I finally splurged and brought the copy of poet Samantha King’s first published collection : Born to Love, Cursed to Feel on Sunday as a gift to myself. I wanted to share the first poem in the collection as it is stunning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :
You’re a beautiful kind of madness
a misunderstood truth
O, the things they could learn from
the darkness that is hidden behind your eyes
So gifted, yet your talents are wasted
you gave up chasing dreams
Reality hit and you got a taste of failure
Cautious now about bearing your soul
For if others saw you fully exposed
They may not love you like they claim to
Time and experience have taught you to trust no one
Friends, lovers, and even family have forsaken you
You keep the shattered piece of your heart in a box
Stitching, gluing, and staying up all night
trying to put it back together
Attempting to fill the void that was left
Moving from one man to the next
It seems no one can satisfy the appetite
for affection that you seek
Continually picking at old wouds
they never heal properly
You have no real home, too restless to say in one place
You are reckless, selfish, stubborn, sometimes rude
You’ve bottled up the pain
of so much that has been done
When you’re hurt
You close into yourself, shut down
You love attention and yet love being by yourself more
May God have mercy on your soul
For you are truly lost
Daily you fight your demons
Yet no one knows of that which you endure
You bear it alone, never speaking of it
You can blame the broken home from which you came
Or the environment you grew up in
The people who tore you down so young
You can point a finger at those who have
whispered behind your back
They have all played a role in your development
But looking so deep into the past
will keep you from moving forward
You must love yourself more
that these people claim they do
Look at where you stand now
No one can know the things you have endured
You’ve never claimed to be perfect
Your flaws tell your story
There is no need to hide them
I wrote this quite a few weeks ago and it concerns how I was treated in my last relationship. Often my grittier, real posts don’t see the light of day. I feel guilt for stating a harsh truth, setting a boundary or being legitimately angry over harsh treatment. My mother taught me she could not survive my anger and so boundaries were hard. I am posting this today to get it ‘out’.
Can you see me? Doesn’t really matter now As I see myself You will never live inside my skin and I will never live in yours But sometimes I will meet a fellow traveller on the road They will see my scars or show me theirs and we will In that one brief instant recognise each other There will be no need for fear or hiding There will only be an open embrace Not a defensive stare Or that heart breaking glare Of how dare you Strange and dangerous creature!
It isn’t my fault that you cannot see me but still it can cut Especially when you misunderstand You label me agoraphobic not knowing I have known trauma And also that as an intuitive empath I absorb more and feel things more deeply being susceptible to energies that fall off your back
You say I am too sensitive not knowing the cuts or hole of misattention that kept my boundaries open or stopped them from forming at all You can never know that due to never having been shown empathy for struggling in this way its a long process to learn who I really am and what I feel inside and to put up the barrier or stop your misguided perceptions from stealing in and wounding me takes pain suffering learning and time
For so long I hoped that you would see me But really what I now understand is that all along you only saw your projection And when I failed to affirm your limited view of things I was then a threat that had to be amputated or exiled Or an infection you had to take distance from telling me how sick I made you But then maybe just maybe you were sensitive too and due to the fact I was in so much pain I could not understand
Now do you not see me? That is okay! There are those around who see me, know me, get me. There are those too who actually think I am kind of special and great They let me be goofy They don’t cast water on my ideas and they don’t try to reign me in due to their own fears of being out of or losing control All in all it really is okay If you don’t see me Just as long as I see myse
I am half way through Brene Brown`s wonderful book Daring Greatly : How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. It is resonating with me so deeply and making me so much more aware how defences against shame and vulnerability underlie so many of our challenges in life.
When I got sober in 1993 I was introduced to the work of John Bradshaw. For those of you who dont know John is a recovering alcoholic who was one of the first to address the issue of toxic shame in his book Healing the Shame That Binds You. Some of the most enlightening points in that book concerned so called
religious addiction and
poisonous pedagogy Inherent to both is the idea that who we are is intrinsically flawed and that the only way we can over come this flawed condition is to seek perfection or correction of the
beastly, sinful parts of us. While it is true that we do develop flaws and vulnerabilities growing up, associating such with toxic shame leaves a lasting legacy and burden it can be hard to get out from under. Shame concerns the feeling that who we are is flawed. We loose a sense that who we are is actually good at the core and then we learn to engage in all kinds of behaviours where we learn to try to either deflect the hot shame potato to others or deflect the blows of projected shame coming at as. Some of us who become scapegoat or shame identified take on the mantle of
shameful one and seek to attone in all kinds of ways.
In order to deflect shame Brene explains we respond in one of three ways :
According to Brene all of these defences actually move us away from connection both with ourselves and others. They lead us to disconnect from our deny or bury the true source of shame which lies within.
The alternative (which is not very attractive to some) is to keep our heart open when we may feel the hot shame potato being lobbed at us. This is what happens with bullies or critics when they seek to attack us or bring us down (often projecting their own shadow onto us). We need a deeper understanding of the other person`s defences against experiencing and taking on board their own shame. This takes a of work most especially if as children we were shamed for feeling natural feelings (this leads to what John Bradshaw calls shame bound feelings.)
I know I most certainly entered the rooms of Alcoholic’s Anonymous just under 24 years ago all of my feelings were bound in shame. I had gone through so much in my life and like Brene learned to use alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. I did not know anything about shame. I did not understand how much it had been a part of my life post particularly having gone through a Catholic education and in this way I fared even better than my two sisters who went to school during the 1950s and 1960s.
As I read Brene`s book I am becoming also very aware of how even years into recovery shame played a huge part in the last dysfunctional relationships I entered. By that stage I had so much to grieve and had aborted several therapies. I did not have any form of trust in people and in my family I watched grief being buried or deflected. I was aware at that point that grief work was a big part of recovery, but I was not aware that the energetic lively self that got buried was also wearing a huge overcoat of shame as I carried a fear if I ever got too happy things would decombust.
Now I see how much shame and fear of vulnerablity ruled my own life, I am also developing a lot more compassion for others, most especially members of my family. If we get raised never feeling good enough we do begin to adopt some of the armouring defences Brene discusses in Chapter 4 of her book. We feel scared of risking expressing who we really are and can begin to put on masks. In my own case from early days on in AA I was committed to taking the mask down. I heard deeply with my heart as others shared of their own feelings of being exiles and aliens in a strange world and I cried so much at meetings hearing these stories. Eventually I moved away from meetings to pursue therapy in the UK after my husband and I moved there in my 6th year of sobriety. Understanding the roots of shame and vulnerability has been a far longer journey.
Today I was listening to the breakfast programme on our national radio station in Australia where the sexual abuse case against producer Harvey Weinstein was being discussed. The commentators where saying how the revelations of those abused by Weinstein were awakening revelations of abuse for many women and how some of these women were being publically shamed by men on social media. Oh, I thought, here goes the hot shame potato again. Why is it so hard for us to have compassion for a person`s vulnerability? (Often because those people judging and defending have not one clue of what it feels like to be violated in such a way.) It saddened me while I also realised this is really just human nature, the sad state we find ourselves in collectively at present.
In my own life I am very glad that over time I have been able to open up my vulnerability. That said opening up my vulnerability to shame bound or defended persons was not only not helpful, but down right damaging. In that last relationship I was shut out and shamed so often for genuinely expressing my feelings. It took me so long to understand that the partner I had chosen was so defended because his own pain was so huge and his own fear of vulnerability and his true feelings so powerful.
Today I can be honest most of the time. I still engage in a lot of perfection seeking behaviours around my home which as so deep rooted I despair sometimes of ever fully overcoming them but I always draw comfort from the AA idea that we seek progress rather than perfection. Perfection is an ideal perhaps never to be fully realised. That said I keep striving for wholeness, to take on board my own shadow and defences a d olf fears against opening up and being emotional vulnerability. It is a work in progress and along the way I am so so grateful for those people such as John Bradshaw and Brene Brown who are engaged in working to unmask and enlighten the powerful role shame and perfectionism play in our lives and world presently. What a gift to have this knowledge and understanding.
One of the worst legacies of past loss or trauma is that they leave us with all kinds of worries and fears, most of which are not fully conscious. The thing about psychological defences we erect is that we often dont get to know they are present, we just act from behind them unconsciously seeking to self protect ourselves from further harm. I was reading a little book on emotions yesterday and in it the author talked about fear and anxiety, how at times they are a sign we may be in danger or unsafe and at other times are a hidden excitement about facing or doing something that takes us out of our comfort zone and could end up being really good for us. The example the author used was of the anxiety she felt prior to a talk she gave about a subject she was passionate about. Since she was invested in the subject her energy was engaged but the anxiety she felt was strong, however the benefit for her of moving through it was that she came out the other side by facing and feeling it and acting anyway in a way which enlarged her life.
We are certainly all impacted by fear and anxiety in some ways, but if early losses or failures have been great it can be harder to reach forward. We may literally feel like we are dying when we have to make a change or face a fear or anxiety laden situation and the truth is that we are being urged to die on some level, to the part of us that want to keep us safe and protected at any cost. In my own life I see more clearly in hindsight the power my own fear has exerted over me and what it has held me back from. I have been so scared at times and I hid my fear and terror behind defences. I was probably only fooling myself with all the stories I told myself about how or why I could not do the said thing.
That said its another matter if we have in childhood been shamed for fear or responses that were legitimate. Ideally if we have emotionally present parents they hold our hands through this kind of thing or encourage us in positive ways. I think of my own fear and shyness issues and in discussing them with my Mum see I carried them from her. Mum was brave and defiant in certain situations which enabled her to go after what she wanted at times, at other times she was held back. As a young child with no father and an often emotionally and physically absent mother she struggled in schoold and was not supported by the nuns but used and abused. I think as kids we see and feel the parents fear but if they defend against their own deficits being understood and known that can rebound upon us.
Lately as I do more of my own healing work and confront some of the deep grief I defended against in my own life as well as my own and other’s fears of it, I see how at times my life became so limited by that unresolved grief. When my marriage ended I went entirely into isolation and hit the ground as I knew my that stage in my sobriety I had a lot of grief work to do. I needed help with it and it took me a lot of years to finally find my current therapist who is helping me to grieve. Now my grief is not only for the original events but for the lost years and opportunties I could not take due to fear and the terrible repercussions of the head injury I had in 2005. But lest this just be a post about grief, I am noticing that the more deeply I open to my own fear and grief the more I am able to feel a growing sense of lightness and joy. The defensive fear that dogged me and stopped me reaching out or giving from my heart is slowly melting away. I know it will probably always be ther to a degree.
Yesterday I did a favour for a friend and it felt so good to extend myself for someone outside of my family, and a special someone who has really been there for me over the past few weeks when I was so ill. It seems years since I felt safe enough to truly open my heart to someone in trust. We have been building a friendship over past months and in her company I feel so happy and light. Its really only in facing my grief and in knowing that others can bear it and will not shun me for it that I have started to feel safer.
I now know our family sadly has this toxic stoic defence against vulnerablity and grief which is not healthy. All those years ago when I lost my father and then a few weeks later my partner broke the relationship off I never found a place of safety or holding where I could feel and shed my grief. It saddens me to think of all that I went through in the ensuing years of my addiction with all of that grief and unresolved pain locked up inside me.
In my marriage I tried to start to deal with it but that upset my husband who also lost his father at a similar age to me. And it took a few years into sobriety for feelings to thaw. I remember in the early days though two powerful dreams I had where my father visited me and encouraged me to leave the old toxic path behind. Lost relatives are energetically around us after they die, I firmly believe that.
In 1993 I could not yet know the trauma and grief I carried was ancestral on both the maternal and paternal sides. Only later years of healing and sensing and doing emotional recovery work as well as being given information about our ancestral history has shown me this and given me heart insights. I feel now more compassion for every single member of my family as I see they did the best they could with the level of insight they had but most of them are happy to float on the surface rather than look down into the ancestral issues, so sadly in our family we have patterns of emotional disconnection and distance which keep certain issues hidden and repeating. I can only do my own emotional recovery work though and in recognising the links to the past start to break the entanglements I have been caught up in as a soul. My task is to bring that awareness to light. To see the part that fear played as well as the lack of holding and a safe space and then to find and create that for myself now so I that I can stay close to the light and not be so beseiged as a soul by past darkness. As Carl Jung said what remains unconscious in our family history so often becomes our fate, only consciousness work at midlife can open our eyes and lead us on a journey of healing and discovery in which we find how complex issues are that plague us and what deep roots they have.
Lately I am relying a lot on the power of prayer. I am aware that a higher power or force of love needs me to live in love and that that love is really the antidote for fear and unresolved grief.. Everyday I ask for my fears to be held and not overpower me. I ask for help not to over ride my own boundaries as I learned to do in my family. I ask for protection and care and safety so I can continue this awesome journey a day at a time. I am coming to believe in the force of love and that I can choose to align myself with it. Love wants us to face our fears and to see what we bury in darkness. It asks us to be honest, even if that confronts others. It asks us to be true to the call of our hearts and our souls which need our protection and care and can then extend that same protection, care and compassion to others. Love also asks us to give rather than withhold what our souls and other souls needs so that the force of love can be demonstrated and thrive in all our relationships.
Draw comfort where you can
In this world of strangers
Where promises so often lead to disappointment
Where rain and windstorm so often follow sun
Life is so often tinged
With the deeper hues of sadness
That are left in the wake of connections
Leaving barrenness and emptiness in their wake
But comfort comes from the heart that stays open
To this suffering, able to feel it all
And a mind that can encompass loss and uncertainty
When we draw comfort from within
We find a place where everything
Every feeling response can be witnessed
And welcomed inside
A place where resistance lets go
A heart that opens brings comfort
To ghosts and shadows
And soothing healing love and words
Become the balm we use to nurture
Tender raw wounds
Until they heal
Lleaving us with scars
Some say to give up hope is negativity
But to me it is living in a reality
With a deepening acceptance of all that comes
Innocents whose hearts were never broken hope
But we who have known both the bleeding and the burning
That turns all to ash
No comfort comes from restlessly seeking outside
And we souls can find no peace
Seeking and seeking forever lost
In a world
That does not see as deep
As a fully conscious soul dives
Abandonment depression appears as a subject in a few of my posts. I made a leap forward in my own recovery when I first began to become aware of the term just over a year ago following reading Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD where he deals with the subject in depth. Abandonment depression is different to basic depression which can be a feeling of depletion or lowered energy following a loss of massive change of some kind in a person’s life. When dealing with this kind of depression easy solutions of distraction for a time or a taking of pain relief to help when people find them selves in the critical stages will help. In the case of abandonment depression we are dealing with something that will not be helped by these kind of solutions since it involves a core wound that must be understood, felt, mined and addressed through psychological work.
Here is how James Masterton describes the abandonment depression :
In the throes of the abandonment depression, a person will feel that a part of his very self is lost or cut off from the supplies necessary to sustain life. Many patients describe this in graphic physical terms, such as losing an arm or leg, being deprived of oxygen, or being drained of blood. As one patient put it : “I felt as though my legs would not work so I couldn’t possibly leave the house, and when I went to fix lunch I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to swallow. And if I did I would probably throw it back up.”
At the darkest level of this depression, a person can despair of ever recovering her real self, and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon. When one is brought low enough repeatedly, or for an extended period of time, it becomes increasingly harder to imagine oneself happy again or able to push through life with the strength and confidence with which the reasonably healthy go about their daily living. At this point a person can teeter on the brink of despair, give up and consider taking her own life. If the separations they experience in their external lives are painful enough to reinforce the feelings of fear of abandonment, some will commit suicide.
(this is well beyond an acute episode of the ‘blahs’)… The roots of depression push farther into the past than seems apparent. In time, true sources, eating away inside, make themselves known. But initially they are well defended by the false self.
It is the nature of the false self to save us from knowing the truth about our real selves, from penetrating the deeper causes of our unhappiness, from seeing ourselves as we really are – vulnerable, afraid, terrified, and unable to let our real selves emerge. Nevertheless, when the defences are down and the real self is thrown into situations calling for strong self assertion, situations that trigger the repressed memories of earlier separation anxieties and feelings of abandonment by the mother, the serious nature of the depression is glimpsed and felt. At this point it is not uncommon for the patient to panic and slide down to the very bottom from which he convinces himself he will never recover.
(Panic hides fear of the rage underneath depression). Depression and rage ride in tandem. As depression intensifies, and comes to the surface of awareness, so does anger. At first (the real reasons cannot be pinpointed)…rage is diffuse and projected onto outside sources (anger at life or the world or just angry in general…..Anger of the abandonment depression is far more intense and complex). Anger that is part of the abandonment depression. has more damaging consequences. Its intensity can cause bodily shaking, feelings of helplessness, feeling like a baby (age regression) and it comes from painful childhood experiences that may not be easily recalled because they are so solidly defended against.
Eventually in therapy real causes of the anger begin to become apparent but the anger is still defended against by being projected onto targets that are often stand ins or proxies….this occurs because feeling anger is associated with fear of rejection as well as fear of intimacy since in childhood being close came with difficulties and rejections.
Rage and fear (the) lead to panic.. Panic feeds on the fear that we cannot express our anger over abandonment. It can be a claustrophobic strangling of energies, a tightening up of options : either we express our anger and risk losing the love of others or we deny the anger in order to remain in the helpless state of dependency and hold onto others. As the panic grows, patients report that it feels like facing death or actually being killed. Often this anxiety will be channelled into psychosomatic disorders such as asthma and peptic ulcers, each being a perfect metaphor for the underlying fear… A person with a peptic ulcer is often hungering for emotional supplies that were lost in childhood or that were never sufficient to nourish the real self. As an adult, she is unable to find sources to supply the needed emotional support or to get through life without it.
The person living with (such a) death threat, or what is perceived as a death threat, hanging over his head necessarily leads a fearful life, in which every move to express hiself, to allow his rea self to emerge, is accompanied by the need to look over his shoulder in fear and panic… panic can escalate as the patient slowly becomes aware of the depression and anger that have been bottled up over the years. The false self has blocked any expression of these feelings for so long that when they do manage to surface, even in the slightest way, the resulting panic can be paralysing and terrifying. Fear of letting these feelings out into the open, even in therapy can mushroom into panic proportions.
Guilt is the fifth column behind.. the patient’s frontline of defences. (This is not normal reasonable guilt but rather)… fed by the guilt we internalise in early childhood from the disapproval expressed by the mother for self actualisation or individuation……Not being able to face up to the internalised guilt about that (healthy) part of themselves, these individuals will suppress making any moves in forbidden direction and resort to old familiar clinging behaviour that they remember made them safe and good years ago.
(Clinging and guilt lead to…) helplessness. Failure to activate the impaired real self (and) to deal with painful feelings.. which in the abandonment depression is abiding and total…. staying in unhealthy jobs and relationships, fearing moving on from old unhealthy patterns, even denying that we desire to.
James A Masterson, Fear of Abandonment, The Search for the Real Self
The anger against, fear of and panic due to devaluation of our true self internalised by the false self in the course of growing up lives on inside of us and must be faced on the path of healing. Facing such internalised voices, feelings and fears means we must also confront the inner critic who has become hostile to the real self ever breaking free and asserting its real needs which bring with them the deep seated fear of abandonment by others that had its roots in the past. Mastering our fear of abandonment and the abandonment depression is the price we pay to discontinue the inner self abandonment we face when we begin to become more conscious and aware of the real roots and aspects of the abandonment depression.