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why peer support is awesome

Imagine There's No Hunger    -  Strawberry Fie...

(Photo credit: asterix611)

Phone call:

PeerA. I’m about to call the crisis line. I’ve had horrible anxiety all day; I haven’t eaten, and i’m starting to feel panic now. I’m getting really scared.

(After trying to chat, i could not focus on the conversation any longer, and had to get off the line to call another support that was local. I needed in-person support, and I needed to get away from the house immediately.)

Facebook, about an hour later:

PeerA. Getting sushi and going over to (…)’s. Talked to sponsor too; was good. Good to get out.

PeerB. nice yay! (()) xoxo way to honour the call. I feel excitement when I think back to the day we met it. was a leap of faith for me. I feel comfort to have you in my life and excitement and hope when I Imagine a future with you there, many hugs with love.

PeerA. I am very touched. (and mindful about how i take it, from our previous conversations). Thank you for telling me how you feel about me. This kind of honesty can change the world.


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prayer

i am praying for my friend this morning. the police are looking for him, for damage to his parents’ property in a fit of rage. he has never let his feelings show, never been arrested. he is the father of 3 in the midst of a divorce. he called me this morning and asked if he could come for a visit before running away. said he was going to hide his cell phone in a safe place first, hasn’t shown yet, an hour later.

i was barely awake when we spoke. i said it sounded like he was taking a time out, rather than running away. i wish i’d urged him more to come and connect. now he is out in the world without any money, or phone.

i pray that this be the bottom he needs to surrender, and that he survive it. i affirm that love is in action, always, in all circumstances; and that his higher power is looking over him, bringing him to love.

i have no way of contacting him. the only possible action i can think of is to report to the law that he is up Island. would that be a loving act, or one of co-dependency. i give this question to my own higher power, and put it out to those i trust. i welcome your guidance. is there an action that is asked of me?


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dialectics, again + confirmation: i am not faking it. i am not a fraud.

enabling vs. support

isolation vs. time alone to feel

relaxation vs. laziness

overcoming fears vs. entering unsafe situations and betraying ourselves.

extraordinarily gifted vs. disabled and less-fortunate

young woman or old hag

young woman or old hag (unknown artist)

the trigger

I spent the weekend with a group of fellow ACA members (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) at a ski resort several hours away from where I live.

Having known several of these folks as an off-and-on member of their recovery group for the past year, I didn’t think twice about spending several days with them in a remote location.

They were safe, they were friends and fellow survivors; and as such, their friends were my friends.

I had what could be called by the psychiatric profession an episode (?). I yelled and swore and sobbed hysterically for over an hour, and was left alone in this state, but in clear ear shot of the 9 other members in the house.

I had become exhausted skiing and had not headed my instinct to rest. I had then become over-stimulated and gone into a state of extreme shyness, insecurity, social phobia.

Unable to join the group at dinner upstairs, I stayed in my bunk downstairs after a nap and phoned a friend with trauma and ptsd experience. I didn’t feel able to hide what was going on for me, but I also didn’t know how or if to share it with the group. She helped me identify that I was approaching a potential crisis state, and we decided that I would call up to the woman who had invited me to be there that weekend and ask if she would bring me some food in my bed.

The crisis became full blown when this request triggered the woman who owned the house to come storming down to my bedroom and inform me that there was no room service in her house. When I told her I had a medical condition that prevented me from coming up to the living room area, she demanded to know what it was, saying she had a right to know because it was her house. When I told her, she said that I should have thought twice about coming there in the first place; that her house was a place of joy and community. When I asked to speak with the woman who had invited me to the weekend, the owner of the condo said that she would not allow it, that she would not allow her friends to be burdened with negative feelings while they were staying in her house. That I could come up and join them when I felt ready to be in a positive space.

In the midst of all that, I had began to cry, then sob, then yell and swear at her through my sobbing, while covering my face and curling into a ball before becoming completely inaudible in my efforts to defend myself.

She personified my initial wounding. Then, the rest of the group personified it by the fact that despite my loud and uncontrollable sobbing went on for over an hour, no one came down to be with me. I was left alone, in shame and exile for how I was feeling. I phoned my ptsd friend again, and we decided that I was not in a safe place, and that I needed to find a way to get out of there as soon as possible, all through the sobbing, the whole conversation quite audible to the rest of the group upstairs if they had stopped to listen. I have no idea. From the snippets of sound I was hearing from them, it sounded as if they had simply continued with their evening, laughing and joking and being the happy recovery family. I then called my CoDA sponsor, who was sympathetic and actually in shock to hear what was going on with this group of ACA members, but completely stand-offish when it came to action, such as driving to pick me up or speaking with another member there at the house with me. She told me I would have to call on my higher power like never before to endure and survive and reminded me that I was physically safe.

When the rest of the group left to go tubing down the hill that night, I was alone in the house. I called two more CoDA people, who made me laugh and start to feel like myself again. I tried to find out if there were any shuttles out of there sooner than my ride with the others down the hill the following afternoon, but to no avail. So I packed up my things from the common living space and prepared to spend the next 12 hours in my bed, reading, writing, listening to music and anything else to forget where I was.

When the group came home, there was not privacy. I was sleeping in a bunk with one other, tucked in a passage way from the boot room of the house to the basement stairway. By now, I had calmed down and was able to accept the reality of being there, having to honour myself and my experience and relate to the others in the way that the situation needed me to in order to survive it. Two women ended up in my room with me, and after I joined into their banter about what had happened on the tubing hill for a few minutes, they asked me how I was doing. I told them that I was ready to go, simply passing the time until the next day when I could go home; that I did not feel welcome in this home. I told them what had happened for me, and that I had never lost it like that in front of others (in retrospect, I don’t think I’d actually lost it like that, period). They fostered the viewpoint of objectivity, understanding and non judgement, and encouraged me that everyone else was also of that mindset and that they would be happy if I was able to come up and join them for the evening.

And so I did. Without betraying my own reality, and with a bubble of protection from those I had spoken to on the phone, I was able to be present with myself and with the others. I endured until the next day and made it home.

In the car, it became clear that no one was going to bring it up. That if I remained silent and removed for the rest of the trip, that was going to be how it would end. So, I came out and asked for a clearing about what had happened and they engaged willingly.

They identified that the condo owner had been triggered, which had disrupted the interaction of me asking for help, and expressed sadness that I had had a traumatic experience this weekend. They told me that the condo owner had witnessed the woman I’d asked to speak with in a suicidal state, codependently wrapped up in other people’s dramas, and that this was a life-time pattern of hers. They said that if I had included in my request for some food, the reason why I was requesting it, that the exchange would also have gone quite differently. That when there was no explanation for why, it seemed strange, and they didn’t understand. The unspoken general response from the group became that I was being manipulative for attention, and that appeasing my request would be an act of what the 12-step community calls ‘enabling.’ In the 12-step sense, enabling describes the situation of bringing a six pack of beer to an alcoholic, in essence, enabling the dysfunction to continue. So to their minds, their response (or lack of) had been coming from a loving and compassionate place.

In that clearing in the car, another member related to the state of intense social phobia — the intense feelings of shame and shyness, and feeling unable to be around people. Her response however then went into how she had learned that if she was able to find the strength to ‘fake it until she made it’ she was almost always fine, and the fear diminished.

In the moment, I said nothing. My face glazed over and I stared far out into the distance through the car windows.

reflections

Since I’ve been home, I have been sleeping very little and processing a lot, alternating between empowerment & revelation and overwhelm & shame.
I feel like an outsider of the world.
Faking It

Faking It (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of my digestion was also around this notion of ‘faking it ’till you make it’ and realizing that once again, this approach is the opposite of healthy for me. I faked it till I made it in every moment of living for the first half of my life, and did it so well as to land myself in situations of impossible and unsustainable expectations. ‘Faking it ’till I made it’ betrayed myself, so long that it became a trauma in itself. I was untrustworthy. I was untruthful. I became exhausted, increasingly depressed, increasingly disconnected from myself and others. The greater the disconnect, the greater the over-compensation. My sense of self disintegrated and all that was left was a hollow shell and a scam. I was living a lie.

‘Faking it …’ is a death potion to me. The ultimate rejection of Self, a kind of suicide. That my strength must be real and authentic, or not at all, is a matter of life or death.

This process of radical honesty in order to heal means being at times awkward — strange — inappropriate. My understanding of 12-step fellowship was that we can accept this about each other and not react with suspicion or avoidance as others who are not in recovery often do.

In our pain, fear, confusion and over-compensation, we can hurt others just as we have been hurt ourselves so long ago. And so the initial wound lives on, passed on, from one wounded soul to another.

'Cracked' by Stephen Kline

‘Cracked’ by Stephen Kline

There’s a basic human instinct that tells us to help someone who is in distress. Of all the places I’d expect that to be missing, ACA is the last. Ironically, I don’t think anyone in CoDA would have left me to sob loudly and hysterically for an hour while carrying on jovially. Nor would they have pretended like nothing happened for the rest of the weekend until I asked for a clearing about it in the car. Even then, I don’t feel they got it. They felt proud of how their little recovery family had handled the situation because no one had acted codependently. no one had rescued anyone else. No one had been enabled.
If a man is dying on the side of the road, do we expect him to ask for help as we pass by? Are we enabling his dysfunction by helping him without his direct request?
So in the attempt to end codependency (and enabling), we can become the source of the initial abandonment and shame for others. And so the legacy continues, the wide pendulums from one extreme to another that bounce and ricochet down the tree of generations.
My trauma friend says that her and many of her peers have experienced this with 12-step groups — the hyper -vigilance and -discipline that can re-traumatize someone in trauma recovery. People in her trauma treatment program avoid 12-step work for the very experience I have had — the tragic and ironic absence of basic human compassion and caring that is the reason we are all here in recovery.
In the effort to rid ourselves of addiction, the heart gets thrown out with the bath water.

In recovery, it takes a lot to love ourselves. It is our life’s journey in getting well. And just as it isn’t easy to love ourselves, it is sometimes just as hard to love each other.

And yet, this is our only hope. If we cannot love ourselves and each other, who will?

I am no longer sure of the right healing place for me to be. I’m not sure if ACA is a safe place for me to be. I am floating in the ether.

9_fence_posts

9_fence_posts (unknown artist)

enabling vs. support

isolation vs. time alone to feel

relaxation vs. laziness

overcoming fears vs. entering unsafe situations and betraying ourselves.

extraordinarily gifted vs. disabled and less-fortunate

We live on these fence posts because of the split that our dysfunctional upbringings created in us. The chronic doubting of our own impulses and inclinations, the questioning of what is real, the unrelenting base of confusion, the existential angst that rots our foundations like a termite. We abandon ourselves and each other. Mistrust ourselves and each other.

From the perspective of my diagnosed illness, this situation is a stellar example of it. That I can have that kind of experience — externalized or not ,– that I can lose control of my emotions to such an extent, and then talk about it so sanely and with such clarity is an illustration of the split in me between my mind and my heart.

I believe it is a distinct characteristic of my illness.

It is an illness because it confuses people. It confuses me.

I get mis-diagnosed and mis-understood.

People think I am being manipulative for attention.

And in my own confusion, I feel like a two-faced fraud.

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authenticating my symptoms — dissociation & its ingredients

A few days ago I posted on what mania is to me in “authenticating my symptoms — manic manifests as confusion“.

'exhaustion' by Rafi Talby

‘exhaustion’ by Rafi Talby

Today, i have been escaping my feelings all day, and gradually working myself into a dissociative (rated 3/3) and suicidal (1/3) state — the other side of the borderline coin.

The two grains of sand that have gotten me to a diary card score of 96/100 are:

  1. underestimated exhaustion from an afternoon of (extremely positive) social contact with a bunch of new friends yesterday evening. I keep thinking I am normal again and can handle these things like a ‘normal’ person, ie. be fine the next day. I need to remember how easily and extremely exhausted I get, even from positive stimuli; and how easily thrown off my sense of routine I am from doing anything spontaneously.
  2. invalidation / external reality changes: My doctor’s appointment this morning, which I had forgotten about (because of the spontaneous socializing yesterday) until I woke up a half hour before I was supposed to be there and had to skip prayer, meditation, breakfast and coffee in order to make it on time. The real “grain of sand” in the doctor’s appointment however was not the chaotic manner in which I arrived, but the conversation I had with her about my mental health treatment. Although it seemed like no big deal in the moment, it turns out that it was a huge deal to learn what i did. Someone I thought was helping me in a reality of validation in recovery I thought I had accomplished is actually not really there at all (I will write a separate post in this). What it took me the entire day to understand is that this news was a sudden loss of identity and validation.

So, how does exhaustion + sudden loss of validation affect me? If i am unable to acknowledge what i am feeling, the result is dissociation. I’ve linked the word for you, so you can look up what the DSM says about it; but for me, this is what dissociation feels like:

unknown artist / source

  1. Suddenly, it feels like nobody sees me. I disappear. I long desperately and dangerously to be held, enveloped by another’s love for me. I am extremely needy. I cannot remember that I am loved and connected to people.
  2. Loss of all structure — nothing makes sense, nothing has purpose, nothing feels secure.
  3. I become lost in a sea of chaos that swallows me; I have no sense of where I am, who I am or what I am doing here in life. I have no place in the world.
  4. All motivation leaves me. All I want to do is escape and distract myself.
  5. Compulsive escape & isolation — I escape these feelings with compulsive and meaningless activity such as looking for images on Google for hours on end, and cease all self-care such as eating. Anything that takes me away from this type of activity in this state is almost unbearably annoying.
  6. No sense of time: I forget about everything on my to-do list and feel like I have all the time in the world. Life is a great abyss of the unknown, and passing the time with distraction and escape becomes my survival method.
  7. Panic and despair leading to suicidality. I slowly become more and more aware of what is going on, and it feels increasingly unbearably and hopeless.

I need to note that when I use the word suddenly, I do mean that with one interaction, one statement, in a very short moment, my entire sense of reality can change; however, and contrary to traditional descriptions of dissociation, it is not nearly as dramatic for me as it may sound. Actually, in the moment, it is not even evident to others OR MYSELF.

'The Mask' by EgoAniAnqueetus (altered by HJ)

‘The Mask’ by EgoAniAnqueetus (altered by HJ)

This is an aspect of my experience that astounds me. That I can be having a traumatic experience and no one, including me, can have a clue that this is happening. It comes out in the 24 hours afterwards — a “delayed” reaction, you could say. First, there is compulsive escape and loss of motivation and no sense of time; then I begin to feel panic, hopelessness and despair which leads to suicidality. At this point, I realize something is going on (!) and I need to employ a tool, such as calling a friend, or journaling, or 12-step work. These things allow me to get in touch with my feelings, which de-escalates the whole situation. It is almost inevitably a big whopping Homer Simpson “Dope!” experience, in the sense that it has taken me all these hours to simply be conscious of a (usually healthy) emotional response to a situation (which, if it causes me to dissociate, is usually a re-lived experience of trauma).

In this case, it took me about 12 hours to get in touch with feelings of abandonment, anger and outcry towards the mental health care system in my part of the world, which I will be writing about subsequently (you can now read about this experience in my post ‘government-funded mental health care for BPD in bc, canada‘)

So, dear readers, what is dissociation to you? Any other Quiet Borderlines out there relate to an extreme internal experience that is completely invisible to others and yourself?

With great love,

HJ