Recovery: Thinking about forgiveness

Background

Often I get asked about forgiveness and being able to forgive, not just myself, but also the people who hurt me in the past.

If I do/can/have forgiven those people, how/when/why did I forgive them?  What is the importance of forgiveness?

If I do/can/have forgiven myself, how/when/why?

What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance?  Are both important?  And again, why?

My Thoughts

Disclaimer: any content written here is based on my personal experience combined with education via trauma informed therapy, self-help resources, psychology books, and learning from other victims/survivors/educators.  They are NOT professional opinions, facts, or theories based on academics, professional education, etc.

Forgivness and Acceptance are two separate but inter-related concepts.

Forgiveness is very personal and subjective – depends a lot on an individual’s personal goals – that can help individuals move beyond recovery & living towards thriving after surviving trauma.

Responsibility is not the same as Accountability.  I do not hold myself or others accountable for choices, actions, or reactions because I do not expect anything from myself or others.

I do hold myself and others responsible for choices, actions, or reactions because I or they chose to act or react a certain way.
Then I can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but I don’t HAVE TO do that.
Same with other people; they can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but no one expects them to.

Making reparation for a mistake or apologizing is something learned based on morals and ethics.  And the concepts are learnable at any age.

**Forgiveness is a never-ending work in progress that moves in cycles and can transform lives**

Forgiveness of Others

Yes, I have forgiven the people who hurt me, especially my parents, immediate family, and relatives.  I forgave them a few years before starting this website and blog.  And continue practicing forgiveness as more and more memories come back.

But forgiveness is hard.  I struggle with not being able to forgive these people all the time or unconditionally because the pain and memories can feel so strong.  Plus sometimes I still think that forgiveness comes with strings attached when it doesn’t.

So I can forgive my parents and still maintain a no-contact stance.  Same with other people in my family. I can forgive friends and still feel afraid of interacting with them in person or letting them back into my life.  Finally, I can forgive other relatives and feel good with the choice to maintain limited contact with them.

Why?

  • Holding on to anger and grudges only hurts me by reinforcing my fears and holding me hostage within the limitations these people created for me
  • These people are human beings with pasts and experiences beyond their control that influenced their choices and actions as adults
  • Blame doesn’t help anyone; it only shifts responsibility and choices away from responsible parties
    • they can rationalize, justify, make excuses and find ways to turn the blame back on victims with guilt, shame or emotional blackmail
  • Holding these people responsible for their choices is a positive perspective on what happened that validates anger without the negativity of shame, or guilt that causes blame
  • These people made choices and are responsible for those choices, so I can feel angry with their behavior and hold them responsible without blaming them
  • I am learning about compassion and perspective as part of my recovery.   Part of compassion is being able to understand experiences from another’s point of view or perspective and understanding that forgiveness is part of compassion
  • By forgiving these people I am also reducing the influence my past has on present choices, experiences, and goals

Forgiveness of Self

One thing predators and abusers excel at is shifting blame to the victims and convincing the victims they are both responsible and at fault for experiences and circumstances beyond the victim’s control.

It took me a long time to be able to forgive myself for not being able to escape sooner.  And even longer to stop blaming myself for what happened to me.  Some parts of me still blame themselves for what happened.  Others are now capable of feeling compassion for themselves and understanding the difference between blame/fault and responsibility of one’s choices.

But I couldn’t make progress until I learned to at least forgive myself and really know in all aspects of my sense of self that I wasn’t responsible for the trauma of my past.  Without awareness of my behavior/thoughts/feelings and how they were influenced by my past, I couldn’t consciously make choices with conscious awareness either.  So my past was controlling my present, and I felt ashamed because my life was out of control.

Therapy in group and individual settings helped me learn to forgive myself instead of blaming, shaming, guilting, and feeling angry with myself for how I acted and reacted sometimes.  Then these professionals gave me the tools to help take back control of my life and my choices.  The small successes built on each other and helped me realize something important:

  • I am not responsible for my past or what happens when I feel triggered without awareness – in my mind I am protecting myself
  • I am responsible for my choices once I do have awareness of these triggers because I can change the negative reactions into positive ones or apologize & make reparation for mistakes or misunderstandings or miscommunications caused by me
  • Finally, I am human and make mistakes because mistakes are part of how humans learn, so I can forgive myself for making mistakes and take the opportunity to grow instead of shutting down

Conclusion

Like compassion, forgiveness can help heal wounds and offer perspective that allows victims and/or survivors or anyone really to move past negative feelings or blocks.  The concept is easy to understand.  The practice is difficult and not something that is accomplished once and then done forever.

Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, a life choice, and a way of life like compassion that can help ease suffering.  There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, but it’s up to each of us to question what we know and challenge ourselves to look for different answers.

That’s how I stumbled onto this definition of forgiveness.

And learned:

  • that forgive does not equal forget
  • that a person who can forgive while holding the other party responsible is stronger and more resilient than a person who holds on to anger and grudges
  • that accepting responsibility for my part only doesn’t make me weak; it makes me stronger and more confident because I am taking control of my life and my choices

I hope that someday even if my guests can’t forgive the people who hurt them, they can forgive themselves.

Thanks for reading

Shame: Another Backlash Epiphany

Introduction

There have been a lot of good experiences and positive changes in my life lately.  There have also been some unsettling realizations and uncomfortable changes about how I see myself and interact with the world.

The Pain of June (past)

One of the most difficult parts of June is pain management.  When I am awake, my body hurts.  As I try to sleep, my body still hurts.  I want to stay home and rest because the pain keeps me awake.  None of my “regular” coping strategies work.  In the past, the more I tried to use any coping strategies, the more pain I felt.  The more I tried to relax, the more tension my body experienced.

I felt at war with myself, and giving in to my OCD self- harm compulsions was the only way to get relief.  Because self-harm made the obsessive thoughts, voices, and words go away.  But the self-harm provided temporary relief and was addictive.  The window of relief shrunk as my body got used to the distraction.  And like any other addict, I had to increase the pain and self-harm to get any relief.

The Pain of June (present)

This year, the pain arrived on schedule.  The OCD compulsions to self-harm DID NOT follow.  The body memories, flashbacks, and hallucinations did follow the pain.  I’ve been living with the hallucinations for a week now.  The pain has ebbed and flowed…some days worse than others.  But the weekly Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments have helped a lot.

I use TCM because each visit includes acupuncture and body work in the form of cupping, massage, or gau sha.  My intern practitioner also teaches me self-massage techniques I can use between appointments.  Together, the acupuncture, massage, and body work helps manage my pain to acceptable levels in spite of triggers.  This allows me to sleep less, feel more energetic, and do more with my time.  (all positive changes)

The Shame of Backlash

The downside is intense backlash and triggering that feels different and is difficult to cope with.  Shame is one of the few emotions we all still struggle with.  It’s something that requires help and perspective from an objective third party who can listen with empathy and help clear out the confusing bits.

Once the shame trigger is identified, healing with coping strategies can begin.  Why the hotline?  Because my counseling sessions take place every week or 1.5 weeks and this type of trigger often occurs between sessions.  If the hotline can’t help, I do reach out to my therapist.  But only when all other resources have been utilized first.

The hotline helped me and my triggered parts calm down enough until our weekend session.  Calm down as in be able to sleep and quiet the anxiety the evening before therapy; not as in make the backlash go away.  My therapist witnessed how the backlash affected me in real time.  She asked some questions and helped me understand why this version of backlash felt different:

Therapist: how do you feel?
Me: I feel fine; just tired.  My emotions are calm even though I am experiencing backlash.
Therapist: how does your body feel?
Me: tense.  All of my muscles hurt, but especially around here (pointing).
Therapist: you’re braced for an attack.  Am I correct in thinking this?
I paused
Me: yes, you’re right.  I do feel braced for an attack – a slap of some kind or my head being pulled back by my hair.

The backlash is my younger par way of saying:
don’t do this!  It’s dangerous.  Our body is going to get hurt.  Then ALL of us will feel t he pain.  And we’ll be humiliated in front of everyone.  And then be punished even worse.

Conclusion

This time, backlash has to do with memories of physical abuse for showing confidence or accomplishments instead of hiding and letting someone else take the credit.  It happens most often when I interact with the world by sharing my experience, skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and abilities with confidence.

The more often I step out and do this, the more often I experience backlash.  When combined with anniversaries or other flashbacks, the pain increases.  Emotional distress remains the same or decreases.  With this new information, my therapist and I are working on coping strategies and techniques for pain-related flashbacks.

As I learn more, I will share the information in future posts.

 

 

Thanks for reading

 

 

Body Memories: the fragments are connecting…what happens next?

I’ve been practicing self care since the last post.  A lot of sleeping and a lot of cooking have brought my energy levels back up.  One load of laundry, a potential new apartment interview, taking care of taxes, knitting, and essay writing rounded out the rest of my physical self care strategies this weekend.  Meditation, deep breathing, a mindful walk, sensory grounding, and a call to the hotline rounded out my mental self care.

What I’m still struggling with:

Body memory and body self care.  In the last post, I mentioned how much the treatment impacted my body.  What I didn’t realize was the consequences of that impact.

The Positive

  • Less physical pain around my face, neck, and spine
  • Less swelling around my sinuses, ears, neck, and abdomen
  • More yucky stuff (aka toxins) getting released
  • More feeling in my legs and other muscle groups that have been numb for a while
  • Improved temperature regulation
  • Improved sleep

The Scary

  • Odd tingling pain and discomfort from hips (and are between) to toes that is starting to go away
  • Extreme tiredness and lack of energy immediately after treatment
  • Lots of recovered memories and memory fragments piecing together while awake and asleep
  • Had to take a “mental health day”
  • Tenderness in private parts that feels uncomfortable and triggering – don’t know how to cope with it
  • Increased visits to the bathroom that interrupt my sleep and feel oddly uncomfortable because the previously mentioned tender parts are affected.

Conclusion

I really need to talk with my intern practitioner about these sensations; glad Tuesday is only two days away.  And after that conversation, I may break my rule and ask my counselor to call me between sessions.  This discomfort is not something I’ve ever had to cope with long term and starting to distress me.

Other than that, I’m feeling pretty good about the self care.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Can’t have friends because everyone around me is a potential target

The more I live in the present and focus on working through recovery, the more I remember my past.  The memories are being unlocked as I learn to work through the pain in my body.

Less pain = more memories recovered

Less pain = more crying and grieving before the letting go process moves on

More pain = less memories and more confusion

More pain = less awareness of my feelings and instincts

Do I want less pain?  Yes.  Do I want to remember what is locked up in my body?  Not really.

Today, after about 3 weeks of acupuncture with the new student and 3 sessions with my new counselor in between sessions with the old one, I can finally put some of the pieces of my childhood and adolescence together.  The recurring dreams that turn into nightmares really did happen.  And those people I remember fighting, they were real friends who became targets for  the monsters controlling my life.  In protecting them, I lost their friendship too.

And other people who could have made decent friends, I had already mastered the art of pushing people away by then.  And it wasn’t safe either way.  No matter where I went, there was always someone who recognized me and spread the rumors behind my back.  Or told someone in my family what I was doing.  And then the harassment (not of me, but of the people who were kind to me) began.  They thought I knew.  But I didn’t.  And instead of talking to me about it, they kicked me out of their lives and avoided me.

Living a double life is not fun.  Being drugged into not remembering that other life completely sucks.  And when the truth hits, the sensation is overwhelming.  The tears fall until no one wants to cry any more.  The movie reels start.  And suddenly, I can see my friends and any family members involved as they were back when we were children.  I hear their voices.  And the memories come flooding back.

The big difference here is that no one tries to stop the flood.  We all sit back in our comfy chairs and watch the memories go by.  From our safe bubble, the memories surround us.  But they don’t hurt us anymore.  Our bubble can float to the surface, bounce from wave to wave, and coast along the flow of movement instead of being drowned.

And the memories tell me that I can’t trust anyone.  I can’t make friends because those friends might be targeted as employees(sex trafficking), members (of the cult), or clients (for drugs and other illegal stuff).  Or they and their families will have to suffer being harassed and stalked and manipulated by my parents and the other people who owned me.

So yea, I and my alters, we all feel kind of sad and depressed today.  People often wonder why I don’t pursue leadership jobs and more social activities.  How can I tell them why that kind of job doesn’t work for me?  That I am afraid to be noticed because the monsters will hurt me again?  Or hurt the people around me.  How can I tell them that I survived by staying below the radar instead of taking charge and being more independent?  How can I say that I am ashamed of my intelligence and skills so have a hard time displaying them in public and around strangers who might not actually be strangers?

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: undoing the memory distortion

 My recovered memories come back in fragments and feelings with some kind of physical sensation attached.  The reality of those memories are different from my concepts of the past; often they contradict each other.  The contradictions confuse me (alters included) and bring feelings of anxiety that trigger obsessions, compulsions, and automatic coping strategies.

This weekend I realized that leaving my family was less stressful than the fear of their reprisal for walking away.  They systematically shunned me for months that turned into years as I became more successful amd whole (recovery).  By the time I left, almost everybody was rude and ignored me  except to shame or insult me whenever we saw each other.  

And the one time I did go back and try letting them back into my life led me to taking a one month leave of absence from work to sort out my feelings.  I went back because an uncle by marriage died after fighting cancer for many years.  Going back was selfish in that I needed the closure – to see for myself that he was really, truly dead.  The rest was to see what reactions I would get from different family members and if their opinions of me changed.

Some were happy to see me.  Others were resentful and ignored me.  Most were curious about how I was doing.  They all expected me to come back to the fold and treated me as if I never left.  Except for one aunt who ignored me as pumishment for standing up to her before the blow up.

But 3 months of being back around them confirmed that I needed them out of my life.  And so, every year between January and May, I get angry and depressed.  My body experiences extreme pain.  Amd I relive all of the interactions that had me contemplating suicide so many times.

My typical response is dissociation followed by ammesia and many negative coping straegies like picking my skin and scabs, pulling out hang nails in ways that cause bleeding, pain, and possible infection (usually goes away when I reopen the scab and clean with iodine before using antibiotic ointment), acting reckless, etc.

I also would lose enough weight to trigger relapse symptoms in my body and get sick.  And all of his stress opened up space for the obsessions and compulsions to take over my life…until the pain eased and I could think clearly again.

My challenges are many:

  • Finding successful alternitve coping strategies that are healthy and positive
  • Finding ways to counter the obsessions and compulsions
  • Learning to accept my depression instead of fighting it
  • Letting myself feel all emotions so I can sleep
  • Being ok with the need to get rid of stuff by throwing it in the garbage instead of finding a more sustainable solution that aligns with my values
  • Accepting that my beliefs are contradictory to my recovered memories for good reasons
  • Learning to accept that my memories are real and balid and more true than the beliefs drummed into my head for decades
  • Accepting that some of my habits will take as many years to undo as took to settle in
  • Fearing habits and rituals becuase they can become obsessions and compulsions

My strategies are many; and I learn more all the time.  But nothing is ever perfect.  Mistakes happen. Life goes on one moment at a time.  I am safe.  My alters are safe.  That is enough for now.

Thanks for reading.