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For Carl

my new private balcony

my new private balcony

 

A new era has begun in my life, with a move from the place I moved into 2 months ago, to a place that is … well, it’s a little piece of heaven, with a fellow recovery woman.

It’s on a river. The sound of the river permeates the entire property and house. My room is on the 2nd floor, with my own private balcony. The house has several skylights, wood floors and trim throughout.

The property has several gardening areas for vegetables and flowers, grassy nooks with chairs, fruit trees, and a gazebo on the river. There is also a workshop and an art studio.

Both my roommate and I feel that this is a place that wants to be a vessel for healing. It wants to provide a safe, affordable and soul-nourishing haven for people who need it, in order to do our work, the work of the soul and spirit. The rent is super cheap, and the location is a few minutes walking to down town. We want to host healing circles and various healing modalities here.

My arrival here happened suddenly, removing me from the danger inherent in living alone. I had been isolating and not eating, in and out of various states of dissociation and paralyzation. A friend of mine asked me why i was remaining in this harmful situation. I realized I had not made it real in my mind that it was a harmful situation. I was still holding on, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t happening, that really, I was fine; I was just thinking I wasn’t. When the landlords there gave notice they were returning to the Valley, this new place emerged. After my friend asked me why I was staying, I checked out moving earlier, and was given the green light. I moved the next day.

The previous roommate here was a beautiful, bright, gay man who was the keeper of the space and property, loved gardening, home repairs and landscaping. He also lived with OCD and Bipolar Disorder. He chose to leave this world by suicide last month. As he had promised to his friends, he waited until he was happy for several months before leaving. He sorted his things and arranged for them to be dispersed, cleaned the house, made soup for the woman who is now my rooommate. Everyone knew that his leaving was imminent, and when he was all set up to facilitate his departure, he emailed my roommate, who was out of town at the time. It took him two consecutive attempts to leave.

His body was found in his room. He died a happy, loving and giving spirit; at peace in his surroundings and with his friends in this life. His passing has brought me here, and so I write this as an offering of gratitude and appreciation. I feel his presence, and that he is a kindred spirit. I regret that I did not get to know him while he was still here.

For Carl. For all your journeys, sorrows, joys, achievements, struggles, and losses. And for all the great love you gave to this world. May you be in peace in the afterlife. May your spirit soar on, always and forever free.

beside my pillow, the sound of the river surrounding.

beside my pillow, the sound of the river surrounding. words and cards by a fellow aca member. amethyst heart stone from fellow coda member, crystal from dear friend in my previous city up North. I am not alone on this journey.


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what’s your book cover

I’ve been having book covers and titles coming to me. What, if anything, I ever end up doing with them, it seems like part of my therapy to express them. What is your book cover?

IMG_2417


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Developmental Trauma Disorder

I have been pointed towards the effects of trauma before, by my old counselor a year or so ago, who pointed out that the symptoms of trauma are very similar to Borderline Personality Disorder. My recent experience of attachment with my therapist caused me to research Attachment Disorder today, and found me at the website of Attachment Disorder Maryland.

My jaw dropped and I nearly gasped several times reading their page on Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD). It’s been a while since I’ve had the experience of immense relief to read about parts of myself that hadn’t yet been reflected to me externally. I am feeling immense relief and hope that this has been written about.

Most-striking excerpts from the website of Attachment Disorder Maryland — their page on Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD):

Definition Developmental Trauma Disorder is a diagnostic proposal for DSM-5, authored by Bessel van der Kolk and colleagues.  The concept of DTD is based on a wide array of research data that comprises tens of thousands of children across multiple research studies.  DTD results from growing up in an interpersonal context of ongoing danger, maltreatment, unpredictability, and/or neglect.  80% of all child maltreatment is at the hands of children’s own parents.  Maltreatment embeds “hidden traumas” in infant – caregiver interactions that are neglectful, intrusive, unpredictable, threatening, aggressive, rejecting, or exploitive.   These interactions convey that the world is a dangerous, unreliable, and/or indifferent place that offers little or no safety. Given the highly limited capacities of infants / young children to assess risk, this lack of physical and/or emotional safety quickly rises to the level of a subjective survival threat (annihilation anxiety) even though the objective nature of the event may not actually be at that level.  For this reason, such events do not warrant a diagnosis of PTSD because the events are not “imminently life threatening”, a criteria for PTSD.  However, it is subjective perception, and not objective lethality, that determines trauma.  Using PTSD criteria, the element of trauma gets missed, and the erroneous diagnostic process has begun.


Major diagnostic criteria for DTD
There are seven major diagnostic criteria for DTD.

  1. Witnessing or experiencing multiple adverse interpersonal events involving caretaker(s) for at least one year.
  2. Affective and physiological dysregulation.
  3. Attentional and behavioral dysregulation.
  4. Self and relational dysregulation.
  5. Chronically altered perception and expectations.
  6. At least two post-traumatic symptoms.
  7. Functional impairment- at least two of the following areas: academic, family, peers, legal, health.
  8. Duration of disorder is at least 6 months.

(#7 of Developmental impacts:)

Fragmentation / disorganization:  We know from object relations theory that whatever is communicated as being off limits to an infant’s caretaker is also off limits to the Self.  Infants quickly pick up implicitly, what their caretakers do not want to see, will reject, are afraid of, will retaliate against…  These elements become “off limits” which lays the groundwork for fragmenting the child’s Self construct.  This fragmentation of the Self produces a pervasive state of internal disorganization that causes further fragmentation as time moves forward, and so the disorganization is both effect and then cause.  This internal disorganization impairs integrative processing such that the integration of sensory, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral experience into a congruent picture does not occur and so children with DTD can appear very different across time and situations.  This, in turn causes significant confusion for the adults interacting with these children on an ongoing basis.  Given their confusion, the adults are prone to respond inconsistently to the child, thereby validating the child’s view of the world as unpredictable. Now the original traumatic context is being replicated in the present in a dizzying escalating spiral that carries profound implications for attachment….

DTD vs. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):  PTSD stems from discrete, traumatic incidents rather than an ongoing pattern of embedded trauma.  It manifests as specific responses to stimuli that are reminders of the traumatic incident.  In the absence of traumatic triggers, PTSD symptoms may be minimal to wholly absent.  PTSD lacks the pervasive developmental sequelae of DTD.  Since PTSD can’t account for all the symptoms of DTD, other diagnoses are often added to PTSD to cover the additional symptoms.  This produces fragmented diagnostic thinking and the partial diagnosis phenomenon.  Once again, it’s the Blind Men and the Elephant story.  The part is mistaken for the whole, leading to a lack of understanding about the whole (systemic dysregulation resulting from developmental trauma) and a partially effective, clinical response at best.On the other hand, the “hidden traumas” of  DTD do not meet the DSM-4 definition of a “traumatic event” as they are not imminently life threatening.  Evidence based treatments for PTSD do not adequately address the pervasive developmental impairments and attachment difficulties that come with DTD.


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right attention to the one you love

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“If you do not give right attention to the one you love, it is a kind of killing. When you are in the car together, if you are lost in your thoughts, assuming you already know everything about [them], [they] will slowly die.”        THICH NHAT HANH, O Magazine, Feb. 2007

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This is the story of my marriage, as told by yours truly at a weekend retreat of Codependents Anonymous. The theme of the retreat was The Big R: Relationship with Higher Power, Self, Others. The title of my topic meeting was ‘Growing is Forever: Avoiding the Slow Death’.

I had thought that I would ‘wing it,’ instead of planning or writing anything in advance; but when I arrived at the retreat, I found myself writing out our story, in a way I had never done before. I wrote all afternoon, and was up late that night continuing to write. I handed out a sheet with the quote above, a collage of wedding photos I had done up after our wedding, and on the other side of the sheet, our last email dialogue this year. Then I shared my story:

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When the planning committee decided on the theme of Relationships for this retreat, my heart sank a little. I was not interested in a relationship, and I felt like I’d been there, done that. The next response in me said, “What’s the point?” How could there be a point if a relationship like me and my Ex’s ended so sadly? Our relationship never had the obsessive, addictive quality that so many other romantic relationships in my life have had. He wasn’t exciting like a shot of heroin — a bottle of liquor, a project to feed the work addiction, etc. etc. etc.

When I met Ex, I thought I was done with all that. Our love felt calm and deep and genuine, born out of vulnerability and a sense of going against the grain, being ourselves, authentically, at all costs.

We said our vows in a grave yard, on our 3rd date. We promised to let it be a choice to be with each other — a choice renewed at the beginning of each day. We promised not to leave the relationship without a thorough and common understanding of why our relationship was ending. In essence, we promised to let each other go with love.

We moved in together a month later. Our decision to get married came as a surprise to my Mother and close friends. My parents had not married, and I had never been the marrying type.

Still to this day, I don’t regret loving someone genuinely so fully as to want to gather our families for 3 days and celebrate it. I believe those moments have value not for how long they last, but for even getting to them at all. I am forever grateful.

For various reasons, the time we were together before it all went South were some of the happiest years of my adult life so far.

The first breakdown in communication came after my best friend had split up with her husband and stopped speaking to our mutual friend. The break up of my self-identified family was deeply distressing to me. In a state of irrational panic and desperation, I responded by taking a trip across the country to visit the friend who had left.

The breakdown in communication was that Ex did not understand the depth of my emotion around this trip, and neither of us recognized this lack. I returned from my travels to a house of the greatest chaos I had ever seen. There were dirty dishes, clothing, random objects, slips of paper, and garbage covering every surface of the house and most of the floors.

The second breakdown in communication was that Ex told me the house had gotten this way because he’d been really busy with work. And I’d believed him. The truth I later learned was that he had had a relapse into a video game addiction, and had played the game solidly at the expense of all else for much of the time I had been away.

From there, it was a slow decline of intimacy. We had become estranged from ourselves and each other, without knowing it.

When we bought a house, it seemed to be another turning point in our relationship. Ex became deeply unhappy as a lawyer with his own practice, which he began to neglect, while communicating less and less with me. He couldn’t admit even to himself that he was unhappy, because he saw no way out. He became a chronic pot smoker. I became a chronic workaholic.

All we did together was smoke weed and watch movies. The state of our house declined — things were left unfinished and undone, and our self-care also declined. Our fights and our distance from each other escalated.

Two power trips were present:

  1. I wanted emotional intimacy before sex; he wanted sex before emotional intimacy. Neither of us got either.
  2. I wanted him to tell me how he was feeling and what he needed; he wanted me to “have a heart” and read between the lines, anticipate and empathize with his feelings and needs. Not need them spoken all the time. Neither of us got our needs met.

The disparity between our public image and our home life widened with my (our?) sense of shame.

Our car broke down.

Our deck had no railings for most of our time there.

Our tub was rust coloured from the minerals in our water.

Our entire property was repeatedly covered in 6 feet of snow and we had no snow blower.

Our dog ran away to live with the neighbours 6 blocks away.

Our fights continued to escalate. There were screaming matches, objects thrown, doors slamming in the middle of the night, many lonely nights in heartbreaking despair, confusion, hopelessness and isolation.

I began riding in the back seat of the car in the mornings into town. Then I began staying on friends’ couches. In and out, in and out. Each time, it would feel as if he would break open, and I would finally be able to SEE him, so I would move back in.

The moving out and back in dynamic went on for 2 years. Each leaving felt more final than the last; each return more earnest and hopeful, but with the voice of doom in my head that I was ignoring growing louder.

Many people told me when I got married that the relationship would ebb and flow. That there would be times we would not love each other, but that the return to love would grow deeper each time.

I waited and waited. And waited, to fall in love again. I gave my all, bent over backwards and turned my life upside down for two years to survive the mean time, and STAY IN.

It took me those 2 years to know without a single doubt in my mind that we had reached an end, not an ebb. By then, I had already grieved. The day of clarity came, and I ended it with peacefulness.

When I read the Tich Nhat Hanh quote that I have shared with you, I thought of all the hours I spent in the car with Ex, when we shared a car and drove 20 minutes into town and back every day. I remembered the first time we ever drove in a car together. I saw how our car rides had gone from awkward shyness, through great connection and joy, to a peaceful, contented silence, to a bored and restless silence, and arrived finally in the bone chilling silence, filled with anger, resentment and clenched teeth.

In retrospect, I wonder what would have become of us if, in those 1st 2 breakdowns in communication, we had tried harder to truly understand each other and be understood. Now, I understand how important that is. How one place of disconnect leads to another, and the whole thing dies a painful, agonizing, slow and gruesome death.

This is a great gift to take with me into my next relationship. We can never know all there is to know about another because we are always — in each and every moment — changing. Connection, patience and curiosity must never be lost. I am grateful. I grieve, honour and give thanks to this part of my life by sharing it with all of you.

Here is what became the theme song for our wedding:


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step four: the authentic voice that called

(my post step four introduction is the context for this series of posts.)

my dorm room–another false start of balance and serenity. another false ending to the chaos. january 2011.

(undated #1)

It does not agree with me to push myself so hard. The challenge of this term is quite extreme for me. I hit a wall of exhaustion today, and had to take the night off — from studying, from work, and basically the world. I watched TV all night. I didn’t respond to my husband texting me. I just needed to escape.

I am not motivated to learn when there is this much workload and the tests are not straight forward and the scores do not reflect my learning.

 

 

statistics, final exam formula sheet.

(undated #2)

The notion that I need to own my space and my time — I responded by feeling frustrated and unsupported.

I feel blind-sided by life — smacked in the face and rolled around in the mud, holding on to the rope of my soul, enduring.

There are times when a person needs to take responsibility for the experience they are having by changing their approach and managing themselves better, and these are the majority of times; and there are times when taking responsibility means recognizing situations and people that are unhealthy, and simply exiting from them.

(undated #3 — to my now-ex husband)

I’m drawn to you for the essence of you — the way you smile at me, your sunny demeanor. I’m drawn to and compelled by your spirituality, your compassion and caring for the world, and your capacity to produce and make things happen.

I’m afraid that if I don’t want to be around the whole pot-smoking, beer-drinking crowd, I won’t want to be around you, and our friends won’t mix.

the part to remember, give thanks for, and grieve, understand and accept its demise. i remember that feeling. i remember it all, in all of life’s glory. all of life’s glory.


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step four introduction

I have been working on Step Four since November.

My one-sentence description of Step Four is:

A list of all the things that keep me from feeling good in the world, the core beliefs that have created them, the responses that have fortified those core beliefs, and the effect they have had on my connection with others, myself and the Universe.

CoDA’s workbook has a series of questions for each step that I worked through, which took me the majority of the time between November and now. Some of the questions evoked immense confusion and illuminated some of the deepest pain in me.

Having worked through those, a few at each meeting with my Sponsor, I then began a collection of photos, letters and journal writings that served as tangible examples of my core beliefs in action. I called this collection, “How I Betrayed Myself.” It also includes examples of aspects of me and my life that give me a sense of pride and well-being, as this is an important part of Step Four. The word ‘inventory’ implies and includes accomplishments and positive aspects, as much as the challenges we face.

I have shared this collection with my Sponsor. It has left me in a place of honoring the last year of my life before I broke — the inner voice that I was not able to respond to. Everything that brought me to that point — the responses and core beliefs I developed in childhood and how they played themselves out in my adult life. I am grieving the abandonment I created for my authentic self by not listening to her. I betrayed myself and fortified the experience of abandonment for her.

At my last meeting with my sponsor, I managed to regress myself to the feeling I had before I finally drove to the liquor store and share it with my sponsor. I grieved that I was too ashamed to ask for help. Too ashamed that I felt that way again, after everything I’d tried. I had failed again, and it felt like I’d exhausted all my friends and places to go. That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. The difference for me now, is that now, I would know how to reach out for help by phoning the crisis line or a recovery friend, or taking myself to the hospital.

As the last part of my step 4, I’m going to post some writings from the pages of the notebook that I wrote everything I needed to write down in, during the last 6 months before my suicide attempt. Interspersed with to-do lists, and leadership notes and brainstorms on community leadership projects are random and in-congruent pages about the end of my marriage, and how my heart was really feeling — the voice I didn’t honour. So I am going to honour it here, and share it with you, in a series of posts.

The pages of this notebook are a tangible example of the sense of disparity between the two sides of me (see identity confusion / unstable sense of self). I’m wanting to validate for myself the degree and extremity of this disparity by this blogging process.

spring 2011 — texted to my husband at the time, and the representative of the leadership award. no one could tell me to walk away. no one could tell me i needed help. that has to change.

Here is a snapshot of what I looked like last year, in the last month before i put an end to it all … If anyone you know starts to look like this on any kind of regular basis, please remember me, and recognize the face of someone who may need your help. This is not a person who needs to keep thinking positively, keep faking it ’till they make it, or keep doing anything they are doing.

Thank you for reading, to all you deep and rich human beings out there. Luv Underground.


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mending attunement, standing fully in my place

elephants in a row

elephants in a row

Another shoe drops this evening, watching the TV Series Parenthood – a family drama / comedy along similar tastes as Six Feet Under, but a little less dark and twisted.

The show follows several families within a family – dynamics, transitions, realizations of all the diverse family members. In this episode, a 20-something engages in a romance with her boss, in an assistant position created for her by her Aunt, who catches her in her neglege in the hotel room. One is left to presume that the Aunt heard her niece was going on this business trip alone with this older man, had a hunch that something was up, and flew out to rescue her. In the same episode, a teenage boy is uncontrollably upset when he finds out that his mom is planning to have a baby with his step-father. His Mom talks about it with the step-father, and he decides to take the boy out for a burger; later on, the Mom talks to the boy’s father about it, because the boy is unable to articulate his feelings very well with his Mom.

psychotherapy image

psychotherapy image

The thing that struck me was a sadness in me for the fact that I did not grow up in a family like that. I never felt like other family members understood what I was feeling and took loving, supportive action. What it comes down to is that I always felt alone in dealing with what I was feeling – no one knew, and the few times they did, they didn’t respond in a way that spoke understanding, compassion or support to me.

What then struck me is that I have just finally had this experience this weekend, while liquidating my storage unit, back in the place I lived for 8 years before my melt down in the Spring. It was a new experience for me to reach out in the way that I did and ask for what I needed. No, in advance of my speaking up, no one really had the where-with-all to realize the anxiety I felt about going. I had extreme anxiety in the form of raised heart beat and panic attacks in the middle of the night for several weeks leading up to my trip, and in retrospect, the root of that anxiety was the notion that I was going to have to face all my old stuff up there alone, and that my tired brain was simply unable to handle all the details. That I was going to have to cover up the panic inside again, pretend like everything was fine and somehow get it all done without letting the stress show.

That’s what I did for most of my life. I was an ice burg, in quiet, frozen desperation, so well automatically hidden, I cannot blame myself for seeing no hope. It took a natural disaster from the universe to melt.

My friends this weekend showed me the kind of love in this episode of Parenthood – the kind of love I always wanted, and thought that I just didn’t deserve. I thought that I didn’t deserve it because what I was feeling was grotesque and unacceptable, that there was something horribly wrong with me. If I was normal, I wouldn’t have to hide so much, and people wouldn’t leave me alone so much.

The kind of damage I sustained in my childhood is not overtly even close to so many other stories of abuse. The sources of dysfunction in myself are far more subtle, every single one of them. I illustrate the reason that not everyone who is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder was abused , in the typical sense of the word, in their childhoods. I have lived with chronic confusion about how I really am in the world, because I have been so confused about where I have come from – did I come from abuse, or am I being a drama queen? Do I have feelings and reactions that are not normal, or am I only choosing to see it that way? This was the endless loop of confusion I lived in. The definition of cause for BPD by Tami Green opened the door to a lot of clarity for me: A sensitive child who does not receive the extra attention and validation he or she needs in order to develop secure attachment. I am back to my previous post about how abuse is a completely subjective experience.

I’m appreciating the perspective and understanding in myself about the pressure I felt to be a sensation, without the social and emotional supports so many take for granted. Add perfectionism, sensory and emotional intensity to that, and you have a pretty good recipe for the disaster that was my life.

Another wave of grieving, compassion, mending, loving. A particle of light in some deep reserve in me.

Source Image: Tribe Jewelry by Gayle Mahoney

Source Image: Tribe Jewelry by Gayle Mahoney