July 2, 2010

Seven Days of Sunset ~ Day 7… Closing Words: Part 1…

Posted in recovery tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:14 pm by eddejae

It is hard to believe that just eight months ago, I truly thought my life was over. That there was nothing left for me to live for. That I was worthless, used up, incapable of ever being happy again. After years of struggling with debilitating depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and what I later found out to be Borderline Personality Disorder, I was tired of trying. I was ready to throw in the towel. I was ready to give up the fight. Over a two month period I attempted suicide three times and overdosed on at least five other occasions. I coped with the pain of past and present abuse, trauma, guilt, and self-loathing with binging, purging, cutting, alcohol, drugs, and victimization. In order to survive, I either disassociated from my surroundings or changed my entire personality depending on where I was and who I was with. I didn’t know who I was from one moment to the next. Most people didn’t even know everything that was going on with me, because I was very good at putting on a mask. Life was chaos. Chaos was life.

I failed therapy after therapy. Medications made me even more suicidal. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder that things started to make sense. However, it still took me a little while to accept my diagnosis and to make the decision to change. It wasn’t until after my third hospitalization that something inside me snapped. I realized that if I didn’t commit to recovery now, I never would, and I would be miserable the rest of my life. It was a decision I had to make on my own. No one… not my family, not my therapist, not anyone… could make it for me. It was a deep, inner choice and true dedication to becoming healthy.

I am convinced that the one deciding factor to my success in recovery was my commitment in that critical and pivotal moment to becoming better.

Without that, nothing would have worked. Not the best therapy in the world, not the most perfect combination of meds, not even the most loving relationship. No…only that commitment that remained even in the most difficult, heart-wrenching moments when those voices screamed at me “Give up! Give up!” …that one small voice of commitment inside that remained, that whispered… “Remember, remember…” That is what made the difference.

My current state of happiness and healing did not happen all at once. It is a result of a lot of hard work, of a long and painful process. Healing, progress, recovery… They are all a result of a series of small, but very important, choices. Really, there is no such thing as a small decision. Every choice you make has vast consequences, no matter how insignificant it may seem at that moment. Remember that when you when you try to get down on yourself when you think you are “failing”… give yourself credit for the tiny successes…. They make more difference than you realize….For it is those seemingly small victories that accumulate and create something magnificent in the end.

Another thing that has greatly helped me in this process has been getting outside myself. The more I reach out to others, the happier I am. The more I isolate myself and retreat inside my own little world, the more depressed I feel. It is hard because I struggle with social anxiety, but just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get and the easier it becomes each time. One thing I love to do is bake, especially at night when I can’t sleep. But I don’t just do it for myself, I do it for my friends and family… There’s nothing more fun and rewarding than seeing the joy on someone’s face when you show up at their door with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Talk about endorphin rush! Believe it or not, it’s little things like that that can really lift you up out of a rut. Try it. Experiment. Can’t hurt, right?

I also had to decide, at a point, to let myself be happy. For most of my life, whenever I started to feel happy, I would immediately begin to feel guilty. For me, I never felt I “deserved” to be happy, because only “perfect” people deserved to be happy. And since I was never perfect, I could never be happy. Took me a very long time, well… my entire life!… to realize that: 1) I am never going to be perfect, and no one is; 2) There is no such thing as “deserving” to be happy; and 3) I can (and should) be imperfect and happy simultaneously. Once I could accept that, emotionally as well as logically (and I still have to work on this daily, as a lifelong habit is hard to break) I was able to do things like enjoy the little things, be in a relationship, and get married (tomorrow!)

Something else I’ve had to learn and work on is boundaries, especially when it comes to helping other people at the expense of neglecting myself. I’ve always had a bit of a “savior” complex, partly out of a genuine compassion for others, but also as a result of low self-esteem. I need to love, but also be loved, as much of my self-validation comes from others’ approval. As a result, I tend to give everything I have to others, whether they deserve it or not, and am often left empty. I give others validation instead of encouraging them to validate themselves.

Over just the last couple of months, I have learned (the hard way), that unless I am taking care of myself first, I am not good to anyone else. I had to learn to step away a bit and focus on my own recovery, otherwise I was at risk of breaking down again myself. One day, when things have settled down and I am comfortable and strong in this new chapter in my life, I will return to helping others in their journey – it is part of who I am and always will be. I love helping others – listening to them, comforting them, being a help and support wherever I can. But I always need to be sure I am in a good place myself first, before I can be a strength to someone else.

The best thing I can offer the world and others is myself – healthy and whole, with a voice that is clear, strong, and true.

March 1, 2010

Mad World, Part 2 – My Experience with Childhood Sexual Abuse

Posted in recovery tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:23 pm by eddejae

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post are very personal and the purpose of writing is it cathartic. While I do not intend to divulge any sordid details of my childhood experience with molestation, some things here may still be disturbing, and possibly triggering to someone who may have gone through something similar. However, I find it necessary to share that I may finally give a voice to what has been silent so many years.

The night after I talked with my therapist about my childhood, I went in my room, closed the door, and wrote everything I was feeling. I’m going to share part of that now, here.

January 28, 2010

I know I have to do this no matter how much it hurts. And it does hurt. Excruciatingly. Rooting up and exposing feelings I’ve suppressed and avoided for so long. But I have to do it if I’m ever going to heal and move on. If I’m ever going to get past the child mentality I’ve lived with my whole life, with all of the problems accompanying it.

Today in therapy we went back to when I was molested at 4 years old. My issues with my body and self-esteem stem largely from that. I wouldn’t say all of my issues, but the ones that have to do with my loathing for my own body, my deep down abhorrence for anything carnal or sexual, my disgust with my own physicality and the physicality of others. My feeling of victimization and lack of control. My lack of assertiveness. The shame and guilt that plague every waking (and sleeping) moment.

Until that moment, I had no idea that I shouldn’t be trusting of people. No idea that people could and would take advantage me. I know why I feel guilty. I feel guilty because I still believe it was partly my fault. No, I didn’t force his hand… I didn’t even know that was a possibility. But I’m the one who shut the door. I shut the door. I asked him to read to me. I sat in his lap. I got close. I set up the situation to be hurt. Innocent as I was, trusting as I was, I set up the perfect circumstances for him to hurt me. And I hate myself for that. Even at four years old, shouldn’t I have known better? Shouldn’t a gut instinct have told me to do otherwise, to protect myself? No. I didn’t have that. I was four years old. I had only been in the world four short years. How was I to know what perverseness and evil lurked? Especially in someone who had gained my trust, who I looked up to as a brother? I couldn’t even fathom that anyone would hurt me. I didn’t know anything but how to trust. And still I am plagued by that voice that says “You should have known, you should have stopped.” You should have stopped him. Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you run away? I think I might have said “What are you doing?” I just watched it happen and didn’t protest. I didn’t understand what was happening. What was he doing? Why? Did I even feel it was wrong then? Or only later, when I had time to think about it? I must have felt something was wrong about it, or I wouldn’t have told my parents later. Why didn’t I do something about it then? And after it was over, his reaction to me? “Ew. Gross.” And that is how I have felt about my body since. Ew. Gross.

He was reading out loud to me, holding me, being nice and then… that. And then, “Time for ice cream!” And I was off. Like it never happened. Either I hadn’t processed it yet, or it was too much for me to deal with in the moment. And then when I did deal with it, when I told my parents, I pretended like it was all a big joke. When they confronted him, it was a big joke. I think I did that because I knew it would hurt my mom, and I didn’t want to see or feel her hurt and pain and disappointment. I was making her hurt. So I was going to act like it didn’t bother me. It didn’t affect me. It didn’t change me. It was just something that happened. And I had to tell her and dad because… well, didn’t I have something to do with it? I must have felt responsible, I must have felt guilty, or I wouldn’t have said anything. It was my need to confess. A confession. Mommy. Daddy. He touched me. I’m sorry. I know that even at that young age I blamed myself. I was very smart and, by looking back, I could see how I could have stopped it from happening. Ever since then, I have been paranoid about being in rooms with people with the door closed, no matter who they are. I feel it’s fundamentally wrong. And you don’t sit on boys laps. And you don’t let anyone touch you. And you don’t trust men. You should have known better.

Then came the question of why? At that age, I couldn’t understand why someone would do that unless I did something to deserve it. I must have brought it on somehow. And I would punish myself for it. And anything else that I perceived as my fault. Or any thought that was dirty. Or any behavior that was sinful. Punish yourself, exonerate yourself, get rid of the shame. But the shame and the guilt never go away. And the things to punish yourself for never go away either. The list keeps building and building, and yet you’re not finished clearing yourself of the previous “sin” yet. One on top of the other. Loads and loads on your back. Crowding your heart, your mind, to the point where you can’t breathe because of the pain, the ultimate pain caused by guilt and shame.

I repeat that exact same scenario over and over and over again. I set up the situation. And I let it happen. Give up my power. A compulsion to repeat the trauma. Again and again. More to punish myself for. Building up and building up.

To the point where I’m ready to end my life.

I hate my body. I hate everything to do with sex. I hate my sexuality. I hate men. I hate being close. I hate intimacy. Or rather, the inability to have it.I hate myself for the things that I have done.

I hated myself at 6 and 7 for allowing the victimization again, this time with my cousins acting out their own sexual trauma on me.  I hated myself at 10, when, after 3 years of suppressing the guilt, trying to punish myself and redeem myself from what I had done. I hated myself at 12 for the sexual thoughts that plagued me. Even acknowledging body parts filled me with disgust. Imagining naked bodies filled me with horror. I punished myself. I was racked with guilt and torment. I trained myself to push away those thoughts. I had to, or I would have died of utter shame and self-hatred. I kept that up for 8 years. Even now, sometimes I wake up at night, with just one old plaguing thought, and a wave of shame washes over me once again. And I push it away. I can’t feel that again. But it comes back in other ways. I do whatever I can to avoid it… Even if it means desensitizing myself to it. And so life becomes a game of “How far can I make myself go?” My body and sex disgusts me. So I’ve forced myself to desensitize my mind and body to it. So I don’t react with so much shame and guilt. Now I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to my body. I hate it. It is merely a tool of destruction. I use myself to destroy myself. And to repeat the trauma because… well, don’t I deserve it, especially now? Haven’t I asked for it?

I’ve asked for it. Bottom line. I felt like I asked for it at four, though I really hadn’t. So let me recreate the situation and then, for real, ASK FOR IT. There. I’ve made an illogical feeling an actual reality. Now I DO deserve it. Now the confusion is gone. You’re hurting me because I’ve set up the situation for you to. See? I’m in control now. I’m hurting MYSELF. You’re not hurting me. I’m doing it myself…. Who is hurting who now? Are you hurting me? Who are you anyways? And why are you doing this to me? Oh,  I must deserve it. I must have done something wrong… Oh I DID do something wrong. I came here. I closed the door. Brain turns off, victimization mentality kicks in. I don’t want this. I don’t want you to do this. I hate this. I don’t want you to see my body or touch it. Are you going to say “ew. Gross” too? Are you? If you won’t, I will. I’m apologizing for my body. I’m thinking, I’m too fat. I’m too this. I’m too that. I’m not good enough. Nothing you can say will make me think otherwise. Go away. Leave me alone. Don’t touch me. Please.

As a young child, I couldn’t understand the things my body felt and did. And I hated it. I couldn’t understand this THING I was living in that wasn’t me, but controlled me. That others could so easily control.

At some point I disconnected myself from my body. I wasn’t my body, my body wasn’t me. As such, I stopped responding to its needs and it stopped responding to mine. I think that finally happened after I broke my collarbone at 15 and for a while, lost control of it completely. That was the last straw. I have been disconnected ever since. No wonder I feel outside of myself, looking in. I’m watching myself do things, never fully part of what I’m experiencing. My mind is out here somewhere, my body is down there, being stupid as usual.

I wish I liked myself. I wish I felt like an integrated, whole person. I wish I was comfortable with my body in all its physicality and sexuality. I wish I was comfortable with the physical presence of others. I wish I was ok with being touched and being close. I wish didn’t loathe myself. I wish I cared about my health and well-being. I wish I could stop taking out my anger and hatred on myself.

It’s almost as if I resent my body. Maybe if I hadn’t been so small and vulnerable, if I hadn’t been so cute and pretty, this wouldn’t have happened. Even now I think, if people didn’t think I was so pretty, if men didn’t find me attractive, they wouldn’t touch me. Yet, at the same time, I don’t believe I am pretty or attractive. I hate it when men give me compliments. They make me feel like, once again, I’m just a body that can be used and objectified regardless of how it may make me feel.

A body. That’s all I am. Something I loathe so greatly. That’s all I am. No wonder I disconnect myself. I’m split. There’s my body. Then there’s my mind. Then there’s this in between place where everything is lost and dark and confused. Where’s… ME? Lost in some kind of strange limbo and I don’t know exactly where she is, where she fits in, where my body and mind play into her being. I feel like a hollow shell. Nothing filling me up inside. That thing that should be filling the space should be ME, but I don’t know who she is or where she is. There is this empty shell. Then there’s my mind, hovering. Then… me… where?

Even now I’m still in denial, trying to downplay what happened as a child so I can PROVE once and for all that all these things I’m going through are MY fault and in no way connected to those experiences. I keep thinking “Oh, you’re making this seem worse than it really is.” Or “This happens to lots of kids.” Or “You’re going to start using this as an excuse now, are you?” Even now in my mind I’m making excuses for him, astonishingly Downplay. Downplay. Downplay…

Since I wrote that, I have come to terms with the fact that the abuse I experienced did, in fact, affect me and some of the symptoms I deal with today. I have accepted that it was NOT MY FAULT. I realize that there is no need to feel such guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Now, knowing this intellectually and knowing this emotionally are two very different things. I have developed habitual ways of thinking about myself that are hard to break, but I am getting closer. I can now talk about and face what I experienced. I have allowed myself to bring everything out in the open. No more secrets. And I can recognize that those negative thoughts about myself are not warranted, that I do not deserve to feel that way. It will still be a while before I can truly feel wonderful about myself, but at least I know that I don’t need to feel this way. I don’t need to keep punishing myself for something I had no control over, and that I don’t need to repeat the trauma.

I’m starting to learn how to love myself and my body again. And to stop hurting it. It is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, but I’m determined to do it. I want to know what it feels like to have high self-respect, what it feels like to love myself. Someday…

Mad World, Part 1 – My Experience with Childhood Sexual Abuse

Posted in recovery tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:18 pm by eddejae

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post are very personal and the purpose of writing is it cathartic. While I do not intend to divulge any sordid details of my childhood experience with molestation, some things here may still be disturbing, and possibly triggering to someone who may have gone through something similar. However, I find it necessary to share that I may finally give a voice to what has been silent so many years.

A few weeks ago in a session with my therapist, I talked about what had happened to me at 4 years old for the first time in 19 years. No one but my parents knew about it. In fact, I hadn’t talked about it with my parents at all since the incident occurred. Now, finally, I felt that I could finally let out the thoughts, feelings, and fears that I had kept in so long. As I did so, the “whys” started to come to light and things began to click. With the help of my therapist, I started to understand the root cause of my self-hatred, skewed body image, and victimization behavior. It all went back to the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, which was not limited to the experience at 4 years old, but continued in various forms and by various individuals until I was about 8 years old. I began to understand my lingering disgust with my body and with sex. I began to understand why I was continually being taken advantage of by similarly abusive men during my college years and my lack of empowerment and sense of control.

After my meeting, all I could do was cry. I had unearthed so many emotions that had been buried beneath the surface for years but that had exerted a tremendously powerful force on my thought patterns and behavior for so long. I carried so much guilt, self-loathing, shame, and self-blame because of these things that happened when I was just a little girl. I began to understand why I suffer from excessive guilt, even for things that are not my fault, and why I constantly feel the urge to punish myself. As a child, I felt that there was something wrong with me, that I was “bad”. And I was constantly trying to “atone” for it in some way. I was also terrified of anything that had to do with my body. During my early teenage years, I obsessively avoided any thought of sexuality and would punish myself if such a thought crossed my mind. The guilt I felt was like a tight hand constantly squeezing at my heart. It was painful. I would have night terrors, and become hysterical to the point where my mom would try to talk me out of it for hours at a time before I could finally fall asleep. It was a living hell. I also stopped eating and, as a result, my body stopped developing. I wouldn’t have a period again for the next two years.

The bizarre thoughts, behavior, and guilt subsided during my first two years of college. I had my first real boyfriend who genuinely loved me, which helped ease my sense of self-loathing. Plus, I was more focused on him than on myself. I can honestly things were a lot easier during those couple of years, due to keeping myself very busy with school and with my relationship.

However, after that relationship ended, things started to go downhill. I had undergone a surgery which kick-started my development again, and at the age of 19, I went through puberty again. As my body grew rapidly, my psychological and emotional health took a turn for the worse. I became caught in a series of unhealthy relationships and encounters with guys who victimized me. That is when my bulimia, depression, and anxiety really started to take their toll, and my borderline traits became more and more pronounced. It would take a book to describe everything that happened over the next few years… But, to put it shortly, it was the darkest time of my life. Granted, there were moments of positivity and growth, but they were few and far between. I felt like I was in a blur of rollercoaster emotions and confusion until everything came to a head and I wound up hospitalized (as I further explain in “My Story”).

Continued in Mad World, Part 2

(This song communicates perfectly the thoughts and emotions associated with my painful memories. I listen to it a lot… Not because I’m trying to relive the memories or depress myself, but because it’s a way I allow myself to accept my feelings and cope with them..)