So I sit down to blog tonight to process. I’m aware that something in me deeply wants to tell a story, and understand my reaction, and have someone get me, because I need to get me, and the only way I can get me is to share it with someone else.
I think this is a principle fundamental to my recovery, and sorely sorely lacking in the provincial mental health care that I have experienced, generally speaking.
It’s the transformative effect of deeply sharing and deeply witnessing. It is this effect I have witnessed in the circle practices I have been blessed to be exposed to, that I have found most helpful in my recovery from a life time of suicidality. I find that with most of my contact with provincial mental health care, the person is somehow trying to halt, suppress and/or minimize my inner experience, in the effort to “treat” it.
I am a survivor of childhood emotional neglect and abuse, and a member of the 12-step recovery program for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families (ACA for short). My fellow ACA members would all most likely have similar reactions to anyone telling them that they “use dramatic language,” and especially someone at the other end of the line at a CRISIS RESPONSE UNIT telling them that this is written in their file.
Because of my experience in ACA, I will venture to generalize here, and say that most survivors of neglect and abuse in childhood have been told all their lives that they are “dramatizing what happened” or somehow made to feel that what they are feeling is inappropriate and inaccurate, and that they are not perceiving reality. I will also venture to say here that his recurring message causes almost as much damage as the trauma itself, if not more.
ACA is a program for people with childhood trauma, abuse and neglect, with literature that speaks of the importance of feeling the feelings we never felt, and how difficult it is for us to a) recognize when we might be in danger, b) reach out for help and c) talk about our feelings. To be told I use dramatic language justifies my fear in doing all three of those things, and re-opens many aspects of pain, fear, self-hatred and hopelessness in me.
I was deeply and adversely triggered by this contact with the CRT, and the idea that every person who works there is going to see that statement when they open my file. I stayed on the line for nearly a half an hour and thanked the woman at the end of the call, feeling strangely confused; went numb and dissociated until I arrived at an ACA meeting that night. In speaking what had happened, I became very angry, and left for the second part of the meeting.
The ACA welcome speaks about how we, as Adult Children, grew up with the rules of “Don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel,” and how the goal of our meetings and our recovery is to break those rules.
Pertinent words from the ACA text book, which have brought me great clarity, validation and healing from experiences like the one I am writing about:
“Every adult child has unexpressed grief, which is usually represented by the symptoms of depression, lethargy, or forms of dissociation. Grief is loss that is stuck beneath denial, willful forgetting, and the fear of being perceived as dramatizing the past. … If we sought help before ACA, our childhood loss was usually diagnosed as depression and commonly treated with ineffective methods.” – Page 199
“Identifying our feelings and talking with others about how we feel is a critical step in breaking the isolation we have lived with for so long.”
“We are seeking a full remembrance of the childhood … With a full remembrance, we revisit the feelings that came with the abuse or hypercritical behavior of the caregivers. We remember the event, and we remember the feelings. By seeking a full remembrance, we break the “don’t remember rule” of the family.” – Page 34
“…uses dramatic language.” When I hear that, I interpret that my language is not appropriate or accurate to the reality of the situation. I am hurled back into the confusion about what is real, doubting what I am feeling and what is really happening, and the isolation and shame in that confusion that I have felt all my life. To me, this statement invalidates what is real for me, and implies that I am exaggerating my experience to get attention. Actually, I am trying to put words to it, to name it, to make it real so that I can heal from it. I am trying not to isolate, and not to hide or minimize my feelings.
How am I using dramatic language when I say that I am scared and trying to be pro-active about finding myself alone in a big house, and have often felt dissociated and suicidal in this situation? How am I using dramatic language when stating the fact that I haven’t eaten a meal in 3 days since my last therapy session, and have stayed home for several normal parts of my routine, and I have been feeling residual parasympathetic shock that I am just starting to come out of?
Can you handle the word suicidal? How about depression, or sadness. Or here, how about I tell you I’m feeling “off,” and completely leave out all of the above?
Are you going to tell someone who calls in and says they’re feeling suicidal that they are using dramatic language? Oh, yeah, that person isn’t really feeling suicidal; they’re just being dramatic. They’re just wanting attention.
I’m not sure if you could have invalidated me or re-triggered me in a bigger way. It’s taken me 2 years of recovery while not working in order to be able to recognize when I might be in danger, and be able to take action and reach out before I harm myself. Minimizing the drama of that is hazardous. Putting any negative judgement on what I share when I reach out, especially that implies I am exagerating, is also very, very hazardous to my recovery.
I feel like never calling the crisis line again. Several of the professionals I have been in contact with in the provincial system, as well as the beliefs and programs that structure its care (such as CBT, positive psychology, etc.) seem to want to help me to minimize the pain. While I can understand how this is a very logical desire when someone is in pain, it doesn’t lead me to the cut on my leg that the pain is trying to tell me about, and that would take away all the pain if healed well; and most importantly, it directly re-triggers the very thing that damaged my sense of safety, self-worth, stability and identity in the first place.
Who is the Crisis Response Team there for? Because it certainly doesn’t seem like they’re there for survivors of childhood neglect and abuse, or whatever the f#@k I survived that has brought me to this healing path.