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


MargauxMeade said...

Hugs, Rae. This sounds like such painful, difficult stuff, and I really admire your courage in seeking a new level of sobriety.

I also want to thank you for (yet again) allowing me a greater understanding of my husband, who's also a sexual abuse survivor. He would dissociate constantly, and it was the first thing that tipped me off that something was very, very wrong. It would scare me when he would suddenly space out, and even when he was talking, it was like a big part of him wasn't even there. It was hard not to take it personally--I would often worry that he was zoning out because he wasn't interested in anything I was saying, but I realize now that that wasn't the case (it was too strange and deep to be simple distraction).

vicariousrising said...

I related to a ton in this post.

I remember the first time someone told me that I was so put together and difficult to read when he considered himself a good people reader. I was totally shocked, thinking: "Geez, man, can't you hear the bottomless black chaos screaming in my head?"

I thought the whole world could see the freakish anguish inside me no matter how hard I tried to hide it. I swear, that man made my year. I've since realized that I am very, very good at obsufcating my turmoil.

I'm glad I'm doing less of that constipating now.

And that you are too, Rae. :)