Archive for survival mode
“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost” Anonymous
I came across this quote the other day and it caused a multitude of flashbacks to rush through my brain all at once. At first glance I thought “yes” this is true, but very quickly my mind was filled with all my old fears; I learned to FEAR losing love and at the same time realizing that this was not the way that I was loved at all. It was communicated to me that it didn’t matter if I was lost or if I was never to be seen again and I lived with the fear that I might find that out to be the truth.
As I got older and sought love from outside my dysfunctional family, I believed that it was how much the object of my desire proved his need for me, his longing for me, his fear of losing me, that PROVED his love for me. This was how I had been taught love. And most of my boyfriends sought to possess me more than to love me.
It was a big decision to tell my therapist what was going on in my mind. I could tell him what was going on in my life but what was going on inside my head was a different matter.
I lived inside my head for years. I constantly wondered what to say. I constantly wondered what you (or they) wanted me to say, what would make them mad, what would make them like me and accept me. What would keep me safe? Those are a lot of questions going around in my mind that I needed to think about BEFORE I answered anyone. I got quick at it though. This was one of my coping methods.
This was my survival mode. This coping method went so deep that I realized even as an adult, I was always wondering what everyone else was thinking. Always trying to guess what they wanted me to say, who they wanted me to be, what they wanted me to do. I wondered this so long and so deep that I didn’t know what I thought anymore. And worse than that, I didn’t care what I thought most of the time. I don’t think I even thought about what I personally thought; I was too focused on everyone else, believing that understanding and complying with others, would keep me safe. It was one of the ways that I coped, one of the ways that I survived.
I was always afraid that everyone was disapproving of me. I didn’t want to meet with any disapproval. Oh I used to say all the time “I don’t care if “they” like me or not”. But it wasn’t true. I was just saying one more thing that I had heard from someone else. I was lost in a world that was not mine. It was exhausting.
Eventually I fell apart and just could not seem to climb out of the serious depression I kept going back into every time I tried to stop taking the anti-depressant medications. I felt like I was being pulled under water; deep, murky, heavy, mucky, dirty cold and yet comfortable water. Looking back antidepressants really only represented a band-aid and I had come to the point that I needed the cure or I was going to just stay under that water and drown; once and for all.
I went to a therapist again because I was afraid for my life. Not because of others this time, but because I was really aware that I was losing the fight. I was losing my lifelong fight to just be okay and belong somewhere.
So taking into consideration everything that I said above, why would talking to a therapist be any different then talking to someone else? All my approval issues and fear of being hurt came with me to therapy. My “what do you need me to be” mode didn’t go away just because I was paying someone to talk to me. I still worried about what he would think, what he would want me to do and how would I stay safe? I didn’t trust because long ago I had learned to keep my guard up. I’d had a few inappropriate therapists cross my path too. All of this came into the therapy room with me although I didn’t know that. I was operating the exact same way that I always did. Survival and safety, coping and extreme self control came first. I had been groomed that way my whole life.
I was afraid of what he would think of me. I was afraid that I would be in danger if I told him what I had been through and what I was really like, because I was convinced for most of my entire life, that I was the problem. I even told him in that first session that the problem was me. I told him that I had a fantastic life but I just wasn’t happy and I was ungrateful. Something, I told him, is really wrong with me.
I had to break through this wall that stood between me and my recovery before I began to change and the first step was realizing that I although I believed that I all thought about was me, the truth was that I never thought about me.
Stay tuned this post will be continued…… HERE
Exposing Truth ~ One snapshot at a time;
I read a really interesting article in the paper this week. The reporter interviewed a few high end restaurant servers who shared how they actually dreaded Valentine’s weekend at the restaurant. Couples sat awkwardly across from each other, looking unhappy and not really knowing what to talk about. Pressure was high to get all the details right. An evening of high expectations rarely fulfilled, with more tension than enjoyment.
My life used to be like this! High expectations of finding some kind of “finally” love to satisfy my hungry heart. The vacuum in me was constantly asking, “Am I loved? Am I okay? Am I loving?” and I believed the warm fuzzies of romantic love would answer those questions once and for all. They did, for the first few weeks with any guy I dated. But the feelings never lasted, and then I was lost again. This was my labor of un-love, the slippery illusion of salvation-by-warm-fuzzies falling from my hands time after time. Not only was I left empty, I also felt these pangs of despair that my life could have no real purpose if I was single.
How grateful I am to know that’s not true… Throughout my depression, having those warm fuzzy feelings were some of the only times I felt truly alive. I believed this was love. The lie entangled me beyond my romantic relationships; I thought loving someone meant I should always have those warm feelings for them and act accordingly (and vice versa). My family believed this too, and so we rarely aired out conflicts in our home. We learned to keep true feelings inside so that no one’s feathers would get ruffled. Some of us labored to get all the details right so that what looked “perfect” on the outside would be proof that we were okay on the inside.
Finding the roots of real love relieves me from this labor. Being whole in my relationships means I am learning to bring my true self to the table when I interact with others. I can see now that trying to please them at the cost of ignoring who I really am only leads to destruction in one way or another- true relationship doesn’t last on that kind of foundation. Learning to love myself means I’m not depending on other people to fix me or fill my “holes”. I don’t need to take advantage of them, and I don’t need to let them take advantage of me either. Instead, we can exchange our real selves with each other. We share our truth and enrich each other’s lives. Real relationship practices mutual respect and equality. It is honest and knows it doesn’t have to be perfect or get all the details right . It desires to grow, to deepen, to learn, to tell the truth, to discover… All these things are at the root of true love.
The warm fluffy feelings are still fun and I have no intentions of banning them from my life! But, I’m not trying to control them anymore. I’m not demanding anything of them in an effort to heal my hungry heart. They come and go based on how real the love I’m practicing is. Kind of like cooking an amazing meal- the aroma is a by-product of the timely combination of good ingredients- it doesn’t happen right away, and it’s free to come and go.
This year I get to spend Valentine’s Day with dear friends; I am so excited to celebrate real love in my growing relationships with them.
For more information on the photographer of the beautiful photo in this post, visit this link!
Everywhere I go I have the privilege of meeting people and impacting their lives. Usually I can plant a few seeds that take root and grow the desire for wholeness and freedom from things that hold people back from being all they can be and all of who they are.
While I was in Mexico last month, I met an interesting man in his late twenties, who by his own admission, was not quite ready to let go. He reminded me so much of myself when I was younger that my heart was touched. Even though I found myself intently listening to his story, on another level I found myself reminded of things I had not thought of for a long time. He triggered intense memories about my resistance to recovery and how frightening it was to think of giving up my coping methods. I recalled the fear that I had of living in freedom and even where I still struggle in a few areas. I was reminded of the absolute terror of learning to trust myself, the fear I had of finding out who I really am and what it took for me to learn to live in that wholeness.
In the two weeks since I have been home, I’ve realized a deeper understanding of how scared that I was to get healthy; to face and deal with my issues and live a whole life in freedom from the chronic depression and dissociation that I lived with for so long. My dissociative identity, constant depressions and my obsession with my weight and body image had become like a blanket of comfort for me. They were the spin that I lived in. They were me; my identity. They were my survival mode and they made me feel safe. I believed that that these coping methods were the solution; how could they ever be the problem? Every time I tried to let go of the cozy blanket of survival, even to let go of one small piece of it, I felt naked, exposed, freezing, scared and way too vulnerable. I felt out of control. Control was essential if I was to feel safe. Deep down inside in my subconscious, I felt sure that I would die without the security blanket of coping methods that I had developed over the years.
It is necessary to develop these coping methods especially when we are children however a huge part of my recovery process was about realizing that I was no longer a child, and that so many of my coping methods were developed to protect myself as a child. They did evolve into adult coping methods, but the problem was that they were based in childlike thinking. I had to recognize that these problems were indeed coping methods, recognize the lies I believed which gave them their basis, replace those lies with the truth, and then realize so much of the protection I developed was no longer necessary. Then I had to re-parent myself with my new grid of understanding.
It wasn’t that the abuse or that I was so devalued was a lie; it was that I thought I had some control over it or that I should have been able to have some control over it; that I thought I deserved it and that I brought it on myself ~ that was the lie. I developed my survival methods for protection in two ways. The first one was to be able to deal with and live with the abuse itself. The second was to protect myself from further abuse.
In my process through therapy, on my journey to wholeness, I threw off the security blanket of coping methods one layer at a time and learned a new way to live. Some days I do feel exposed and sometimes I still get scared, but I find that as time goes by, I get more and more comfortable with my new life.
Here are seven differences from my life between living in brokeness and living whole:
-Always on high alert
-Happiness came and went depending on circumstances
-Close my eyes and just push through…
-Threatened by other people’s success and unique qualities
-Giving because I felt guilty or obligated
-Determining my value based on how I compared to others
-Deep feelings of happiness and real joy come naturally the more I believe the truth about who I really am
-Believing I have the ability to…
-Freedom in relationships to appreciate other people’s unique qualities without being threatened by them
-Knowing I am not ultimately responsible for someone else’s happiness
-Pursing the kind of life I ultimately want, because I now believe I am worthy of it
-Having limits and allowing myself to fail without beating myself up; engaging in my own personal process of growing and moving forward with compassion and celebration
-Giving to others because I genuinely want to and with no strings attached
“Nothing is more difficult than competing with a myth” Francoise Giroud
What are the myths that you live with, in your own personal life? This quote which I read in a book about financial myths, reminded me of all the other myths that affected me and held me back from a life of wholeness and fullness.
Realizing which myths were stuck in my belief system and busing them, was KEY for me in my recovery from dissociative identity disorder and chronic depression. For the sake of length, I am going to keep this very simple and talk about some simple ideas that cracked the code for me.
My mother used to say things like “if you were not so loud then I wouldn’t be in such a bad mood”. If I got hit or punished because I was too loud, I believed that it was my fault because I caused her to be in a bad mood; not only did I believe I deserved the punishment, but I also believed that her mood was my fault. This might sound right at first. I was loud, I got spanked. But there is this little tiny thing in there that isn’t right. I didn’t get spanked or punished if I was loud when she was in a good mood. The spankings were inconsistent and her moods were inconsistent. Things were worse for me when she was upset about something else. She took her moods out on me. I was compliant; my brother however fought her. He got it a lot worse than I did.
I tried to be a better daughter. I tried not to cause her to be in a bad mood and not just because I would get punished, but because I began to believe that love was something I had to earn. If she was happy with me, then I knew she would love me. There is something really wrong with this belief.
I am not suggesting that this is always the case. Every parent makes mistakes and feels bad about taking their moods out on the kids once in a while. I am talking about this type of scenario contributing over time, to the false things that I started to believe about myself. I learned that I was a problem; that my mom would be happier if I were different; that I got in the way; that I was the cause of her distress.
These are the kinds of things that make kids believe that they are not good enough, and that everything is their own fault; abuse and devaluing treatment is deserved. Somehow it seems to be communicated by the adult in these cases, that the treatment you get is exactly what YOU deserve. The wrong idea begins to grow about what we deserve.
This idea is so accepted that when I first heard it I strongly disagreed. I had spent my life being accountable for the bad things that happened to me.
Then we grow up. We have learned to live in our victim belief system. We accept the truth we have been conditioned to accept; that we don’t deserve better then what we have and our abusers still abuse. Usually we meet more people that like to mistreat others. They seem drawn to us, or maybe we are drawn to them because being treated like dirt is comfortable to us by now. We can’t figure out what the heck is wrong with us. We know that we have choices, but they don’t seem to stick. There is a thick layer of confusion surrounding all these thoughts, but we can’t seem to sort it out.
In my process it was key for me to do some major myth busting. I had to see the chain of events that led to my belief system being wrong and I had to do some heavy duty work to change this fact. I had to realize and acknowledge that I truly believed these lies about myself, and I had to realize what was really true about myself. I had to find a way to throw out the lies and replace them with the truth.
Have you thought about the myths that you have living in your internal system?
Nature abhors a vacuum. I believe the same is true for our souls, our hearts. We’re created with roots that go deep, roots always seeking for nourishment to grow, to stay alive, with the potential to thrive.
When people learn about my struggle with depression, they are usually surprised. When I started seeing a counselor a 3 years ago, I didn’t understand it myself. I just knew that I was in great angst. I was doing a job that I wasn’t enjoying, but I felt so conflicted about whether or not to continue. I felt guilty about most everything. I was highly anxious in social situations. I was angry, but couldn’t figure out a reason to be (and therefore felt guilty about being angry). I had this tightness inside me all the time. For so long I had sought the counsel of other people, family, teachers, friends, relatives, and mentors. I couldn’t make my own decisions. I bounced back and forth between flying high (because of some outside circumstance that boosted my self esteem momentarily) or scrounging in the pits of despair, or muddling somewhere in between.
I was so afraid of giving up. I had this deep down feeling of wanting to be who I was really made to be, of fulfilling some kind of purpose, and was so sad at the thought of wasting my life. But I couldn’t figure out how to live differently. I would think, “Why is this so hard for me? What’s my problem?” The struggle was so tiresome.
I am fortunate and grateful that I didn’t experience verbal, sexual, or physical abuse in my childhood. That was not my experience. But nature abhors a vacuum, and it was what didn’t happen to me as a child that set me up for years of searching, thirsting and hungering.
Tasting real life, beyond surviving, is a whole new world. I’m a coffee lover, so it’s comparable to having only tasted stale gas station coffee your whole life and then one day, having a sip of some smooth, rich creamy brew and realizing that there’s more for you than what you thought! The pain of surviving was not just a “normal” thing that I had to get used to. I had always wanted more than that, but had sometimes doubted the possibility of it.
Survival mode had become an uncomfortably comfortable habit… (painful, but familiar and deceptively safe). And so my process of living in a new way happens in spurts and steps and phases. The biggest thing that can hold me back is this naggling, deep down, long cultivated belief that I don’t really deserve to be too happy (plus, sometimes people look at you funny if you’re too happy, so just be careful…). I still battle that lie every day, but it gets easier each time. It’s amazing how simply bringing something to light can make all the difference.
Now, when I engage in really living, paying attention to my feelings and thoughts, embracing my responsibility to make good choices, having honest conversation with a friend, pursuing a new challenge or opportunity that I’m passionate about, I come away with this alive, buzzing feeling. Now I know that it’s that “flying feeling,” and the satisfaction and thrill of it won’t let me go back to the stale gas station coffee. I want a fulfilling life and this whole new feeling will become my new habit.