Friday, April 29, 2011

Re-Training the Brain

     Growing up as children, we are taught how to live, usually with the purpose of turning us into capable adults.  With people that have grown up in an abusive household, that training is twisted usually not for the purpose of generating healthy strong adults but for purposes that serve the abuser.  The child that grows up in that environment becomes the adult who must either undertake to re-train themselves with healthy patterns or settle as a mentally and emotionally crippled adult without the tools needed to live a complete life.
     Living with DID, the twisted training I grew up with was so strong that I do not have the choice to settle as incomplete.  With abuse so severe re-training as an adult is the only possible way for me to survive.  My entire life I knew I had limitations but I did my best to pretend they didn't exist and somehow learn to adapt with them anyway, a adaptation that completely sacrificed my safety and health to preserve the lies of my parents.  I have to admit that it doesn't work.  I cannot pretend it doesn't exist.
     Growing up I was only safe when my parents were home if I was working or we were at the dinner table or we had company.  If they saw me around the house I would often try to look busy gathering or dusting, but I soon learned this was not good either so I spent as much time as possible hiding in my room reading a book with one ear always cocked to monitor their whereabouts.
      After 18 plus years of this training, I cannot just walk away and pretend it never happened to go and live another kind of life.  By the time I was in high school I learned I cannot be around people.  My hyper-alert mode is just too high.  I could go to school for the first four hours OK, since at school we were kept busy and on schedule, I could focus on that and be 'safe'.  By fifth period I would be wound tight broken into a sweat with my eye on the clock doing breathing exercises trying to convince myself I could survive until school let out and I got home to be alone.  I usually ran off into the mountains to wander the woods and let all the tension seep from me.  Oddly enough I felt safest far out in the woods by myself than anywhere else.  Hanging out with friends rarely happened, and when it did, I always excused myself early.  When I explained to my close friend that I simply could not relax around anyone, no one at all, not even family - she joked that I would make an excellent body guard.
     By the time I was in college, I could barely make it through a two hour class.  Two back to back classes became agony.  I did not party or hang out in college.  By my sophomore year if I decided to 'go out' with friends I would make it as far as the parking lot before doubling over with stomach cramps and shaking in a cold sweat.  Five minutes after returning to my room - alone - I would be fine.  I contributed this to having a sensitive stomach, and didn't pay much attention to how it correspondingly got worse in crowds.
     Now I can better recognize PTSD as part of  the cause, but I am still edgy around people.  It doesn't matter who they are.  No amount of trust takes this away.  I was, after all, trained to be this way by my parents.  After ten minutes sitting in the living room when people are home my muscles are locked and I have stomach cramps.  I simply do not feel safe in the presence of people.  Oddly enough, if I start cleaning or working outside, I feel safe again, because of the belief that no one will harm me if they see me working and being productive, especially for them.  I have discovered a loophole because of this, that if I am up and moving, I feel safer.  In high school I had been talked into going with a group of friends to senior prom.  Prior to the dance I felt wretched, but once dancing I was ecstatic to discover I felt fine.  Now I use belly dance as a great way to get moving and release tension.  While I have difficulty talking to someone face to face for any extended period, if we go for a walk I do OK.
     Now I am what you could call a hermit.  I need lots and lots of 'me' time, to find my calm.  I am sensitive to energies of people, and try to work with that (whole other post for the future there), but also just learn to tell myself that I am OK.  I am safe here.  I have to do the work.  I have to communicate.  I have to wrangle through it and face the facts.  Living this life takes incredible patience and persistence.  And honesty.  Un-crippling yourself goes slowly.

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