Oil and Water

Oil and Water

Do you ever have those days? When your skin hurts? When a cocoon of blankets is the only place that will provide an ounce of comfort? When no physical touch, no matter how well-meaning, can soothe the inner turmoil? When the idea of a meaningful embrace actually invokes nausea? Do you have those days?

I hope your answer is no. But if you are an abuse survivor, the question is rhetorical. Those days are inevitable.

For me, those days come when I am processing my past trauma. Usually a memory is looming on the horizon, waiting to bless me with additional knowledge about my childhood. I am generally happy to receive the information. I am happy that my inner-child is willing to trust enough to share one more piece of the puzzle. The physical pain is worth it if I can understand just a little more of the trauma I am carrying. The emotions are tough, but if I can compartmentalize them from my current life, they can be tolerated for the sake of recovery.

But there’s a problem. While I am committed to the recovery process, I have not figured out how to balance it with my parenting responsibilities. The two don’t mix well. As a matter of a fact, they mix horribly. While my recovery efforts are pulling me in one direction for self-care, my parenting efforts are pulling me in another. And of course, self-care and parenting are hard to balance.

When I am feeling like another touch on my skin will feel like a knife has been plunged in to my body, my son will become especially affectionate. And guess what form of affection a seven-year-old boy needs most. Maybe he senses that my energy is pushing him away, so he needs to make sure I am still there for him. Maybe he senses something is wrong and wants me to know he loves me. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but probably not.

When I am feeling like the world is a horrible place and every person cannot be trusted, my daughter will bring me her latest gift of an art project, looking for my utmost gratitude. In my darkest place, I can be cynical, disappointed and hateful. I might be thinking, “Where am I going to put this piece of paper or sculpture?” In those moments, gratitude is not my strength, but it is what she needs. Maybe she senses that I need her love and this is how she has decided to show it. Maybe she is feeling a bit insecure about how I feel about her and she wants some positive interaction. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but probably not.

When I am filled with fear, not of the present moment, but of a past event, my kids become instantaneously fearful. And what does fear look like when it manifests in small children? Tornadic activity. And there is nothing that soothes my fear more than two children screaming and jumping off of furniture over and over again. Maybe they sense my fearful energy and they respond with their own fear. Maybe they just can’t process the fear they are feeling so they need to express it through physical exertion. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but probably not.

When I am dissociated and a little unsure of my reality, my children will ask me to play pretend. Suddenly, I am the queen of a make-believe land while I am still wrestling with the past and the present. Now, I am really confused and very unsure of how to play the game they want so much for me to play. Maybe they feel that I have left them and they are trying to bring me back home through play. Maybe they are trying to help me escape in their own special imaginative way. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but probably not.

While I am convinced that recovery and parenting don’t mix, in reality, it is exactly what I need. Without my children to remind me of my own pain, my recovery would be much slower. Without my children to remind me, my recovery might be non-existent. They trigger me in these moments. And those triggers are there to help me see where my recovery work needs to go next. And sometimes, the triggers are saying, come back to the present moment. Join us here. It is a much better place to be.

And the present is where I must try to stay. I must understand that my emotions and physical symptoms are based on the past, and that the two precious hearts in front of me are the present moment. Sometimes, I have to spend time naming my current environment. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge my children are not attempting to re-victimize me. They are only being children. And always, there is breathing. I know it is cliché, but there is breathing.

I do know there is something worse than balancing recovery with parenting. There is something far worse. I could continue the cycle of abuse at my own hand, or become so overprotective that I guarantee them a life of abuse at another’s hand. Those are just not options I am willing to accept. I have to be a conscious parent. I have to know what is driving my decisions. And if it is necessary for me to process the past, knowing that I won’t always be the best possible parent while I recover memories, then I will process the past.

Because I will break this cycle.

There is no other option.

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17 thoughts on “Oil and Water

  1. Dear Elizabeth,
    We applaud how you choose to forge into the present grounding yourself with your kids in love! You have such a beautiful heart after their well being and growth. Though I don’t have kids of my own, I do inside being a multiple person with DID..it’s hard to explain.. much like running a large inner family. As you described the tornadic behaviors while trying to recover. It’s so hard to abandon our needs of wanting to be alone in recovery for the children, but by letting go of past in that moment we are transported to a deeper healing plane. We through play become the children we never were and for a moment let go of the little girls who were destroyed through this dreamworld and I find by doing that I am free. My little Rea has me play with bubbles with the cats, have a tea party together with a variety of interesting teas or we make a fort with chairs and she is safe. Ha!

    Your story is so courageous! Kids do know when our energy shifts and pain radiates, much like animals do as well. If we open ourselves to the freedom, they can transport us through the present into an even deeper healing unimagined. Your such a beautiful example to your children Elizabeth! It’s not easy, but you are such an inspiration to those survivors out there who are parenting through their recovery. I’ve always said give the gift of life~ give love! So it is with my inner children and for you with your beautiful kids..when you give that love, you find freedom and healing through recovery. It doesn’t always have to be isolation, pain and suffering alone, but children remind us to live!

    Bless You!
    ~K

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    • Thank you K! I completely understand inner parts. While I am not diagnosed with DID, I have multiple inner children also. And my parenting of my inner children mirrors the parenting of my outer children. It is quite remarkable. I am actually working on a book that will discuss the concept of re-parenting myself to be a better parent. I am just getting started with it. Thank you for your meaningful comments.

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  2. It was the pregnancy and birth of my daughter, that plunged me into the darkest parts of my past…or so I thought. But every day, every milestone, every birthday brings up more and more pain. Pain I thought I could not experience again. Pain at watching her live a beautiful, joy-filled life. Pain in mourning what I never had. Pain for my inner little ones who want to come out and play but get pushed back down. Pain in getting into recovery and having to start over again and again.
    But, I know she was a gift. I know she was born to give me the chance to provide an innocent, carefree childhood to her. She is the one who shows me how it’s supposed to be. And although it’s hard sometimes, I have to smile and feel she is the “me” I never was but could have been.

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    • Beautifully said Tracy. I know that feeling. Just two days ago, I noticed my own small feeling of jealousy about the lives my children are leading. I had this moment of feeling how nice it would have been to have their childhood. At the same time, I love how happy they are. I love how different their childhood is from mine.

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  3. Yes, I am having a hard time even talking about the joy of children due to some cyberbullying that is happening to my nephew. It has been an especially traumatic ordeal and I don’t feel that it has even begun to get the proper attention from his parents (my sister and husband). I gave them my input when they told me about the situation, yet they have decided to not address the situation due to its delicacy. My heart is absolutely breaking for my nephew who is exhibiting severe anxiety (he’s only 12). However, I cannot say anything else – it is not my immediate family. I will say I feel outrage that nothing is being done and no one is advocating for this little boy. Thank you for sharing your story of hope, Elisabeth.

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  4. You are such an inspiration! Love your honesty and insight! I wish I was as far along as you in your journey. I’m at a stalemate…no memories, just small snippets. I guess I’m very frightened of the memories yet i know having some more awareness can only help me. Sigh. I’m just accepting that this is where I’m at but somehow feel like a failure and like I’m avoiding the process.

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    • Don’t judge yourself too much. I get stuck all the time. The only thing that gets me unstuck is some form of body work. If I stop doing body work, the memory recovery will eventually stop. My defenses in my head are just too strong.

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      • I’ve just recently begun body work! What sort of body work do you get? My person does cranial sacral. ..it has been very helpful in providing some info/memories! I’m curious about somatic experiencing. …

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      • I am currently using cranio-sacral and I highly recommend it. I have also used yoga, massage and Reiki. I have heard of somatic experiencing but don’t know much about it yet. I think I did something similar to it early in my recovery using Unified Therapy.

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  5. Hang in there, Mama. Having been there, done that, I can tell you … Yes, it’s hard. It sucks. And you’re doing it. You’re climbing that mountain. You’re going to make it, and your kids will be stronger people for having witnessed your struggle, breakdowns, failures, triumphs, and all. You’re not alone. You’re doing it right. ((hugs))

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  6. I also find body work to be very helpful to my recovery and sanity.I am currently doing somatic experiencing and it is very powerful. Really focuses on how the trauma is stored in the body,so flight, fight and freeze. A lot of focus on grounding in the present while managing the intensity of the memory/sensation. I am also doing ‘psychoanalysis’ twice a week, so on the couch and able to let what needs tending to arise. Usually lots of feelings and tears with a few words mixed in.
    I must say that I still spend a lot of time comforting/grieving with the part of me that does not want to remember and is so heartbroken that it was my father. Feels like two traumas- heartbreak/loss and crazy, terrorized abuse.

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    • I have done some similar work using Cranio-sacral and Unified Therapy. Both have been incredibly important in my own healing. Body work is essential to the healing process just as feeling our emotions and advocating for our parts.

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