The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dealing with Dissociation

A fellow survivor recently asked me how I dealt with my dissociation. I thought I would share my answer here. Of course, this is just an outline for a very complicated process:

It took a number of years for me to get a handle on my dissociation. The first step was to simply become aware that I dissociated.

Because I had dissociated since I was a child, the emotional disconnect felt so normal to me that I didn't even know that I experienced "altered states" until a therapist pointed it out to me.

After my counselor helped me identify times when I dissociated, I learned that it had a certain recognizable "quality," just like a dream has a familiar feel to it.

The clinical definition of dissociation is a disturbance or alteration in the normally integrative functions of identity, memory, or consciousness. In children, this may occur following physical abuse or trauma.

Most abuse survivors I have talked to have said that they have trouble "feeling," or that they have become "numb." Dissociation can manifest itself to many different degrees and in many different fashions; therefore, it can simply mean an inability to "feel." For me, when the pain became "too much," I became "trance like." My gaze became transfixed to one unknown spot and I disconnected from my feelings and surroundings. I could hear what was going on around me, but I couldn't "respond" to words, noises, or actions, because my emotional self "disappeared."

When I was a child, dissociation "saved my life." It was my survival tactic. If I had to feel that which was unbearable and unending, I would have most likely gone insane. Dissociation protected my sanity at a time when I had no one to help me.

Long after I grew up, I learned that the very mechanism that saved me as a child, harmed me as an adult. I couldn't protect myself when I was young, but I could and should as an adult.

I often stayed in "harmful" situations because I unknowingly dissociated rather than reacting to pain and safe-guarding my own well-being. If we listen closely, pain is a useful resource for protecting ourselves.

Once I realized that I did indeed dissociate, that the "emotional absences" were harmful to me, and that they prevented me from healing, I made a concerted effort to "re-wire" my responses. This of course takes a great deal of time.

Whenever I felt the "quality" that comes with dissociation, I began to "pull" myself out. I shifted my eyes away from that far off "blank stare," and forced myself to remain present with my surroundings. If I was with someone safe, that meant saying, "I'm struggling with keeping myself present and not dissociating."

If I was not with someone safe, that meant leaving or re-directing myself by whatever means necessary to "stay present." I'd also like to note that my symptoms of dissociation and PTSD often overlapped as I was trying to deal with my childhood abuse.

Learning to recognize and prevent these "trances" consistently took a very long time. In this way, I learned to redirected myself from dissociating, and stay present with what was happening, but I didn't yet learn to "hold" my own feelings.

It took a great deal of therapy to create an environment safe enough to "hold" my feelings and to resolve them with self-compassion and love. At first, I was so out of my comfort zone, I felt like I was feeling my away around in the dark. I kept asking my therapist, "Is it normal to feel this way?" I had no frame of reference.

Just like with any healing, we don't just turn on a switch and suddenly "feel" everything. It would be too much. Our psyche can only take on so much pain at once and our minds guide us through the process in baby steps as we are ready to take on more feelings. (See "What? I Can Feel This?")

Sometimes, it felt like I would never get to the other side, but I did, and it feels more rewarding than I ever thought possible.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

To all those contending with the turmoil surrounding an abusive family of origin and to those dealing with the pain of family estrangement, my thoughts and prayers are with you all this holiday season.

Warmest Wishes,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves and for Others - Part Four

I've been writing about topics of abuse, premature forgiveness, estrangement, and reconciliation repetitively and with great regularity for more than a decade and a half. In doing so, my thoughts on these subjects have remained central to my life, and have constantly evolved. I have shared this evolution in my books, articles, private message boards, e-mails, letters, and on this blog.

During the years that my abuse and estrangement recovery were a part of my daily life, I had much to write about. I have enjoyed the opportunity to provide survivors a glimmer of hope. Now that abuse and estrangement are more of a distant memory than a present reality, I find that I'm running out of things to say. I no longer have the regular "triggers" that provide new aspects to write about. As a survivor, that is good news!

I admire the many bloggers who share their recovery as it happens; when they are still raw and reeling with authentic emotions. They offer a glimpse into the process as it happens. Mine are reflections on how it was then. Over the past year, I have searched my mind to recall the different aspects of my recovery that were particularly difficult and to write a post on how I dealt with my struggle to overcome my pain.

I've been wrestling for the last few months with what it means at this point in my life to be a survivor. I feel tugged in two directions; a kinship and a desire to help those on the journey for which I have much empathy, along with a desire to find a balance and reap the rewards of my own healing.

Writing takes a great deal of emotional energy; however, my energy is often restored when someone writes to me to let me know that my energy is well spent.

I will continue to post, although with less regularity. Please feel free to peruse my older posts. I have much information here about my recovery from abuse and estrangement. When I think of something I would like to say, I will write about it.

Also, if anyone is struggling with something and would like my thoughts, I would be happy to share how I handled a similar situation, if I can.

You can post a comment or question here, or e-mail me through the e-mail address on my profile page.

Writing is and has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. It is an honor to be a part of a community of survivors!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves, and for Others - Part Three

Twelve years after I began writing the first draft of my manuscript (Mother, I don't Forgive You), Heal and Forgive went to publication. By this time, I knew a number of other abuse survivors and I felt largely healed from my trauma. Yet, the pain of family estrangement continued to rear its heartbreaking head. Although the subject of abuse is no longer taboo in our society, family estrangement is still a topic hidden in shame.

I joined a number of online estrangement support groups, and found solace that I was not alone in this experience. In sharing our circumstances, receiving validation, and offering support to others, once again, I found greater clarity about my healing and recovery from family estrangement. I posted to these groups and wrote in private correspondence almost daily for nearly three years.

The cycle of writing/healing, and healing/writing, aided me again when, after fourteen years of estrangement, my brother contacted me and we all began the process of family reconciliation. I am positive that I would not have been healed enough to explore the possibility of reuniting with my family without the support of my fellow estrangees, the sharing of experiences, and the opportunity to heal through the written word.

Emotionally, writing Heal and Forgive II took a lot out of me, but I wrote with the hope that I could help others; return the support that has been given to me; offer a blueprint for the possibility of healing from family violence, and perhaps even that which I always thought was impossible - forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Sharing my story has felt very vulnerable. Although writing has undoubtedly been healing for me, the real reward has been in having the opportunity to turn my negative experiences into a positive by advocating for other survivors. The feedback I receive "fills my tank." Offering hope, empathy, and validation to others is not only helpful to them, but soothes me as well, as we connect in our mutual humanity.....

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves and for Others - Part Two

As my healing journey progressed, I soaked up information like a sponge; received a great deal of validation from others; expressed my anger; mourned my losses, and then, a confusing thing happened; I started to feel a glimmer of forgiveness. "No! I resisted, "That can't be!"

After militantly standing in the healing freedom of non-forgiveness for four years, this did not seem like a good thing. I didn't want to give up my safety. In my confusion, I abandoned my quest for publication.

Another four years passed before a friend asked me what happened to my manuscript. I told him that I had abandoned it because I was in a different emotional place. He said, "Why don't you continue anyway? I'm sure there are many people who are in the place you were and would benefit from your sharing the growth you experienced during your period of non-forgiveness. "

His words haunted me for months before I began to write again. I was in a quandary. How could I write a book titled Mother, I Don't Forgive You, if I was beginning to forgive? I didn't want to be disingenuous or to be one of those annoying people waving the forgiveness flag. I understood the pain of premature forgiveness all too well.

I felt deeply compelled to share with other survivors in order to spare them the delayed healing that I had suffered during all my wrong turns, detours and dead ends. Somehow, I wanted to write in a fashion that truly honored the experience when it was important NOT to forgive and still honor the place my journey was taking me. In other words, the entire process.

Of course, once again, writing helped me heal, and gave me greater clarity about my entire healing and forgiveness journey. This clarity helped me express myself in an authentic fashion.......