1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 4: Help

I would not be where I am, 1,000 days into freedom, without help from others in my life.

I’m fortunate to have these people in my life. They have helped me in more ways than I can really even count. Whether it’s listening to me vent, helping me with medical problems, or getting me through tough days, these people have made a huge impact on me getting this far.

I wanted to recognize them, so I got three blue starfish shells. Starfish have multiple arms to help support them. They need them in order to survive. Blue starfish also have their own unique defense system that helps them survive from predators. I found it similar to how my support system helps me defend myself from people and things that hurt me.

On one, I put the names of my parts on each arm of the starfish. I couldn’t fit all of the names of my system on one starfish, so I put them in groups. I recognized K, even in her absence; I know she did a lot for me before I even knew she existed. I acknowledged Charlie and Violet, who have come to the forefront to keep us going, even when it was hard. I thanked my younger parts, many of whom hold trauma for me and for us. Without my parts, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be functioning as I have.

On another starfish, I put the names of the therapists and doctors who have been there for me as I struggled through PHP and IOP. I spent five days a week with them for ten or so of the last 15 months. They helped me find a stable place to live, and even though we hit a few bumps on the road, we got there. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own. They pushed me to make doctor’s appointments and reach out for support when I needed it. The psychiatrist worked with me through all of my medication reactions (and there were quite a few), and never seemed to give up even when I wanted to throw in the towel. The nurse was there for me through all of my medical issues; she was the first person to legitimize that what I was going through was real. She and my therapist helped me through my pregnancy and abortion, without judgment, and helped me see that I was making the right decision. My therapist sat with me and let me cry when I needed to. She told me it was okay to feel. She dealt with me when others would have given up.

I went through some of the most difficult struggles in those months, and they were there for me through it all, and helped me through the darkness when I thought I would be stuck there forever.

On the last starfish, I wrote the names of those involved most closely in my life. My therapists, both new and old. My best friend, who I’ve known for half of my life. Even though we’ve never actually met in person, she has been the voice of reason for me in a lot of situations. She also never fails to make me laugh. My friend who took me in when I was homeless, who has made sure I always have what I need, who has consistently reminded me that I am safe, and who has taught me what it’s like to experience a normal life. My online supports, who not only give me an outlet, but many were also there for me when I escaped, encouraging me not to give up and give in. The people I met through work and therapy, who have since become friends. They’ve been there for me, they’ve made me laugh and cry, and they’ve managed to deal with me quite well, as I know I can be hard to deal with sometimes.

These people are important to me, and will continue to be important to me, even if we don’t see each other. Their words and actions have impacted me in ways that will last a long time. They’ve helped me decipher the lies and discover the truth, and for that I am forever thankful.

(I did not show the names for privacy reasons)

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What no one wants to know

One afternoon last year, I was walking up the street to catch the bus I was taking to get to my grad school classes at night.

As I was walking, a little girl came out of one of the buildings and started walking just a few feet in front of me. She was around six years-old, and was walking alone. I started to panic. I felt sick to my stomach. I was hoping she’d go inside somewhere, but she just kept walking in front of me.

I was scared for her. This girl is in danger. She’s going to get hurt. I wasn’t scared that she was going to get kidnapped or anything like that. I was scared that she was going to be hurt by me.

I am scared to be near children. It’s a crippling fear of mine. I don’t want to hold anyone’s baby. I don’t want to babysit anyone’s toddler. I avoid children at all costs. When I see them, I run away. It’s part of the reason I have not, and never will, have children of my own.

It’s not so much a fear of children (although some are quite scary). It’s the fear that I will hurt them. The fear that I am a predator, an abuser just like my mother was and is. They say the cycle of abuse continues, the abused become the abusers. I think that’s true, because I think that is me.

It’s a topic you won’t find in any support groups. It’s something hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. And I agree. I never told a soul what I had done until I hesitantly brought it up to my therapist last year, after suffering from painful flashbacks of incidents from my childhood, incidents in which I hurt other children.

I didn’t know any better. I was a child, too, a child who believed that all little girls were supposed to be “helped” in the bathroom, a child who thought it was normal to touch parts that shouldn’t be touched. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t know I was hurting other children. I was just doing what I was taught was okay.

I realized the reality of the situation when I started getting flashbacks in my early 20s. At that point, I knew what I had done. I knew I hurt children, in the same ways I was hurt. I was no better than any other abuser.

I hid it from the world for so long, even after I told my therapist. It was the one topic I never discussed with anyone else, the one topic I could never write about on this blog until today. I was still ashamed. I still am ashamed. And I carry that shame and guilt with me every day of my life.

They say the best way to counteract shame is to tell people the wrongs you have done. I realize that this may hurt me further. I realize some will respond with disgust, and even hatred. But I am taking the chance that at least one person will understand. I can’t be the only one out here. I don’t want to be the only one.

Why talk about this now?

I did something last week, something I’ve been afraid to do. I acted against my fear. In DBT, they call it opposite to emotion action. If your fear is unjustified, you don’t run away or avoid, you approach. And that’s what I did.

I was in the mall trying to get to the bus stop. All of a sudden, a group of Daisy girl scouts ambushed me. Usually, I would dash and run away, but I couldn’t do that because I am still using crutches. I froze for a minute, physically and mentally. Then I remembered, approach don’t avoid. You are not your mother. You are not a predator. I came back to reality, and stood there and listened as they sold me two boxes of cookies. The anxiety was still there, stewing inside of me; the panic was, too. But after a few minutes, it was all over. I got my cookies. I talked to children. And I didn’t hurt them.

I faced one of my biggest fears head on, doing something I had avoided for so long. The fear was still there; I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. But here was evidence that I could be near a child without hurting her.

I shared my experience in program the next day (without sharing the details of what caused the fear in the first place). I’m not sure anyone quite understood the gravity of my fear, because they don’t know my story much at all. But they didn’t judge me.

And neither did my therapist at program. We talked about it more in individual session the following day. It was uncomfortable for me at first, because I was afraid she would ask me the question I had been avoiding every time someones asked have you ever hurt someone? 

My therapist asked if my fear of children was justified or unjustified, and I told her I wasn’t sure. I really wasn’t. In a way it is justified, I thought. I have hurt children in the past. But not in the present. Not as a conscious adult. Not as a perpetrator. So then it’s unjustified. She asked my reasons for the fear being justified. I felt the shame rising up again. I told her I hurt a child, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was just a child. I was afraid of her reaction. This was a woman who knew me all of two months, and yet she knew so much about it already — and now this.

She asked if I ever had urges to hurt a child. I never have. I can’t even imagine myself knowingly hurting a child. It’s not like that at all. But there is a fear of an urge. A fear that if I am left with children, an urge will come and I will hurt them. Like it’s something that has been ingrained in me. Like it’s something I inherited from my mother.

It’s fear that is both justified and unjustified. There are no easy answers. There is no easy explanation. The only thing I know is that I’ve hurt someone, but I am not my mother.

When you approach your fears, over time, they gradually lose their strength and you are able to overcome them. But this is not one of those fears. My therapist said it might get better over time, but I also may always be afraid of being near children; that fear may never go away. That’s understandable, and that’s okay. But it hurt me when she said that. Even though I know she’s right, I realized it’s just another part of life I have lost because of my past.

While children bring most people joy, they will bring me fear. And I may never be able to change that. Just like I can’t change what I have done, who I have hurt, or those who have hurt me.

I am sorry. Every minute of every hour of every day, I am sorry.

I choose crutches

I’ve been struggling in therapy the last few weeks. Topics come up that I don’t want to talk about, things that I know will make me dissociate. I don’t want to go there, so I shut down. Then my therapist gets frustrated, and brings up intensive outpatient, because that is what is in the contract I agreed to in July in order to avoid hospitalization. Then I get frustrated because it seems like she just wants to send me off to IOP.  It makes me feel like she just wants to give up on me. It makes me feel like I’m not good at therapy.

It happened again during Thursday’s session. Her mentioning IOP just made me shut down more. I was hurt. I was angry. But I couldn’t voice any of that.

I ended up writing my therapist an e-mail early Sunday morning.

Sometimes I get frustrated whenever you bring up IOP. I know that’s what we agreed on, but I didn’t know that any time anything goes wrong, IOP was going to be brought up. It just further solidifies my belief that I’m not good at therapy. And I know you said not to judge myself, but that is how it translates for me. That I’m not doing this right. That this is just another of many failed attempts at therapy. And then the others think the same, and then it becomes a battle just to go to therapy. It doesn’t help me. It just makes me shut down more.

I know I can be frustrating. I know you have to repeat things a bunch of times because they don’t get through to me. There are times I really don’t understand what’s going on. There are times I don’t feel like my brain is working. There are times when I am sitting there, but I am not there. I’m sorry for that. I am trying, but I’m not perfect.

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about certain things because someone is telling me not to, or because I know I won’t be able to stay present, or because I am afraid to feel. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I can’t.

I’ve made progress. Maybe you don’t think it’s enough, and maybe it’s not enough on paper, but I think it is. Because I live it. I could be so much worse than I am right now. I struggle, but we figure out how to work through it. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.

I’m sorry if this didn’t make sense. I just had a lot on my mind that I’d never be able to say out loud.

She didn’t reply back. I actually told her not to. We were having a session the next day, anyway, and I just wanted to get it out there because I knew I wouldn’t be able to say it out loud.
When I walked in her office this morning, she told me was that she got my e-mail. I immediately apologized. I regretted sending it, because I was afraid it was mean, and that she was going to be mad at me. She assured me that she wasn’t angry, that it wasn’t mean, and that I didn’t need to apologize.
My therapist asked why I couldn’t say the things I wrote in the e-mail to her in person. I told her it wasn’t because of her. I am just so afraid of people sometimes, so scared to communicate. I still feel that talking is wrong. I still feel unable to speak the thoughts in my head. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t. I can’t explain it.
She told me IOP isn’t a punishment. She’s not sending me off to Shady Pines. She doesn’t want to pass me off, she wants to help me. She thinks the program will help with some of the basic things I still struggle with, like eating, daily triggers, and handling my emotions. I know how hard it is for you to get through each day. I know how hard it is for you just to get up in the morning. I see it in you every time you’re here.
Then she started with one of her metaphors.
“Let’s say you broke your leg. Luckily, your insurance covers everything and you have to choose between a wheelchair and crutches. Which do you choose?”
“I choose crutches.”
“But why? Choosing the wheelchair will help you recover faster and easier. With crutches, you’ll still be struggling, and you’ll risk falling and making your leg worse.”
I understood her analogy, but I still insisted on the crutches. I can’t do as much in a wheelchair. Sure, I may recover faster, but at what cost? I won’t be able to do my job in a wheelchair. I won’t be able to get around everywhere I could if I were walking. Half of my ability will be gone.
But with crutches, I can still walk. I can still get around. Sure, I will struggle to keep myself upright. And yes, knowing me, I’ll probably fall over quite a few times. But I’ll still be functioning. I can still hobble around and do what I need to do. Even if it takes me longer to heal, I’d pick the crutches.
In a deeper way, crutches are a less obvious sign that something is wrong. When someone sees someone in a wheelchair, they know it’s serious. No one uses a wheelchair for minor things. When someone sees someone using crutches, they assume well, at least they’re still walking. They’ll be fine. Maybe it’s just a sprain. Maybe you just need a crutch for a little stability. Nothing too serious.
Let me stumble through life on my crutches.
I don’t want to admit that I’m too broken to need a wheelchair.