The unravelling

Heart spiral

I am beginning to realise that the stories we tell about things, can either make our bodies tight, or in telling the truth to someone who hears the truth beneath the words and opens us to that truth, we can unravel.  I unravelled a lot today in this afternoon’s therapy session.  Then when I spoke to my Mum later and heard of the health challenges she is facing due to unshed tears I felt my body grown tight and my heart restrict.  I came home, hugged Jasper and cried.  The tightness unravelled then.

In a week my therapist, lovely Katina goes away for just over three weeks, back to Greece.  This may be a simple fact but what it evokes for me are other absences and leavings, the ones consciously chosen by others that left me feeling so alone and affected me deeply, and the one’s forced upon them and me by fate.

The first leaving was when, at age 3, my big sister Jude married and moved to New Zealand.  Turns out of all my family, prior to her stroke when I was 18 my big sister was the most available and nurturing presence for me, at least until other concerns took her away.  Her leaving at the age of 3 had a huge impact,  I felt it today in my cells as tears fell.  I was reminded of how I lost her at least four times, first at age 3, second when she turned to business, following the rest of the family and then became sick from overdoing it, third when she had her stroke and fourth when she died 2 years ago.   These were not absolute losses, as she left and returned and was then claimed by her own terrible experiences of abandonment and pain, she was still with me at times and we were deeply connected but they were significant losses never the less.

There was the loss of true feeling which got buried with the meds, when she was later diagnosed with Bi-Polar (at that time manic depression – which is I know now really Complex PTSD, never truly named in her case).  There were the emotional outbursts which I understood and am learning to understand more these days through my reading and my therapy.

Today I was reading about Alexithymia in my book Running on Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.  Alexithymia is the tenth symptom of emotional neglect as outlined by Jonice Webb in this book.  I’ll share the others in another blog.

For those who do not know alexithymia is about undifferentiated emotion.   Webb writes :

Alexithymia denotes a person’s deficiency in knowledge about, and awareness of emotions.  In its extreme form an alexithymic is a person for whom feelings are undecipherable, both their own and other people’s.

According to Webb those who suffer in this way tend to suffer from feelings of irritability.  There is a saying in the Al Anon literature about a state of being irritated and full of discontent.  We could explain this to mean a state of suffering a jumble of undifferentiated emotions we don’t fully understand or are not fully connected to.

Emotions that are not acknowledged or expressed tend to jumble together and emerge as anger… (they) refuse to stay down… they erupt as small spurts of irritability that hurt others.

People with alexithymia tend to turn to substances when the feelings they suffer but cannot articulate or sort out become too much.  The alcohol numbs for a time, but since the underground feelings are being medicated and not felt, there can be no insight, no healing and no sorting through of emotions.  There can be no unpacking of trauma.  And no meaning made as a result.  The consequences lead to ruptured relationships, emotional isolation and even suicide in extreme cases.

Reading about alexithymia in the park today I suddenly gained a great insight into myself, my family and the AA fellowship.  It occurred to me that in the first 10 years of my sobriety I was trying to emerge from a state of alexithymia, but often sharing with others who also were alexithymic and that was a futile exercise bound to end in frustration.  I had a two sisters and lot of other relatives who were alexithymic and a lot of other people around me who started to get pretty anxious when feelings buried in this state began to emerge and seem to rock the structure of life and relationship.

It was great news to become aware of this issue of alexithymia today.  I have struggled to understand before and I didn’t have a name for what this state of being was.  I was able to share it with my therapist who explained it to me further.

Healing from alexithymia involves, according to Webb

Helping suffers become aware of their anger, irritability or frustration.

Teaching them to sit with emotions rather than stuff or repress them.

Helping them to pry open the lockbox called anger and to label and experience all the emotions that are stored within it.

There is absolutely NO WAY medication can help us to unravel in this process.  We need others around us who are emotionally literate and aware, who have an insight into what emotions and states of being underlie the anger : grief, fear, sadness, loneliness to name a few.  And then we have to enter the lock box of our hearts which may have a bramble of barricades built around it.  We have to remove these and open the locked door and descent the spiral staircase to discover what is lies buried deep within.  We have to tap the underground river we find at the bottom of that staircase which contains all the buried emotions and learn to swim in it, rather than drown or be erased.

It was such an enormous relief today to feel the true sadness I feel at Katina going away. At other times I am sure I would have denied the feeling and suffered all kinds of body symptoms. We could explore what happened at other times when I was left and I could express all the feelings I have around leaving, endings and loss.

There is an adult part of me that knows I can survive.  There is an aware part of me that can connect all the missing links and love the little child who felt so alone and at times feels she will always be left.   How grateful I am for this.  So grateful.

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