Thursday, November 12, 2009

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

I have been reading a book at the suggestion of my therapist on the link between sexual abuse and eating disorders. This is the first in a series of posts related to that reading.

As I have been abstinent from compulsive overeating for three weeks and five days, I have began to feel many, many feelings that have been masked behind the consumption of sugary foods for literally all of my life. I am realizing that I have not even been feeling the trauma of my sexual acting out, much less all the feelings associated with 10 years of childhood incest. During the short time that I have let go of sugar I have experienced flashbacks, body memories and sexualized dreams all related back to the childhood abuse.

While on one hand, the feelings are incredibly hard to take, I am almost celebrating their complete presence in my life. It is only by going through fear and pain, not avoiding or denying it, that I can truly recover. And I can only get through this and all phases by gentle living, one day at a time, in the hands of a power greater than me. That power has protected me through all the phases of my life, blessed me with coping mechanisms that saved me as a child and have almost ruined me as an adult and helped me grow to this point today where I CAN celebrate these feelings and endure them so that I can become whole. Fall these things I am immensely grateful.

In his book, "Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders," Mark Schwartz, PhD, writes on pg. 94, "Trauma-generated disassociation means the person is unintegrated. He or she may feel like an imposter. The person everyone knows is not consistent with the impulsive urges, behaviors or self-knowledge. Such people may forget years of their lives and function moment to moment without the benefit of previous models or experience. They experience constriction [slowing or stopping of the natural course or development] and isolation from others and an "empty hole" in their stomachs that is unfillable. ... Often they will continue as adults to disassociate or space out automatically and without control as a way of defending against shame or old memories."

I recognized very early in my recovery how much I compartmentalized my life and how no one really knew all of me. It wasn't until a little further in recovery that I realized that in fact there were parts of me that even I didn't know. Sometimes today when I talk to my sister or niece, who grew up with me, and they recall certain things about the "way I was" I simply don't remember being that way at all. It feels very disconcerting, and I sometime wonder -- especially with my sister if SHE's the one who doesn't remember properly or is making up stuff.

In this quote, Schwartz talks about the abuse survivor feeling like an imposter. "The person everyone knows is not consistent with the impulsive urges, behaviors or self-knowledge." I very often wonder who in the world people are talking about when they say things to me like, "Rae, you are always so calm and you just seem to be able to handle stress so well." What??? Are you talking to me? Even the woman who shows up here and writes about recovery and my connection to it, very, very often feels like a fraud, because I know lurking beneath is this darkness that I can neither describe nor escape. There is also the hollow feelings that long to be filled with acceptance.

So, how does this relate to my sex and love addiction? For me it relates because of the issues of disassociation and compartmentalization. Many times when I have acted out, it's been as if my real self were on the ceiling watching everything unfold. I was keenly aware that what was happening was not congruent with what my "real self" wanted. Yet, I was equally engaged in the act of "drunken" sexual activity. This is a symptom of what is called Atypical Dissociative Disorder or Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS) -- which falls somewhere in the spectrum between PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder, otherwise known as multiple personalities.

In childhood, dissociation allowed me to depersonalize what was happening to me while I was being molested. As Schwartz describes, I could believe the abuse "did not happen to me, it happened to my body." As I have carried the coping mechanism of dissociation into adulthood, where it was no longer needed, it has allowed me to believe concurrently that I was in recovery, despite the fact I was acting out. It has allowed me to feel deep compassion and love for my husband, and sleep with a stranger an hour later without feeling any of the associated guilt.

So, where does 12-Step recovery come in? Everywhere. I am powerless over my past and the scars that it has left. I need a power greater than me to guide me through to the next right thing and grant me the courage to do it.

In Schwartz's writing he quotes a woman as saying, "While all this (abuse) happened, I was stone. I was dead. I was gone, yes gone far beyond imagination. I only hoped to come out and come out alive." This, by the way, is exactly the feelings that have been recreated in my acting out patterns. She goes on ... "But my question is, Am I alive? Am I living? I feel like I am not. But the truth is I live on other people. I live depending on other people to see me to the end. Where then does that leave me?"

And that's where recovery really comes to a head for me. If I do as Step 2 suggests, I believe that a power greater than me can restore me to sanity. And for me that means that I can be restored to wholeness, to an integrated, complete human being who no longer has to depend on my own unsteady willpower and hopeless attachments to other people to feel alive. When I turn my will and my life, my thoughts and my actions over to a power greater than myself, I use each of the 12 Steps to put the Humpty Dumpty of a life I've lived thus far, back together again. I meet myself and I become one in body, mind and spirit.

I am so grateful for the gift of recovery and that there has been enough of my core self left to keep me coming back and seeking the wholeness of life that I earnestly desire.

If you have read this far, thank you for listening. Not just today, but all these days as I have stumbled to find my way.

For anyone interested and willing to wade through the academic nature of most of the writing in Schwartz's book, the book can be found on

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dreams and visions

WARNING - Possible triggers for sex addicts and incest survivors in this post.

Over the three and a half weeks since I have given up sugar as part of my abstinence from compulsive overeating, I have become aware of many things that I have been numbing for years. I am beginning to feel feelings that I never really knew first hand. Among those feelings are disappointment, loneliness, hollowness, and fear.

I have also been experiencing some very troubling flashbacks to the trauma of my childhood sexual abuse. The first came in the form of a "daydream" in which I felt I was being forced to do something I didn't want to do. The second, which was by far the most scary, came Friday, while on the brink of orgasm I began to scream "Don't make me do this, Please, don't make me do this." I could not quiet the screams for some time and sobbed uncontrollably in shame and fear. I was absolutely confused as to what had happened and just felt completely hollowed out once it was over.

The most recent incident happened this morning as I slept. Like all people, I'm sure I dream, but I almost never remember a dream. The fact that I did remember this dream is a sign of its significance according to my therapist. She asked me to write down as much as I remember of the dream.

In the dream, my mom and stepfather are younger and it began with my stepfather being angry because he could not concentrate on the book he was reading and my mother trying to get him to come to bed because he had to work the next morning. He yelled at her and she and I went off to bed. He continued reading the book and eventually left to mail it somewhere once he was finished reading the last chapter. While he was reading and after he left, my mother and I lay in bed together and we began fondling one another. She initiated the touch, but both of us were involved. She was also using brown and yellow markers to draw circles on my stomach, circles that I eventually realized were supposed to be images of my nipples. She was painstaking in this process and it seemed we both were having fun. Then she handed me the phone and told me to dial #PROMISES. I remember being confused about the phone number, but on the other end was a man who began talking to me in a sexy voice and engaging in phone sex with me. I was thinking that my mother wanted to hear, but I became so aroused and wrapped up in my own arousal that I didn't pay much attention to her. Then my stepfather came home and came to crawl into bed with us and he started to climb on top of me. I remember being torn, because I was so aroused that I wanted the touch, but also I knew that he should not be doing what he was doing to me. I can't remember if it was me or my mom who said to him, "Your wife is on the other side." I woke up with him crawling off of me and toward my mother, and with me feeling disappointed and relieved at the same time.

Just writing these words makes me want to vomit. I'm holding all sorts of pain in the center of my back. Still, I do not want this exorcism of all this stuff to stop. I want it out of me. I fear I may lose my mind as it emerges, but I know I will lose my mind if it stays buried.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Living in the light

Yesterday I faced a very scary and confusing flashback to my childhood abuse. For the first time I felt what it felt like to be crying out, begging my stepfather to stop
using my body for his pleasure. I never muttered a word as a child, I just did my best to endure what was happening. But yesterday, as I neared the brink of orgasm, I was able to cry out in fear, and sob through the confusion. Yes, it was scary. Yes, I felt hollow and confused afterward. But I didn't have to f*ck some stranger and I didn't have to eat a bag of Oreos to make the pain go away. In fact, I was grateful to be able to feel the feelings. For so much of my life I have numbed anything that didn't feel comfortable. I thought life was supposed to be different than it is. Today I am grateful to accept it AS it is, and allow my Higher Power to help me heal my wounds and recover from my obsessions and compulsions. I'm living in the light because I choose to accept life on life's terms.