bother, it’s silly) and there was one part that really scared me, but not for the obvious reasons. There is a part where a young boy is being hypnotized. There is a ticking metronome to lull him into relaxation and awareness of his inner experiences. I wrote before about how I want my memories back, but hearing the metronome and seeing someone going into a trance/hypnosis state (even a fake movie one) was really terrifying for me. I want my memories, but I don’t want to not be in control of my mind and body while I retrieve them from wherever they are hidden.

I feel like something is right below the surface, waiting to break through. But I am pushing it down, almost unwillingly. I just can’t get to that level. My mind is fighting against my will to know. I think it will take some sort of help with deep relaxation in order to break down my defenses enough to get through to that part of me, but like I said, the thought of that absolutely terrifies me. It’s not the memories I’m scared of (I think…), it’s the loss of control.

I’m just scared right now, knowing that something is there and I can’t access it.

Does anyone have experience with this?

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Haven’t felt much like writing lately. Things continue to be pretty hectic and I basically feel like I’m either running around to school/work/internship or rushing home to get a few hours of sleep. Not sure how much longer I can continue this, but I guess I have to just get over it until the end of April when my internship ends.

The class that I am taking right now is ridiculous. We have a massive project with basically no clear directions, our professor is chronically late and spends a good 20 minutes of class time trying to figure out how to get his PowerPoint on the screen, and every grade in the class is part of the group project.

I hate group projects. My tendency to need control over things and my inability to procrastinate usually mean that I end up doing the majority of the work. I was determined not to let that happen this time, and so teamed up with some smart people. We divided the work equally. Then came the day before the literature review was due, and the person who was supposed to write it came to class with ONE poorly written page. I had to do extra research and write the entire paper during my shift that night between class sessions and I got us a motherfucking A. My friend who had been responsible for it does not seem to understand why I am annoyed with him and is acting like I’m crazy for worrying about our grade when nothing is getting done. A couple other group members and I are working on data analysis and writing our final paper, and he and another woman (who also has not done any work thus far) are supposed to complete an evaluation plan for child protective services. They have not started and it’s due this weekend. I emailed the professor saying we would need more time on that aspect of the project and he said that would be fine, but it still grinds my grits that they don’t seem to care about the project and are probably going to leave it for me to frantically do during work. So frustrating!

Apart from that issue, things are generally okay. I’ve been having the usual nightmares, but I’m finding it easier to let them go after I wake up. Have not had sex in a long time. I am so tired that the idea of having sex and dealing with the flashback-body feelings that come with it is completely ridiculous. My partner is being really great about not bugging me, but I know she is frustrated. Guess she should actually look for a better job if she wants to get some, because as long as I am working and at school 70 hours a week it is not happening. That sounded harsh. I am in a bad mood. There are just so many instances of different people in my life not pulling their weight in various ways, and I am so sick of picking up the slack for everybody. Wah wah, poor me. Whatever. I’ll shut up now.

*Trigger Warning for SA*

Today, I was working at a different office than usual for my internship. I had a conference call in the afternoon, and the person who usually uses that office had a meeting. I was waiting for my conference call to begin when I saw a news story online about a man who had planned to kidnap children, keep them in a basement torture chamber/dungeon, sexually abuse them, and then kill them and eat them. The story also said that this man’s computer contained many images of these types of things being done to children. It sickened me. I then looked across the room and saw “The Courage to Heal” on a bookshelf.

I have wanted to read “The Courage to Heal” for quite some time, as it is one of the more controversial books in the field of psychology. The main reason it is so divisive is that it clearly supports the idea that memories can be repressed and later recovered, and it uses very broad language that some say could lead people who hadn’t been abused to believe that they were. The basic idea put forth by the authors is that even if you don’t directly remember any abuse, if you feel you may have been abused and your life shows signs that you may have been, then you were. 

Many argue that memories cannot be repressed and that it is very easy to insert false memories in someone’s mind. Studies have been done in which people are made to believe things happened to them that truly did not. The point is supposed to be that therapists and books such as “The Courage to Heal” can influence people to think they had been abused when they actually had not. In addition, many of the “memory work” done in the 1980s when this became a big phenomenon turned out to actually do more harm than good (and that remains my opinion even though other opinions of mine on this subject have changed).

I have to make a confession here: I used to not believe in repressed/recovered memories. I was very suspicious of memories coming out of nowhere after being in therapy or reading a book. We learned about the recovered memory controversy in one of my undergraduate psychology classes, and my professor did a great job of remaining neutral and just presenting both sides to us. He left us to draw our own conclusions, and draw them we did.

I decided, in the infinite wisdom of the 20-year-old undergraduate, that everyone who claimed to have recovered memories had made them up for attention or some other secondary gain. In addition, there was no such thing as Satanic Ritual Abuse (I now believe that abusive cults/rings exist in great numbers, but I do believe to call it “Satanic” is a misnomer because the actual religion of mainstream Satanism does not condone sexual abuse).

It is almost amusing to look back on my beliefs now. They were so clearly a defense against what I knew deep down to be true. I was probably at a point where things were about to be revealed to me, and this wonderful way to avoid facing my past plopped right into my lap. My adamant refusal to believe in the validity of recovered memories allowed me to shield myself from knowledge that was going to hurt tremendously. 

It is easy to dismiss all recovered memories as fiction when you have never had one yourself. It is hard to recover your own memories when you are so staunchly opposed to believing they could have happened.

Which brings me back to the news story. This man had photographs of people doing these sick things to children. This is clear evidence that these things actually happen. He was planning to do them. For me to have dismissed the existence of groups performing ritualized sexual abuse was ignorant at best, and possibly very damaging. How many people (friends, clients, etc.) wanted to tell someone about what happened to them but did not feel comfortable having that person be me because they knew I wouldn’t believe them? How many people did I cause to further question what happened to them (because those of us who have remembered the abuse years after the fact are always questioning ourselves) when I was spouting off my ignorant thoughts in class? It’s difficult to think about.

As I started actually working with people in the social services field, my willingness to entertain experiences and thoughts that differed from my own increased tremendously. I went from being a staunch opponent of the idea that people could repress and recover true memories to acknowledging that people could forget horrible things, and then to accepting that people could recover these memories later in life. And then, lo and behold, I began to have a slight feeling that something was very wrong. 

I still do not have any clear memories of the sexual abuse that I now know I survived. What I do have are frequent spells of dissociation (which I now realize I have done for most of my life), the inability to have anyone touch my back without warning, a depressingly low sex drive (with no physical reason), a history of depression dating back as far as I can remember, a brother who asked if I thought he had been sexually abused before I had ever had an inkling of my own abuse, a mother who has asked if I was abused, many blanks in my memory of my childhood, a room whose wallpaper and metal bed I cannot get out of my head, a panic attack if there is a tongue in my mouth, an almost pathological inability to rely on anyone but myself, a vague uneasy feeling after sex that makes me curl up in a ball and go to sleep for hours no matter what time it is, and vaginismus. Put the pieces together.

I am at the point where I think I am ready to know more about what happened to me. I want to know. There is something to be said for accepting that things happened and healing from them without knowing every little detail, but I just don’t see how that is possible for me. I almost feel *entitled* to my memories. It’s like, if something this bad had to happen to me, then don’t I deserve to know about it? I know that not knowing was my brain’s way of protecting me, but I don’t think I need protection anymore.

Has anyone else felt this way? Any suggestions or other thoughts?

Things have really picked up, and time is flying. It flew last year, but it feels like the world is going at warp-speed now. I work every day either at my job, my internship, or both, and some days, I have class. It is exhausting and I feel like I am simply going through the motions and all of a sudden it’s the next week and I’m starting all over again. I don’t want to complain because I chose to go back to school and I do love both my job and my internship, but it’s just a LOT of hours.

My internship and my supervisor are awesome. I’m finally allowed to answer the phones and do assessments and referrals (yay!) and I hope that next week I can take on some actual clients. I had the opportunity to observe my supervisor doing an initial counseling session today and I feel like I learned so much in just one hour. We discussed it for about 20 minutes after and did a genogram for the client. It is amazing what you can get out of simply discussing things with another person. We were able to jog each other’s memories and see patterns and details that probably would have been missed if it were just one person. My supervisor is obviously a very talented and skilled social worker, and I am excited to learn from her throughout the school year.

At this point in the program, I have heard that it is very common for students to feel that they are completely inadequate and unskilled and probably should not be allowed anywhere near a client. This is definitely the case for me. I feel like I have so much to learn despite having been in the field for a few years and already completed one internship. I suppose this is a good sign, as I would never want to get to a point where I thought I knew everything and did not need to do any more growth and self-reflection. At the same time, the thought of being bad at what I do is utterly terrifying. So much of my identity is wrapped up in social work…if I’m bad at it, then I have to reevaluate my whole vocational life.

On a rational level, I know I’m not bad at what I do. I know this because of supervision, feedback on my process recordings, and responses from clients. However, I have this ongoing thought that I am too fucked up to do this. I am so afraid that my own issues will make it difficult for me to use myself effectively as a helper. I am afraid that I will bring my own “stuff” into sessions and it will harm the client. I disclosed this worry to one of my friends in class last week, and she reassured me that my self-awareness will protect against that, and that the people who are truly going to do damage are those who have no idea of what they are bringing into session. I know she’s right, but it’s hard to develop a strong sense of self as someone who has been hurt and has their own issues they are working on, and simultaneously is able to use herself to help others. I guess I just need to constantly remind myself of the wounded healer archetype and continue to engage in self-reflection about how my history affects my work (this has helped me before with this issue).

The thing that makes MSW studies different from other graduate degrees is that in addition to developing knowledge and clinical skills, we are challenged to learn about ourselves and face personal things that can be very difficult. We learn things that we don’t like about ourselves. I need to embrace my wounds and use them to enhance my work, rather than allowing them to interfere.

The past week has been very busy. I started my final internship, which will run through the first week of May. I will be doing short-term work with clients on a variety of issues. I am going to have a lot of flexibility in this placement, and my supervisor seems really great. When we were developing my learning contract, she asked if I would be willing to go over the agency’s promotional materials to assess for bias and accessibility. She thought it would be good to have a fresh set of eyes to catch things. I am very excited! I point out bias and inaccessibility all the time and now I’ll be able to do it for someone who actually WANTS me to! I’m really looking forward to beginning with clients and I think I will learn a lot from my supervisor.

Right now I am at my overnight shift, having gone to class in the evening. I also have class for a few hours after I get out of work. So I am a little sleep-deprived at the moment. My class in the evening was field seminar, and in addition to the usual group discussions, we went for a walk together as a self-care activity. That was really nice because I got to catch up with some classmates and the weather was beautiful.

I have started to open up a little more about my trauma history to my classmates recently. We have been assigned a choice of two books to read for field seminar, and one is “A Shining Affliction” by Annie G. Rogers. It is a fascinating book about her experience having what is best described as a breakdown during her doctoral internship working with children. She has to be hospitalized and eventually do a lot of hard work on her own trauma so that she can effectively help her clients, including one little boy that she goes into depth about in the book. Although it is a good read, it is extremely intense and was very triggering for me at times. I didn’t want anyone else to get caught off-guard, so I posted a little warning to our class’s Facebook page just saying that the book has the potential to be triggering for anyone with a history of sexual trauma, and to take care of yourself while reading or maybe elect to read the other book. A lot of my classmates thanked me for the warning, and I’m glad I wrote it. However, I feel that it was kind of a disclosure of my trauma. On one hand, I could have recognized it as potentially triggering even if I didn’t have a trauma history. However, would I have chosen to warn others if that were the case? I just feel like my classmates were able to read between the lines (we are social workers, after all) and figure out a little bit of my history. Maybe it is time to be a little more forthcoming. I trust most of these people (with a few notable exceptions) and my experience may be able to help them in some way.

I feel like I’m rambling and this is all over the place. I have been scattered lately. My apologies.

(I am having big emotions writing this and I don’t know why. I can’t describe them or write them down. They are happening without me.)

Every night when I get to work, I have a routine. I get report from the person on before me, and when they leave, I turn on Pandora radio and set about checking Facebook, email, etc. Last night, my routine had a nasty interruption. Upon logging into Facebook, I found that I had a few messages. One of them was from my father (emotional abuser), with whom I cut off contact almost two years ago.

The message itself was not anything “bad,” it was basically a “Hope you are doing well, miss you” message. When I saw his name, I immediately started crying and felt like I was going to be sick. My visceral reaction was to want to reply to him and open up contact again. Cutting off contact with an emotional abuser is very hard, because you constantly doubt your memories. My father is a master at gaslighting, and I have often felt completely insane in the past. Am I remembering things that did not really happen? That programming is still going strong in my brain. So it takes a lot of willpower for me to resist the urge to run right back into that relationship.

After I read the message, I noticed that my brother was logged on, so I chatted him. He did a good job validating my decision to not be in contact with our father and reassured me that I am not a horrible person. The longer I thought about the fact that he had messaged me and the platform on which he chose to do it, the sketchier it seemed. Why would he not just email me if he wanted to try to get back in contact? I then realized that when you message someone on Facebook, it shows you the date and time that they read the message. Also, if you are not friends with someone on Facebook, any messages you send automatically go into their “other” folder, which many users don’t even know about or look at…UNLESS you PAY for it to go into their regular folder. That message went into my regular messages, so I know that my father paid to send it and know when I read it. It seemed like an innocent message at first, but I can see that it was a manipulation.

This is SO HARD. I truly do miss my father. Along with the abuse, there were good times. I try not to believe that anyone is all good or all bad, and my father, while abusive, is certainly not all bad. He has his own issues including a personality disorder, and this can account for some of his behavior. However, while this may be a REASON for his behavior, it is not an EXCUSE. And it certainly does not mean that I have to subject myself to it. I am an adult. I make my own decisions. I protect myself. I can resist the urge to dive back in.