Trauma happens in life. Full stop. But not everyone gets PTSD. Even fewer do what I did which was to create an elaborate survival technique using dissociation to divide up my life in smaller pieces. Life got a lot more confusing when I married and moved away from home, stopped going to school and started raising a family. I told my husband everything I remembered about my life before we married. Thing was I was missing big pieces of my life. I didn’t think this was unusual. By the time we had six children I was living in a nightmare world of exhaustion so profound I could only be up 20 minutes a day. I slept about 5 nights in 7. The nights I did sleep were disrupted with nightmares I didn’t remember. My teenagers pointed out to me that I was very different with different people. I had no explanation. Our children were getting married and moving out getting on with their lives. We tried a marriage class and I would come home frustrated and out of sorts. They were talking about boundaries and I had no idea what that meant. I was frustrated and out of sorts and not handling it well. My friend worked with some counselors of our religion and I asked her for some names. She gave me three. I prayed and chose the one man. The first meetings did not go well. He seemed reluctant to take us on in marriage counseling. He suggested I try group counseling along with the marriage counseling. With in a month things were going very wrong. Each bit of homework turned into a disaster in one way or another. I never reacted the way either my husband nor our counselor expected. My husband went out of town and for the first time in over 40 years, I remembered my nightmares. Oh boy…… it was horrific. All during my childhood I was told I exaggerated everything or I was called a liar even when I thought I was telling the truth. I didn’t know about gaslighting at the beginning of counseling. With my husband gone I grabbed my courage with both hands and told my counselor what I remembered. I expected to get the same dismissing of my account of being passed around naked to different men. The counselor blew me away when he said, “I believe you.” My world tilted and my house of cards collapsed on top of me. I was bewildered and frightened and I wanted to deny that this could have possibly happened to me. I had no memories except in my nightmares. Counselors work with emotions and memories. I couldn’t access either at the time.
He chose a different route to reach me. He started with the book a Child Called It. He asked me to read it. I read it by the next session. I handed it back to him and bluntly asked, “What do you want me to learn from it?” The book accounts one of the worse child abuse cases in California. My counselor assured me that he was just watching my reaction. The next book was another severe child abuse case, again I brought back and asked, “What do you want me to learn from it?” Then he gave me another book another book of horrific treatment to children. Still my response, “What do you want me to learn from it?” The fourth book was Viktor Frankle book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Viktor survived the Nazi Concentration camps. He shared his story of survival. After reading his account, I brought the book back, handed him back the book then flatly stated, “What do you want me to learn from it is not the right answer.” My counselor tried to reassure me that there were no right or wrong answers but he pointed out that I did not see the treatment of the prisoners in the concentration camps as unusual or odd. He explained that my reaction showed that I felt this horrific behavior was “normal.” He turned to my husband and explained that until I did significant healing there would be no progress in marriage counseling. I kept denying that my childhood was not “THAT” bad. I did not want to face the truth that my childhood was as bad as a concentration camp. I denied and denied then my mind started remembering other bits and pieces until I could deny no longer what was happening. I was a mess. I mentioned that my counselor suggested group counseling. That was a disaster too. Some of the disasters there shed more light on the violence and dysfunctional childhood I endured. Once my brain released this information I couldn’t close it again. I opened Pandora’s box. (https://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/pandoras-box-myth/)
I slowly accepted what happened to me wasn’t a lie. This is the first step to healing. As long as I denied anything bad happened, I could not heal my wounds. Talking about what happened took months. The more I talked the more I remembered. Along the way my counselor started teaching me skills. He explained boundaries, what they are for and how to use them. He taught me NO is a complete sentence. Most importantly he taught me about basic human rights. The book that introduced me to my rights as a human being was Men Who Hate Women & The Women Who Love Them written in January 2002. Joan Torres opened my eyes to a whole new way of living. I had rights….I never knew….my abusers made sure I didn’t know. From a young age, they convinced me that I had no rights. I carried this on into my marriage and work life. My counselor emphasized that I needed to personalize my list. What I am sharing is part of my list. I was encouraged to be very specific to my experience. I modified and rewrote my list with the help of my counselor.
I have the right to be treated with respect.
I have the right to chose not to take responsibility for anyone else’s problems or bad behavior.
I have the right to feel emotions – anger, excitement, sad, glad, afraid, courageous, etc. and the responsibility to accept the consequences of any actions brought about by those emotions.
I have the right to say no. When I say “yes” to one thing I inherently often have to say “yes or no” to something else that is not always obvious.
I have the right to make mistakes and the responsibility to take the consequences for those mistakes.
I have the right to my opinions and convictions. Just because I have them does not mean I should always state them. Sometimes the best reply is silence but I need to keep in mind that with some people silence means agreement. The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable is on going training.
I have the right to determine when someone is yelling at me or not. I am aware that I am hypersensitive to negative reactions but if I feel someone is yelling at me I will respond that way.
I have the right to change my mind and the responsibility to take the consequences.
I have the right to ask for emotional support or help. I have the responsibility to work on things myself. Learned helplessness is as unhealthy as never reaching out to anyone.
I have the right to negotiate for change. The responsibility to express myself to the other person. The other person can not read my mind.
I have the right to protest what I believe to be unfair treatment or criticism. Being defensive can sometimes make a situation worse. In protesting unfair treatment I need to keep in mind who I am talking to. Some people are not healthy enough to engage in this type of conversation. In these situations, I have the right to walk away.
I have the right to have friends. I have the responsibility to recognize that friends take time and energy which I have a limited supply.
I have the right to ignore advice. I have the responsibility to take the consequences of ignoring that advice. I recognize that the source should be considered when I am considering someone else’s advice.
I have the right to take breaks that can be beneficial when working on large projects.
I have the right to throw away or give away things that I no longer want or need.
I have the right to lock the doors or not lock them depending on how I feel at the time.
I have the right to have extra food in the house.
I can add to this list whenever I feel the need.
This was the beginning of healing. I finally found my hope. I have the right to thrive and live the life I was meant to live.