Wednesday, 13 April 2016

My Journey from Dissociation to Integration.

When one hears the word healing, one automatically thinks about getting better. It is easy to believe that once you make the decision to heal inner wounds, things will start to get better from the start, but in my case, things definitely got worse before they got better. Making the decision to begin the healing process was necessary for me to really grow as a person, but there were parts of me that fought the experience from the start. At the same time that I came to terms with the fact that I had to heal from my past, I also fell hard into my usual patterns of escaping myself and my feelings. The idea of delving into my past was scary and overwhelming to me and the only way I had learned to cope with those kinds of feelings was to run away from them, to numb myself, to dissociate from the pain. Although I never lost my desire to heal, I found myself looking for ways to escape the emotions I was now beginning to feel attached to my past. My partying and drug use, vices I had been using since I was a teenager to cope with my past, increased even more with my desire and efforts to heal.
     I had become heavily involved with the rave scene at that time, attracted to a culture where dancing and drugs are used to escape reality. My partying began taking over much of my life when I wasn't working, and it was beginning to show it's affects on my personal life. My friends and family were very concerned over how different and lost I seemed. They felt helpless as their attempts to get through to me failed. I was oblivious to their worry at the time, and chose not to notice that they had begun to withdraw from me. They found it too painful to see what I was doing to myself.
     After being involved with the rave scene for over a year, I finally became aware that I was not happy with my life and the way it was going. The partying and the drugs only created the temporary illusion that I had no problems and that life was fine. I knew it was time to take some more positive action towards my healing or I feared I would lose my way and end up choosing the illusion over reality. I made the decision then to start seeing a therapist. I found someone recommended to me by a friend, who specialized in childhood trauma and abuse therapy. I felt I needed help, professional support, to guide me in my healing journey, and to keep me from losing sight of my aspirations to heal. It was a very wise choice. 
     Chris, my therapist, was amazing. In my sessions with her I started learning to recognize the thought and behaviour patterns I needed to work on and where those patterns originated from. She began teaching me different coping skills to help me manage my daily life so that I did not feel so overwhelmed by the new thoughts and feelings that were so close to the surface now. At the time, I began keeping journals to help me work through the issues I was working on, and as a way to look back on the progress I had made in my healing journey. From that time on my journal writing became a significant and necessary tool for me and my healing progress, not only in therapy, but in life as well. 
     It didn't take Chris long to diagnose me with clinical depression due to post traumatic stress disorder, and to put me on medication. Repressing my feelings attached to the abuse for so long, and choosing now to heal that pain, could feel very overwhelming at times. My drug use (the extent of which my therapist did not know in great detail except for pot and the occasional use of ecstasy) was also seriously affecting my chemical balances, but it was my only reprieve from the anxiety and fear I felt every other moment of my life, and I was blind to it's negative effects. Often, my ability to cope seemed to be getting worse the more I worked on my healing. 

Journal entry, June 28, 2000: Today my therapist diagnosed me with clinical depression due to PTSD. Wow! That's a big one! She wants to put me on medication. I have the prescription, but I think it will take me a few days to think about this. I feel relieved and kind of scared all at the same time. I told her I had been thinking about depression lately and whether or not that was my problem, but I always think of other people's problems as so much worse than mine, and I downplay my feelings thinking it can't be that bad. But, it's time to face the facts. I'm not motivated or inspired in my life at all. I thought maybe pot had something to do with this, but now I realize my pot habit is a symptom of the cause, and not the cause itself. Unfortunately, it now perpetuates the cause, that being depression, making it harder to find my way out of it. When I think about the anxiety I have in my life, it has to do with me and how I handle responsibility. I seem to have no ability to take care of day to day functions. I don't clean my room, I don't take care of myself physically, I sometimes neglect my dog and cats, I am reckless with money and aways in debt, and I can't even return phone calls from family and friends. All of these things are things that I worry about, have dread about, constantly! I don't understand why I can't seem to do anything about it! I know I should, but something always holds me back. I never do the things I love anymore: playing and singing music, painting, drawing, jewellery making, photography. These are all things from my past. all the motivation and inspiration I should feel to do these things is missing. This, I suppose, is what depression is about. Now, at least I see there is a reason why I am the way that I am. I had been trying to understand these aspects of me for so long, and feeling worse about them everyday. Now I see it is normal and understandable because I am depressed. Unfortunately, it seems the best way to begin to combat this condition is with medication, and I hate that idea!

     Although I was extremely hesitant about it, I eventually chose to take the antidepressants. In a short time I could notice a difference. The medication helped alleviate some of my anxiety, to make me feel more balanced so that normal daily tasks and responsibilities didn't seem so daunting to me. Also, in therapy I was more able to analyze some of my problems without feeling as overwhelmed as I had before, and I really started to learn some things about myself. I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. 
     However, even with the meds and therapy, I felt a lot of frustration at times while working on my healing. Some days were much worse than others, and on those days I seriously wondered why I had chosen to open this closet full of skeletons. Learning to use my journal writing as a tool to express myself and the way I was feeling was difficult when I was feeling frustrated about my healing, but I pushed myself, knowing it would help keep me on track. 

Journal entry, September 25, 2000: WHY IS IT THAT WHEN THE PEN AND PAPER ARE IN FRONT OF ME, MY MIND GOES BLANK, YET ANY OTHER TIME MY MIND CAN'T STOP RACING?!?! WHAT IS IT THAT KEEPS ME FROM BEING ABLE TO EXPRESS THESE THINGS ON PAPER?? I NEED TO! I WANT TO! I HAVE TO! Okay, start simple. How do I feel right now? I feel lost, confused, like I'm drowning, like I need to run away. I feel like kicking some people in the head, and I feel lucky that I have other people in my life who support me and help keep me on track. I feel helpless, hopeless, yet hopeful at the same time, because I know all of these feelings are there because I'm healing, I'm moving somewhere, I'm working on it. All of this is better than living like before, it's just hard to see that when I'm in this state of mind. I feel relief and a little lighter today because going through this, no matter how painful it is, is what I need to do to undo the damage done. Every tear lets out a little more pain that I've been holding in for so long. It feels like an endless journey, and sometimes I wonder if it's worth it for all the hell I've been through since I started this. Sometimes it seems life was so much simpler when I had on my mask of the perfect, helpful, loving, well-adjusted Kristina. I didn't have to answer to everyone as to what was wrong with me. I had convinced everyone, including myself, that there WAS nothing wrong! Now, I'm just all fucked up and no one can really understand what happened to their happy little girl Kristina. I used to be so cheery and everyone could count on me when there was a problem to be solved. I always saw the positive side to everything and everyone. I guess what I'm saying is that I have a fear that because I am not really that person, how can I assure that these people will still love me. I'm no longer the person they thought I was. I'm no longer the person I thought I was. I feel so much hatred for myself right now. I know I need to learn to love myself, but in order to do this, I need to address these self hate issues. There are so many things that are a part of me, ingrained in my personality from the time I was very little, that are harmful to me now. Maybe at some time they helped me, but now they are parts of me that hurt me, and lead me to do things that are not healthy and healing. These are what I hate about myself! I hate that I can't control them, that they are a part of who I am, and I know of no other way, so I can't perceive of how to get beyond them. I can't see the goal that I am looking to reach because I have no knowledge or understanding of what that goal could be. I know I want to be happy, but how do I get there? What is it that I need to do to feel fulfilled? All I know is how I've dealt with life in the past. My experiences have shaped who I am, and now it's as if I have to start all over again to reshape all of these things about me. 
     After reading this last journal entry to Chris in therapy, she gave me a writing exercise that was designed to lift my spirits and to help me think more positively about my decision to heal. On a day that I was feeling good about myself and my progress, she had me write what she called a "Rainy Day Letter", a letter to myself that reminded me of why I chose to heal and inspired me to continue even through the hard times.

Journal entry, November 21, 2000: Rainy Day Letter
     Dear Kristina,
     So, you say today is a bad day. Remember that there cannot be good without bad, so although it may not seem so now, these bad times are always followed by good, and as your healing process continues, the bad will not seem so overwhelming, and the good will be more frequent and can be enjoyed to its full extent. Be proud of what you have accomplished in this obstacle you have chosen to overcome. Many would find the effort, the emotional turmoil too much to handle, and would instead choose to take the easy road by not dealing with it and pushing it away. You have been through severe emotional breakdowns, confusion about your feelings, major lifestyle changes and attempts to change, and yet you are still trudging through. Sometimes you fall back, but you have the courage to see where you want to go, and you push in the right direction again. You also have the confidence that even though you may falter sometimes, this does not mean you are a failure, or weak. It simply means you are human, and you learn from these experiences so as to do it better for next time. Take a good look at how far you've really come since this all began and you'll see what amazing things you have accomplished in your healing so far. 
     The most important thing to remember when you are feeling this way is the people who are in your life who are there for you no matter what, and who love you unconditionally. One of your best strengths is that you have developed a very large family as your support system. Even when they are not with you physically, they are always with you spiritually. You know their love and loyalty for you is true, and that is something you can always count on. These are the people that give you hope, faith, and love in life, and they are what give you the strength to get through this healing process you have embarked upon. 

     Whenever I felt like giving up, I would take out this letter and read it, and it usually put things into a better perspective for me. 
     Outside of therapy and my efforts to heal, I was still focusing much of my time on partying as a way to escape the weight of my past, a burden that seemed so close to the surface now that I was addressing these issues. When I was high and dancing and hanging out with my party friends, that weight lifted off of me, and for a time I could feel free. It was the only time I felt good about myself and my life, and the only time I really felt at peace. It was a distraction that I counted on, became addicted to. Not just to the drugs, but to the entire experience of it.
     Within a few months after taking on my commitment to heal, a great teacher came into my life. Something I have learned is that you draw into your life people who are meant to teach you certain truths about yourself. These relationships are often fraught with conflict and pain, but if you are able to keep your eyes open, or at least pry them open eventually, you will be able to learn great things about yourself, and hopefully make changes in your life for the better. This person was one of those teachers for me.
     I got romantically involved with someone from the rave scene who I had been friends with for over a year. He loved to party and made a living selling drugs among friends at parties. I knew that getting involved with him would be a roller coaster ride because of his personality, lifestyle, and career choice, but the more I stayed away, the more attracted to him I became. It didn't take long before we were a couple and had moved in together.
     He and I had a lot of fun partying and hanging out with our friends, but my need to work on my healing had a tendency to be frustrating for him at times, and we had a hard time dealing with the issues it brought up between us. I was spending a lot of time analyzing my patterns and trying to learn how to change the negative ones and develop new positive ones. He, however, was extremely insensitive and ignorant towards how the past can affect the present, and he did not understand my need to bring these things up. He could be very emotionally abusive when I had stuff to work through. Many of my issues were triggered by problems that we had, and although it may have made our relationship very difficult at times, it was necessary for me to work through them and for him to learn that they were a fact in some people's lives. Whenever problems between us did trigger my own issues, I would write about it in my journal, working through the thoughts and feelings attached to the situation, and then I made a point to read those entries to him when I thought that he may be somewhat receptive to learning something about what I was going through.
     In May of 2011, over a year after my first therapy session with Chris, I stopped going to see her. Although I didn't want to acknowledge it at the time, my reasons for leaving were that I had done all of the work with her that I was willing to do up to that point. I feared that the work I had left to do would entail admitting that I had a problem with drugs and partying, and that I was in an unhealthy relationship. I was simply not ready to face those facts yet. I also took myself off the antidepressants at this time.
     I took a self therapy approach from that time on, too scared to face what I felt I would have to if I saw a doctor again. I thought that maybe if I took it one step at a time, using what I already learned in therapy, as well as the support of my family and friends, maybe I could eventually find my way out of this prison. Most importantly, I started to write more. Expressing myself through writing gave me an outlet. It allowed me to recognize and work through issues that I tended to avoid or ignore. Once they were on paper, it was like I couldn't put them aside anymore, they were there, staring me in the face, and I finally felt compelled to address them.

Journal entry, February 11, 2002: Ah, depression! Such a familiar and unwelcome state of mind! I've always been so good at covering up my symptoms of depression, even from myself. This has been a main coping mechanism for me. Hiding bad, negative feelings from other people in my life kept them from knowing how bad and crazy I felt inside. This protected me from their judgemental eyes and ensured I could keep people in my life who liked me, loved me. I created a Kristina I knew the world would love by basing my personality on a theme I knew was considered honest and good and worthy of love. In my mind, the person I was covering up inside was not worthy of love. Hiding the bad feelings from me protected me from my own judgement. I couldn't seem to handle seeing myself for who I really was inside, for who I thought I must be. So, I chose to only see the act I was putting on for the world, and to believe in it as everyone else did. All of my symptoms of depression I've come to realize, stem mostly from this repressed, ignored side of myself, what I now call my inner child. As I've grown, I guess she has grown too, and she seems to have gained enough strength to push some of these emotions she needs to release to the surface. It is my inability to face these feelings and therefore this little girl inside of me that is making me depressed. I'm pushing downward, and she's pushing up. I'm afraid that by giving her slack, I'm going to open the floodgates of hell and probably drown. I can't seem to get rid of this fear! It's like I'll have to live all the abuse, all the trauma over again somehow by setting her free. Then people will see her, me, the abused, traumatized, crazy person who can't even function properly. I don't want to be her! I don't want that pain! I don't want that childhood! It doesn't belong to me! It's someone else's! I can't learn to own the pain, therefore I can't own the child. Therefore, I can't fully own myself. Hence, my depression. This is what my depression is. This is where it comes from. 

     My relationship at the time became a form of therapy for me as well. His tendency to react in an emotionally abusive way when I was working through my issues made it really challenging for me to express the things I needed to express. He was raised in a family where there was no time for tears, emotion, or "weakness". His father would put his wife and children down in a very mean way whenever they brought this dynamic into the household. I believe it was this emotional abuse he witnessed growing up that was a major influence in his life, and especially how he dealt with me. His inability to understand trauma and it's after effects caused a lot of conflict between us. Learning to address the problems I had with him though, became an effective way for me to learn how to stand up for myself and to communicate my feelings, no matter how he reacted.

Journal entry, March 26, 2002: YOU could have just as easily beat me to a bloody pulp, and that probably would not have been as hurtful as what you just did! You sometimes make it seem like you're the one with the issues, and I'm the one fucking you up! Have we switched roles here?! I was the one abused and I'm the one trying to overcome it. All you have to do is deal with me. Granted, that's not an easy job, but it's a hell of a lot easier than what I am going through! You react to my problems with anger, frustration, and spite, like I'm deliberately trying to hurt you with the issues I am trying to work through. You show little sensitivity or understanding to the fact that I am fucked up, and I need support and compassion. Without these things, especially from you, I have no hope of getting better. When I tell you something you said affected me in a negative way, how dare you get angry with me, just because you did not intend to make me feel that way! It may not be your fault, but it is not mine either. I can't help feeling the way I feel when you say certain things in a certain way, but you can change the way you say them so that they don't hurt me anymore. For some reason you choose to make me feel worse by getting angry over how I took the conversation, instead of trying to understand why the conversation made me feel that way, and how we can change things so that I don't feel that way anymore. Why do you choose to blame me for my reactions to your mean words, when all I need is an ear to listen, an attempt to understand, and maybe to be held and told "I'm sorry", not even necessarily for what you've done, but for what's been done to me in the past to make me like this, to make me so sensitive to the world and the pain it inflicts? Do you have any idea the effect you have on my healing when you anger at my emotions, and mock my tears?! HOW DARE YOU!!! You have no right to hurt me anymore! I've been hurt enough already! I'm old enough and healed enough to know that I don't deserve that abuse, and I will not live with it! If you can't cope with me and the issues that I need to work through, and find ways to support and facilitate my healing, then please let me go! I deserve someone who wants to help me get better, who wants to see me overcome my problems, not force me further into them. Every time you show anger at my emotions, and especially when you mock me, you throw me right into that three year old girl inside of me, and I feel alone, hurt, and I want to crawl into a little hole and disappear! I had no control over what happened to me, but I'm trying to get control over the effects of what happened to me. You have control over how you treat me and speak to me. Can you take responsibility for that, or do you not have it in you? Right now, you are showing me all the signs that you can't handle this! Please prove me wrong!

    The problems I was facing in my relationship had escalated to a point where it was seriously in danger. Between my emotional and sexual problems becoming so prevalent, and my boyfriend's tendency to react in an emotionally abusive manner when these things arose, we were now constantly in conflict with one another. His choice of career in drug dealing was taking it's toll on us as well. He had been arrested twice during the time that we were together, and although he had escaped being convicted because of police not respecting his rights according to the law, the worry and financial stress of retaining a lawyer and fighting those charges added a lot of tension to an already tense situation. I wondered if we had the strength and maturity to work through it all, or if our relationship was doomed.
     It was at that point in my life that I made a very significant life decision. It was time to get out of the city, and away from the rave scene. Away from the drugs that kept my mind and spirit unbalanced so that it was impossible to be happy when I wasn't high. Away from the many people in my life who's needs kept overriding my own. Away from the life I had been living for too many years to run away from myself and my need to heal. It was finally time for me to get real about my life and my healing once and for all! When I told my boyfriend how I felt, he seemed very supportive and understanding, and agreed to do whatever it took to help things get better for me and for us. We planned to find a house to rent in the country where we could work on our relationship, and I could truly concentrate on my healing, away from the negative influences of our life in the city. I was finally ready to leave the lifestyle I had grown to love and hate all at the same time.
     We found a beautiful big old farmhouse to rent about two hours outside of the city. Not only was it in a community where one of my best friends happened to be from and now lived, a community I was familiar with and knew several people, it was also closer to my family.
     We moved in August of 2003. The old farmhouse and property were heaven to me, and I loved living there. However, my relationship did not improve with the move. I was looking to escape our old lifestyle and work on our relationship and my healing, and to look towards making a future together. I thought he wanted the same thing. We had both planned to get legitimate jobs and to make an honest living, but it soon became obvious that the lifestyle he had been living had too much control over him, and he was not able to get out of it. He claimed there was too much money to be made doing what he was doing, and he couldn't afford to stop. I felt cheated! My frustration over his inability to commit to our new life, and his frustration over not feeling able to deal with our problems, caused some very big conflict in our household. This was when I started realizing he was not willing or able to change his life and his abusive patterns, at least not for me.
     By Christmas of that year, things had escalated to a point where I was getting prepared to end the relationship. Then I found out he had been cheating on me during his drug selling escapades in the city, and that made the decision final. I ended the relationship then. It was time to start developing a relationship with myself, instead of giving so much of myself to another, especially undeserving person.
     And so began a journey into myself that I never thought would be possible! It was then that I decided to write my story (excerpts of which you have been reading here in my blogs) , a memoir of my life and healing. It was truly a monumental period in terms of my healing process, and it was one of the greatest breakthroughs I have ever made in my healing journey so far.
     While the feelings and flashbacks I experienced when writing my story were intense, and involved a lot of tears and deep emotion, the fears I had of being overcome by them were unnecessary. The emotions I was feeling were relieving, thought provoking emotions, that could even feel exhilarating at times! Sometimes I found myself crying and laughing all at the same time, for how good it felt to get that stuff out! No words can ever describe what that truly felt like for me. I was finally coming to terms with what happened to the little girl inside of me, with what happened to ME! For the first time in my healing journey, I started to feel an integration occur between myself and that little girl that I had separated myself from so many years ago. I was finally beginning to see her for all that she was, all that she went through and felt, and in turn, I started to see myself in a whole new light. I started to see myself as whole!
     While that integration was a turning point for me, just like the decision to heal did not amount to immediate relief, feeling integrated and whole did not amount to feeling like everything was now stable and secure in my world. Although it was a wonderful feeling of freedom and lightness and wholeness, this was not a way that I was used to feeling! I found myself not knowing what to do with my new sense of wholeness,  and suddenly my life felt like it was floating in limbo. The problem was, I felt like I had no experience living like a whole complete person, and I did not believe in my ability to do so. How was I to be a successful person in my life and to know how to follow my dreams if I didn't even know what success felt like? I had only learned how to survive, not to thrive!

Journal entry, February 5, 2005: Why do I always think that I can't when I should believe that I can? There is a part of me that knows I can do anything I put my mind to, and that I would feel so fulfilled if I did. But, for some reason, knowing and believing are two different things. How do I learn to believe in myself and in my dreams, and to finally feel motivated to start living them? 
     Another few sessions with a new therapist, and she opened up my eyes to something I had not even considered. She taught me that I knew a lot about success and following my dreams, it was just not in the typical sense that people think of when they think of those terms. I had chosen a path of healing and committed myself to making that integration occur within myself, and even with all that I had gone through to get to this point, I still persevered! She helped me realize that I had been following my dreams all along, and that I had accomplished incredible success in my healing journey so far, and therefore in my life. She helped me see that just because I was not focussed on career and family, what most of society sees as success, it did not mean I was not creating success in my life. I knew very well about succeeding and following my dreams! I had been doing it this whole time!
     While I still struggle with issues that stem from my past, and how my past has affected my patterns and ways of thinking and living, I have come a long, long way from that girl who was so lost many years ago, and I promise myself I will continue that journey as far as it takes me.
     Healing from trauma and abuse is a never ending journey. Our past is something we cannot change and that will always, to some extent, be a part of who we are. Although I know I have done so much for myself so far, I also know I still have much to learn, and many more obstacles to overcome. This is my journey, and I believe, hope, that I will be learning and healing and growing until the day I die. In the experiences I have had so far in life, in healing, and in writing my story, I have learned that I no longer have to feel trapped by my past, lost in a victimized existence. I can break the cycle of abuse and trauma that I lived as a child, and I can learn to be happy and to love and respect myself. Today, I feel so much more in control of my life. I actually do have a say. Life isn't something that happens to me, it's something that happens for me. I know I have come a long way, and I know I can go so much further if I have made it this far! The worst is over, and the best is yet to come!

Peace and Love Everyone! K. <3

Thursday, 17 December 2015

How the system and the law failed me:

     I first became involved in the child welfare system when my parents filed for divorce when I was six years of age. In the almost five years that they were a part of my life, I believe they failed to provide me with the support and protection that the child welfare system was set up to provide for children. When I was twenty years old I involved the law in my case, stepping beyond my intense fear of what that would mean, and again, I felt the same lack of support and protection that the legal system is meant to give victims of abuse.  In both circumstances the people and laws that were put into place to protect children from being victimized, and to give them a means to find justice when they are, failed me in every possible way.
     In the custody battle of my parents divorce case my mother expressed concerns to her lawyer that my father may have been molesting her two oldest daughters, me and my sister, a year younger than me. He had been caught molesting my mother's five year old sister before I was born, and was made to seek counselling for his "problem" before my mother would take him back. After some questionable comments that my sister and I made, she now suspected he had done the same to us. My sister and I were sent to a child psychologist to attempt to determine if we were being sexually abused by him, but the sessions were inconclusive. According to the rules regarding evidence in court, a child cannot be directly asked about whether or not they were being abused as the questions could be leading the witness to answer in a certain way, causing enough doubt as to the truthfulness of the statements in the court of law. Instead, we were given a doll house and dolls representing our family, and we were encouraged to act out certain scenes as they would happen in our household. I remember being so careful not to paint my father in a terrible light (as I knew he could be if I were totally honest) because I didn't want to be responsible for him getting into trouble and being taken out of our lives. I knew the decisions being made as a result of these sessions would determine how our life with our mother and father would be from then on, and all I wanted as a six year old girl was for my family to be together again. Even though our father was an abusive man, he was our father and we loved him dearly, as all children love their parents. He was the only father we had. 
     While there was not enough conclusive evidence to prove that we had been sexually abused by our father (although the psychologist greatly suspected it), he was not granted custody of his daughters due to his having to admit to receiving counselling after he was caught molesting my aunt (psychiatric records could be brought up in court). While the courts were right not to allow him custody, he still had full visitation rights and could take us for weekends. Not only were the allegations of sexual abuse of his daughters not investigated any further, my sisters and I were allowed to be placed directly in his care for visits where he could potentially harm us again. At that time he had remarried and had a new family and did not have much time for us anymore. Fortunately, we did not have to suffer any more abuse by his hands.
     Not long after my parents divorce, the lives of me and my siblings were completely ripped apart. My mother, suffering from serious health issues, found it increasingly difficult to care for her four children. She decided to give up custody of my little brother to my father and his new wife. She then placed her three daughters into foster care until she could get well enough to care for us. From that point on, the system had control of our futures. My youngest sister was placed in a home on her own, while my other sister and I were placed in a family together. The family had two teenage sons and a number of other foster children. We were completely neglected by the parents who let their teenage sons parent and discipline us as they saw fit. Living there was nothing like having a family should be. I remember my sister and I being so miserable and all we wanted was to go home again.
     Within a short while after being put into care, Children's Services informed our mother that due to her health and financial instability, she would only be granted custody of one of her three daughters, and that the other two would be put up for adoption, a terrible decision for any mother to have to make. When my mother discovered that her youngest daughter was being beaten in the family she had been placed in, she couldn't bring her back to them and so she made the decision that she would be the daughter she would keep. My mother's side of the family fought hard to get custody of her other two daughters again. Even my grandparents tried to get approval to adopt us, but they were denied. My sister and I could never go home again. 
     Not only did Children's Services make the decision to tear us away from our family, our mother, they then made the decision to tear my sister and me apart. After six months of living in care, we had been fighting a lot, taking out our frustrations about the situation we were in. Our mutual love and familiarity made us easy targets for each other. They decided to place me into another home on my own to separate us. Now, I was torn away from everyone that I loved! 
     I was in my next foster home for two years before being adopted. They seemed like a nice family, and they had a biological son who I became very close with. On the outside it appeared that I was happy in a loving family environment. What no one else knew though was that my foster father molested me almost daily during the two years that I lived there. 
    Needless to say, the families I was placed in who were supposed to provide a safe and protected environment for me, were worse than the family they had taken me away from! 
     Although I had a really nice social worker who did her best to look out for me, she did not have the time to be my therapist. I never felt like I could really open up to her about personal feelings and experiences I was having. I did not talk to her about the abuse I was suffering at the hands of my foster father. By this time in my life, I was trained well to keep my mouth shut about the pain I was suffering inside and out. From my experience, it did no good anyway. Suffering was just a part of living, and it was something I had learned that I had no control over. 
     Thankfully, after my adoption at ten years of age, for the first time in my life, I found myself in a loving, stable, and secure environment and I flourished. However, my experiences with abuse, especially sexual, had left their mark on me. 
     When I was eighteen I reunited with my birth family, including my father who I wanted to reconnect with so I could have a relationship with my brother. That reunion ended up triggering some well buried emotions about what had happened to me as a child, when I confronted my father about the abuse that I remembered, and he adamantly denied ever having touched me that way. He claimed that my mother's side of the family put those ideas into my head so that they could prevent him from getting custody of us. 
     My anger over his denial turned into a desperate need to take action against the men who had done me wrong as a child and I decided to take my stories to the law, and to charge both my biological father, and my foster father with sexual abuse. I wanted to make sure they could never harm another child the way they had harmed me and likely others. I also decided to try seeing a therapist for the first time in my life, to help me work through the feelings all of this was bringing up for me, although I only went to a few sessions. I was really not ready at that time in my life to address the emotions attached to the abuse I had suffered. 
     Making my statements to the police/RCMP about what had happened to me at the hands of these two men was terrifying and caused me considerable stress. The officers needed every last detail about what I remembered of the abuse, and I was shaking uncontrollably while telling my stories. The two cases were separate and so I had to go through the experience twice. Thankfully a very close friend of mine sat with me through it all, offering his unending support and comfort. I could not have done it without him by my side. 
     A few weeks later I was informed by the officers dealing with the case against my biological father that since I was the only one of my siblings who remembered being molested by him, it would end up being my word against his, and with no other evidence, the charges would not hold up in court. Then, my aunt, who my father had molested before I was born, came forward to lay charges, hoping that her case would add weight to mine. However, because the situations happened at different times, the charges had to remain separate. My charges were dropped, but since the evidence of my father seeking psychiatric counselling after it was discovered he had been molesting my aunt had been brought up in court during my parents custody battle, there was proof that he had molested her, and her charges could be brought to court. He got two years of probation, and a small paragraph mentioning the case in the back of the local newspaper. 
     In the case of the charges I had laid against my foster father, I never heard from the officers again. After how the case against my biological father turned out, I had no faith in the process, and no more energy or confidence to pursue it any further.
     Around ten years later in my late twenties, after I had taken on my journey of healing, I began to wonder why the case against my foster father appeared to have gone no where, and I decided to investigate. Not only was I upset about not getting justice for myself, I was also riddled with guilt over how many other children this man may have harmed since me, and I wanted him stopped.
     After many phone calls I was finally put in touch with an officer who was familiar with the case and who could answer my questions.When asked why the charges against my foster father appeared to have been ignored, he explained that the investigation was closed after it was determined that there was not enough evidence to take him to court. Again, it would have been my word against his, and without any other evidence (physical or unsolicited disclosure to others while in his care or shortly afterward), the case would not hold up in a court of law. I was also told that because I had sought and received counselling outside of the court appointed system (someone approved and regulated according to the court of law), it could be argued by the defendant's counsel that I may have been led to believe I had been molested during those therapy sessions, and that they would have argued false memory syndrome as a defence. Again, my story would not hold up in court. I was told that the charges were dropped because the crown determined there would not be enough evidence to convict him, therefore the case was not worth going to court.
     My anger and frustration over this information led me to go at the situation from a different angle. If the law couldn't take the case any further, maybe something could be done through Community Services (used to be Children's services), the people who put me in his care, and who allowed many other children to be put into his care over the years he and his wife fostered children. While I had been told they no longer fostered children, I had hoped Community Services (CS) would do some sort of investigation into the years children were in his care, and possibly come up with some more information that could lead to actual justice being done, not only for me, but for others he may have harmed, or may be harming still. I called the CS office that was entrusted with my care when I became a part of the system and I told my story to someone I was told could help me. She said they would open up an investigation, but that nothing could be done until they requested and received  my files from the years I was in care through The Freedom of Information Act. After a month, I did not hear from them and when I called they said they were still waiting on the information to be released. After getting the same response from them for almost a year, I finally gave up that avenue for help as well, and have not pursued any other means of justice since then. It had become obvious to me that no one else really cared enough to attempt to keep this man from harming other children, something I can say with absolute confidence that he has done many more times in the thirty five years since I was in his care. While my biological father had impulse control issues, which is bad enough, my foster father was different. He was a predator of children, the type to put himself into a position of power with vulnerable children, and to constantly seek out new victims to victimize. I often think about my foster brother who I was so close with in the years that I lived there, and I wonder if he ever had children. The guilt I feel when I think about his daughters and what they have most likely suffered at the hands of their grandfather because I was not able to stop him, overwhelms me sometimes!
     While I would like to think that someday I will find a way to not only receive justice, but to stop a child predator from victimizing any more innocent children, the reality of the situation, made obvious by my unsuccessful attempts, is that justice is simply not an option for me. Both of the men who did me wrong and affected my life in seriously detrimental ways are left to be free to harm others the way they harmed me, and I am left dealing with the pain and guilt, a lifetime sentence, even as healed as I have become.
     I would love to be able to offer up a solution here, some way that we can set up a system that not only protects children from becoming victims of abuse, but also gives them an effective means to receive justice when they are, and to ensure the people who harmed them are punished and not allowed to victimize others. However, all I can give is a place to start.
     In my experience, the system that is supposed to be set up to protect and provide justice for victims of abuse has been made much less effective due to efforts made to avoid false allegations on accused perpetrators of abuse. It seems that the system cares more about protecting those that are falsely accused, than protecting those that are actual victims, the number of falsely accused being almost nothing compared to those accusations that are valid. Something needs to change. How, I cannot tell you. I don't know enough about the Child Welfare System or the law to know just how it can be made better for victims, but I do know that as it stands now, it does not work! Victims are not being protected and they are afraid to speak out, and when they do, they are not being heard, and the perpetrators are allowed to be free to victimize others. I suppose the first step would be to acknowledge that there are serious flaws in the system, and to start taking steps to learn how to make it better.

Peace and Love to Everyone. Kristina. <3

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Cycle of Abuse

The cycle of abuse is a vicious one. It is self perpetuating and very difficult to break. Being a victim of abuse in childhood often translates into either becoming the victim of abuse later in life, or becoming the perpetrator of abuse on others, or both... and the cycle continues on!
     I don't know how the cycle of abuse began in my family before my parents. I don't know what experiences my father had that taught him it was okay to treat his wife and children the way that he did, and I don't know what experiences my mother had that taught her it was okay to allow him to treat her and her children that way, but I have no doubt that the cycle of abuse in their lives did not begin with them and their marriage.
     What I do know is how the cycle began for me in my family. Before I was even born, the first of four children, my father had been beating, raping, and emotionally torturing my mother for years. Not long after they got married, he was caught molesting my mothers five year old sister, and my mother stayed with him (hoping she could help him get better, something most victims of abuse feel), having four of his children. He went on to beat and emotionally torture us as well, and molest at least two of us, until my parent's divorce when I was six years old.
     My father was not my only experience with abuse as a child. In my first foster home, the parents neglected the foster children, and allowed their teenage sons to discipline us as they saw fit. The sons emotionally abused us, enjoying their power over us, and although I was never sexually abused by them, one of them used my obvious fear of this happening as a way to torture me, another form of sexual abuse. In my second foster home, where I lived from 8-10 years old until being adopted, I was molested by my foster father almost daily. Even after I was adopted, he molested me while on a weekend visit with the family for my foster brothers birthday when I was twelve years old.
    Children learn much of their understanding and beliefs about themselves and relationships through what they witness in their families growing up. Out of the four families I was a part of as a child, I was abused in three of them. Obviously, the messages I received about relationships, love, sex, and self worth, were not positive or healthy ones.
     As a result of witnessing my mother have such little respect and love for herself that she would stay in the situation she and her children were in, I learned to have just as little respect and love for myself. By seeing her so desperately and continuously seek those feelings of respect and love from him, instead of realizing she should be getting those feelings from herself, I learned that those feelings could only be given by a man in my life, and that I was not capable of giving those things to myself.
     Also, as a result of being molested by two father figures in my life, I learned another extremely detrimental and false belief about myself and love. I grew up believing that love from a man could only be attained though sex, and that to get feelings of love and worth I needed to be sexual, and to give my body to them. For me, love from a man came to equal sex.
     By the time I became sexually mature (physically that is), I was so traumatized and misguided about the topics of love, sex, and relationships, that I struggled with more than the usual confusion and sexual issues that teenagers are destined to endure in those years. I was extremely promiscuous in my teens and early adult years, constantly seeking feelings of love and self worth from the men in my life through sex. The feelings of love I received were fleeting and un-fulfilling, and instead of self worth, I only developed a deeper sense of self loathing.
     The sex was inconsequential, and indeed, as a result of the abuse I suffered, I rarely enjoyed it at all. I usually spaced out during the act of sex. In those years, I allowed a lot of men to take advantage of me sexually. While there were many times that my mind was screaming "NO", and sometimes even my lips (although that was ignored by both involved), my body and heart kept saying "yes", hoping that maybe someday I would find the way to experience real love, the kind I knew existed, but did not realize I had my own capacity to feel.
     In my late 20's, towards the end of an emotionally abusive relationship I had been involved in, I finally realized I was continuing the cycle of abuse I had grown up with as a child, and that if I didn't address this issue, the cycle would continue on with me, and likely my children when it came time to have a family. I vowed to myself then that I would do whatever it took to end the cycle with me. That was when I chose the path of healing.
     Even after making this choice, I still ended up in another emotionally abusive relationship. However, this time, there was a difference. I was on a different path, and while I stayed with him for over three years, and dealt with his abuse, I did not simply allow him to treat me that way. I started fighting back. I started defending myself. Even if he did not get the message that I deserved better and was worth more than that, I eventually did! I also learned another very important lesson that I needed to learn. I realized that the only person I had the power to change was myself, and that using my energy for self change would have a much greater effect in my life than trying to change him. These were extremely valuable lessons when it came to breaking the cycle.

     Journal entry, October 15, 2003: Neither one of us is at fault here. We're simply following the patterns, the roles we learned as children, the cycle of abuse. Both of us, me the victim, you the abuser. I grew up imprinting my mother's behaviour, you, your father's. It's a perfectly predictable relationship. Our most influential role models in life are our families, especially in our earliest years. You've never seen a problem with your family, with the way you were raised. Therefore, you would never recognize that there may be a negative pattern you learned, one in which the man is in control, and makes himself feel more powerful by putting down others around him, especially your mother. This type of role model seems far more appealing to aspire to than women who are the victim to men much more harmful and abusive than your father ever was. This was my role model. So it does not make either of us bad people for simply doing what comes naturally to us. However, the thing is, I see the negative effects this pattern, this cycle of abuse I have continued on in my life, has caused in me, and I want these things to change. For a long time I convinced myself that I could help you to see the cycle in yourself too, to want to stop this with me together, but what I have learned in the last little while is that I can only change myself, and I can only make choices for myself. Those choices need to be based around myself not being a victim, and therefore, not being with someone who's patterns are blindly based around a role model who was abusive. Until you are ready to recognize this pattern in yourself, by seeing what you witnessed growing up as some sort of abuse, and choosing for yourself (not for me or anyone else) to break the cycle, we are not good for each other. We only serve to keep each other in the cycle, me the victim, and you the abuser.

     I learned so much about how to love and respect myself in those years with him while learning to heal, and I eventually found my way out of that relationship, and into a relationship with myself, something I had never really had before.
     That was in 2003. I stayed single for eight years after that, working on my healing, writing my memoir, and generally learning to love and respect myself. I learned a lot in that time, and have developed a relationship with myself that I never even though was possible. It is truly the greatest and most important relationship I have ever had! I can assure you from the core of my soul that now, I would never let anyone treat me or my children the way that my father treated us! For me at least, the cycle has been broken.
     The sad thing is, I am one of the lucky ones. Many victims of abuse are not given the opportunity to live in a happy, healthy family after being victimized as children. Many are never given the message that they deserve better than to be treated that way, and they never learn their own capacity to make their lives good and whole. Many never get the chance to tell their truth and to be heard. All of these things I was given, and for that I am extremely grateful!
    I believe that the very first step in ending the cycle of abuse that is so very prevalent in our society (whether we want to believe it or not), is to make victims feel welcome and safe to share their story, and to get help and support. They need to be given a voice and they need to be heard! None of that will happen though unless they feel protected. While I think our society has worked hard to put supports in place for victims of abuse, and giving them a place to be heard, we are still lacking in the protection department, as will be more evident in my next blog post. Sadly, oftentimes perpetrators of abuse are protected more than the victims. I believe this makes ending the cycle very difficult for a lot of people. At least there is much more effort being put into changing how society deals with this subject today, and hopefully, one day, all victims of abuse will not hesitate to stand up and defend themselves when they are victimized, and real justice will be had!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Journey of Healing Through Writing

My journey until now:
     I was born Tina Bethana, to Edith and Jim Gouchie on July 26th, 1973. I have often wondered if on that day my story was already written and my fate in life chosen, or if the future and my destiny were mysteries to be unfolded and newly written as each day passed. Either way, life has taught me to have no regrets, and to hold no grudges. What happens in life happens for a reason, and our unique experiences greatly influence who we are, and who we will become. The trials and lessons we experience in life, teach us the keys to the ways of our world.
     I see my life thus far as split into three defining parts, each as significant and life altering as the next. The first ten years belonged to Tina, a scared and lost little girl who had lost hope that life could ever truly be good. My life was full of abuse and chaos in those years, and although I know I experienced happiness and fun at times as a child, the memories that stuck with me the most were the traumatic ones. Those first years of a child's life are the most influential in how we see the world, and especially how we see ourselves. My childhood was not the greatest way to start.
     At ten years of age, I was reborn Kristina Bethana Grevatt, when two amazing people, Ty and Gerrie Grevatt, decided they wanted to give a lost soul a chance, and they adopted me. After my adoption, my life was filled with love, trust, safety, and security. Finally having these things in my life gave me hope, a sense that maybe life could actually be good, and I grew into a seemingly bright and fun-loving teenager and young adult. However, the scars left in me from the trauma I suffered as a child, stayed, many of them re-opening at certain times in my life due to circumstances that triggered their painful re-occurrence.
     The third part of my life began on a day in September, 1999, when I had a complete emotional breakdown due to an abusive relationship, where I realized I had to open my eyes and see the effects my abusive past had on me. If not, I would be destined to continue the cycle of abuse I had grown up with as a child. This was the day I chose to take on the long and arduous journey of healing my soul.
     My journey of healing has not been easy, and there have been many internal and external obstacles I've had to overcome over the years. Although I have come a very long way since that day in 1999, I know I still have many issues to work through. What I have come to learn in this process so far, is that healing from trauma and abuse is a life long journey.
     One of the most effective healing methods I have learned over the years has been to write. Journals have been a way for me to express things I need to express, and to begin to sort through and release the pain and hurt associated with those things. Probably the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome, made clear in many of my journal entries, was getting in touch with my inner child.

     Journal entry, September 21, 2000: Dear Tina. I don't really know how to start! I've only recently begun to recognize that you even exist. Or maybe I knew you were there, but I refused to acknowledge you. By doing that I'd have to face the pain you felt, and, as I'm beginning to see now, must still be feeling. However, although now I know you're there, a part of me, I'm finding it very difficult to reach you. I've pushed you down for so long, and built up so much other crap on top of you, it's like you're lost to me. I think you scare me too! You have too much potential to make me feel things I've tried so hard to keep from feeling all of my life! Maybe you are very reachable to me, but because of the feelings you hold, I can't bring myself to truly look at you, to see what and who you really are, and what you feel. I've been trying to convince myself that reaching you is what I need to do. This is what can help my healing process, and maybe make me feel more whole, or better yet, just feel what I am really feeling. This may be true, but what happens to me when you open up and share what happened to you? I know the story line, but when it comes to the feelings; the pain, the anger, the confusion, you hold the cards. I don't know if I can play that hand again! But I also know that you are getting tired of keeping all this in, and of being locked away, and unless we can find each other and make our burdens a little easier to bear by sharing them, you may just go crazy someday. You're too little to carry this pain around for so long, and it's not fair that you should have had to. Every day, I feel stronger, and hopefully soon, I will be able to reach down, pick you up, and hold you, and I will never let you go! And then we can share everything, not just the pain and the hurt, but the love and joy and happiness too. It will be like being a whole person. Imagine that!

     The greatest exercise in healing through writing, and connecting with that little girl inside of me, came in the fall of 2003, when I decided to write my story, a memoir of what I remembered of my childhood, how it affected my life, and the healing work I had done up to that point. I had always talked very openly about my past experiences, although I shared those stories from more of an intellectual perspective, being so disconnected from the emotional side of what happened to me. Writing my story at that point in my healing opened up the door for me to tell it in a different way than I had ever told it before. This time, I actually felt the words as they were written. I wasn't just telling someone's story, I was telling my own. I was feeling my own experience for the first time in my life!
     While the feelings and flashbacks I experienced when writing were intense, and involved a lot of tears and deep sobbing at times, the fears I had of being overcome by them were unnecessary. The emotions I was feeling were relieving, thought provoking emotions that could even feel exhilarating at times. Sometimes I found myself crying and laughing all at the same time, for how good it felt to get that stuff out! No words can ever describe what that truly felt like for me. I was finally coming to terms with what happened to the little girl inside of me, with what happened to ME! For the first time in my healing journey, I started to feel an integration occur between myself and that little girl that I had separated myself from so many years ago. I was finally beginning to see her for all that she was, all that she went through and felt, and in turn, I started to see myself in a whole new light. I started to see myself as whole!
     Surprisingly, feeling whole did not offer the sense of peace and contentment that I had hoped it would bring to my life. In many ways, it has made things more challenging for me. Having lived in survival mode all of my life, a state I was very familiar and comfortable with, I have found it very difficult at times to make the transition to thriving mode, a state of being happy with myself, and living my life for me. It seems whenever things appear to be going good for me, I make decisions that sabotage that peace in my life, and create chaos. This has been an issue all my life, and it is the challenge I wish most to overcome. It is very easy to fall into old patterns of thought and behaviour when traveling in unfamiliar territory, and indeed, over the last few years since I felt that integration occur, I have taken many steps backward, even as I move forward. However, another important lesson I have learned along this journey, is that as long as I keep making at least one more step forward than I made backward, I am winning!

     Journal entry, March 26, 2002: Thinking that someone raised in trauma can easily fit into a normal and healthy reality, is like thinking someone raised in a healthy, non-traumatic environment, can easily fit into an abusive and traumatic environment. In both cases, their own situations are completely normal for these children, and the other is not. It takes time for a surviver to adjust, sometimes a large part of their lives! Healing is a step by step process, that when forced too quickly, can erase a lot of the work already done, and send the surviver back, sometimes to the beginning. If taken slowly, each step can be learned and re-learned until it becomes a natural part of the persons psychological make-up. It's like learning to play chess. You can know the rules, and the moves of the pieces, but there's no way you're going to win against someone who's played all their lives, until you've played many games and lost. Of course, as you practice and play more, you may get closer to winning. You may even work your way up to "check" as you become more skilled. However, your skill cannot match that of the other player until the work, the practice, the commitment, and the loss of games is at the same level as them. You don't sit down with them the first time playing, and kick their ass just because they taught you the moves, the rules of the game beforehand. It takes time to learn patience, strategy, and love of the game. However, if you want to learn to win, you have to go through the process. The process can be frustrating, and filled with moments of disappointment, but in the end, you get to yell "CHECKMATE", and know that all that hard work was worth it! YOU WON!!!

     I recently went on a cross Canada trip with one of my best girlfriends, and as a result of that experience, I have felt incredible inspiration to work on my forward progress. I know I am in a good healing place in my life right now, because I cannot stop writing, and when I write, I know I am healing my soul! I also believe that it is in sharing our stories that true healing occurs, as it can open the path for others to share their stories, and speaking(writing) ones truth is a very effective healing method. This is why I have decided to start a blog.
     I have absolute faith that I am on the right path. It has brought me so far from where I was 10-15 years ago, and it will take me right to where I need to be. Loving me, and loving life!

    Peace and Love!
    Kristina <3