“debilitating anxiety” – I was not aware of being anxious until a few (five?) years ago. I think, prior to that, I was so stressed and worried about life, about getting through the day to day with children and worrying about my relationship with my then partners, that I didn’t have the time or space to feel anxious. As I write this I’m wondering what the difference between anxiety and nerves is. I think my awareness of anxiety grew when I started my journey to freedom (i.e. when I became single and started thinking about me). Part of anxiety for me was feeling 100% responsible for each and any decision made, both large and small, from what to have for dinner to where to go on holiday. By being a single adult rather than part of a pair I became more visible. I’m conscious of this even now, the difference between going to a place with a friend, as a pair feels very different and more comfortable than going to the same place alone and that’s not just because I have the pleasure of company.
“hopelessness and despair” – it has taken me a long time, and in many ways is the most important part of my journey, to realise that there is hope for a better now. A year or two ago I would have said a better future rather than a better now but mindfulness and common sense have taught me to embrace the now because anything might happen. I still have moments of feeling hopeless and yes that is about emotional flashbacks to times when I had no control over circumstances and felt unable to have any say (there’s a pertinent word here that eludes me).
“relationship” – I like to think that mine didn’t suffer because of my behaviour in particular, but I certainly picked partners (at any age and any stage) who reflected and repeated my father’s domineering diminishing attitude so that the neglect I felt as a child and the insignificance that I felt, all carried on. I’m not by any means saying that I was perfect in the relationship but my greatest issue was in picking the wrong ones. I have at least stopped berating myself for my poor choice and have accepted that these choices were an inevitable consequence of my childhood.
“gained weight” – I always associated my weight gain with quitting smoking which I did about a year after becoming single. Before then I had put on and lost weight with the ebb and flow of pregnancies, divorce etc. but I was able to control it, coming down to a size 10 (UK) after 4son was born and I was at my most unhappiest trying to decide what to do with my relationship. I accepted weight gain in exchange for quitting smoking as a fair trade but after that year it never stopped, inching upwards (and outwards) although it has slowed down. I am currently a UK20 and that seems massive to me. Emotional eating is certainly part of it. I am better able now to practice intuitive eating but food was a large part of my parents’ life, as was guilt around it for my mother and although my relationship with food is a lot better there are still issues and probably always will be.
“insomnia” – As a child I slept solidly once I had gone to sleep but going to sleep could take me 2-3 hours. I would be going over the day and quite possibly/probably crying. My mother snored really loudly and if she and I were on holiday together and had to share a room she would wake me up. I even remember going to sleep on the couch downstairs and hearing her through the ceiling. 1son’s father used to snore almost as loudly, depending on alcohol consumption and used to wake me up as well. It is of course almost impossible to distinguish between sounds that wake you up and those that prevent you going back to sleep. Since I had children I learned to sleep lightly (since no bugger else was going to attend to a child at the night) and I never broke that pattern. Mindfulness in the last year or two has taught be to go to sleep without the hours of lying awake not being able to stop thinking but I still wake up several times during the night. The nightmares have stopped though. Since becoming single my nightmares have all been of a pattern: trying to run away, out of a building, with children, with packing boxes as if moving home and with a partner suddenly reappeared and ensconced in the home as if he lived there. I would have a feeling of “he’s back, here we go again, I’ve got to get him out / get away from him without him realising”. No great need for interpretation there but I would wake up in fear with my heart galloping and total panic. Sleep is better than it used to be but it’s still not my friend.
“avoiding dealing with her traumatic past” – it is only in the last few months that I have realised that not wanting to go back to my childhood in therapy isn’t because I’ve gone through it before and it’s done with but is because I don’t want to revisit it. For all that I want to focus on what’s happening now and what can happen in the future, I can’t do that without resolving the past and although I’ve had a good go, it’s not dealt with, it’s not done, and I need to go back.
“…It simply hurt too much.” – oh yes. I don’t go there. There are years that I have simply blocked out. I do not want to talk about them. Not so much my childhood but more my young adulthood. My childhood had breaks in it: there were holidays and books and nice activities and music and cycling. I learned to escape even if I wasn’t leaving my room and the times my mother and I spent with her mother on holiday in the south of France were genuinely revitalising. But the days at school when I was picked on, by the students, by the staff (only a few), by the system or the days when I was out with my parents without choice or desire or even the days when I went out on my own because that was the only way I could find any peace. All these were soul-destroying. I learned to enjoy doing things on my own because I didn’t feel I had any other options. All this before the roller coaster of turning 16 and unintentionally moving in with my father’s mistress and the fall out from that and then moving in with a guy, all in the search of somewhere safe to call home. It still hurts too much.
“choice or control” – yes I did lose choice or control of my life and not just my emotional one. That happened as a child. My only choice was whether to withdraw or not so I did, into myself. There was no way my father could force me to do my homework. He could make me sit in front of it but not to do it. However I had sod all control outside of my head with my life as an adult until I became single and started to take control of my life. I always had control of my children but that was because no one else was involved (and when he was I wished he wasn’t). I wanted to share the parenting, at least that was the idea, but ex2 didn’t know how. He was either totally indulgent or totally suppressive, nothing in between.
“tell her what she was doing wrong” – neither of my parents were alcoholics or addicts of any sort (unless going for walks counts). There was no physical abuse but there was emotional abuse. My father liked things just so and my mother delivered or else. There were no cross words, never a voice raised in anger. He would merely express surprise that things hadn’t been done the way he wanted and, when my mother would if possible run around to change things then say “don’t bother, I don’t want any fuss” in that tone of voice that said the exact opposite. Lessons would be learned and it wouldn’t happen again. Food would be commented on, had a dish been cooked differently to last time, maybe with a different herb, minor changes, was it better or was the original the best, how could it be improved on even more. A decision would be handed out and my mother would take mental note, or scribble it down on her recipe card. None of us were allowed to say we didn’t like it, although in truth I don’t remember disliking her food. If we didn’t like it we just shovelled it down trying not to taste. No one ever told my father he was doing things wrong. I watched all this, aged 5 or so and didn’t really think about it; I just absorbed it. At this age my sisters were in a different world to me: they were teenagers absorbed in their own play. 2sis was busy discovering God and 1sis was busy getting in trouble with boys. At the time, aged 6, I was completely oblivious to her pregnancy and abortion. My mother years later said they had thought about bringing up the baby but considered the father and dismissed the idea. That seemed calculating to me then and it still does. I had met him and I have a one minute blank crossing a car park with him and 1sis after which I never went near him again and almost ran when I bumped into him some 20 years later with 1sis. I have no idea what that was about. At this young age, I wasn’t aware of doing things wrong. Although I say that and then think about trying to say no to walks. My mother said that I went through a phase of only wearing skirts and then one of only wearing trousers and I wonder if, even then, it was the only control I had. Once I got older there was lots of being told what I was doing wrong, from my father, my peers at school, the teachers. My father and I would have conversations where he would try really really hard to understand what I was telling him but he would fail to do so and that of course was all my fault.
“I should never have been born.” This sent chills down me. 1sis was born soon after my parents got married; it took me years to realise she’d actually been born the month before and what a lot of questions that raised. 2sis was born 3 years after. Why then wait for 7 years to have me? Was I planned or accidental? Was I an oopsie? I wasn’t sure but I couldn’t thing of any logical sensible reason for that long a gap. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I learned 1sis was adopted by my father and it took a couple more years before I discussed it with my mother and found out the story. Age 14 was a bit late to discover that I had been wanted and planned for, and it was a shame that the fourth baby never materialised. My mother said it took them long to conceive me because subconsciously or not, they wanted me to be born a particular time of year and that meant only trying one month out of the year. No doubt that was also my fault. Much as my sisters hated each other at times (and have done for several decades) they had a closeness that I could never replicate with either.
This post is a response to Diane’s story, p17 of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole which I am working through. The author can be found at Dr Arielle Schwartz