After I have been sharing some “cherished memories” from my past with you over the last days, I thought it might make sense to share some things I found were helping me get through this.
Get more information
Try and figure out the things that kept you in a miserable situation. Read about other peoples accounts of similar situation. Look for ideas what to do to improve your situation, especially how to get rid of the things that keep you miserable. The idea is you can not go overboard with this. This is about your well being. Precious little is more important than that (of course taking prioritising your own needs to the extreme is called narcissism but we will get to that.) So read, read, read some more, talk to other people in similar situations, look for people who used to be in similar situations, look for professional help and whenever you feel you do not know if this is a right idea, google it, ask someone, read about it. Talk about it with people who are likely to give insightful advice. Look for a mentor and / or a therapist. Being knowledgeable about the dynamics of abuse is your strongest weapon.
Experimentation with what might be helpful
There is an art to getting better. That’s the reason why so many traumatic experiences get passed on from generation to generation despite each one vowing to do better. There are MANY different strategies and ideas out there what to do and in the end none of them is the ultimate solution. Because this is a highly individualistic situation. Most run of the mill relaxation programs do not work on me because I try way to hard for example.
So my approach is this:
– look for things that might be helpful (related to get more information) and try one of them
– see how it affects you: do you like it? Do you feel you need to react differently? Are other peoples account of how they feel different from yours? Are you aware of reports that you might need to keep doing it for a while (if so how long?) before positive effects set in? Do you want to do it again?
– after evaluation of this new technique decide whether to keep it for good or bin it for good. At this point you should not have lingering doubts about the benefits. If you can’t decide, bin it for a while and revisit the entire thing later.
– go back to the beginning: look for things that might be helpful
– at all points of this loop:
– be patient with yourself and don’t expect miracles
– practice self compassion, its a bit like coming out of a long coma and having to relearn
EVERYTHING, there will be good days and bad, beating yourself up will not accomplish anything
consider medication and seek medical help
I have been subjected to really horrible pills by people whose competence was clearly demonstrate by them wearing white coat (5 quid well spent to make you look approximately 20 IQ points smarter). So I have been cautious. However the 5th antidepressant was the one which helped me sleep. So there is that. And with this I can now consider seeing a therapist because I’m actually consistently awake when other people are. I can now structure my day and do not need to worry about not managing to get groceries before they close. Unbeatable. Worth the trial and error. Having a good doctor by your side who takes your issues seriously and is willing to listen to your ideas goes a LONG way. And I’m told so does therapy with a good therapist. I haven’t found one yet but like with the antidepressant I will just look for one until I found a good one.
What might be helpful
So what actual things have I tried and how did it go? Personally reading is still the strongest part of what helps me. I feel validated when other people go through the same things and consider it hurtful as well. This then means it’s at the very least not only in my head but also in someone elses head.
Through abuse we learn we are helpless, worthless and a lot of other lesses. Doing anything that makes you feel you spent your time well will restore a sense of self worth, of being seen, of actually living rather than just surviving. Personally I started with this blog, I also volunteer at the animal shelter and do a few odd acting jobs. But there is many things you can do take up a new sport for example, start something to creatively express yourself like drawing, music whatever suit your personal tastes or go out and enjoy nature and meet people, volunteer where ever you feel you might be needed and welcome, build and sell your stuff, have an impact in your community in any way that comes to mind. I do not think anything is unacceptable. The moment you sit there and say there is nothing you can do and there is no one who is interested in your interests and what you do is the moment your abusers keep you in the place they want you to be. Anything you do to prove that statement wrong is you winning. Regardless how well you do, you DID it.
Another thing I’m cautiously trying out is meditation. I have been subject to religious and dogmatic abuse by my extended family and school so I am not very big on big guilt tripped into anything in the name of religion. Hence I’m very reluctant to follow any doctrines. I find many guided meditations painful, stressful and downright counterproductive. I haven’t given them up as whole yet but so far my personal track record has been less than stellar. What has helped me tremendously is reading up about what meditation should do and how it aims to achieve this. That way if a certain technique does not work I can experiment around to achieve the intended result in other ways. So far the most basic versions of meditation have been the most helpful to me:
Breathing meditation requires you to do nothing but focus on your breathing and whenever your thought stray bring them back to your breath. The advantage is very obvious you do not require anything at all, you could do it during that boring group meeting. Of course it helps a lot if you are comfortable and have no distractions. The idea behind this is this: when you are stressed and anxious (or depressed) there is a very very unhealthy loop going on in your head about what could go wrong, what is wrong, what you need to do, how unable you are to get things right… I think we all know what the demons in our heads say. So the idea is to just break the loop up as much as possible by not thinking anything at all, just breathing. Breathing deeply has a rather soothing effect on me in general I discovered. Also something you can do anywhere anytime unless you happen to be in the unfortunate situation of having your breathing tube constricted. In such cases while not helpful the anxiety is rather understandable… Please go visit a first aid blog 😉
In related news I found the yoga position called the child surprisingly calming. Here is what you do: preferably do not wear shoes, kneel on the floor and sit on your heels. Your legs should be parted at the knees to be slightly wider than your hips. Then you bow over and place your forehead on the ground. The hands go either besides your (folded up) legs or above your head however you feel comfortable. And then you focus on your breathing however long you think right. The reason why this is calming is that your blood circulation is affected by this and the position alone already leads to a blood circulation that spells calm and safe to your brain. The breathing is a bonus which creates a synergy effect. While I’m somewhat sceptical of yoga because I do not have spare joints and I’m not all that closely related to snakes or octopodes I’m really amazed by the effect of this position and tempted to take up Yoga next year.
I also find calming music actually calms me. I know that was probably the biggest piece of wisdom you have ever heard. But I have a love hate relationship with music and finding something which consistently influences my mood for the better even if my subconcious is so dead set against it really was a big deal for me. Whether it’s tibetan singing bowls, religious chants in a language I do not speak or nature sounds. I have now several pieces of music on my phone and laptop and find them helpful to hear. That combined with the breathing meditation and I can actually sleep at night. Awesome! Even more awesome to remember there are things I can do to help myself. And I am not depended on any other living being. Just myself.
Also open up. Talk to people about your struggles and do not hide. And consider their feedback. Many people have difficulties with stories about abuse. They may have grown up truly happy and sheltered and that’s good for them. It makes them bad people to confide in tho, because they can not empathise and when confronted with so much pain they will just try to find a way to fix it as soon as possible. They do not know how to withstand pain. Try to find people who know better than to claim a cup of warm cocoa and just talking things through with you family will make it all good. That works in functioning families.
Once you find people who know how to deal with hearing painful stories listen closely to what they say. Do not play the victim and just gather sympathy, try and move forward. Overcome the pain. By connecting with other people you get valueable feedback. You will learn what is right in relationships and what isn’t. Will you be hurt if they can’t listen to you RIGHT NOW? Do you listen to their stories in return? If this is a one way relationship you might be still without borders and continuing the pattern of being abused or on the other extreme end nuturing narcissistic traits yourself. Try and learn as much about relationship as you can independently from your abusers.
And now the funny thing, I always abhorred sports in all its manifestations. But yes exercise helps. The reason is this: if you are scared/anxious/stressed/depressed that’s all a state of mind that was developed a few hundred thousand, if not millions or dozens of million years ago. Back then the idea was this: sabertooth tiger comes -> fear, anxiety OMGOMGOMGIGOTTARUNNOW!!!! -> your body is in a state of emergency designed to save your live. You use up resources that under normal circumstances should go to stuff like digestion, reproduction, hunting and so forth.It directly cuts into your lifelines. The idea behind this is if you get eaten by a predator being able to digest properly will not be of much reconciliation. Also back when sabertooth tigers chased us we either killed and ate them or they killed and ate us. Either way there was an end to the stressful state of mind quickly enough and after some hours we go back to normal physiology.
Fast forward an amount of time almost to small to be perceivable and there you are, your boss/your abusive parents/the lovely red tape worker putting your mind in the same state of emergency. But you can not kill and eat them and they will not kill and eat you. So you stay in this state of PANICPANICPANIC using up resources not meant to be constantly burnt through. You need to find other ways to get rid of the stress that hopefully do not involve being jailed for homicide. Preferably it does not break laws or is self harming at all.
So what did you do back when the sabertooth tiger attacked again? You ran! You wrestled! You climbed up trees, you swam… You had the literal workout of your life. Your brain still remembers these “good old days”. It does not understand that abusive fellow species members in the 21st century are not sabertooth tigers. Stress is stress and when you are stressed you might find walking it off, pushing up, running away from it actually manage to get a message across to your brain. You worked out, so the stress is over. Very logical. Your brain says so! No need to question this, just use it to your advantage 🙂
retrain your brain
While we are in the subject of stupid things your brain does, where do all these destructive and anxious messages come from that are on a loop when you could do very well without? I’m not sure which blog I found this quote (and while I was searching to find where i got it from I found some people not being fond of lightshouse for a variety of reasons, a blog I highlighted recently. I trust you can judge which blogs are good for you and which aren’t) were they likened being in an abusive situation during childhood is essentially about growing up in the “Cult of Nice” were you are trained to never stand up for yourself, abide your abusers every whim and in general being a willingless lump of clay with no borders. And you are trained to think of this as being well behaved and oh so nice. Also part of the curriculum from your oh so perfect and well doing parents is that everything is your fault. You keep all this toxic bullshit with you. Its always there in a the back of your brain.
Growing up in this “Cult of Nice” means your parents have spend years or more likely decades to mold your perception of what is right and what is wrong. And it was of course right to belittle you -the hapless child-, it was right to not consider your needs, it was right to disrespect your boundaries or even prevent you from establishing them, it was right to gloat at your misfortunes, it was right to gaslight you, it was right to always find fault in you and never praise. If you snoop around you will find many abusive behaviours which were right in their book.
And as a kid you drink your parents kool-aid. It’s not like you will have access to alternative opinions. A parents control over a child is very extreme. In many societies they can determine pretty much all people the child meets, they can change which doctor you see or if you don’t see one at all, they can change your school, they will forbid you contact to certain people and they are allowed to punish you as they see fit if you break such rules. So in all likelihood you had no access to empowering people until at least your teenage years when you may have started to rebel.
So here you are, all grown up now presumably. On paper at least. Inside you still battle these demons, you still treat yourself with as much contempt, ignorance, aggression, vindictiveness, distance and relativism as your parents taught you. You may engage in self harming or escapistic behaviour (addictions anyone?) and you will very likely still have no boundaries or not assert them. You know what? I’m right beside you. Lucky that my addiction are somewhat harmless but here I am. Stuck in toxic loops very similar to yours. I’m having the very same issues and I am slowly waking up to the realisation that university degree aside I do not know a thing about life. I’m still that hapless child. That’s what abuse does to you. It keeps you trapped. The bullshit I was fed as a kid still prevents me from many things, damn near cripples me. So my next big project will be to retrain my brain. Break the loop, shake things up, do things I absolutely am unable to do, face fears, disobey the demons, be thankful for what I have, look at my accomplishments and my good sides, pat myself on the back and give me a hug. Do all the things my parents never did but should have done.
I do not know precisely how to retrain myself yet. I have read writing down a list of thing I am thankful for might be a starting point. I tried for too days. Unlike the person whose account I read I can easily fill two sheets of paper with multiple columns of what I am thankful for. Only often I feel I don’t deserve it deep down within. Some items really made me happy. And right afterwards I had rather strong attacks of psychosomatic pain. I wonder if this is the wall I need to break through. My idea now is to write such lists once in a while and once I have enough items on it, I will go through it again and pick the items that make me feel happy and do not fill with a sense of worthlessness. I will then rewrite these items on a new list and place them somewhere very visible and reread often.
I also try to accept praise, ask for help, admit weakness, treat myself and generally try to be more out there rather than holed up. I hid away during most of the first two decades of my life so for me even learning how to do the dishes is retraining my brain from learned helplessness. Creativity goes a long way 🙂 So retraining is my current pet project. I will update on how it goes eventually.