Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Abandoning Fears

One of the consequences of being moved 19 times in your first 18 years of life is learning to very quickly let go of people.  Add to that the primary Rule of Isolation in an abusive household, and you have an adult who at the least does not truly understand the nature of friendship and at worst is suspicious of it.

To make it just a wee bit more complicated, consider the fact that the central thesis of BPD is an intense fear of abandonment based on experience.  Most people categorized as BPD were abandoned as children, either literally or emotionally (and I'm pretty sure there is really no difference there considering how the brain works).

These abandonment experiences are not simply to be "let go of," as they penetrate the body and remain entwined in the shadows of our very fibers...and they change the brain physiologically in ways we are just beginning to understand.

My brain is different from yours, unless you are lucky enough to share much in common with my past.  If you had a fairly safe and secure and predictable childhood, you have no idea.  If you experienced abuse as an adult, even, you have only a fraction of an idea, as these later experiences will not change nearly as significantly (or in as many areas) what is already set as neurological pattern in your brain.

My essential, base experience of life is that it is unsafe, that people are pain, and that death lurks everywhere so be on constant vigil.

As I work with dialectical behavior therapy, I am learning the value of things like distraction.  When my brain is acting extra wonky, for example, to the point of creating elevated levels of fear and anxiety, it's good to do something for distraction's sake.

I've never thought that was good.  All the new age spiritual types tell you to dive in and face your fears, but that is oversimplification to the point of malpractice, because some of us could easily drown.  I think a lot of people who spew this stuff don't have a clue (lucky them) about the severity of some of our pain.

Once you are distracted from all the adrenaline producing brain activity, you can then move onto the next step, soothing.  After that, you can deal with the issue from a different place.  See?  No avoidance or repression, but rather, temporary distraction to calm down and soothing to take care of yourself.

This is working pretty well for me.

But my hardest times are still the...hardest, and this is where the abandonment stuff intermingles with the misunderstanding/no understanding that surrounds friendship.

Marcy loves people. She is a people person. She is extroverted. She had a safe upbringing.  Our brains are radically different.  (Thank God!)

It is her nature, therefore, to have lots of friends.

This frightens me.  The story my brain generates around this is that she needs friends because I am not enough.  I was not enough of a child for my parents and now I am never enough for anyone else.

I have friends, but they tend to be friends that Marcy and I share.  I also tend not to do things alone with others because of my big time need for down time.

We are working really hard on this.  Negotiating between my need for gentleness and boundaries and feelings of safety and her need to be herself and to be trusted (which she is completely worthy of).

We often wonder how many couples out there have this problem and don't understand where it comes from enough to work their way through it?

Though we work on this together, I have to do a lot of the work myself, internally, watching my brain for its Giant Pain in the Ass Propensity for Making Shit Up.  Then I tell it to just STOP.  I present this as if it is easy and it is anything but.  This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

When you are raised in an environment of fear, one of the main coping mechanisms is storytelling.  You tell yourself stories to soothe yourself; you tell yourself stories to ward off evil, thinking you can control the future by contemplating every possible thing that could happen; you tell yourself stories simply because it is better than living in your current reality.

Now, as an adult, this storytelling mechanism is great for writing but not for living.  It damages my life, rather than protects it.

After I notice that the storytelling is happening and after I tell it to STOP, I still have steps to follow through on or it will just continue in the back of mind until it gets strong enough to break through and then I get caught up in emotional re-actions.  So, STOP and then I tell Marcy the story.  This is a key part of the process.  She reminds me that it is not real and then I move onto a distraction method and through the rest of the process.

Because of this process, my life is already different today than it was merely weeks ago.  I feel the pain more intensely now as I work with it, but it is good pain -- like after a workout when you feel all proud of yourself for sore thighs.  It's a sign of how hard you are working.


Emma said...

Wow, it sounds like DBT has been so useful already. That's fantastic!

It's a good point that it's not always appropriate to immerse yourself in the full feeling of fear, panic, etc. that your brain produces. That approach definitely has a place in treatment of some serious mental issues and at certain times, but how many times are these things truly one-size-fits-all (or whatever). Yeah, pretty much never.

I like what you say about "temporary distraction to calm down and soothing to take care of yourself." Totally.

This reminds me of a kit that my partner's therapist recommended he make years ago. (And he did.) It's a wooden box filled with things that distract and soothe for times when that's really what's needed. Everybody's kit would be different, but this one included things like a funny book of comics, Play Doh to squeeze (and for tactile distraction), a good-smelling oil to sniff (again sensory distraction), maybe a certain CD, and other stuff I forget. Anyway, I think it's a good idea.

It's funny, though, because you have to understand it in its real context. If someone said to you: "Oh, just go read something funny and you'll forget your troubles." wouldn't you be pissed? Well, I would. :) Or at least I'd dismiss them as not understanding what's going on. And that would probably be right. But mindful distraction* and soothing can be a powerful part of real, effective brain work.

Like you said - it is PART of the process. Great discoveries!

*I have now created the term "mindful distraction" and am quite pleased with myself. ;)

StorytellERdoc said...

What an amazing post...honest and yet filled with a lot of amazing insight. The journey of life never ends but, rather, pitstops along many favorite points of destinations. Good for you to continue mapping our where your road leads.

Well done.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Hi, Christine. The first thing that struck me was "being moved 19 times in 18 years." I thought I had it bad when I tell people I went to 8 different schools in 12 years of schooling through high school, three changes in high school, two of them in the last two years of high school.

By the time I was a senior I was severely depressed from that alone. And that's with two loving parents and three sisters. I can only imagine what it would be like with even more frequent moves and all the other major trauma you went through.

We are privleged to be able to read your story here. I'm sure it is doing a lot of people a lot of good to see how you struggle and deal with all these things.

Susan said...

All I can say is great post Christine! You touched on some things that really ring true for me and validate my own experiences. Its great to hear that your partner understands and actively is involved in your process. You go! Thanks for sharing this!

Janice Lynne Lundy said...

amazing and beautiful and painful, christine. i bow....

may your days fill with hope and healing and knowing that others care for you very deeply. xo

Sara said...

Remember to practice gratitude, Christine. I have started a gratitude project at iHanuman this month. Every morning, when I write my morning pages, they have to focus on gratitude, ultimately. And I have committed to a daily post on gratitude in honor of my family, myself and my teachers. Would love to hear from you. Om Shanti. Shanti.Shanti.

amy said...

dearest christina -
i can't even find the words to express the gratitude for the insight that your posts/learnings/feelings/experiences bring me. as a fellow bpd-er, i am basically getting free therapy through you!

i am not currently in official therapy, although my yoga practice has been an amazing discovery process and i learn more about myself and how to deal with the world everyday.

with regard to distraction, i can see how it would be a useful tool for those transitional times, however, it somewhat contradicts being in the moment, which i have been taught is the place to be. for all intents and purposes, being present is 'safe' and each moment is perfect for what it is, right? it's hard not to reflect on past not so perfect circumstances and apply them to what's happening now (for me - abandonment, shame, guilt, etc). how do we learn to appreciate and accept that without reverting to what our frame of reference is?

i don't really know what my point is, or lack thereof!, other than i can relate and i will continue to consider your thought provoking and insightful experiences.

keep up the good work and thank you so much for sharing this tough stuff. it means so much to know that i am not alone and that someone as beautiful and thoughtful as you is willing to share your heart and bare your soul.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Amy, Regarding "being in the moment."

I spoke to this in the post but too briefly.

With BPD -- or "emotional regulation disfunction," as you know from personal experience, our emotions can become so overwhelming that we begin to react to them irrationally and are therefore incapable of the kind of spiritual presence that yoga and other systems speak of and intend when they refer to "stay in the now."

Irrationality is to be avoided, of course, because it can lead to self- and other-harming actions and words.

SO...DISTRACTION in this sense is simply to help us get back to RATIONAL. It is NOT meant to help us repress things that we MUST FACE.

The issue is that we cannot truly face them or truly be in the now, if we are reacting out of the PAST, which is what is happening usually with the overwhelming emotions.

Once we are distracted, as I said, we can then soothe and get back to our rationally thinking and functioning selves, at which point it is SAFE to approach the issue/memory/whatever that set off the irrationality to begin with.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED your new post. (I noticed it was posted at 5 am :) ) It felt revelatory, like a lot of things were coming to the surface. I am so glad that you are so ARTICULATE... it so insightful and helpful. for instance, with the idea that sometimes the pain is too intense u need to distract yourself before you can deal with it. I totally think this is a useful and helpful method. Emphasis on the part of actually feeling and dealing/soothing after the intensity has gone down a little bit. I also liked the bit about storytelling. Its funny- when the mind feels it is in danger, it comes up with stories, and I think you are right to know that stories are great for books, but not to have in your brain all the time. They become distracting and they mediate the beauty of simplicity of everyday life...which can be so radiant, once we are out of thought!!
I also really appreciated your telling of more of what happened to you when you were little. I had a safe secure childhood, my parents weren't overly loving, but they definitely showed me, I did feel the odd one out A LOT, because i just feel things a lot deeper, but anyway. My partner was raised in an extremely negative environment, and it really helps to hear about yours in relation to his, and what his actions are nowadays. I know it is extremely personal, but I was wondering if you could be more specific at times. Was there emotional abuse or physical (which is just as bad as emotional) ?
Were you told you weren't good enough?
Were you told you were bad?
Were you not told you were loved enough?
Were you ignored? Did your parents fight?? Was your life unstable?
Did you have stable people who loved and supported you and stable friends? If you don't want to answer these I understand. It would be helpful for my understanding though if you did.
Anyway I think childhood is so crucial, we are souls born into this weird world, and we really do need a cocoon in order feel comfortable to be ourselves, then we feel comfortable we can seek greater understanding, if that invisible emotional womb is not created or tampered with, there can be great difficulty. Maybe something to imagine is being in a womb of sorts. I think candlelit baths help. Creating a womb in your room, spending so quality "womb time" candles, blankets, quiet, journaling, etc. can be extremely healing.
anyway i love you christine.