Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Rule of Four

I'm working on my thoughts about the 30 Essential Truths according to Dr. Gordon Livingston, author of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, posted recently on Alex Blackwell's great blog The Next 45 Years. Some of them hit very close to home. This post is about the Fourth Truth. From Alex's blog:

4. The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas. For some, childhood was pleasant, almost idyllic. But for others, when there has been serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse it is important to recognize this and process this with a trained professional. No matter your past, change is the essence of life. In order to move forward in life we need to learn to live in the present.

This one hit closest to home for me.  How long can a situation that existed 30 years ago haunt someone?  Oh, about 30 years or so.  A professional can guide the process of recognizing past traumas.  To recognize is to identify the event(s).  This is different than describing - most of us know what happened to us.  In order to explain our past, we need to look at it through the eyes of an observer.  Why?  Because our vision is clouded by memories and stuck on rewind, playing the same tape over and over without alteration.  There are many other facets and by looking at them, we start to break up our tape.  Once the past is recognized, we are supposed to process it.  (put it in the blender and hit whip)

Progress; passage: the process of time; events now in process. To gain an understanding or acceptance of; come to terms with: processed the traumatic event in therapy.

An example: Mom has schizoaffective and bipolar disorders.  She has been hospitalized and medicated, received shock treatments and therapy, attempted suicide numerous times and spent days if not weeks in deep depression, locking herself in her room.  We were kids.  I was the oldest.  Sometimes she was manic, staying up all night playing the piano or rearranging the furniture.  On other manic occasions, she would go out drinking and playing cards (for money).  I remember feeding her, calling an ambulance when (and only if) she was unconscious, having holiday meals in the psych ward, seeing her restrained with leather straps, trying to take care of the four of us kids when she couldn't and having babysitters, nannies and grandma come before I was old enough.  I grew up picturing her funeral.  Every day.  For the next 30 years or so.  My psychologist pointed out many things that never entered my mind such as mom being extremely manipulative.  My dad would tell me that there was nothing I could do, releasing me from the burden of the responsibility I felt to make everything better.  A self-help book said that people learn good coping skills (as well as poor) growing up in an unhealthy environment.  When I began to hold on to ideas such as these, my mental recording that had been stuck on the previous description started to break up.  Just when I noticed that I was feeling better....

After living on her own and being stabilized as much as possible, mom fell and eventually had to stay in a nursing home.  When I go to see her, she is angry and says many of the things I heard as a child:  you kids don't care about me; I don't want to live anymore; I'm in so much pain, etc.  This took me back so fast, I physically felt the rush to the past.  Only this time, I wasn't a child who didn't understand.  Now I see much more and know that things will not change and that I should not feel guilty.  What I know and what I feel are quite different.  But this time, I know how to get help processing.

No comments: