Another guest post from “Sandy” — who was willing to give an interview to Mormon Mental Health about her experience of childhood sexual assault in the context of worthiness interviews (protectldschildren.org). She can use this blog as a platform for as many writings as she would like to post.
I really appreciate this piece from Sandy because it talks about the experiences many have with PTSD, the importance of seeing dissociation as a coping skill that isn’t always negative, and the importance of self-care. I loved the reference to building herself a nest in preparation to the hard work she anticipates doing in therapy.
Often the work to heal from CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is about being IN my body. So much of my formative years was spent in a dissociative state, in order to cope with the trauma I was experiencing, that I unlearned a lot of things about how it feels to be human. Hunger, for example, is a stranger to me. I’ll often only realize that I need food when I notice that my hands are shaking, and it will occur to me to wonder when I last ate something. Another example of this is pain. I broke my leg when I was in high school, jumping from a second story window, but I didn’t realize it until the next day when I went to school like normal, tried to run the mile with my class, and passed out on the track from what must have been a significant amount of pain. Pain that I couldn’t recognize, and can’t remember.
So now, most of what I do in therapy is practice feeling things, while staying present in my body. Feeling fear, sadness, longing, or even joy, and not vacating for the alternative comfort of dissociation. Tomorrow at therapy, after the events of this week, I imagine I will have the opportunity to practice feeling anger, and being in my body.
I have a love/hate relationship with dissociation. Sometimes, I think about all the time I feel like I’ve lost to it, and the memories, and I resent how easy it is. It is, however, sometimes good for me to remember that dissociation is a coping skill, and one that very likely saved my life, more than once. Right now, nearly everyone I love is in pain. There is grief, and confusion, and rage everywhere I turn, from faithful Mormons and post-Mormons alike. It took me until tonight to realize that I was triggered last Monday reading the first few Facebook posts from friends about the leak, and that I dissociated fairly immediately.
That moment of realizing that I’ve lost time, that I can’t remember details of the past several days, and that I can’t feel anything, can be a frightening one. But when this happens, once I understand what’s going on internally… it’s like the world slows down a little bit. Just enough. With therapy tomorrow, and no obligations between now and then, I feel like it’s okay to just be floaty for a little while. It gives me time to be really deliberately gentle with myself.
Tonight, I’m washing my bedding, because I’ve been in a funk for like, at least a month, and I’ve been putting it off. But with therapy tomorrow, I know that I’ll spend a good bit of time in bed, with my nervous system wide open -meaning I’ll be extra super sensitive to every sensation- and washing my sheets and blankets tonight, (in between sessions of watching the shadows move across my walls) means that tomorrow, I’ll be able to say “Hey, thanks, past me” for making sure I have a fresh, clean nest to curl up in and hide from the news, and the opinions, and the commentary, and the overwhelming, visceral, collective grief.
It’s not a huge thing, I know. I can’t fix any of the huge things tonight. But I can do this small thing for myself. Sometimes the work is made up of small things, and right now, washing my sheets seems… good enough.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine, is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.