I’m so deep in this hole, I’m having trouble seeing how I will get out. Thankfully, because of my trauma, my mind created fragments, or parts. The human body is designed to adapt, to survive. Even our minds are made to adapt and survive. I’m not sure if I should be in awe of that or horrified. Maybe both. But my mind was determined to adapt and survive, and in my family growing up, I had to be able to function, to be be perfect and more than normal— I needed to be the all american, perfect, involved, popular, beautiful, smart, little girl, teenager, college student. So Bea has this theory that my mind split into extra parts; it created these “going on with normal life parts” to deal with things. It’s why I am so very, very good at switching from a complete mess to a smiling hostess, asking after a guest, in thirty seconds flat. It’s why I can shut off my emotions, get control of myself, and walk out of Bea’s office after an intense session, as if we just had tea and cookies. So, despite being so far down this hole, I can’t even see a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a part of me that is determined to survive.
Now, I feel like I better put some trigger warnings in here, but for what exactly I’m not sure. I just know it has been a really terrible week and a half. I’ve used some not so awesome coping skills. I’ve had some not so good thoughts about how to make it all go away. I’ve had a lot of nightmares and confusion over the abuse and what really happened and what it all meant, and as shamed as I am over it all, I’m so tired of being afraid and alone with it all. So, I’m going to write and write and write, and I’m not going to edit myself. I’m going to let it be raw and authentic and me. Because that was why I started this blog, to have a place to be truly, authentically me. I’ve been blessed to have found a community of bloggers who accept me. I don’t have to hide anymore (at least here, in bloggy land). So, trigger warning and all that jazz, okay?
Wednesday, a week ago, before Bea left for her trip
I’d redraw my own version, which had my “noticing brain” bypassing my amygdala and going straight to the reptilian brain, with the explanation that I was broken. “All that happens when I use my noticing brain to pay attention to sensations, or even emotions, is that somatic scared stuff increases, safety is not restored, and the body is not calmed. Everything is more activated! The alarm is not turned off and the reptilian brain does not calm down.” I had written that if Bea notices my fingers moving and comments on it, I will work very hard to focus on my fingers and stop moving them, I will focus on being very, very still, so that there is nothing for her to notice, nothing for her to draw my attention to because it is not safe.
Bea nods, it makes sense to her. I’m agitated. In my head, I’m sarcastic, and I’m thinking, “of course it makes sense to her. Everything freaking makes sense to her.”
“It’s where the disorganized attachment comes on,” She begins. My stomach flips, and I feel cold but hot at the same time. She’s bringing up attachment, she’s talking about me and how I relate in relationships. I spaced out for most of what she was saying, but I think it was basically something like this, explaining how disorganized attachment or relationships that maybe weren’t always safe feeling could lead to the issue of noticing things making me more agitated, not calmer. Bea’s explanation was probably much more conversational and normalizing, but this was what I could find in my search online. If anyone has anything to add, please do!
“When we feel safe in relationship, we stay within our window of tolerance and our cortex stays functional. When we perceive threat or danger, the SNS arouses the amygdala to prepare for fight or flight. We can experience this as an emotional hijacking; our rational self temporarily nowhere to be found. When we perceive a life threat, the PNS calms down everything, down to the point of shut down. We go numb and freeze. The most well-known structure of the limbic system is the amygdala, almond shaped structures of perception-appraisal-response. Our 24/7 alarm center, constantly scanning the environment for threat or danger, even in our sleep. The amygdala generates the fight – flight response, very important to attachment.
The amygdala is also the core of our interactive social processing and the center of our emotional learning. The amygdala assesses every experience, including relational experience, for safety or danger, for pleasure or pain, and pairs each experience with an emotional valence, an emotional charge, positive or negative, that makes us approach or avoid similar experiences in the future. The more intense the emotional charge, the more neurons will fire in our brain and the more likely we will register the experience in implicit memory. The amygdala operates below the radar of conscious awareness, and it stores all of its responses to experience in implicit memory, outside of awareness.
The amygdala operates much faster than the more complex cortex – 200 milliseconds to trigger fight or flight rather than the 3-5 seconds of the cortex that notices we just got in somebody’s face or bolted out of the room just precious seconds before. So the processing of the amygdala does not have to come to our awareness for an experience to register and be stored in our implicit memory. 80% of the time it doesn’t.
Here’s where that disorganized attachment challenge comes in………. Any emotional-relational-social experiences that are processed before the brain structures that can process experience consciously are fully mature, those experiences are stored only in implicit memory, only outside of awareness. This includes ALL early patterns of attachment. Attachment patterns are stable and unconscious before we have any conscious choice in the matter and unless new experiences change them, will remain stable “rules” of relating well into adulthood.
Unfortunately, for purposes of attachment, because the amygdala is the structure of both our social emotional processing and is our fear center, the negotiation of relationships and the modulation of fear so overlap, our earliest relating, our earliest implicit experience of self can have a bias toward the negative.
If the parenting style of the parent is Pre-occupied: inconsistent, unpredictable, sometimes attentive and loving, sometimes harsh or punitive, sometimes over-involved, sometimes off in their own world –
Then the attachment style that develops in the child is likely to be Insecure-Anxious: the child is insecure about the reliability of the parent for safety-protection; they are not easily soothed; ambivalence: they are sometimes clingy and possessive, sometimes angry-defiant. There is an internalization of anxious mom. There is a focus on others, not on self.
Insecurely-anxious children are likely to become Insecure-Anxious adults: they are subject to abandonment fears; there is chronic vigilance about attachment-separation, there is emotional dysregulation and anxiety, passivity and lack of coping; there can be a victim stance.
In insecure-anxious attachment, the sympathetic nervous system is over-stimulated and under-regulated. The personal can feel flooded with stress, fear of abandonment, panic and not be able to self regulate enough, not enough calming of the parasympathetic nervous system. There is energy for fight; people engage through anger aggression.
If the parenting style of the parent becomes Disorganized: if the parent, even temporarily, is fragmented, disorganized, dissociated; or is frightening, bizarre, abusive, traumatizing to the child –
Then the attachment style of the child can become Disorganized: the child can become, even temporarily, helpless, paralyzed, fragmented, chaotic dissociated; they cannot focus; they cannot soothe.
Experiences of disorganized attachment can lead to an Unresolved/Disorganized adult: there are difficulties functioning; they are unable to regulate emotions; there are dissociative defenses.
In disorganized attachment, “fright without solution,” there can be such a sense of danger or life threat, even the momentum of the amygdala, the flight-fight response, collapses. Only the brainstem is operating. The parasympathetic nervous system over-regulates bodily energy to the point of paralysis and helplessness.”
When she finishes explaining, in that moment, part of me believes her and feels better, because at least there is a reason, a logical explanation that this noticing/mindfulness/being present, makes me feel more anxious and freaked out. At least I’m not crazy and broken. But the rest of me feels off, like she’s just spouting shrink talk at me to make me feel better, but it doesn’t solve anything, and I’m not really understanding it, but I can’t even get to a place where I can ask her about it because I don’t want to discuss relationships.
I hand her a notebook, a new one, because even when notebooks aren’t finished, sometimes I just really need to change them, get away from what was written in one, I don’t know. So, I hand her a new notebook, it’s slim, and had a pink and turquoise paisley pattern on it.
I’d written about having awful dreams, and the bad things in my head, and how if Bea could see inside my head, she would know how bad I was, how disgusting and bad, and awful I really truly was, she would despise me, blame me, and she would leave. I’d written about blank spaces in my memory, and having to fill in gaps. I’d written that the words I do have are fuzzy and difficult and that it’s all too awful because everytime I go to find the words in my head, I just panic and can’t think.
Bea reads. “Mmmhmmm, you are really scared. I’m not going anywhere. Even if I could be inside your head, I wouldn’t think you bad, or blame that little girl. I’m not leaving. Whatever that little girl went through, whatever she thinks she did, she did to survive, and I’m not leaving her. Okay?”
I’m crying now. I don’t know why, exactly. Bea’s words make me sad. I’m thinking they should make me happy, she is saying she won’t leave, but I’m sad, and scared and crying instead.
“What’s coming up for you? What’s happening right now?” She asks.
“I….you don’t know. You don’t know. You only have……those sentences, and I just…it’s not….” I’m continually stopping, shaking my heading and then starting again.
“Who is shaking their head?” She asks me. When I can only shake my head in response and shrug my shoulders, she says, “Maybe a protector part? Is the the part with that amazing filter? An editing part, maybe?”
I shrug, and nod. It makes sense. The part with the filter.
“Can you ask her to step back for a little bit? We can let her know she does such a great job filtering things out and keeping your secrets, keeping you safe, but it’s okay to take a little rest right now. I can take care of the little girl right now. She needs a chance to speak, too. I’ll make sure she is safe.” Bea is speaking in this low, soft tone, this careful conversational tone. She is really here, that much I can tell, shes here and she’s in this with me, and maybe, just maybe, she really means it when she says she is not leaving.
For a minute, the little girl feels connected to Bea, she feels safe. I even lift my head from where it had been buried in my knees, hiding, and meet Bea’s gaze. All I see is acceptance. All the little girl feels from Bea right then is acceptance, and safety, and understanding. Before I can stop myself, I blurt out, “Everything in my whole life is flipped now. Everything is flipped and I don’t want it to be true, but it is, and I’m not okay, it’s not okay, nothing it okay and I don’t have any words and Its too hard.” And then a massive amount of tears burst free, and I’m doing that ugly crying thing.
On Monday, the little girl has written something for Bea to read. I referenced it in my blog post, but did not share what it was. *****I’m going to say trigger warning, just in case, because this is a memory about the abuse that is deeply disturbing ******* I had written about how, I have this memory, of bits and pieces, blended up and thrown back at me, of being at the summer cabin. I’m maybe 7, or 8. It’s night, or at least it is dark and it feels like night time. I’m in the hallway, and there is this feeling of I am not supposed to be up and out of bed, but I’m standing outside a room, and Kenny is in the room, with his little sister, my then-best friend.
There’s more to that memory, bits and peices, mixed up and confusing, frightening, but that was all the little girl had written to Bea about it, and that was enough.
“What do you mean, everything is flipped?” She questions. She is curious, and open, and even though I’m sort of far away, I can feel that.
I shake my head. I can’t explain it. I want to, I do, but right now it’s more of a feeling, it’s not something I can logic out and pit words to. And I’m afraid if I try, I might have that breakdown.
“Sometimes, a person might feel as though they took on the role of the abuser, if they participated in certain situations,” Bea says carefully. “A child wouldn’t be to blame, I would never think a little girl was bad if this was the case. Is that what you mean by everything being flipped?”
I freeze. I can’t move. She knows. She knows and it is not okay and everything is falling apart. I don’t know how long I am frozen there for. Maybe a second, maybe a minute, maybe an hour. Time has no meaning when you are that frozen. When I move, it’s to sit up and grab my bag.
Bea is saying something, trying to tell me she doesn’t think I am bad or that the little girl is bad, that she does not blame me, that none of this is my fault. She’s speaking soothing words to the little girl. I can’t really hear her, though. None of it matters. She knows this horrible awful thing. Maybe the worst thing, and it’s too much. I can’t handle it.
“Stop it. Just stop it!” I shout at her. “Shut up! Shut up, shut up! I’m not doing this. I won’t do this.” And I walk out.
To be continued in part two………….