Lessons, Hope & Gratitude

I’ve been through a lot lately. I had an elective endometrial ablation a month ago and my body did not respond well to the anesthesia. 3 weeks later I was starting to feel like myself again when I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion and a few days later I was in the ER with severe pain and confusion which turned out to be symptoms of infections of my left kidney, uterus and urinary tract. A few days later I started to notice moments in the day when I was sure I was experiencing auditory hallucinations. The hallucinations were soon joined by a familiar feeling of spiders in between my scalp and skull. I say familiar because a year and a half ago I sought out treatment for my fibromyalgia and was prescribed amatriptyline and the reaction to that medication started with that most uncomfortable feeling of spiders in my head and led to the deep, consuming depression I spent the next year battling.

So here I was again, AGAIN, having a reaction to a medication, this time an antibiotic, and I had to spend a few more days recovering on the couch. I took good care of myself this time; rested instead of pushed to keep up with all the things, and continually reassured myself that the uncomfortable feelings and hallucinations would end once the drug was out of my system. Having chronic illness that is worsened by stress has taught me slow down, take breaks, be compassionate and patient with myself and above all, let go of, or at least tolerate, the notion that my little world will stop spinning if I take a small or large time out. The lessons didn’t come easy and I haven’t graduated yet. I imagine there will be many other opportunities to study and practice this art of self-care.

All of this has resulted in this blossoming idea that there is so much I have to be grateful for and that I have only cracked the surface of my life post trauma therapy and in recovery from depression and suicidal ideation. Things are calm enough for me to look back over the last several years and really see how my work of surviving and the mutual commitment my husband and I have to our relationship and family have kept our little world from spinning completely out of control. I’m beginning to see how the sacrifices we made and the personal growth we’ve engaged in have paid off in so many ways. Our oldest child barely squeaked through graduating from high school, but they did graduate and they survived being suicidal and living with depression and anxiety, fibromyalgia, and as some neurodivergent issues which have yet to be diagnosed. Our two younger children witnessed all this struggle and chaos at young ages and have come through them with great empathy and a desire to support others while continuing their own journeys with education and the ongoing development of peer relationships.

It’s heartening to feel and notice my gratitude and it also appears to be giving me the strength to embark on the next part of the journey, one I hope will involve a deepening of my awareness of and presence in my relationships with my husband and children. It also seems to be fostering the development of wisdom, particularly the wisdom to recognize that this next part of the journey will be slow going and at times tedious, and that it will call on me to be patient and persistent and to push myself beyond my mistaken belief that I can’t have bonds with such intimacy and trust. I look forward with a little trepidation and a lot of hope to seeing how my relationships to my loved ones and myself evolve.

Changes

When I committed to doing it, I had no idea how EMDR would change my life. I had some trepidation and certainly curiosity, but mostly I felt compelled by the deep and dark depression I was in. I’ve spoken to other survivors who’ve said they felt like they didn’t really have a choice. EMDR was a have to not a choice.

I spent the first few months after finishing EMDR just breathing and noticing what feels different about my life and how I exist within it. I tried not to make hard and fast judgments about how much more emotional and physical capacity I might have. It felt like waking up from a long, very long, nightmare and realizing it was just a dream. There was, and still is, a lot of stretching into this new life.

One thing is certain, I spend more time with my kids. That may be intentional time, like tuck-ins, or just being awake to the moment I’m in with my kids. I’m really hearing what they’re saying when they talk, instead of nodding my head and saying mnnh hmm. I let myself feel my reaction to what they say; they are very woke kids and they are often questioning the world or wanting to help the community. I want to encourage their generous spirits. Before and during EMDR, everything was just survival. I loved my kids, sometimes with great ferocity, but I couldn’t engage with them in deep ways very often.

I appreciated the natural world around me while doing EMDR but not with the focus I now have. When I go outside I’m present to the sounds of the birds, the warmth from the sun and the colors of grass and trees and flowers. I’m talking to the birds again, especially my blue jay friend who only whispers and purrs when he comes into the yard. I watch the changing of the moon and know what phase its in, rather than looking up and being surprised to find it’s suddenly full again. Time is passing and I’m noticing it.

I’m still growing into my relationship with my husband but I feel and accept how safe and loving he is. I hug him more often, smile at him, touch him in passing, tell him things I wouldn’t have told him only a few months ago. I do think it will take time to deepen our relationship but it’s nice to feel intimacy and understanding expanding.

There’s so much more but I have to take things in small doses. I don’t get overwhelmed as easily but that’s probably because I titrate so much more effectively.

Rule Number One

Don’t take up space. Number one rule of abuse victims. Be invisible. Be quiet. Be small. Don’t be in the line of sight when your abuser is moody or intoxicated. In how many ways did that one rule fuck with my head and my sense of self? My father wasn’t just a pedophile, he was an alcoholic and he may have been using drugs. I don’t know for certain and it doesn’t really matter. Add that to the list of things I don’t know or understand about the man.

I was thinking about this rule this morning and I had an epiphany. I taught that rule to my oldest child who is female bodied and it most certainly contributed to their sense of self and the vulnerability that led them to be a victim of bullying, and ultimately to feeling traumatized to the extent that they developed complex PTSD (insert link here).

The rule seems so simple and small but it is insidious in the way in which it impacts our beliefs about ourselves. There are inferences made from this rule. The world is not safe. You never know when something terrifying might happen. You have no control over your own life. You can’t rely on other people, even the people you HAVE to rely on, to be steady or kind. And the rule leads to assumptions about reality that are not true. If you are small enough, quiet enough, stay out of the way, you can avoid being hurt. 

My oldest child didn’t experience the same kind of abuse I did and their home life always had some sense of safety, especially once we left their biological dad, who never laid a hand on either of us but was an alcoholic and was utterly unreliable. And honestly, I was unreliable too for a time. I was moody, controlling, and suffered from unexplained seizures and panic attacks. I was agoraphobic for a couple of years, and I’m sure this reinforced the notion that the world is not safe and something terrible and devastating can happen at any time.

Rule number one was passed down and now my oldest child is doing trauma therapy to resolve their own experiences, as well as the falsities based on this most toxic rule.