Doing Memory Work with No Memory

After my last post, I lost about 36 hours of time.  The good thing is, whoever was fronting didn’t jet off or go anywhere.  During this blank period of time, I apparently self-harmed, forgot how a cell phone works, and even talked to my therapist on said forgotten-how-this-works cell phone.

I had a 2nd session with our therapist, K. after coming out of this dissociative episode on Thursday evening.  I don’t remember much of this session   It’s really vague.  I just remember going back and forth with her on intense feelings of suicide and depression.  She kept trying to remind me that these thoughts are from a time in the past when I was being hurt, and I am safe today.

Yesterday (Friday), I stayed home from work.  I was exhausted, probably from all the switching.  Around 2pm my cell phone rang, and it woke me up.  K’s name is on the caller ID, so I answer.

“Good Afternoon, Nel, it’s K.” She cheerily says.  “Where are you?”

“Ah…hi, K.  At home.”  I groggily answer.

“And you were sleeping.” She states.

“Yah.” It doesn’t surprise me by now that she can read me through the phone.

“Then, I’m glad I called.  I was thinking you could have your regular Monday session early tomorrow (Saturday).” She says.

“What? Why?” Now I’m confused. Why is she calling me?  Why does she want me to come in early?

“Well, because now you’re missing work.  I think we should meet before Monday, so we can work a little on what’s going on, to increase the probability you won’t call out sick on Monday, too.” She responds.

“Oh.” I say, flatly.  “I guess, ok.”

“We could meet on Sunday, if you prefer.” She waits but I don’t respond, “Or if you’d rather keep your Monday session, that’s fine, too.  I just thought I’d offer.”

“No, it’s ok.  I’ll come in tomorrow.”  I say.  “I trust your opinion, so if you think coming in before Monday is important, I’ll do it.”

“Great! Since I know you’ve been sleeping so much, how about we meet in the morning tomorrow?”

I sigh, “Ok.”

“And you’ll bring your homework.” She adds.

“My homework? What homework?” I’m totally confused.  Not even a vague, ohhh yeah, she assigned homework.

“Mm-hm.” K. says. “You were going to invite Clara to do some collaging.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I know.” K. says seriously.

“This is what I hate about dissociation.  It makes me scared when I can’t remember what I’ve done.  Like, it’s not there at all.  Not even a vague recollection.”  My stomach is now curled up in knots due to the anxiety.

“Nel, I’m sorry you’re so scared.  I can only imagine how frightening it must be to not remember things you’ve done.”  She says empathetically.

As always, I’m uncomfortable receiving kind words, so I move to end the phone call.  Surprisingly, she allows me to direct the conversation this way.  But not without repeating she will see me tomorrow with homework in hand.

After the phone call, I dig up an envelope full of magazine cut-outs that I brought home from Sheppard Pratt.  I internally ask Clara if she would like to help choose some things for the collage.  I don’t get any verbal response.  I don’t even feel like she’s there.  But it’s not hard to start picking out things.

I go through 2 more magazines and pull out some more things.

Then, someone pulls out our acrylic paints.  Pink, blue, and purple gets dropped on a blank canvas page, and we go to town.  Someone makes an imaginary landscape of brightly colored trees alongside some water.  The cutouts are purposely placed above or below the water.

When we’re done, Mina and I come back forward.  I’m floored.  I have no idea who has done it, but the artwork is both beautiful and frightening.  It draws you in with its beauty and then floods you with fear.  It’s like a deception.

As if to purposely trigger.

I know I should put it away, but I want to keep looking at it.  Eventually, after a couple hours, I do place it aside.

We went to therapy this morning at 10am as promised.  We brought in the painting/collage, hugging it to our chest.  Switching is all over the place.  I switch to Clara, which I believe is in System 3, but a different layer of the system.  I switch to an O—- part in System 5, or maybe a T—- part in System 4, I’m not sure.  There’s so much deception and flooding going on, and it’s all vague to me at best.

I’m not sure what work got done, if any, and now I’m co-conscious with Mina and Meg (Meg is one of our teen protector parts).  We were so tired when we came home from the session, we managed to each a bit of rice and passed out.

I wonder if she gave me any homework.

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Containment, for the win!

I had therapy yesterday with our therapist, K.  We spent the session reviewing some therapy homework.  At the end of the session, I told her there was something I needed to say.

K. waited, quietly.  Sometimes she takes the approach of saying nothing, to allow my to get internal communication or put my words together.

I continued, “It’s to do with being in the shower.  Nearly every time I’m in the shower, I hear things people said to me.  I never have a picture memory, it’s just these things that were said.”

K. waited.  I didn’t say anything.  “Do you need to say them outloud?”

“I don’t want to say them outloud.  I don’t want to hear it, even though I hear it in my head all the time.” My eyesight diverted to the floor as the shame came on.

“Could you write them down?” K. asked.

I thought for a moment. “Yeah, maybe.  I mean, it might work.”  I reach over for my journal.

K. stopped me.  “Would you rather write them on a sticky?  Instead of having them in your notebook, where it might be difficult to tear it out, if someone doesn’t want the words in there?”

I feel a big YES! from inside.  I nod.

K. hands me a stack of blue sticky notes.

I’m including the following words I wrote for support.  However, there is no expectation you read them.  Often, I click on trigger warnings out of curiosity.  I want you to know that the words below are NOT safe. I do NOT expect you to read them.  In fact, they are not necessary to “get” the rest of this post.

Trigger Warning:  Graphic words behind this break!
      • “You like that, don’t you?”
      • “She likes that.”
      • “I’m going to make you —.
      • “You’re going to —, NOW.”

 
I handed the sticky to her.  “I want to leave these here.”  I don’t remember if she read them or not.  But as I told her I wanted to leave them, we simultaneously spoke internally.  Parts understood that the memory/words would be left behind in her office.  Everything tough that comes along with it would stay there, safe, until next week.

It was a success in Containment! I did some grounding skills and was able to leave/drive safely home.  Today, I have had zero “fallout” from the session, which is a-freakin-mazing.

It’s great to be reminded that I can use these symptom management skills, and–oh yeah–they DO work!

Why is therapy a slow process?

K. and I are reviewing treatment goals. 

“Of course,” She says, “There’s the ongoing goals of monitoring triggers, safety, improving internal communication…” She pauses while thinking.  “And we haven’t even gotten to grieving loss yet.”

I was trying to listen, but I lost the tail-end of her sentence.  “We haven’t gotten to what yet?”

“Grieving loss.  Loss of control of the body, loss of self-identity, loss of safety…”

I started to get floaty and check out.

K. nodded, “Aaaand, now I’m triggering you.  I think we’ll stop there.”

I can’t even talk about treatment goals without dissociating. :/

Recorder Parts

I’ve long suspected I have parts whose job it is to report back to our abusers, but I’ve never had internal communication with them. Clara hinted that she couldn’t talk to our therapist, K., as freely anymore now that she knows there are others listening.

I didn’t write about this, but our session last week was abruptly halted when another part came forward to stop Clara from sharing with K. This part was not cooperative with K. and would not say much else.

K. asked for more clarification, like what does Clara mean others are listening, who, etc. Clara took K.’s clipboard and a blank sheet of paper and started “pretend writing” like someone is recording notes. “Like this, when people write for a long time and write down everything that happens.”

“That’s why I have to be careful because I know things even they don’t know.” Clara said proudly.

“Oh, you know things they don’t? So that’s why you don’t want to say them out loud because you don’t want them to write it down?” K. repeats.

“Yes.” Clara nods. “But I think…” Clara believes the recording parts can see too, and she really wants to tell K. something but keep it a secret from those other parts. She starts to draw on the paper on the clipboard. It’s a drawing of what looks like a girl sitting alone somewhere indoors. She is frowning/sad and looks up at a Pac-Man ghost floating above her in the center of the drawing. Clara gives the drawing to K.

It is clear K. wants to ask questions but is unsure how to do so given Clara’s concerns. It was nearing the end of the session anyway, so she thanked Clara and promised nobody else would see the drawing. That she would keep it safe.

Fast forward today, I’m surprised I can even remember this happening. I have zero emotion attached to Clara’s session with K. I’m not really sure what Pac-Man means or why parts would be writing things down except to maybe scare us.

They always used to threaten that the government gave them supplies to monitor us at all times like tape recorders. I guess it would make sense that I have parts that literally record things.

Maybe that’s why I am struggling so much building internal communication. Everyone is too scared to talk and have their conversations written down.

Finding Tranquility Amidst Distress

Recovery isn’t perfect.  You can be going along, doing well, and even feel like you’re making awesome progress.  Then, a trigger seemingly hits out of nowhere, or a switch happens with no warning, throwing internal harmony out the window.

Last night, one of my child parts, C., who our therapist, K., has been spending several consecutive sessions working with, was experiencing severe panic as we were trying to fall asleep.  C. often tends to be compelled to focus on the perception of danger, even when there is no danger present.  She is always looking for things to prove we are still in trauma time.

C. also appears to be impacted by RA-related traumas (we’re not yet sure exactly how).  Therefore, our internal communication with each other is inconsistent.  Mina and I try to talk to her often. I can count on one hand how many times we seem to reach C.

As the night wore on, both Mina and I became less and less capable of practicing grounding skills and staying forward.  As C. became more forward, she acted just like someone would in an emergency.  Fear and terror kicked in along with a lot of freeze, flight, and collapse behaviors.  

This continued on into the morning.  It was significant.  We hadn’t been in such an extended, overwhelming crisis since being inpatient.

“Do you need to call K?” [The Fiance] asked this morning.

C., who does not yet trust K., of course shook her head. “No. no. no.” She was crying hysterically, hiccupping, and didn’t want to accept any of his help, even going so far as pushing away tissues he offered.

Fortunately, [The Fiance] remained calm.  He respected her wishes for boundaries, but stayed attentive and listened to her.  Empathy was key here.  There was a moment when he said, “I know you’re upset, but remember that it’s all in your mind. It’s all in the past.”

As you can imagine, that made absolutely no sense to a part stuck in trauma time.  It only made her cry more and insist that this was all real.

Eventually, he started to understand how what he said had been offensive.  He acknowledged, “Ok, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.  Yes, what you are feeling and what happened is real.  But what is equally real is I am not going to hurt you.  I believe you.”

Eventually, his empathy and cooperation allowed for Mina and I to be more forward.  He did exactly what we could not do for C.  We’re all feeling much more secure now, and it has made us stop and reflect tonight.

Internal communication, empathy, and internal cooperation are always the main goals.  But what can we do as a system when internal communication isn’t up to speed yet with new parts, and symptoms are off the scale?

Here is what we learned…

  1. A basic attitude of mutual empathy is #1 in understanding other parts and helping them make effective decisions (e.g. grounding instead of compelled to to focus on danger).  Listen to parts and try to reassure or comfort.  Even a little bit goes a long way.
  2. Once C. felt heard and respected, she was able to calm down.  This allowed us to move in and begin grounding and self-soothing skills to help the whole system move forward from this event safely.
  3. Once grounding is established and parts are in their safe spaces, we can fall back on the skills we learned inpatient like…
  4. Orientation Messages – There are several ways to orient parts to the present.  In therapy, K. often verbalizes to them where they are and the current year. She provides examples, like the name of the President, or shows them around her office.  Orientation Cards are Index Cards we keep with us (taped to the front a of journal, or kept inside our Grounding Kit.  They contain a quick message about the current place and time and explain we are safe.  They explain that the person we live with is safe and share [The Fiance’s] name.  This is all done in bright colors which are appealing to children.  Sometimes, if we know which part is struggling, we re-create the Orientation Card with quotes they like or messages they think are helpful.  All parts are not helped by the same Orientation technique, so it’s important we have them help us.  If we don’t have internal communication yet, we have discovered using imagery with present-day technology (not around during the abuse) helps us bypass programming to get safety messages to subsystems.  For example, we may use a drone which is capable of providing a safe audio message about the place and time and can fly over traps.
  5. Distraction Techniques – Conscious, voluntary distraction can give our parts a “reset” button on feeling overwhelmed.  Today, we took some time to focus on a video game which a lot of the kids enjoy.  This allowed us to take some deep breaths and enjoy the music in the game.
  6. Containment – Tonight, we will be carving out some time in our internal meeting to focus on containment.  Just in case C. is listening, we will remind everyone containment is not ignoring anyone’s feelings, but acknowledging it, putting it in a safe place, and promising to review it tomorrow in therapy with K.

Lastly, we will be enacting a BDA (Before-During-After) Plan.  Tomorrow is Monday, which means we have to report to our Full Time job.  It is likely we will be sensitive to triggers right now, and in order to be grounded and present at work, it is imperative to create a plan ahead of time.  Hopefully, work is smooth sailing tomorrow and nothing happens, but it’s always good to go in with a plan.

Having a BDA not only helps improve internal communication in our system, but it gives us a sense of a “safety measure” and we have control over a situation where C. feels largely powerless.

Note: Part of the “Before” and “After” parts of the plan, I have written elsewhere which I call the “Morning Routine” and “Night Routine.”  As they sound, they are set routines incorporating skills to assist parts have a good morning and fall asleep easily at night.

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