Archive for December, 2011

Sleigh bells? Something’s ringing….

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

My tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears) became noticeable to me in 2005 or so. Recently, it seems to me to have gotten yet louder. I can hear it when things get only vaguely calm or quiet.

In doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that mychronic dizziness may, in part, have led to the tinnitus. (My dizziness is caused by the orthostatic hypotension that I inherited from my mother’s side; I’ve been dealing with it since I was fourteen.) Also, apparently long-term severe stress can cause or worsen the malady.

How ironic: After years of mocking me for my dizziness, my husband now claims  that he is the one with the hypotension (which started, no doubt, shortly after he starting having his period) and that he suffered years of stress resulting from spousal abuse (he likes to tell people that I beat him up regularly). And now I may go deaf because of it. It’s almost funny.

My husband’s newest girlfriend

Friday, December 30th, 2011

I received an odd letter today, ostensibly from the husband of my husband’s newest girlfriend. The man wants to meet to tell me about his wife. How odd.

I’ve run the letter (and my situation) past a couple trusted advisors. One is concerned, in light of previous behavior, about this being a “take down” set-up. The other feels that nothing useful would come of a meeting, but it could be amusing to hear about the girlfriend.

The writer is, I think, Romanian. I’m tempted to follow up with him.

But why?

My portrait

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Late this morning, I walked across the street to the local indoor flea market. While there, I ran across a guy drawing portraits. It was apparent that he was pretty good. I thought about getting my son’s portrait done, but the boy needs a haircut, so I figured I’d wait until some other time.

Then it occurred to me: I’ve had no proper portrait from the last decade or so. Why not get my portrait done?

So I did:

Child abuse as trauma

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

I’ve never claimed that my childhood was a happy one. When starting my research into the effects of my background, I kept coming across references to Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. But I didn’t bother with it, since I’d “only” had a really lousy childhood; I hadn’t been “traumatized”.

But then a woman whose opinion I very much respect recommended that I read this book. I did, and was astounded. Ms. Herman makes the connection between soldiers, rape victims, and children who suffered long-term psychological abuse. She has even coined a term for the effects of that long-term abuse: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (also written as “Complex-PTSD” or “C-PTSD”).

The term “comples” is not meant to imply that what soldiers or rape victims suffer is “simple”. The distinction is meant to be in the circumstriction of inducing events. The soldier did not grow up in that war zone; he did not experience that battlefield trauma every day for the first decade or two of his life. The rape victim (assuming we’re not talking about child-molestation) did not grow up in that alley or back seat; she did not experience that assaultive trauma every day for the first decade or two of her life.

On the other hand, children who grew up abused did grow up in that terroristic environment; we did experience that intimate trauma every day for the first decade or two of our lives.

Instead of having a limited traumatic experience to overcome in order to return to our pre-existing mental health, we have little but traumatic experiences, and we have little or nothing healthy to which we can return. The “complex” part of “C-PTSD” is a reference to the thoroughness and duration of our abuse.

Unfortunately, because we never had a secure psychological foundation, the techniques for helping suffers of “regular” PTSD tend not to be effective for us.

“High conflict” divorce, or continued abuse?

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

It’s just over three years now since I accidentally found out that my husband was planning to serve me with divorce papers in less than two weeks. On 15 December 2008, I stumbled onto evidence of my husband’s conversation with others, talking about how “we” were waiting until after the holidays, but that “we” would be separated by 2009.

Once a divorce case passes the two-year mark, it is officially a “high conflict” divorce. The term’s implications are fully supported by the family-court system: Both parties are deemed equally guilty of being combative. The fact of the extremely high overlap between “high conflict” cases and cases involving domestic abuse is generally swept under the rug as being irrelevant or unrelated.

Indeed, I’ve read of a case in which, during the same court appearance in front of the same judge, a woman was granted a restraining order (due to her husband’s abuse of her and her children) and was then loudly condemned by the judge for “alienating the affections” of the children for their abuser (by having gotten a restraining order so as to protect the children).

Somehow, as soon as the abuse victim is involved in a divorce case, the power-unequal abusive relationship is converted into a power-equal conflictual relationship. It doesn’t matter that nothing the victim does (other than dying) will ever be good enough for the abuser. The fact that the abuser won’t accept anything less than a continuation of his control means that he will drag things out as long as he can. And his victim is blamed.

She is told that she needs to “start negotiating in good faith”, as though her abuser were trustworthy and honorable. She is told that she needs to “be willing to compromise” with somebody who is making impossible demands. The ideal of “splitting things down the middle” leaves her in the position of trying to protect herself (and being condemned) or else “compromising” by relinquishing her rights. The philosophical basis is the mediation model, but even proponents of mediation flatly state that it won’t work in a power-unequal environment.

The “meeting in the middle” model is a nice idea. Unfortunately, it fails in practice because it assumes a parity which does not exist.

The genesis of extreme behaviors

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

My sister and I were recently talking about how those termed “codependent” are viewed as being either subservient (“doormats”) or controlling (“control freaks”), and sometimes both (by veering between the two). We agreed that this makes quite a lot of sense, when considered within the context of childhood abuse.

We spent our formative years being required to do whatever we were told, no matter how much we didn’t like it. “Obedience” and “submission” were the primary ideals of our parents and their supporters; there was no greater sin than “rebellion”. So of course we got good at being doormats; it was explicitly required of us, and necessary for survival.

But we were also held responsible for everything that annoyed or upset others. Somehow, no matter how little power, influence, participation, or even knowledge (or physical presence) we’d had, the outcome was our “fault”. So of course we got good at frantically attempting to anticipate every outcome, desparately trying to steer things in less-damaging directions. We were going to be punished when things went south. We’d have been stupid not to try to steer things north. This was implicitly required of us, and greatly enhanced survival.

Why do we veer between the two? Because these are the only two options we knew growing up. In addition, anything in that vast middle ground of moderation and balance was decried as “phoning it in”, “doing things half-assed”, or other, more critical terms. If we did something, we were supposed to “do our best” and “give it our all”.

What the healthy world calls “moderation” was a punishable offense in our world.

Codependence: my new understanding

Monday, December 19th, 2011

When I first read about “codependence” two or three years ago, I had problems with it. While I certainly recognized the patterns of my own life in the stories and illustrations, I didn’t accept what I saw as the blaming aspect of the term.

The codependent seemed, in what I read at the time, to be blamed for “her part” in the dysfunctional relationships. If only she hadn’t tried so hard, or been such a control freak (in trying to control situations for whose outcomes she would be punished), or cared so much, or supported so much, or whatever, then her abuser wouldn’t have abused her. It smacked too much of my husband’s self-justification: Whatever he did to me was okay, because “you’re not perfect either!”

But I don’t accept the equation. Intentionally causing harm is not the same as accidentally making an innocuous mistake. Attacking the victim is not the same as apologizing for one’s blunders. Blaming the victim is not the same as owning up. Requiring others to clean up one’s own messes is not the same as trying to make amends. There was no “my half” to his unilateral actions.

Maybe I’m reading different things now, or maybe I’m reading similar things in a new way. But now I conceive of codependence as a suite of behaviors, rather than a co-equality of any sort.

While I didn’t seek out what my marriage eventually devolved into, my background of childhood abuse left me “broken” in ways that certain types of people find attractive. In slowly and unwittingly falling back into the patterns of my childhood, I enabled dreadful behavior to succeed — if it can be called “success” — for way too long. It’s not that I helped, per se, but I certainly did nothing to stop it, or even to point out that there were problems.

I’m coming to think that codependence isn’t some knowing cooperation in dysfunction, as much as a psychological / emotional inability to recognize dysfunction, let alone attempt to fend it off or otherwise deal intelligently with it. It’s a form of revictimization, or at least the entre to retraumatization.

This does not absolve the abuser in any way. But it does offer hope that the victim can learn to heal, or at least learn how better to protect one’s soft underbelly.

Family traditions

Monday, December 19th, 2011

I always swore that I’d never do, to any child I had, what my parents had done to the kids they’d had. I worked very carefully not to marry my father. Instead, I ended up marrying my mother. Which may be worse.

I worked so hard at my marriage, trying to help my husband succeed, to feel good about himself, to be happy (or at least maybe not always so angry). I didn’t marry him the way he is now. But somehow, over the years, as he became more and more distant, more and more angry, more and more critical, I slid slowly back into the patterns of my childhood. Instead of being an emotional punching bag for my parents, I became the punching bag for him.

It was hardly how I’d meant for things to end up; I didn’t chose this end. But I got there anyway. And along the way, I tolerated way too much that was way too bad, and for way too long.

How much damage have I done to my son? What has he unknowingly internalized about how to treat women in general, intimates in particular? About how to treat family? About how to stand up for himself in a healthy way? Or will he suppress and erupt instead?

Have I passed down my family’s craziness to another generation?

What to say, when you don’t know what you’re talking about…

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

I’ve been thinking about recording my progress through healing but, just as with my journal, I find I don’t know what to say. I’m stuck with my mother’s voice in my head, telling me to “do it right or not at all!”

It’s been three years since I accidentally found out that my husband was indeed divorcing me. (That’s a rant for another time.) I’ve learned a lot, but much of what I’ve learned is that the helping professions don’t seem to have much help to offer. Am I Borderline Personality Disorder? Am I co-dependent? Do I have Complex PTSD? Or are these all aspects of the same thing? And, whatever the diagnosis, what is the “cure”? Or is there one?

“They seek it out.”

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Have you ever heard somebody say that people who were abused as children or in intimate relationships “seek out” abusers? The idea seems to be that we are trying to “recreate” an awful experience in order to “do it right this time”. To me, this seems mostly to be a way of dismissing our pain, blaming us for it and minimizing the causes and effects of abuse.

And it doesn’t stand up to close examination of either the logic or the facts.

Think about abused children. More specifically, think about the child who are preferentially targetted by child abusers like pedophiles. Did these children somehow want what happened to them? Did they seek out the creepy guy in the rusty van?

And did the creepy guy seek out the happy, healthy, confident, cherished child? Or did he look for the kid who’s already hurt, already broken? The one who has already spent way too long doing things he didn’t want to do, things that hurt him (and maybe others that he cared about); the one who is already desparately lonely and unloved?

The pedophile looks for kids who are hungering for any kind of apparent affection, who are already used to doing things they think are probably wrong, who are used to not having choices. They look for the broken, the damaged, the hurting, the defenseless.

Does that mean that their victims deserved it, or somehow brought the abuse upon themselves? Most rational caring people would say, “No, of course not!” And they would be correct:

The pedophile’s victims didn’t ask to be abused in the first place, and they didn’t “seek out” their revictimization. Why are the abused so likely to be revictimized? Because their hunters are looking for the weak.

Think about a nature special, where the lions are stalking the herd of wildebeest. They somehow manage to pick out a weaker member of the herd. Usually, I can’t tell any reason for the one they’ve picked out. But they know. It’s their business to know. They can sense it. Do we say that the wildebeest they’ve chosen “sought out” the lions, that it wants to “recreate” some traumatic event from its calf-hood? Of course not; that would be nonsense. In fact, we would probably easily accept the premise that the lions’ target has no idea what “signals” it is broadcasting to the lions, and dearly wishes that it weren’t.

In much the same way, those children who are vicimized by their families and then revictimized by others, both inside and outside their families, do not “seek out” their new suffering. They don’t know what “signals” they’re broadcasting, and likely dearly wish that they weren’t.

I believe the same reasoning holds for adult survivors of intimate abuse, whether that abuse happened in childhood, adulthood, or both. We have been broken, and we don’t realize the “signals” we’re broadcasting. We don’t seek out our new abusers; they find us, just like the creepy guy with the van found his lastest child.

We didn’t break us, we didn’t damage ourselves. And we certainly aren’t “seeking” out the opportunity for more of the same. I wish others would do us the respect of putting the blame where it belongs.