DBT: Double Bladed Therapy

Survival pares you down to the barest version of a human. You eat when you can, sleep where you can, and get the hell out of reality as often as you can. The years I spent hiding from the pain I’d pent up feel like an extended nightmare. I suppressed quite a bit from then, because it was the only way I could justify continuing to live to myself.

I was excited when I started Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy. It sounded like exactly the coping skills I needed. Even normal people said it sounded helpful! Surely it was all sunshine and rainbows and feeling better, right?

I’m not sure if any of you have had a PTSD flashback, but suppressing trauma tends to make that kind of thing happen more often. I’m not going to say I was a lot happier not thinking about it. That clearly isn’t healthy, and I know well how much further damage it caused. But DBT involves instilling healthier thought and behavioral patterns, which involves examining the ones you’ve used and why you’ve had to use them. The ‘why’ is often the problem.

I had no ways to deal with what happened to me, no idea of where to start, and embarking on yet another therapy program was daunting to begin with. The mental health world is not fun to navigate, especially when you’re still in a bad place. Obviously, anyone who is seeking help is doing so because they’re in a bad place. With low support, people like me are as likely to end up in a shelter or halfway house–if they’re lucky–as in a therapy program. I count myself as incredibly lucky that I was finally “adopted” by strong supports. One thing about survivors is we like to hold out hope for other survivors and help where we can. We know it’s rough, and if we find a leg up anywhere, we’re spreading that shit like wildfire.

I still believe DBT is incredibly helpful, and although my attendance has slipped a couple times, I do still plan to stick with it. People backslide while they’re healing. It just happens. Things come up–like said flashback–and suddenly the world is a hostile place again, and we want no part of it. At least that’s how it happens to me. I’m still early in it yet, though. And part of me was still not ready to let go of the anger–and the ones who caused it.

I’m unconventional. I always have been. I sometimes don’t go about things in the best way, but I usually achieve the results I want. I had wanted for years to shake up my family’s illusions of themselves. They were abuse apologists, and it was allowing the more vulnerable among them to be hurt over and over. One aunt, some cousins, my mother–so many had experienced abuse and had internalized responsibility for it because that’s exactly where the family put it. It made me sick and sad and angry, but I was still caught under my own illusions of still being a powerless child when it came to my family.

So I sent my grandmother a message officially parting ways with the family. I sent my and my siblings’ abuser a message, and I exposed him to others around him for what he was. I heard nothing back from the former–though plenty from a couple family members, mainly detailing what was clearly a bitchfest about me from my mother to her sister–and was blocked by the latter. Bringing the total of my Facebook Mortal Enemies to: one pedophile and an unapologetic abuser. These two people are the only two who have ever seen fit to block me on social media, despite one family member’s description of my emails as “nasty” (they weren’t. They were angry, but they were truthful). I take this as a sign I’m at least doing something right with my life.

My definition of an apologetic individual is one who owns up to their actions that harmed another and sincerely apologizes. I received one court-ordered letter and a card with $50 and some word salad about how my abuser’s life was going and hoping I “find peace”, as if my anger at him was from some malignancy in me that, you know, wasn’t a direct effect of his actions. My apology from any other family for doing nothing to help is never forthcoming. The thing is: I didn’t expect an apology. I didn’t expect some grand admission and people falling at my feet in remorse. I expected exactly what happened, because I read a lot about things that interest me, and it has always boggled my mind how someone can be cruel after having experienced cruelty. I knew what the response would be, because it’s a reaction so depressingly common that survivors have to be warned and prepared before the confrontation.

What I didn’t expect is the outpouring of support from people I hadn’t even spoken to in years. Even family members of my abuser, which lead me to harshly re-examine my thoughts on “bad blood”. It softened the blow from the relatively small backlash and reminded me something I had forgotten myself–I am not alone in this, either. I have people I can talk to, despite my usual inclination to hide out when I’m going through a rough spell.

I’ve linked this to my personal Facebook numerous times, because I have nothing to hide. I heard a few times in the backlash “you need help”. It’s funny how people use that phrase in a way intended to hurt, when it should be one used to empower another to actually get help with healing. We can’t always do it alone, and there is nothing shameful in seeking help. Nothing.

To my friends who stuck with me through the years when I was still ashamed of what happened and didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t heal on my own, thank you for sticking with me. People like you make all the difference, and I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for my friends, both old and new.

Stick close to the people who truly love you, and there will be hope eventually. Just the hope of hope was enough to keep me going sometimes, and holding on was worth every dark day.

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No Time For Dreams

EDIT: Yet again, because posts are hard to check on a Kindle. This app is broken. TRIGGER WARNING and a reduction in the number of “mildly”s.

Things ended badly in that relationship. He’s still on my Facebook because he’s the type of person who shows up years later for no apparent reason and then disappears again. It happened so many times in our relationship that I finally put an end to it. I told him I didn’t feel the same way as I did for him. It wasn’t true at the time, but I knew it could be if I could get away from him. I was right, but it wasn’t a fun mourning period.

I decided to move to a different city. One upside to having nothing in your life is being extremely portable. All of the emotion had been drained from me, and I wanted to forget, wash everything new in a new place. I half-heartedly dated a girl from the new city for a bit, then drifted off on my own again. I still felt nothing.

I glided through time and space as nothing. Three men drugged and raped me in a country apartment building I later heard was aptly dubbed the “hillbilly frathouse”. I felt nothing. I started dating a man who left me to die one night that I overdosed. I felt nothing. I lost the home I’d worked for, the first car I’d ever bought, the pets I’d adopted and grown to love, and every other aspect of a decent life. Things broke in me that I wasn’t even aware existed. I felt like glass shards ground into grimy glitter on a dirty sidewalk.

I moved back to my hometown shattered and terrified. It was the first time I was truly homeless, with no car to stay in and no hope of a stable home on any horizon. I had reached out to an older half sister that I had never met, and she had agreed to take me in and help me get back on my feet. Instead, I ended up visiting my best friend, finding a job on my own, and staying. I was grateful to my sister, but her home was five hours away from everything I’d ever known. It was too much for me. Besides, my best friend was pregnant and horribly ill, rendering her unable to work and tightening the budget very badly for herself and her husband. I figured if I was worthless, maybe I could at least make some use of myself and help them.

Another friend had joined the single circuit around the same time that I moved back. We fell in together for job hunts and social events and general bitch sessions, missing the support of another person. I have long taken a “golem” approach to things missing in my life–constructing family from close friends and their families, or even aspects of a romantic partner in what I call other “strays”.

A stray is what I use to refer to people who have low support. Some have highly dysfunctional families, some were just turned out. Like a neighborhood cat, we can sometimes go back home and eat and crash, but for the most part, we’re on our own. And most of us are dysfunctional as well. Years of abuse, substance abuse to cover up the original abuse, untreated or semi-/sometimes-treated mental illnesses (it’s really hard to give a shit that you’re off your meds if you don’t know how you’re going to survive the next day/week/month) usually also triggered by abuse or witnessing abuse, and all sorts of other fantastic issues like sporadic bouts of homelessness (including the “hidden homelessness” that is couch-hopping, splitting time among places, etc) is not a recipe for a whole, healthy, productive member of society.

If you’re a “bootstraps” type, imagine this scenario: you’re barely into your second semester of community college, and you’re already disappointed that you have basically no choice but to go there first unless you want to be in debt forever. The man who raised you hospitalized you one morning over missing eyeliner. Everyone tells you this is your fault, and you should feel bad for making him do that. You are forced out of your home. You have no clue how the world works, because you’re 18/19 and were threatened with beatings any time you so much as hinted at testing a boundary. And the icing on the cake: you randomly experience extreme mood swings for no reason. You can be nearly catatonic for almost a year and a half, then exploding out of your skull with racing thoughts and energy that has nowhere to go for the next four months and completely wreck your life (what happened to me in the new city).

Have I done everything perfectly? No. I have enough dirt on me to suffocate under. One could argue you can’t live a life that uncertain and not have done regrettable things. But please note how many times abuse is mentioned there: not just me, but every other stray I’ve run into and ran with. Childhood abuse, domestic violence in the household, countless rapes (two–count them, TWO–women I spoke with were raped and contracted STDs from the encounter). You know what I never heard about? Counter measures. Police involvement (unless it was to take the offender away for a night and release them again). Shelters. Nothing.

There was no justice, no follow up or help for the victims, not even a guarantee that the abusers would be kept away from them. One woman was beaten to death in front of her children and the babysitter. She had an Order of Protection against the man who did it. He was let off. A family member of mine was beaten into a coma by her husband. There was blood evidence all over the house–all her blood. While she was in the hospital, he obtained an Order of Protection against her. Even with no evidence of injuries to him and countless photos of hers, he was also let off. He was back on the dating website–Match.com–that he’d met her on, all while the trial was ongoing.

Here’s the thing: I had a pretty promising future. I graduated from high school a shade under magna cum laude, with several issues of the school’s literary magazine containing my pieces. I was the vice president of a Writer’s Club I’d helped form. My ACT score was a respectable 31. I was going to breeze through a couple years at the community college to save money, then go onto my dream school, from which one of my favorite authors had graduated–the University of Iowa. Maybe not the loftiest of goals, but I had dreamed of being a fiction novelist since I could remember. I didn’t necessarily need a degree for that, but I wanted to write something truly profound. I wanted to leave a legacy.

When someone is scrambling to survive, there is little time for dreams. Anything you wanted before flies out the window in the face of constant struggle. I dropped out of college twice, both times close to the end of the semester. The transportation system in my city has been hopelessly broken for years, and getting across town from where I’d set up was hard. I either couldn’t afford to or couldn’t conceivably make it to classes, and any wish to do so was buried under misery and fear. Any conceivable future looked bleak. I had no way to get ground under me or get ahead. Any support I had was just as broke as me. Strays aren’t usually flush.

I had planned to help my best friend until she didn’t need me anymore, then piss everyone who cared about me off in some epic way, leave, and quietly kill myself. I had no idea what else to do, and I was tired of being me. I took a third shift job, knowing that interfering with a bipolar individual’s sleep schedule is a terrible, terrible idea. The physical nature of the job made a painful physical issue worse. I was miserable and rapid-cycling. Still, I dragged myself up one morning after four hours of sleep for coffee with some friends.

I tagged along with my other single friend, and as we walked into the building, I saw a face I didn’t recognize from our normal coffee group. A well-dressed man sat at a table in the middle of the shop, looking up and smiling as we entered. I smiled back reflexively, prepared to be somewhat uncomfortable. When I’m rapid-cycling, I don’t always like human interaction. I can barely pull it off. I twist my face into what I hope is an appropriate shape, nod in what I hope are the right places, and wait to be able to leave. Usually, I come off as weird or stuck up.

I let the guys talk and drifted off into the haze of my thoughts–not a pretty place around that time. Suddenly, something jerked me out of my daze–a word. “…transcendentalists…” the “new guy”, as I had come to think of him, had said.

“Sorry, what was that?” I asked. It was mildly jarring and amusing at the same time. I had been a little obsessed with the transcendentalists in high school and had jokingly said once that I’d marry the person who knew what they were.

We got into a conversation about the transcendentalists, and both came away impressed with each other. I learned his name, and I learned that I really liked his cologne. He accompanied me twice outside for a cigarette. The others in the group weren’t smokers, and the coffee shop wasn’t in the best area. I thought it a gallant move and kind of cute. He left early, and I caught the scent of his cologne lightly on the breeze from his departure. I made a sly remark to a girl friend about liking the way he smelled. She apparently took note, because she brought him along to a hangout.

He and I spent our cigarette breaks that night complaining about the dating world. I caught myself staring a few times at his blue-green eyes, long lashes, high cheekbones, dark, curly hair. He was seriously gorgeous. And unlike me, he had a degree. I felt immediately inadequate. I covered it up with several beers. My friend whispered sometime later that she was heading out and leaving us to chat. We decided to throw in a movie, though we were talking too much to pay attention. It was an immediate spark. We were literally finishing sentences for each other. Despite both of us earlier expressing an aversion to dating, we decided the connection was too obvious.

Things progressed quickly. There were mild hiccups, mostly caused by my issues. But I started to notice something, being with him. I was starting to gain some of my confidence back. It wasn’t just that we had things in common–he was kind, supportive, and attentive. He was the type of person I would, as one friend put it, “ride or die” for. The sort who believed in backing the one they love through anything and building them up to feel their best. He saw me at some low points and stood by me, telling me to dust myself off and keep trying. Nothing lost.

Well, one thing was lost–the physical demands of the job became too much for my condition. I missed too much work. They called and ended the assignment. I was back to square zero. I fell into a depression.

That was about when I decided to try my hand at making jewelry. It’s calming to shape something of your own design, and there’s a certain pride when it’s finished. I took a metalworking class in exchange for also completing an online college course for a friend. I set up a studio bit by bit and now exchange housework for some space in a friend’s garage. And I’m trying to teach myself soldering, while also searching for a steady job.

What’s different this time is a working med regimen, DBT therapy, and my partner and his incredibly kind, supportive family. Had I had this years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache. Maybe even been something more by now.

There’s a long climb ahead, but it’s nothing compared to deciding to participate in life again. I don’t know that I ever would have made it without someone like my partner. Maybe it’s a cliched story to end a story of cliches, but that’s okay. Finding a reason to hope for the future again inspired many more reasons, and I’m on my way to becoming a whole person at last. It’s okay to dream again.