Shame

I’ve been trying to come up with a good analogy for working through complex PTSD and I think I’ve found a pretty good one. I’m not at all a fan of horror movies and not a big fan of most crime dramas, but I’ve seen enough to know a few standard plot points.

You know that darkened room with the closed door in a horror movie/murder mystery? The one the audience knows the murderous ghost/poltergeist/human is hiding in? The doomed character hears a noise, heads to that room, and stands in front of the closed door with their hand on the door knob, hesitating. We, the audience, sit watching, waiting, and willing the character not to open that door; and yet, it’s also the door we know the frightened character has to open and walk through. They have to investigate and face whatever is on the other side. It’s inevitable. So they open the door and either flip the light switch or shine a flashlight into the room and meet their enemy. Maybe they’ll be the victor, or maybe they’ll be the victim. We wait, perhaps holding our breath, to see who will survive the encounter.

In my head, I have a darkened room full of repressed trauma memories, and the door to that room has been shut tight for a long time. The corridor leading to it had a few complete and some fragmented memories, and behind that door is everything else. Periodically, the noise coming from that room would catch my attention, but I’d do what I could to drown it out and ignore it, hoping it would magically go away. (Sidenote: ignoring it makes it worse in the long run, not better.)

Facing repressed memories feels a lot like being the doomed character on the safe side of the door, hesitating with my hand on the door knob. I know it’s inevitable I ended up here, and I also know that I do not want to go in there. My mind and body are screaming at me not to open that door. I know whatever’s waiting on the other side is awful and I’m terrified of it. I know facing it will hurt and could destroy me. I wish I could walk away and continue ignoring it. And yet, I know I can’t. Ignorance isn’t always bliss. Whatever is waiting behind that door, it’s time to throw the door open, flip on the lights, and face it.

And that’s what I’ve done: I’ve thrown the door wide open and flipped on the lights.

I was bombarded by memories. It was overwhelming at first, but I’ve worked my way through many of them and gotten to the center of the room. As I made my way there, I realized a terrible, but super important truth. At the center, was something that was feeding on the trauma memories: toxic shame. As I sat in my counselor’s office and spoke that truth out loud for the first time, I felt relieved. Even though it’s a terrible truth, I felt like I had finally discovered and named my biggest enemy and could now formulate a far better battle plan.

Toxic shame is a tyrant. In my case, it’s parents are emotional abuse and sexual assault. It took that abuse and continued whispering the lies until they became my core beliefs about myself:

“I am unlovable.”

“I am worthless.”

“I am stupid.”

“I am a failure.”

“I don’t matter.”

“I’m defective.”

“I’m ugly.”

“I shouldn’t have been born.”

“I am not enough.”

“I am unwanted.”

“I am invisible.”

“I am a mistake.”

Etc.

I can tell you what I know I should believe about myself, but deep down I struggle to believe it. That’s another terrible truth: if we hear something often enough, even if it’s a lie and at first we know it’s a lie, we eventually begin to believe it. This is especially true when we’re children and the one speaking is a trusted adult.

Every one of us has felt shame at some point in our lives. Mostly, we feel it, we process it, and we move on. If, however, we don’t process it, then it continues to fester and haunt us and negatively influences our core beliefs about ourselves.

Think back to a time in your life when you felt shame. Did it change how you see yourself? How did it change your beliefs about yourself? Was that change temporary or did it permanently alter how you view yourself? Did it negatively affect your core beliefs? Do you have other negative core beliefs?

This is my current, main project: identifying my core beliefs and their source(s) as specifically as possible (i.e. a specific incident, conversation, etc), working to hear and believe the truth rather than the lies, and turn my negative core beliefs into positives. I encourage you to do the same. Do you have core beliefs that are holding you back? Identify them, confront the sources, find the truth, and turn them into positives. It’s time to overthrow the tyrant. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. You are worth the effort. ❤️

My History

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” – Brené Brown

“History is written at the hands of those who win

The battle must be over for the writing to being

Take a piece of paper, open up a vein

The feather and the fingers pulls against the grain…”

I started talking about my with PTSD and the traumas that caused it because I was desperate for support. I had stayed silent for far too long. It started slowly: I shared publicly for the first time that I have PTSD and talked a bit about my specific struggles with it. Then I began talking more openly and honestly about what I was dealing with. Then, I did what I thought I’d never do: for the first time ever, I shared the story of the sexual assault I experienced in high school. And now, it’s time to share more of my story.

I’ve spent the last few months wrestling with how much to say and how honest to be when telling my story. I knew where I wanted to go with the blog, but I still feel a need to protect certain people to a certain extent and will not post names; however, I am learning that I can tell my story and it’s okay to want to. I ask that you respect my decision to not share names by NOT asking me, my parents, my sister, or other family members for those details. If you want to know more, I’m very willing to answer most questions. Please please be respectful if I tell you I don’t want to talk about it right at that moment or if I refuse to answer your question. Don’t push me for answers I’m not willing to give. You could do so much harm if you push me on this. Please please don’t.

I’ve stayed silent for years, protecting the reputations of those who abused me. There have been many times when I have downplayed the severity or outright lied to protect them. I thought love meant always defending and speaking-well of everyone, even if they were abusive.

I’ve also been holding back out of shame and fear, and also concern for those I love. Hearing my assault story was very hard on people I love, and I’ve been very concerned how telling this next piece of my story would affect them. Know that as you read this, I do not place blame on any one but the abuser. It’s no one else’s fault. Period. Do not beat yourself up for not knowing or not doing something about it. It’s their fault, not yours. Reread those last few sentences as many times as you need for it to sink in.

As I began to share my story, I found that, just as I feared, not everyone has been supportive. People have doubted me. I’ve been told this shouldn’t still bother me, after all it’s in the past (more on why that’s an incredibly insensitive and ridiculous thing to say in a future blog article). I’ve been told I need to “just get over it and move on.” People have even questioned my sister if I was actually diagnosed with PTSD (FYI: I was diagnosed during my junior year of college, although, in truth, my therapist thinks I’ve probably had it most of my life).

The damage that was done is not something one simply “gets over.” The wounds from trauma and abuse suffered during childhood run deep and it’s impossible to fully express that pain. There are no words for that kind of betrayal.

What I’ve come to realize is this: there will always be people who doubt me. There will always be people who think I’m exaggerating or completely making it up. There will always be people who think I’m overly sensitive and emotional.

I’ve pondered often why that is. I think it’s at least partly because 1. no one wants to believe that this stuff really happens, and 2. they don’t want to believe it could happen to me. Maybe that second one is because they’ve known me all my life and had no idea what I was keeping secret. On the outside, I looked like a pretty normal, albeit very shy, little girl. I didn’t fit their idea of what an abused kid looked like. I had loving, attentive parents. Although our relationship with our brother was quite unique because of his health challenges, my siblings and I enjoyed a close relationship. We were very active in our church, school, Girl Scouts, etc. I simply didn’t fit the prevailing stereotype.

But that’s the thing…when it comes to abuse: throw the stereotypes you know straight out the window.

The truth is abuse is an epidemic. Call it what you will: bullying, harassment, assault, etc. It’s far more common than most people think and it can happen to literally anybody.

I have about 520 Facebook friends. Of those 520, let’s say roughly 1/3 are men and 2/3 are women. According to current statistics, about 29 of the men and 115 of the women have experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment. (nsvrc.org)

And emotional abuse is even harder to quantify. Although studies have been done, it’s hard to estimate just how prevalent this form of abuse is. Of the studies I found, the estimates were very high, putting the number at roughly 60% of American adults having experienced some form of emotional abuse as children or teens, from an adult they were close to or, as adults, from their partners.

“No one else will know what I could see…”

I didn’t know what I was experiencing from a trusted adult in my life was emotional abuse. It was my normal. I didn’t know that not everyone was treated like I was by that person. There have been times over the years, especially as I slowly got out of the situation, that I began to realize it wasn’t normal, but it’s taken me many years to understand that what I experienced was, in fact, abuse, to be able to call it that, and to come to terms with that knowledge.

What’s made it even more confusing was that this person could change so fast; they could appear to be loving and kind one moment but turn incredibly heartless and cruel the next. I never knew which version of them I would get or what would trigger the sudden change. If I dared to disagree with them, I was told I was being disrespectful and ungrateful. I learned not to disagree. I fully believed that I always somehow earned their cruelty. If only I could be good enough, then they’d be kind. If only I could be exactly what they told me I should be, then they’d love me. If only I was prettier…If only I was smarter…If only I was more athletic…If only I was interested in and good at the right things…If only I wasn’t me…

“Love was all we wanted and only truth remains…”

They made me believe I had no value “as is” and I needed to change into their ideal in order to be worthy of love. They taught me love has to be earned. So I tried…I tried to become what they told me I should be…. I became ashamed of the real me. I put up walls, locked the real me away, and did my best to project the image they wanted to see. But it was never enough…I was never enough. No matter how hard I tried, I always fell short and could never earn their love.

“I am not the child who turned the other cheek…”

But I am no longer a child required to stay silent. I’m taking back my story.

“All my story now belongs to me…”

I know that I’ll likely still face skeptics, critics, and harsh judgments; however, adult me is truly beginning to believe what little girl me didn’t: I have value. I matter too.

“I am my survivor and you will be my history…”

Until about two years ago, I really didn’t know who I was. I knew what I “should” be, what I was “supposed” to be, but had no real idea of who I actually was.

“I will start to build a better life for me…”

So I set out on an adventure to figure out who I was created to be. And it’s been quite the adventure! There have been mountains to climb, rivers to cross, and boulders in my path; but I’m determined to keep going. I’ve come to understand that figuring out who we are is a lifelong journey rather than a destination. We continuously grow and change throughout our lives, learning countless lessons along the way.

“You will be the lesson I wish I never learned

Love will be the reason you’re reign was overturned…”

I’m determined to take the lessons I’ve learned from what was intended for harm, and use them for good. I don’t know exactly what exactly that will look like just yet, but the blog is certainly a small part of it and I’m ready now to relaunch it.

My History

By Jessica Willis Fisher

“History is written

At the hands of those who win

The battle must be over

For the writing to begin

Take a piece of paper

Open up a vein

The feather and the fingers

Pulls against the grain.

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

Memory is fading

Even as I speak

I am not the child

Who turned the other cheek

Power to the people

Throwing off the chains

Love was all we wanted

And only truth remains

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

You will be the lesson

I wish I’d never learned

Love will be the reason

Your reign was overturned

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

I am my survivor and you will be my history

I am my survivor

And you are just my history.”

https://youtu.be/JXOPhlthDzI