Trigger Warning: The Hunting Ground

So this sent me into tears and very much triggered me. But I breathed through it, because it is such important work. Kudos to the crew who put this project for The Hunting Ground together.  I don’t think I’ll be able to watch it, but I’m glad it is happening. I like that the music video finishes on a positive, empowering note, with survivors getting the support they need, and being heard and believed. Ideally rape wouldn’t happen in the first place. But if it does, survivors need to be heard and believed, most of all.The-Hunting-Ground

Photo Series Accurately Portrays How it Feels To Live with Anxiety

fc7bbd6b85192e424b949d68eb19a3a3Check It Out – it’s like looking inside myself. I’m sure many others will be able to relate. I love the comments at the end from those who never used to understand what it felt like for their anxiety-ridden loved-ones, but now finally have compassion after seeing this photo series.

Cathartic Songs To Get You Through Relationship Probs

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Me playlist at the moment:

  1. Cry Me A River – Vintage ’50s R&B Justin Timberlake Cover ft. Von Smith (Post Modern Jukebox). So much better than the original IMHO.

  2.  Against Me! – Black Me Out LIVE [HD].  Catharsis at its best.

  3. Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole – Martha Wainwright.  The title says it all, really.
  4. Adele – Rolling in the Deep. Love the lyrics to this, combined with the bluesy beat and her gritty voice.
  5. Fever Ray – Im not done. You just have to listen to this one.

  6. Creep – Vintage Postmodern Jukebox Radiohead Cover ft. Haley Reinhart. I love Radiohead, but there’s something about Haley Reinhart’s cover that I just love more. I saw her perform this live, with the unedited lyrics, and it was even better than this 🙂
  7. Fever Ray ‘If I Had A Heart’. More Fever Ray goodness.
  8. Bon Iver – Skinny Love. Not the Birdy version, but the original, for this one. Bon Iver said he wrote this about the ‘sort of’ love, so the skinny version of love, not the full fat, flavoursome variety of love.
  9. Ingrid Michaelson – Girls Chase Boys (An Homage to Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible”). I love this song, the lyrics, and the video.
  10. Johnny Cash – Hurt. Okay so I love Nine Inch Nails (well, their early stuff), but even Trent Reznor agreed that Cash sang this better, with more grit and heart. To each their own, but I can rarely listen to this without crying. Sad, and possibly a bit emo, but true nevertheless.
  11. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah. You cannot have a playlist like this, without the Buckly version of Hallelujah. I love the original Leonard Cohen as well, but as we had that at my sister’s funeral, I can’t listen to it without crying uncontrollably.
  12. Same Old Love – Vintage New Orleans Selena Gomez Cover ft. Brielle Von Hugel. See this is what I love about Postmodern Jukebox: they take songs that have quite satisfying, cathartic lyrics, and make them GOOD (IMHO).
  13. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made for Walkin. A classic!
  14. I will survive – Gloria Gaynor.  And another classic.
  15. Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory (1978). Johnny speaks the truth.
  16. Florence And The Machine – Dog Days Are Over. The only Florence song I like, and I like it a lot.
  17. Turn Into – Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Because when you know, you know.
  18. Kristin Hersh feat. Michael Stipe – Your Ghost. I’ve been listening to this on and off since 1995, what can I say….
  19. Pixies – Where Is My Mind. For that whole mindfuck component to heartbreak. I bought this album in 1994 before it got a bit famous due to Fight Club. Just sayn’.
  20. David Bowie – Heroes.  For when you’re still grasping at hope. Why did Bowie have to die but the likes of Phil Collins (who has been threatening to make a comeback) not?

Poetry Helps

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I love this poem by Mary Oliver. I read it whenever I need the strength to do what I know needs to be done, but it scares me. This poem, called “The Journey”, reminds me of all the journeys I’ve taken, despite thinking I’m not strong or brave enough, and I’ve survived. And thrived even.

The Journey – Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Gaslighting: Exploding Relationships and My Head

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You’re crazy.
Don’t be so sensitive.
Don’t be paranoid.
I was just joking!
That’s all in you.
It doesn’t mean anything
You’re imagining things.
You’re overreacting.
Don’t get so worked up.
That never happened.
There’s no pattern.
I didn’t say that.
It wouldn’t be any different anywhere else.
You’re just acting out.
I’m worried; I think you’re not well.
Do these phrases seem despairingly familiar? They are all common sentences used by gaslighters in relationships, be they intimate relationships, familial relationships, or colleague/working relationships. The process is toxic, harrowing, exhausting, and indeed, crazy-making. Adults whom survive childhood abuse, of any kind (not just CSA) are more likely to end up in relationships being gaslighted. I will explain why further on, but first a look at the term “gaslighting”. I want to emphasize at the beginning (and I will again throughout this piece) that it is not always, or even very often, the conscious intentions of gaslighters to make you crazy. But it is the result. There is also a spectrum of behavior with gaslighting, from the more mild (which is still toxic and damaging) to the extreme.
Katie Abramson (2014), whom I quote extensively in this piece (something I don’t usually do in my work ,because it is frankly, a bit lazy, but this is just my blog and I currently have a ton of deadlines to meet, so don’t have heaps of time to write this piece!), who is a researcher at Indiana University, gives this excellent introduction to where the term “gaslighting” comes from: “…the movie “Gaslight”, in which Gregory deliberately tries to make his spouse Paula lose her mind by manipulating her, her friends, and her physical environment. Gregory’s aim is to have Paula hospitalized for mental instability, so he can gain access to her jewels. We witness him engaging in one ‘crazy-making’ manipulative move after another, over a stretch of months.
He takes a brooch he’s claimed to be a prized heirloom out of Paula’s purse to
make her doubt her clear memory of having put it there. He places his own
watch in her purse when she’s not looking, accuses her of stealing it, and then
“discovers” the watch in her purse while she is in the company of friends who—
unbeknownst to Paula—he’s warned that Paula is unstable. This last incident
not only upsets and confuses Paula, but is constructed by Gregory to be public
so as to provide her friends with apparent ‘evidence’ that she’s losing her mind.
It also thereby contributes to Paula’s increasing sense of isolation. The title of
the movie is drawn from the following manipulative move. Gregory regularly
searches for Paula’s jewels in the attic, and when he does so, his turning on the

lights there has the effect of diming the gaslights elsewhere in the house. Every time this happens, Paula queries him about the gaslights diming. And each timeGregory insists Paula is imagining things, suggesting that this too is a sign of her growing mental illness. All the while, Gregory is full of expressions of purported concern—e.g. “why don’t you rest a while”, “do you really want to go out? You know you haven’t been well”, etc.

As Abramson (2014) and other researchers and therapists have pointed out, most gaslighters are not consciously or deliberately trying to make their targets crazy, and nor do they usually have an end goal in mind, as Gregory did (stealing jewels). Instead, Abramson (2014) states that, “…the phenomenon that has come to be picked out with that term is a form of emotional manipulation in which the gaslighter tries (consciously or not) to induce in someone the sense thaher reactions, perceptions, memories and/or beliefs are not just mistaken, but utterly without grounds—paradigmatically, so unfounded as to qualify as crazy.”
Gaslighting is not the same as simply dismissing someone during a discussion or argument, as dismissal involves merely not taking someone seriously, whereas a gaslighter aims to get you to not even take yourself seriously during a discussion or argument. See the distinction? Usually this form of emotional manipulation happens over a long period of time, with the phrases at the beginning of this article being classic, common gaslighter phrases. There is an intriguing commonality to gaslighter’s words, as Abranson (2014) and others have discovered.

Abranson (2014) points out that while gaslighting is not always aimed at women, by men, it is more often than not a sexist phenomenon, with men being the gaslighters, and women the targets (she lists multiple references for this). Furthermore, according to Abranson (2014): “it (gaslighting) frequently takes place in the context of, and in response to, a woman’s protestation against sexist (or otherwise discriminatory) conduct; (4) some of the forms of emotional manipulation that are employed in gaslighting frequently rely on the target’s internalization of sexist norms, (5) when gaslighting is successful—when it actually undermines the target in the ways it is designed to do—it can reinforce the very sexist norms which the target was trying to resist and/or those on which the gaslighter relies in his/her manipulation of the target, and (6) sometimes it is some subset of those very sexist norms which the gaslighter seeks to preservthrough his/her gaslighting conduct.”

In essence, gaslighters charge their targets with being crazy, oversensitive, or paranoid. What the terms at the beginning of this article have in common in the context of gaslighting, according to Abranson (2014), “is that they are ways of charging someone not simply with being wrong or mistaken, but being in no condition to judge whether she is wrong or mistaken. The accusations are about the target’s basic rational competence—her ability to get facts right, to deliberate, her basic evaluativcompetencies and ability to react appropriately: her independent standing as deliberator and moral agent. When gaslighting succeeds, it drives its targets crazy in the sense of deeplundermining just these aspects of a person’s independent standing.”

In other words, your gaslighter doesn’t just want you to to admit you might be wrong, but instead to know, at the very fiber of your being, that you are not only wrong, but in no fit state to judge for yourself, whether you could be right or wrong. This slowly but surely destroys all your sense of self, confidence, and faith in one self and one’s ability to operate as an active agent in the world at large. Again, I wish to emphasize, as Abranson (2014) does, that this is not necessarily  the gaslighter’s conscious aim. Gaslighters usually have multiple aims and desires, often vague and not always conscious. It might be simply to maintain control over a situation or the relationship, which is a broad (albeit destructive) aim, or it might be more specific, such as getting you to stay in a situation, such as a job or marriage, that you don’t want to, and are unhappy in. Sometimes, (certainly not always, however) gaslighters just loath conflict, so want to shut their target down as effectively as possible. But there is a significant difference between avoiding conflict through simply silencing yourself to avoid engaging in conflict, and silencing the other person by gaslighting them, often with the above phrases, “don’t be so sensitive”, “you’re overreacting”, “you’re wrong”, etc.
A gaslighter may not seek to control every relationship or argument in their life, but instead, they have specific triggers where they feel they must, at all costs, be right and maintain control. So while they might not feel the need to challenge their bosses’ authority, and are okay being disagreed with in that situation, it could be a completely different story in intimate relationships where they feel the need to completely eliminate the possibility of being called out on something.
I mentioned earlier that survivors of abuse are more likely to be victims of gas lighting. This is because survivors are more likely to question their reality as it is, and question their sanity. For one thing, many survivors are not believed when they initially disclose the abuse that has happened to them. This was the case with me. When the very people who are supposed to protect and love you the most don’t believe you, or question your reality, it makes you question everything else you experience well into the future. Survivors also already know that they do in fact have mental health issues, so we are an easy target for those who haven’t survived such trauma, to call out on our feelings and reality. “You’re crazy” – well yeah, I am a bit, so that must mean I’m crazy and wrong with everything right? Wrong, actually.
Firstly, everyone is a little crazy, it’s all just different versions on an incredibly wide spectrum (the latest DSM could diagnose everyone with at least one disorder. I’m not saying this is right, but it is true). Secondly, the difference with survivors of trauma, is we are more likely to seek therapy and spend a good long time sorting our shit out. This, ironically, makes us a bit less “cray cray”, because at least we are usually acutely self-aware about our crazy stuff, and work at it tirelessly (and it is indeed very tiring). Most people go through life blissfully ignorant of the cracks and dark spots in their psyche. They are the dangerous ones to watch. Unfortunately our own self-awareness can work against us if we are being gaslighted, because therapy teaches us to really question ourselves. Which is generally a good thing, but not when it comes to gaslighting.
But ultimately, if a relationship is making you feel constantly bad about yourself, and truly questioning your sanity and reality, it’s time to get out, take a break, see a therapist, or whatever, depending on the level of badness. Obviously if there is any form of violence, get out yesterday, with support from police or other domestic violence agencies.
So what can you do to avoid gaslighting? There are numerous sites on the inter web with advice on how to recognize and escape gaslighting. Act now, before your sense of self and confidence is eroded even more. Help is available. 
Or do you recognize that you are prone to gaslighting? Help is also available for you. 
I feel like I’m not done with this topic, having survived gaslighting in multiple relationships, and I have been questioning my current relationship in regards to gaslighting, for a while now ( the sad irony being that I question my reality and version of events, and feelings about that – which is a giant red flag waving in itself…but my partner does indeed use many of those phrases, so yeah….). So watch this space for follow-ups and feel free to share your experiences of gaslighting (though I really wouldn’t wish it upon anyone!).
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Crazy-Not-So-Crazy Things I Have Done/Come Undone

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This is a list of all the “crazy” stuff I’ve done over the years, that at the time, and for a long time, I thought I was the only one who did this weird stuff, so I kept it secret. But later, in the course of therapy and my work, I discovered they are not uncommon habits of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) survivors, or for people with PTSD from other traumatic experiences. And in fact, these crazy things we do, are actually rational in some ways, in the sense that if you have suffered extreme trauma, as we have, it’s understandable that you would take a series of actions to attempt to prevent future trauma. Anyway, here’s is the list – probably not comprehensive, as there are some episodes in my life that I don’t remember too well, and don’t feel ready to fully bring to light. But this is the fist time I’m writing it all down, and maybe someone else who thinks they are crazy will read it and take comfort in knowing they are not the only one.

  1. I remember that from around age 7, I thought that if i deliberately stood on every single crack I saw in the foot path, then I could prevent ‘bad things’ from happening. Yep, OCD behavior. But also the behavior, I know now, of a kid who was desperately trying to find some control over her chaotic and frightening environment. This was exhausting, because there are a lot of cracks in pavements, and I had to be very deliberate about it. I was also very concerned at missing one, and what would happen if I didn’t get to step on it. I remember the feeling of very deliberately standing on the cracks. I wish I had the words to adequately explain it, but it is a very distinct and tangible feeling, quite unique. This behavior continued on and off for many, many years, generally increasing during times of intense stress.
  2. I still have OCD tendencies when it comes to safety around the house. Again, not so unusual for survivors of trauma. I check the locks on the doors an exhausting number of times. Like, even when I know I have locked the doors, and know I have checked it several times already, I still have to get up, turn the lights on, despite being very tired, and stand and stare at the locked door for a good long while before being comforted that it really, truly is locked. Sigh.
  3. Self-harming, mainly cutting. I loved the feeling, and have to work really hard at preventing myself from doing it these days. I distract myself when the feeling comes up, as distraction (exercise, a bath, Netflix) seems to work best. I also get really intrusive thoughts, for whatever strange reason, about pulling my finger nails off. I imagine it against my will and can almost feel the sensation. I know right. Nuts.
  4. I’m a mother, and became a mother somewhat young. I didn’t realize how much this would trigger aspects of my PTSD, and I was extraordinarily over-protective. I slept with my babies in my bed and a large knife under the bed for a long time. Yep, crazy. But not so crazy when you consider what I survived as a kid. And I have since met other survivors who did the same. Which is kind of comforting, but also very sad. Therapy helped me work through that over-protectiveness to find a better balance, so I could at least send them to school and trust them with a heavily vetted baby sitter sometimes…….it’s still not easy though. And this is why I take martial arts and boxing classes 😉
  5. I have terrible abandonment issues, which seems like such a cliche. But the psychologist I saw for many years rationalized it for me, by pointing out that if I’d had a loving, supportive, adult around, then I wouldn’t have been abused. But my mother, when she was around, was often volatile and unpredictable. She could be very loving and kind as well, but also violent and hostile (there’s no point discussing my dad, I grew up thinking one person was him, then found out later is was probably someone else…either way, I consider myself a fatherless daughter). So the abandonment thing still makes no sense to me, entirely. But I’m afraid I have been that crazy girlfriend over the years, at times. The one who obsessively calls, checks ups, goes crazy if you’re late or whatever. I’m not proud of it, and not excusing it by pointing to the PTSD. But it is an explanation, and it’s important to be aware of and work through it, otherwise you’re just replicating abusive behavior, albeit in a different form.
  6. I’m really, really good at running away. I started when I was quite young – age 4 in fact, and I got quite  a long way. It was a day before anyone found me. I paid a heavy price for that adventure, but the beating didn’t stop me doing it again, and again. As an adult, I moved constantly, until I had children, and then had to slow it down, as I wanted my kids to have the stability that I didn’t. It’s difficult though, as I get really itchy feet, and whenever something goes wrong in my life, I just want to run.
  7. Conversely, and strangely, given the above predilection, I get terrible social anxiety and am often afraid to leave my home. I think many people who know me would be disbelieving of this fact, as once I’m out, I’m often very chatty and sociable. I have gotten really good at putting on the mask of “I’m an-okay, well-adjusted, friendly and sociable person” over the years, because I’ve had to. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to work and feed and cloth my children. But I do frequently bail on events I’ll say I’ll go to, and will happily spend days and days cooped up at home, if given the chance. I suppose the running away and staying home are two sides of the same coin: both behaviors seek to avoid people.
  8. I went from being someone who would physically vomit if I got into a confrontation and had to speak my truth, to someone who was extremely confrontational over the tiniest thing. Again, there is a real tension and divide between these two characteristics, and I would swing back and forth a lot. I’m not sure why. But I would go really over the top sometimes – not physically violent (except in my teen years, I did get into a lot of physical fights then), but I would take it upon myself to call everyone out on their behavior. Sometimes this was legitimate, sometimes really not. But as I say, for a long time I would actually throw up during verbal confrontations. So from one extreme to the other.
  9. “Stories”, or lies as is probably more accurate. I told some doozies, for whatever crazy reason. I know other people who have had, for all intents and purposes, a fairly stable childhood, who have admitted to telling crazy lies at times, for whatever reason. So perhaps this is not so unusual (certainly not in politics huh). But it seems strange and puzzling to me. I would tell other kids at school that my mother was a famous jockey in horse racing, and had dated Bob Dylan, and that my real father was actually a famous rock star, and all sorts of other nutty things. I guess I wanted to create this fantasy life that was far, far from the reality. But why Bob Dylan would date a famous jockey, I really don’t know….
  10. I did a lot of truly insane things while under the influence of alcohol, too many to count. This is why I rarely drink these days. Most people have done foolish, crazy things while drunk, so this one is not terribly “crazy”, but it is crazy that it’s such a normal experience these days. Better not to go there.
  11. I stole cars, clothes, and other things to survive as a teenager. Not really crazy, but I’m not proud of it. I also accidentally started a fire while sleeping in a church once, at age 14. I had a candle burning and knocked it over. The police found out it was me and I paid for the clean up and damage. By stealing and selling stuff. Oh irony. I try and compensate for all these past wrongs by doing a great deal of volunteer work in the community these days and donating a lot to charities.
  12. I am just generally a little weird. But life is a little weird, isn’t it? I’m the one who will point out the elephant in the room these days, loudly and continuously, until everyone takes notice and acknowledges it. I can’t stand pretense or keeping things unsaid. That is highly dangerous, in my experience. I say what I think and feel, and this makes people uncomfortable sometimes. I try really hard to be honest about who I am and what I am, when I think people would rather we all just pretended everything is okay. But it’s not always, and the only way I see for things to improve is to be honest about where things are not right, and to do something about it.

So there we go, not all entirely crazy, but I certainly thought so, and felt terribly ashamed. The thing is, I’ve been tested for IQ twice in my life time, and it’s always come up reasonably high: 140-160. Which makes me wonder about the interaction between IQ and “crazy” after suffering trauma. Does it make it better or worse or neither? I feel lucky, overall, that in what is pretty much a lottery I got this IQ, as it has meant I could pull myself out of poverty and give my kids a better life, as well as be a role model in terms of career and studies. But I’m pretty honest about my crazy as well. Depression, anxiety, flashbacks etc  -all makes us do peculiar things sometimes. But the peculiarity makes sense when you look at it in context. In there, is a frightened child (or wounded adult) we’re trying to keep safe. So kindness and understanding goes a long way towards abating the “crazy” in people, and the world at large.

 

 

The Conflicting Desire To Survive Yet Die

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Resumé, by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

I would hazard a guess that most survivors of sexual abuse have suicidal tendencies at some point in, if not for their entire life time. There isn’t any comprehensive, reliable data on this, so I’m basing my guess on professional work and research I have done in the past, and my own experiences.

For me there has been an element of cognitive dissonance in my desire to survive this horrific thing, to prove the world, my abusers, those who shamed me about it, that I am better, stronger, and smarter than they ever believed. But there is also an overwhelming and powerful part of me that just wants to die. The desire to self-harm and take my life is there on a daily basis sometimes, all while I am striving to achieve and do better in my life. Like I say, it’s a cognitive dissonance and sometimes exhausting.

People appear to experience suicidality differently. There is the impulsive form, where someone may have never been suicidal before, but a traumatic or overwhelming event occurs and they kill themselves on impulse, often while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. For me it has just always been there, but oscillating between passive and active suicidality. Mostly nowadays it’s passive, but when it’s active it feels compulsive and overwhelming, and so very difficult to resist. I feel similar compulsions and luring with self-harming, which I used to frequently engage in. I imagine, sometimes, that maybe this is what a drug addiction feels like. Which is fitting, because managing it, is like the 12 step program; one day at a time. Sometimes even one hour or one moment at a time. If I think about having to deal with this for the rest of my life, it’s too much. I can’t do it. But if I tell myself I just need to get through this day, or even this next hour, then okay, I can do that. I put things in place for the day to help me through, like a bubble bath, a work out hard enough to get my endorphins up. Coffee. A book. Anything really, one moment at a time.

Because as Dorothy Parker says, there is no easy way to die, but we can make living a bit more manageable. Life is a great big experiment, and I may as well live.

The Peculiar Physical Legacy From Childhood Sexual Abuse

I’ve had various health problems over the years, despite working hard to keep myself healthy these days; I exercise every day, eat really well, rarely drink (now! – wasn’t always thus, but that’s another post for another day…), don’t smoke (despite some youthful flirtations with cigs), and I get regular check ups. But I had early onset osteoarthritis and ongoing problems with asthma. I had to see the doctor recently, as my asthma was worsening. She asked me about a family history of asthma, since it’s usually genetic. But there is none, on either side. Same with arthritis – and I got it quite young.

But here’s the thing: survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) don’t just live with the psychological and emotional legacy of abuse, such as difficulty trusting or attaining sexual pleasure, anxiety, flashbacks, among other things. Osteoarthritis, asthma, headaches (another issue of mine), and back pain (and yep, I have multiple back issues), are also more likely to be an issue for CSA survivors. And while it’s devastating to me that this is the case – as if we don’t have enough to deal with – it’s also fascinating how something that you would think has a primarily psychological impact (bar the damage done to the body parts being abused), has these physical health impacts over the life time.

So I have made really good headway with managing my PTSD symptoms. I do strength and resistance training to help the arthritis and back issues, and it’s working; the symptoms are not nearly as bad as they once were. I do high intensity interval training for exercise, in the hope of helping my asthma (as well as using two different inhalers of course).  As we fix the mind, does the body not follow? Is it a two-way causal system, where fixing one benefits both? I don’t know, but I’m going to do more reading on it and will write some follow-up posts with what I find.

Because there’s one thing I’ve been certain of for a long time: I will not bow to these symptoms that are the result of the abuse. To do so would be to let him win. I am stronger than that. We all are, despite what the common discourse often tells us.