Archive for April, 2012

Reflection on the Past 2 Weeks: Avoidance and Nightmares

1. Dealing with conflict instead of avoiding it

I had to deal with situations that made me uncomfortable over the past two weeks and instead of not saying anything, I said something about it. I didn’t avoid conflict but tried to address it. I could still use some practice in this area. It’s very difficult and makes me feel terrible. But, at the same time I feel relieved I said something. Though I don’t think it would really help. But, I guess that’s why it’s important I push myself to ask for things. You never get anything without asking for it.

2. Working on things I have been avoiding in general

I took some major steps this past week to work on things I want to that I have been avoiding because I associate them with abuse or my abusers. Although the steps may be small in the grand scheme of things, doing these things made me very excited to be getting a little closer to my goals and to break free the association of these things with my abusers.

3. Nightmares are just reminders of the types of people and behavior you need to be wary of

I had a couple bad nightmares of being attacked again over the past couple of weeks. I know one was triggered by someone in particular who was exhibiting behaviors I was all too familiar with: yelling and arguing over minute things, throwing things violently at someone, and engaging in anti social behaviors. When I talked about this in therapy, my therapist said something that struck home and made the idea that I might always have nightmares of being attacked the rest of my life a little more tangible or ok. They said,

“Nightmares are just reminders of the types of people and behavior you need to be wary of. It’s your mind’s way of warning you, “Hey, something’s wrong.””

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Quest: Understanding Guilt

This week I started the chapters on coming to terms with guilt in the workbook Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence. Other than starting the workbook, these have been the hardest chapters so far.

The chapters have you address:
1) Guilt about leaving your abuser (e.g. Failed marriage, leaving someone who is dependent on you, etc.)

2) Guilt about why you were in the relationship in the first place and what was the first sign that you should have left (first signs that he would be abusive)

3) To think about a time where you think you should have left but didn’t and reasons why you didn’t leave at that time and to evaluate whether those reasons were good enough to warrant staying

4) To think about if you did leave then, what would have happened?

I think if I filled out these questionnaires a year ago my answers would have been very different and exhibited a lot more guilt. So I have come a long way but it was still very hard to think of all the emotions that went into those times and decision making.

I had very clear, cut and dry answers to these questions.

1) Guilt about leaving your abuser (e.g. Failed marriage, leaving someone who is dependent on you, etc.)

I knew the reasons I felt guilty about leaving, but I also knew they are irrational now. There were several more than these but here are some examples.

Reason: Failed marriage and breaking my obligation to it
Why It’s Irrational: It is much more important to be safe and healthy, mentally and physically.

Reason: He depended heavily on me emotionally and financially.
Why It’s Irrational: He is resourceful and is plenty capable of taking care of himself. I need to worry about my needs, safety and well being.

Reason: People will judge me poorly
Why It’s Irrational: I know plenty of people now who have gone through divorce and they feel this way, that people will judge them for being divorced, for their marriage failing or even for ever being in the marriage in the first place. First of all, this is also you judging yourself this way because those thoughts do cross your mind when you think of others who are divorced. Second of all, it really doesn’t matter what other people think. You need to be happy, healthy, and safe. The people who are going to judge you poorly, you don’t need them in your life anyway. The people who really care about you are going to understand and love you no matter what.

2) Guilt about why you were in the relationship in the first place and what was the first sign that you should have left (first signs that he would be abusive)

I remembered clearly the first event that should have clued me in that he was abusive and I should have left then. It was very early on in our relationship. I don’t know why it didn’t shake me up more and why I didn’t say anything to anybody to ask whether it was acceptable or not. From therapy I learned this was most likely because it was behavior I was used to from growing up and I didn’t know any better. But, things got much worse from there on and yet I still stayed and thought it was acceptable. Now I know it is not and anytime I find some behavior questionable in a relationship, I should talk to someone about it, with a family member or close friend.

3) To think about a time where you think you should have left but didn’t and reasons why you didn’t leave at that time and to evaluate whether those reasons were good enough to warrant staying

I remembered a point in time where I was so close to leaving to stay at a hotel or friend’s place, but I gave in to his pleas and went back in the house. The workbook has you identify two main reasons you didn’t leave at that time. Mine were:

A) I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because they would judge me and him poorly so I couldn’t deal with being alone in a hotel or calling a friend and having to tell them what was going on to get out of there for a night
B) I had work obligations the next day and felt like I couldn’t just drop them or call in sick

Thinking back on these reasons, these were pretty weak. I also did end up leaving about 9 months later. I did call a domestic violence hotline, my family and a friend. These people did not judge me poorly and work was understanding.

4) To think about if you did leave then, what would have happened?

I thought if I did leave then I would have gone back with the stipulation that he needed to get help with his behavior. I think this would have made things much worse and I could have ended up dead.

But, like I said, I did leave 9 months later and with great advice, I am very much so alive, safe, happy, on the way to recovery, and looking forward to my future.

When SuperBetter posted about Post Traumatic Growth, the idea Post Traumatic Growth is no joke. I can certainly say, unlike many others around me, I have a new view on life. Everything in life is an opportunity and every opportunity is amazing. I wish everyone could feel like this. This past year and a half has been the most amazing time of my life and I am really looking forward to getting better, stronger, and fulfilling my goals. So there you have it. You can get over your guilt and move on with certainty and courage.

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Quest: Try to Get Angry and Deal With It

Awhile back I saw one of the SuperBetter Heroes on the forum who is also battling PTSD talk about anger. When I bought the workbook Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence I thought, “Why do I need a chapter on anger?” I commented on the forum, I know anger is going to be something I need to address but I’m just not there yet. I’ve really suppressed my anger. I hardly ever express anger. Frustration and being upset, but not really anger. I read the chapter and noticed the day after reading it I started to be aware of the things that actually made me “angry” or upset. So I know it’s there. I just haven’t found the right way for me to express it yet.

I know when I was a kid there was one very important event where I learned that it’s better not to bottle everything up. I learned why it’s important to deal with anger, but never really learned how to.

The chapter drove home a principal that’s always been really important to me. I always felt being angry is a waste of time. It doesn’t resolve anything and it makes you feel terrible. But, this doesn’t mean you should suppress your anger and move on. It is much better to address your anger right then and there. I don’t think this means you should explode with rage like my ex-husband would, but you should talk about it and understand why you feel that way.

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Quest: Asking for Help & Breaking Free of Isolation

Last week I really tested out what I learned about Hypervigilance with a great group of people. Each time my mind started to wonder things like “What did they really mean by that?”, “Maybe they don’t like me,” and etc., I stopped and responded to myself with things like, “Let’s table that for later in case I still feel that way about it”, or “Do you really think that’s true?” Before I knew it, the hyper arousal turned itself off and I had a great time. People even commented on how much more involved I was with the group than last year. I got to know two amazing people on the trip a lot better now too and am looking forward to hanging out with them more over the next year.

When I got home though, something devastating happened. Instead of internalizing everything and isolating myself, I reached out to someone and I am really glad I did. Reaching out to one person triggered a chain reaction of reaching out to more people throughout the week. I made plans and spent time with people who I enjoy spending time with who gave me great support and who I wanted to get to know more. I even stopped someone in the hallway to talk about one of my most favorite hobbies, running, and made lunch plans for next week. It was a big difference from the rut I kind of got myself in since starting my life over a year ago. Every once in a while I make the effort to get myself out of it, but this time I felt like I had a major click go off in my head and I hope that this will be a permanent change. By Friday, I responded to a post about needing allies for coping with major life changes to not be so isolated.

Over the past year and a half I’ve dealt with major life changes and so are a few of my friends. A few of us have now gone through divorces, new relationships, moves and one of us have lost someone who was extremely close to them who they used to be a caregiver for. All of us have been dealing with these changes by asking friends for help, setting days and times aside to regularly spend time with friends and continually making plans with each other to do things, even if it’s a couple months in advance like running marathons together or going to a wine tasting or camping or renting a cabin for a weekend together to hang out and go skiing. These things and asking each other for help make us grow stronger and closer together. The key thing is anytime someone invites you to something try to arrange things so you can accept the invitation and open up to people and listen. Also don’t be afraid to call, email, text people to make plans for anything like coffee, a walk or just to say I saw this article you’d think was cool or etc. it’s funny! I’m just learning this stuff and am getting the hang of it. Once you start doing this more and more you get hooked on it. If you don’t already have people in your life, you can get some by making time to do activities you love or talking to someone in the grocery store or on your bus or who you work with who you think is neat.

I couldn’t believe I found myself giving this advice. I’ve know all along how to do this from watching other people, but what made it so hard? Why do people isolate themselves?

Looking into myself and my past, I realize I had been “shut down” or “numb”. I also had a large amount of social anxiety from past experiences. But, this devastating event pushed me to completely open up and need to reach out. I would like to really encourage others who are going through something similar to not be afraid and reach out to people. You might be told no or be ignored from time to time, but do not let that discourage you, and keep trying it. I think back to the day I left my abuser. I made one phone call to a domestic violence hotline and having that one person support me and help me through it made the world of a difference. Why wouldn’t I keep reaching out? The world is full of amazing people and some of them are really going to care, as you will for them too.

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