Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Part V: Choose your own adventure...or title

Bonus! You get to choose which title you prefer for today's post. Nothing like starting the day with a game.

Option A
Part V: An Honest Update

Option B
Part V: The Reason Behind my Trauma

Option C
Part V: In which I discover that I was molested as a child

Ah, choices choices. I couldn't decide which I liked best, so I'm letting you pick.

When I started writing in February about my experiences with postpartum depression and traumatic birth (read here), I was writing mostly for my own sake. It was therapeutic for me to get it out, to release some of the emotions and lessen their hold on me. I kept blogging because of the response that I received, both in learning how helpful my writing was to others and in the help I received with my kids. An unexpected--but very welcome--side effect of announcing my struggles so publicly.

In the last nine months, I have experienced severe depression, panic attacks, flashbacks and nightmares. When I learned of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from traumatic birth, I started attending professional therapy. I have only missed one week in the last seven months, and that was only because my therapist was on vacation. After the day that Chris and I had simultaneous meltdowns that landed us in a hotel 100 miles away from our kids, I started taking anti-depressant medication.

Therapy and medication have made a world of positive difference for me. I have learned tools essential to surviving my day-to-day depression and preventing recurring panic attacks. The medication has given me the emotional reserve that has been so critical in being able to process my trauma while remaining a functional human being.

The next major event on my journey of healing was attending Power of Choice (read here). I added many more weapons to my arsenal to use in my continued battle against depression and trauma. Chris and I are attending the follow-on course, and through that class I am using those tools we learned actively and purposefully every day. My goal for Power 90 is to write a book about my experiences--everything I've blogged about but in much greater detail and everything I haven't blogged about yet. My affirmation, or my statement of why I am doing what I'm doing, is I am a mother by choice, proclaiming my freedom, peace and joy to the world through writing. The real purpose behind writing a book is to find my freedom, peace and joy.

It was a bit tricky to get started on my book. Each week for Power 90 we have momentums--basically, homework in which we apply the particular skills we worked on in class. Each week, I chose a momentum directly related to writing, as well as others that are a little more life-specific applications. While I was making significant progress in attitudes and activities each week, I struggled with actually writing.

As I began to get into the different elements of my story, I often became overwhelmed by the emotions of remembering and the still-powerful feelings of regret and resentment that all those things had even happened. I didn't feel qualified to write about a problem that I had not solved. I didn't feel like it was helpful to write about something that I didn't have all the answers to. And most significantly, I felt like there was something I was missing. I couldn't explain it, but I knew there were pieces of my story that just didn't make sense. I was place in understandably uncomfortable situations, but my reactions seemed extreme, even for as bad as though situations were.

Well, I found that missing piece. I posted about it on my Power 90 blog--click here--but I have decided to include that post here. I am only copying and pasting, so it really is exactly the same. If you have already read it, skip this next big chunk and continue on below. I'll mark the section off so you'll know when to start reading again. If you haven't read that post, keep reading here...

* * * * *

THE impactful event??

Last Friday's class was about judgment. We played a game called "Spot On" using garage sale stickers. As we discussed different outcomes of the game, the atmosphere in the room changed as others in the class came to the powerful realization that we are each priceless. There is no value high enough that can be placed on a human life.

Nice message, huh?

Yeah...I say others realized that because it had pretty much no effect on me whatsoever.

Following an assigned momentum for the week, I faithfully used those same garage sale stickers to recognize each time I recognized judgment--either a time when I felt judged or when I noticed myself judging someone else. The idea is to put the sticker on, then quickly take it off and throw it away, symbolizing how we choose whether or not we let judgments stick, and as we choose to let them fall, we can live a happier and fuller life judgment-free. Between the car ride home and when I went to bed, I had used all but four of my stickers. And they all stayed firmly stuck to my jeans.


I had no desire to take them off. I was not bothered by the judgments I was identifying, either in what I thought of others or what I perceived them to be thinking of me. I really just didn't care.

Chris and I stayed up late on Saturday night, attempting to identify what kind of negative belief might be leading me to such a response to judgment. It didn't take all too long for me to declare a solid statement of fact: personal value is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what a person is or isn't worth. It has nothing to do with anything, no impact on life at all. Hence why judgment doesn't matter--if value is irrelevant and judgment affects value, therefore judgment is irrelevant.

Well that's kind of lame.

On Sunday morning, I continued putting thought into that idea. It seemed fairly obvious that my firm conviction that value is irrelevant was only a shield covering some other, much more powerful negative belief. I spent a long time thinking of what that negative belief might be, but I wasn't making much progress. I opted to remove myself from the situation, per se, and imagine that it was a friend asking me for help identifying this negative belief. Logically, a person who believes that value is irrelevant has a very strong belief that they are worthless. That made perfect sense, but I didn't have any of the usual physical or emotional response to finding the correct negative belief, so I continued on with my mystery hunt.

At this point, I skipped ahead to tracking the belief's history, surmising that if I were able to pinpoint the impactful event where it started, I may be able to more clearly identify the actual belief. In my mind, I ran backwards through each of the houses I have lived in, giving myself some context in which to remember past events. Nothing in particular was standing out, though I did eventually notice that I was having a lot of thoughts about one friend that I haven't seen or heard from in well over 20 years (that makes me sound old). Well, ok, let's jump on that train of thought and see where it takes us.

She lived across the street from my family. We met just before I turned three (I told you it was a long time ago), and we were best friends up through kindergarten. I only have a few vague memories of that time, but I went through each one yesterday in my quest for an impactful event. I remember the time she and I crashed on our bikes and the tip of my toe was cut off. I remember watching her mom curl her hair--it was the first time I'd ever seen a crimper and I was crazy jealous.

I can remember one time that I went to spend the night at her house after she had moved from West Jordan to Murray. There are three images in my mind of that sleepover--playing the backyard, having breakfast, and standing at the top of the stairs leading into the basement. And I remember her dad.

It was at that point that the faucet behind my eyes was abruptly switched on to full power, an earthquake began in my limbs, and the force of a boulder crushed any and all air from my chest.

Well that's bizarre.

I was in something of a daze after that. I managed to get all three kids and myself ready for church, though we had to walk because I couldn't find my keys (they were later discovered under Jane's pillow--picture clenched fists and angry grumblings from me). Once the girls were safely deposited in primary and nursery, I went to find Chris, who had gone to church early for a meeting. He and I sat in the empty chapel overflow and I calmly explained to him my thoughts of the morning, leading up to my interesting little panic attack. At which point I started uncontrollably crying again.

Chris kindly took Ben and handed him off to the Relief Society--Thanks to all the ladies who helped without even knowing why!--and came back to talk to me. On the promptings from the Spirit, we went to visit the Stake President. He is from our ward and we've gotten to know him and his family, and we knew he was in his office and available. So it seemed like a good idea in the absence of any other idea of what to do.

We chatted for a while, and Pres. Marchant gave us some good advice and things to think on. Then he and Chris together gave me a priesthood blessing. That was greatly appreciated and helped to calm me down quite a bit.

Later that day, my parents watched our kids while Chris and I went to visit with Eula, the bishop's wife. She is a retired social worker and I very much respect her knowledge and opinion. I told her my story of the morning, and she confirmed that I had a very typical response to events of sexual abuse or molestation, both with the panic attack at remembering that man and with my deeply engrained belief that I am worthless--worthlessness is the most common belief to come out of such times, especially with very small children.


* * * * *

I went to therapy shortly after writing that post. During that appointment, we established through specific questioning that I was molested by my friend's dad during that sleepover. I do not have a crystal clear memory of the event, but I do know exactly what he did. It was horrible.

Once again, I feel some social stigmas here that make me hesitant in sharing. For a long time, I did not tell anyone that I had started therapy because I did not want them to think that I was weak or crazy. For a long time, I did not tell anyone that I had started medication because I did not want them to think that I was weak or crazy--or lazy.

It has been four weeks since my initial discovery into my past and I have felt like I'm not supposed to tell anyone. Child sexual abuse is a HUGE taboo subject. It's uncomfortable, so no one talks about it. Victims are plagued with feelings of guilt and worthlessness, often accompanied by a sense of certainty that if anyone knew about the abuse, the victim would most definitely be held responsible. There may be threats of further abuse or something much worse. There is also a great fear of not being believed. Logical or not, that's how it feels. But it doesn't need to be that way.

We are not victims. We are survivors.

Learning of my own abuse has been dramatic. My life has done something of a tailspin, with much of the depression symptoms returning. Again most of my time is spent sitting on the couch, my kitchen has not been clean in weeks, my children had bread for lunch yesterday, and our back patio is covered in crayons markings resulting from a gross lack of consistent supervision.

I am in better control that I was in months past--I generally only forget to feed myself, rather than everyone. I haven't had any panic attacks recently. And while my kids may manage to sneak out of the house with a contraband crayon, I am never far enough away or far enough out of it for them to ever be in danger--or to cause too much damage to the house.

Despite the return of depression, I will still unequivocally say that I am glad that I found out I was abused. Do not take that the wrong way--I will never, ever be glad that it happened. But I am glad to know. It is the missing piece. It explains so much. I know now why certain parts of my births were so much more traumatic than made sense. Why I respond to certain people in certain ways. Why I say and think certain things. Why I haven't yet made it past my trauma.

Again, I feel like there is just too much to say to blog the entire story. Eventually it will all be written in a book, hopefully for sale at a store near you...or at least downloadable from the internet. For now, I wanted to put this out there. At least 10% of women are diagnosed with postpartum depression. That number greatly increases among those who experienced a traumatic birth, and a woman is much more likely to experience birth trauma if they were previously sexually abused--whether they know about it or not. I personally fit into every category there, and I can tell you, it's like going through hell.

Let's not go through it alone.

I am interested in starting a Postpartum Depression Support Group. To be honest, I haven't thought out much of the details, but I know that it's needed. We need others we can talk to who know what PPD is really like. We need a safe place to talk about our ugly feelings that are more real than we're willing to admit. We want a place to show off those babies that we're not 100% convinced we completely like a lot of the time.

Essentially I'm shooting for a group for moms with babies--branching out from the usual preschool-age play dates, though older kids are certainly welcome, too. I want an open forum for discussing depression and the realities of traumatic birth and possibly even sexual abuse. Let's make it ok to talk about what we've been through. Let's own our experiences and rejoice in our survival and success.

Anyone interested?

6 comments:

Molly said...

I am interested, (raising my hand though sort of scared.) I should email you whats been going on with me. I love you and I am happy for the progress you are making! I think that having a grieving period of self pity (that sounds awful, but what else do you call it?) is a normal and natural response to the findings you found. You were not able to properly deal with it as a kid, so you do that now. its not weird to sit on your couch, feel bad, or have your kids a wee bit unsupervised. I always say as long as they are not in danger...right? What truly makes a good parent? Someone who loves unconditionally, provides for emotionally, and physically, and keeps safe. The rest is fluff.

Liz, Karl, Madison, Brooklyn and Aubrey said...

Laura, I just want to remind you that I am ALWAYS here for you. If you are seriously feeling like you need anything, please let me know. If I can take your kids some day, please give me a call.

I really do think you are doing a great thing by sharing these experiences. It has even opened my own eyes to things that have happened in my life that have greatly impacted my life. I have to admit too that I think I'm going to be a little more paranoid about sending my kids off to sleep overs when they get older...

Janneke said...

Laura! What an amazing, powerful discovery you have had. And how perfectly that it happened on a day when you had your anchor, the Church, easily and readily available! I cannot even imagine what you are going through right now except that finding those hard things really IS so freeing. I look forward to seeing you soon. I too am here as a support for you if you ever need it. Oh, and we're both signed up for June's POC. I look forward to spending some time with you there as well. Your book and your group sound like they will be a valuable resource for you others whose lives you touch. No words will be able to describe what a blessing you and your experiences will be to a Father in Heaven who so desperately wants all of his children to find happiness in a world of darkness. Keep up the beautiful work, woman. YOU ARE LOVED!

Tannie Datwyler said...

You are my hero. That's all. :)

pawlyandsandy said...

I admire how you are working through your problems with your great supportive husband, God bless him! So glad you have a great support system. And I'm proud of you for seeking professional help and I'm grateful it's helping you. And you are so pro-active to want to start a support group, go you! Now I feel like I should have shared more in my e-mail to you awhile ago about the sadness that I had post c-section. However, I really feel healed from that, especially after having a very positive birth experience with Jillian last year, that helped a lot. Keep at it and I hope healing comes to you soon.

Ruby in the Rough said...

Wow, that's a crappy discovery. I know you will be healed, though. I was beaten at work once, and it took about a year for me to get past, but I wonder what the residual affects are.. . . can I blame my cluttered house and inability to deal with it on that? Seriously, though, the power of Christ is what got me through that experience. He covers all wounds. Don't beat yourself up about the small stuff. Molly's right about that. Thanks for sharing.