Intensity versus Intimacy

I discovered the Sherlock BBC series early in my recovery (see clip if interested). When I was first diagnosed, the stress part of PTSD had manifested in my neck. The old adage of someone being a ‘pain in the neck’ or ‘it made all the hair on the back of my neck stand up’ took on new meaning. I now know, from personal experience, that extreme distress does weird and painful things to your neck. The muscles were so tight that doing my job at a computer was difficult. I could manage sitting upright on the couch, surrounded by pillows, watching TV. Which is where I spent most of my time in the beginning stages of recovery.

One of my favorite finds was the Sherlock series. I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s emotional detachment and the extreme analytical mind of the Sherlock Holmes character he played.  And I could relate, too, to every single bit of it–to Sherlocks investigative powers and seeming ‘sixth sense’, to Watson’s displacement, to the victims of the crimes, and to others who were taken aback and didn’t know if Sherlock was mad, or a genius, or both. I was completely hooked in the first episode when Watson, a soldier with PTSD, went to his therapist after doing some detective work with Sherlock for the first time. His visible tremor had disappeared and his therapist said she believes he wasn’t actually suffering from any after effects of the wartime. Rather, she surmised that he missed it (the intensity of wartime) and that is why he was symptomatic.

That scene really stuck with me.

Fast forward a few years and I am well aware, from books and other research I’ve done, that incest and sexual assault survivors often have tell-tale signs of past abuse. They tend to be very sensitive to smells, for instance. They also tend to love and devour mystery novels and detective shows.

Indeed.

The internet is full of articles like ’10 signs you were molested as a child’. I received so much silence and denial from my abusers, after I owned the truth of my childhood, that I needed something to latch onto. Whenever I’d start to doubt myself I would look up another one of those ‘lists’ and realize that I had EVERY SINGLE ADULT TRAIT of someone who had been sexually abused as a child. My mind would calm down again. I wasn’t crazy. It had really happened. This was my story. I couldn’t deny it anymore even if everyone else involved WAS denying it.

And so here I am, years later, still trying to figure out how to NOT live in denial. When does the crazy feeling in your brain go away? Hmm. I think it would instantly go away if one of my abusers (or ALL of them) came to me in true apology and owned it. But, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime I am just trying to break the emotional and mental bondage (to my abusers) and to uproot the abusive mind-sets that I still fall into.

To help me in that effort, I am reading The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes.  (I wrote about it yesterday). And, as with many other helpful things I’ve read and experienced, I’m seeing how all the other things I’ve read, watched, or experienced stack up to form an overall explanation of why I am…the way that I am. Particularly the section of Carnes’ book which talks about using intensity in the place of intimacy.

Yikes. That is so me.

I loved that BBC Sherlock show because it was intense. I, too, love intensity. And I often mistake intensity for intimacy. Intensity was part of the cycle of abuse I grew up in.

There is an old song by Garth Brooks called ‘two of a kind’. that can get stuck in my head for days, especially the line ‘sometimes we fight…just so we can make up’. That line has always resonated with me. Now I know WHY.

Like many other incest survivors, I sometimes manifest conflict with those closest to me. I am subconsciously trying to re-create the drama that was my childhood, and trying, in vain, to resolve that past conflict through present relationships. I manufacture tension. I start out by withholding. Then I go from zero to one hundred in a few seconds and unleash the fury of abandonment and neglect unto those who are not abandoning me or neglecting me. I see things that are NOT there. And then I just want it to go away again. I want to passionately make up and forget it ever happened… ‘Sometimes we fight….just so we can make up‘. It is the making up, which never–ever–happened in my childhood. It is THAT which I am craving. Conflict resolution. Restoration. Things being made right again. Making up

All of this is a longing for true intimacy.

All that ever happened to me as a child was intensity on top of intensity. I didn’t even know what I was missing; just that SOMETHING was missing. Therefore I began to VIEW the intensity as intimacy…And then we get to make up and it’s oh so good again. Except I’m the only one who doesn’t tire of this lashing out routine. My BHH is exhausted and very angry that I am still doing it.

I don’t want this intensity any more, though. I want it to stop. I want to be like Caroline Ingalls who never raised her voice and always spoke with smiles.

The problem is, when my neck gets tight and I have to spend a few days on the couch again: I would much rather watch Sherlock than Little House on the Prairie.

If you love someone set them free. But if you want someone to be tied to you forever: beat them up.

grayscale photo of rope on log

I am reading a book about trauma bonds. It was recommended to me by Lexicon Lover- a blogger/ commentor I admire.  ❤️

I am mid way through the book. It is so helpful. Hard. But helpful. Like most truth.

I can already better understand why the battered wife cannot leave her husband. Why the molested child a friend adopted feels so bad (for telling on her abusive grandpa) that she picks the skin on her arm until it is raw. And I also see more clearly why I had such a difficult time being honest about my own abuse and then separating myself, physically and emotionally, from my abusive family of origin.

The book theorizes that trauma bonds people in ways that peaceful circumstances cannot.

Indeed.

I have also realized things about love, and it’s flip side (extreme selfishness-dangerous levels of narcissism).

First: love.

Love is a verb. And one action it does is it releases. The old adage is cheesy but true (if you love something, set it free…if it comes back to you it was meant to be). True love does not WANT anyone being dependent on them, it hopes for a healthy relationship as two equals who choose it— therefore it detests bondage situations.

Love wants to see others live in independence and autonomy. True love gives selflessly for the sake of the other so that that goal of mutual independence can be reached. Mentors, good ones, know that they are successful when their mentees no longer need them. The mentee may choose friendship at that point but the mentor, if he is a good one, doesn’t expect it going into it. Same with parents.

Abuse is the opposite. It is so selfish that it wants the other to be broken and dependent and tied up to the other—forever if possible. There is no release, no setting free. There is intentional bondage-making.

To me that is evil. And I believe evil knows that if you want to create a near-unbreakable bond you don’t treat someone with a combination of genuine care, affection, and freedom, letting them figure things out on their own. There is no setting free with evil. Never.

That would mean that person had no binding ties to anything, unless they chose to give themselves to God or others. (In spiritually abusive homes, believing in God is not a free will choice.)

Evil knows that if you want to create a tie that binds two people together greater than any other tie on earth, trauma needs to be involved.

So evil, and those given over to it, buys the neglected girl a bicycle and then sexually assaults her a few months later. Six months after that the evil one tells her how special she is to him and praises the bond they’ve always had. A day later the evil one mocks her pre-teen breast size.

That is how you create a type of bondage that lasts near-forever. That is how you hide your ugly deeds and create a slave to cater to your wishes for years, lifetimes if you get your way. You mess with their mind. You beat them up. You bring them to the lowest low of self hatred and then kiss their forehead and tell them they are still your special little princess. Because that’s all it takes to tie them up to you. A mixture of abuse and what seems like love but is just fake affection to hide and further the abusive bondage.

Evil forces a daughter to sit on its lap. And that night it beats her mom up in front of her.

Evil knows this works at trapping. It knows that is how it can make ties that bind, and blind. In such relationships there is no process of the child entering adulthood and being set free, not from homes like that. The child enters adulthood with every intention of breaking away from their family but finds she cannot do it. The pull is too great. She missed the highs and lows and returns for Christmas and another round of verbal battering and perverted uncles mixed with forehead kisses and photographs with linked arms because we just love our little princess so much!

To break such trauma bonds is arduous, exhausting, and, dare I say it: miraculous.

I am praying, that now that I see them for what they really are (incredibly powerful tools of bondage from the pit of hell) that  my own strong bonds with people who inflicted trauma on me, can finally be broken.

The book Educated & Breaking My Upbringing

books school stacked closed

Two of my therapists suggested daily meditation to heal my brain. Both therapists also suggested Yoga (as did my family doctor). I smiled and nodded and ignored the advice. Later I vented to my BHH: I don’t want to exchange one brainwashing for another brainwashing! I want to break my upbringing not repeat it!

Yoga, to me, is a bit like tattoos. People get really into it and then like to show off their ‘newest ones’, often times on Facebook. Meanwhile I had a foam mat and soy milk in the fridge before FaceBook existed. I would contort my body in a ‘new one’ and immediately holler, “come, quick, come and look!” to my children and husband. I would even bow and say namaste to others, who didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, (which only fueled my ego more).

The practice did not do much for me physically, other than make me walk around taller because I believed I was ‘all that’.

After I got sick (PTSD/Anxiety), the physical therapist who helped me unthaw my anxious-neck, (and who also works closely with my family doctor), warned me not to do Yoga. She lowered her eyes and whispered, “It is not safe for a lot of people, and if they push themselves, or have poor supervision, it can be dangerous. I wish he (my doctor) would quit telling so many people to do it.”

I was glad that at least one professional I was seeing was affirming what I’d already decided was not ‘for me’. Shortly before I got so sick, the ministers I was listening to on youtube (to try and undo all the religious abuse I’d endured) all warned me about yoga being a possible doorway to demons. Through them I learned what namaste actually means (the divine/god in me recognizes/honors the divine/god in you). Turns out I was the idiot tossing around a phrase that I had no idea of the meaning. As a child, when someone was acting full of themselves, we used to say, ‘Wow, who do you think you are–God!?’ So it was for me. In my early thirties, I had all of my life ‘figured out’ (or so I thought), one might even say I was acting like I was God. I mean, some of my favorite lingo was…calling myself god… so there’s that.

After I crashed, burned, and could barely leave my house from social anxiety, I knew certain things wouldn’t work for me, no matter if every expert on the planet says it’s the go-to-thing for healing PTSD and Anxiety (and most do).

Meditation gave me pause because I was a huge daydreamer as a child; to escape. (And, again, I knew I needed to break the upbringing; not continue it.) So I sought out benign activities that would calm my central nervous system without reverting to childhood brain numbing tactics.

I’d always enjoyed nature and watching birds. So one of my changes (and fill-ins for daily ‘meditation’ time) was to become a seed-toting, birdbath warmer in the winter, crazy bird lady. If you feed and water them; they will not disappoint you. Now I simply walk by the window, and I am immediately drawn in, letting my brain get fixed by the jays fighting over the peanuts. It brings me complete pleasure and peace, without having to think about anything, beyond whether or not the feeders need refilling.

All that birdwatching transfers to nature watching in general.  When I travel anywhere, my mind is immediately soothed from sunsets. Snow. Rain. Clouds. Trees. Birds. Butterflies. Even examining the unique plant in the corner of my accountant’s office can calm me now.

There was one survival tactic from childhood which was beneficial to me: I was a voracious reader. I believe that reading so much planted the seed to break away from my abusers. So, as I’ve written about prior, I started to read again after I got sick. Seriously read–for enjoyment as well as for learning purposes– all of which is very healing for me.

The book Educated by Tara Westover is everywhere right now. At my local Barnes and Noble, there are copies around every corner and across many genres. I’m glad I had already read it prior to my last trip to B & N, otherwise I might have thought it was being completely overhyped. (I sometimes intentionally avoid highly marketed offerings.)

BUT. It is worth the hype. Seriously. Best book I’ve read in years.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. For me, I found it incredibly helpful in viewing my own past, and my own journey out of a damaging upbringing. Presently, I am aware of the lingering trauma bonds from my family of origin. Such strong bonds make this time of year (holidays) hard. Seeing the author’s ties to abusive and neglectful family members–her willingness to return ‘again and again’ to her family home, (at least one poignant ‘return’ occurred at Christmas time), and my desire (as the reader) to scream through the pages “STOP! QUIT GOING BACK! DON’T GET INTO THAT VEHICLE WITH YOUR INSANE, ABUSIVE BROTHER AGAIN!” gave me serious pause.

What would another person reading MY story say to me? Likely they’d be screaming silently too: “Your life is so good now; you have every right to ignore and walk away from the people who did that to you! Don’t screw it up by going back into relationship! And, for God’s sake, don’t let yourself get physically near to any people who have once physically abused you, you are crazy to do that!”

It is so obvious when separation NEEDS TO HAPPEN in another’s life. Not so clear in my own…but as a result of reading such a poignant memoir of a neglectful and abusive upbringing– something in me was just…severed… it was getting ready to happen, but some major movement inside of my heart definitely DID happen after reading Westover’s book Educated. For that, I am so thankful.

There is tremendous value in sharing our stories; letting other people see ‘themselves’ in the things we share.

The hearers/readers are able to choose their own form of healing, knowing what has and has not worked for them in their own past. It’s best when there is no strict ‘formula’, or method that someone else is suggesting. Let the reader figure it out. Likely their mind already knows the way out. It just needs some nourishment to get there.

It’s a lot like putting seed in a bird feeder. The landscape changes for the better when someone is willing to put food out. No thinking required. Just sit back and enjoy your brain being fixed.