Healing From Childhood Trauma: Progress I’ve Made #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge, day eight. It’s already nearly 9PM as I start writing this post. I wasn’t home from day activities till 5PM, then had dinner and then drove 50 minutes one way with my husband to pick something up he had bought. On our way back, we stopped by McDonald’s, which was fun.

Anyway, today’s theme is healing. I was inspired to choose this theme by yesterday’s post, in which my final goal was to heal from my childhood trauma. Let me share today how far I’ve come on my journey.

My trauma-based symptoms first became fully apparent in 2009 or 2010. I had moved from a locked acute psych unit to a resocialization unit in early 2009. Once I developed trust in my staff, I apparently felt more ready to uncover the trauma-based conditions I’ve been living with all my life. You see, my trauma started early on and is in some respects ongoing.

When I started to open up about my symptoms, it still took a long time for them to be diagnosed as first dissociative identity disorder and PTSD and later borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder shares a ton of symptoms with complex PTSD and I think that’s what I have.

I have never been in formal trauma therapy. The reason is that, first, it was hard to find a therapist with expertise on DID. Once I’d found one, my diagnosis had been changed and I was assumed to be making it up.

As a result, I’ve done most healing on my own. I got the book Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation as soon as it came out in 2011. I worked through some of it on my own, but that wasn’t helping much. Talking a lot about my experiences was.

After I’d been talking through my experiences for a long while with my resocialization unit staff, my classic PTSD symptoms started to fade. Unfortunately, they’ve been back to an extent lately. However, my emotion regulation issues are a lot less pronounced.

I still have dissociative symptoms. Accepting them and validating my alters has helped me manage these symptoms.

Since I experience ongoing stress that reminds me of my trauma, I don’t expect to find the peace to fully heal anytime soon. However, I really hope I can continue to make progress.

Was I Sometimes Raised as a Golden Child?

I have been feeling really off lately. I keep having flashbacks. I also keep having what I’d describe as flashforwards, where I imagine my parents’ reaction to the different possible outcomes of the long-term care situation. These then lead to more flashbacks. One particular flashback I keep having is to a phone conversation I had with my mother when I’d just been admitted to the mental hospital in 2007, or maybe it was shortly before then. She yelled at me “You can’t even wipe your butt without your support worker there”. While this was and still is exaggerated, I do have issues with my personal hygiene, including sometimes with toileting.

I have noticed that there’s a lot of shame attached to my needs. Like, there is this constant nagging voice in my mind saying that I really do manipulate everyone into giving me more care. After all, am I not getting by? This part of me is telling me to erase everyone from my life and just go live on my own, since even if I lived with my husband and no support, there was still my husband to be manipulated.

I was discussing all this with my nurse practitioner last Thursday. He said even if I do manipulate people (and I no doubt do, as does everyone else), these people also let themselves be manipulated. Like, if they have an attitude like they’d rather help me with every little thing than endure my frustration, it’s no wonder I become dependent.

There was this show on Dutch television last Sunday about a second grade class. I didn’t see it, but a term used in it that was repeated often throughout the week, was “curling mother”. I have no idea whether that’s the correct English term, but it refers to a parent who helps their child with everything until they’re eighteen and then magically expects them to have learned independence and leave the nest. My nurse practitioner was reminded of this when I described my parents. It feels odd, because even though yes my parents did help me with every little thing, this expectation that I move out at eighteen was made very explicit from an early age on. It wasn’t like my parents were hoovering over me not realizing that they’d not be there for me forever. In fact, I’m pretty sure they couldn’t wait for me to move out. It just ugh, feels so off. Like I was spoiled somehow because my parents did everything for me.

At this point, I remember a discussion in an inner child healing group in which the original poster commented on some author or speaker saying that the golden child of narcissistic parents suffers a lot. This person was confused, because the golden child is the child favorited by the narcissistic parent, the child who doesn’t get abused (or so it seems). Some people said that the golden child suffers a lot because, well, they are only the narcissist’s favorite as long as they live up to their perfect standards.

I was raised in a household where the golden child/scapegoat roles reversed repeatedly. For those not aware, the scapegoat is the main target of obvious abuse in a narcissistic family. As such, I can relate to a lot of golden child attributes. Like, I was often praised excessively, bragged about and let off the hook. Then again, I was, and this was always very clear, expected to livve up to my parents’ perfect-image plan for me. Once I stopped doing this, I was placed in a clearer scapegoat role.

It still feels off to think of myself as having been spoiled. I know Pete Walker says spoiling is a severe kind of trauma too. However, in society, it is often treated like the spoiled child is to blame for being spoiled. And they definitely aren’t. Only as adults can they choose to undo the effects of this trauma, but they have to admit it first. I have to accept this.

A Very Validating Experience

As I write this, I deal with a nasty cold that I’ve been feeling come on for a few days but wasn’t willing to accept was coming on. Not that there’s anything I can do about it. Whenever one of us has a cold, my husband always searches the Internet to find out whether they’ve found a cure yet. So far, no luck. I’m not terribly sick as of yet anyway. I think my husband suffers almost more from the weird noises my body makes when I can barely breathe than I do.

A lot has been on my mind lately. I could of course write a gratitude list and devote a sentence or two to each thing. I may do that eventually, but right now, I want to share about a specific experience in more detail.

Last week, we told our staff at day activities about ourselves. We disclosed that we may have dissociative identity disorder (calling it multiple personality) and explained that it’s a trauma-based survival mechanism. The staff member we told was totally fine with it. She actually validated us, saying she’d seen a little come out to her.

Then on Monday this week, we had a flashback while at day activities. A fellow client needs to be given oxygen at times. This reminded one of our littles of the time we needed oxygen as a four-year-old because our trachea had closed up. An adult alter was able to explain this to a staff before the little came out, but then we could no longer keep ourselves from switching and the little popped out.

This little started talking to our staff, the one we’d come out to the week before. She asked to sit on the staff’s lap. We had agreed when we first came out as multiple that this is okay with both the staff and us. It was such a nurturing experience.

Afterwards, an adult did feel the need to check with this staff that it’d been alright with her, but it had been no problem. That’s a good thing about doing day activities at a center for intellectually disabled people. I’m pretty sure that in psychiatric care, we’d not be allowed to express such a “childish” need for affection.

Quote of the Day (August 30, 2018): Cultivating Mindfulness

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

I had another session of dialectical behavior therapy with my nurse practitioner today. In it, we discussed the skill of participation, which essentially boils down to doing something with attention without constantly being aware of the fact that you’re doing it. This seems pretty contradictory to me, because how do you do something mindfully without constantly being aware of it?

In this repsect, this quote speaks to me. It describes mindfulness as a way of knowing what we’re doing and paying attention to it.

It also seems that this may be what Pete Walker means when he describes the flight-freeze continuum of healthy relating to self in his book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. He says that the healthy middle between freeze and flight is the middle between doing and being. Freeze then is the state of constantly dissociating, daydreaming away time, while flight is the state of constant doing stuff, working time away. I tend to fall closer to the freeze end, while other people might lean closer to the flight end. Whenever I’m upset, I retreat into my own world. Someone who is a flight type would more go and do stuff, such as housekeeping, work, etc.

Kabat-Zinn in his quote says that mindfulness means being awake and knowing what we’re doing. It means not mindlessly staying busy to avoid hard feelings (flight), nor means it being disconnected from one’s surroundings (and oneself) to avoid hard feelings (freeze).

Now I seem to understand where the flight-freeze continuum also comes in handy in my DBT skills training. Flight then describes rational mind, not feeling anything because we’re busy doing (work, housekeeping, etc.). Freeze describes emotional mind, being stuck in the inability to do something about our experience. The middle ground in DBT is called Wise Mind.