My memories are debilitating me.
April 16, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I had a pretty violent childhood. I thought I had compartmentalized all of this crap over the years, but it's all the sudden coming back with a vengeance. What do I do?

Long story short:
I grew up in a household where my dad beat the shit out of my mom, and when she left, he took it out on me. I'm 35. This was 20 years ago, but all of the sudden I am prone to these streaks of just fucking miserable sobbing and crying.

In recent months my half sister got married, and my Dad kinda picked her over my real sister and I, and since then all kinds of memories of having my ass slammed all over the place for no reason but my Dad's anger have been pervading my thoughts. I remember every ass beating like they were fresh ass beatings, and I don't want to remember this shit anymore. I'm newly married, and my wife is awesome when this happens to me. The thing is that it's happening more and more frequently, and I just need it to stop.

This sucks so much, I just want it to go away. I don't deserve this, I didn't then and don't now.

I'm not suicidal or anything, and I don't have thoughts like that ever. What kind of scares me though is that when I get angry or sad and frustrated, I just want to hit myself -- never anything mortal, more like hiding in the bedroom and punching the floor or slamming the remote control into my leg, stupid shit like that. I researched this phenomenon, and lots of websites equate this to "cutting." I've never done that and never will, but this self-directed anger makes me think that maybe subconsciously I am punishing myself for all of the ass beatings I got, like I deserved them or maybe they were my fault.

My Dad is a coward, I realized this when I moved out -- a real man doesn't beat up on his wife and son -- but I have got to do something to quiet my sad heart. What should I do, Metafilter? I can't afford counseling, but I am generally a happy guy. I just want to forget all of these ass beatings, the memories are just too fucking real.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You say you can't afford counseling, I'm telling you that you MUST.

These are horrible, painful events and you've never adequately processed them.

There are resources available for survivors of domestic abuse. Here is a support group, start there.

There are others (work internet is being a butt, or I'd link to more.)

You didn't deserve what happened to you, you don't deserve to live a miserable, frustrating existance re-enacting your childhood. Your wife doesn't deserve a husband who is still abusing himself.

PLEASE get help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2013 [19 favorites]

Yes. Therapy. It's a standard askmefi response for a reason.

Many therapists will work on a sliding scale; this is very normal. My wife is a therapist and every single one if her licensed peers sets out time for slidig scale clients. Feel free to ask, but don't be hurt or anything if they don't have room. Oftentimes they have x number of spots for sliding scale clients.

Ask around, and try to find someone in your area. This is important, and can be dealt with pretty straightforwardly in a quality therapeutic environment.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:58 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't afford to NOT get counseling.

Go to the universities and colleges in your neighborhood and seek out their counseling centers. Many schools offer sliding-scale, open-to-the-community counseling services and they will take you on. You can do it. You need to. You deserve to.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:59 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I thought I couldn't deserve counselling for a horrible mental issue I was having, and turns out I could. I understand that you're trying to be anon, but could you give some indication of where you live so that a local Mefite could make suggestions? I'm in a totally different country.

I have got to do something to quiet my sad heart

I'm so very sorry. :(. I know this feeling. Hugs.
posted by Salamander at 8:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

You are describing nearly exactly my experience. I left home at 19, feeling pretty normal and happy, but at about 28 I suddenly had the kinds of emotions you describe. Little things, seemingly unrelated to anything from my past, would trigger it. Ordering a pizza, or seeing something on TV from my childhood, or hearing a song. It is post-traumatic stress disorder, and it's really difficult to deal with.

Support group, yes, and counseling will be a big help. You will find a way to get access to these things. There will be lots of specific recommendations here, so I won't go into that.

I just want you to know one thing: you will overcome it. It will suck for a while, because you are feeling and expressing pain now that you probably didn't adequately express then. You are also probably in a sort of mourning for what you now realize you lost or never had. This is actually a good thing, because you can bring what was in darkness into the light, deal with it, and move past it.

Take it a step at a time. You will overcome, move on, and hardly recognize the person you are now.
posted by The Deej at 8:05 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Pretty much everybody can, in fact, afford counseling. Most therapists use a sliding scale fee system, where if you need help and honestly cant afford it, they will lower their fees significantly. Call around and check. It might even be worth calling any insurance you may have to see what they can do. Other options are churches/pastors, whatever your religious inclinations/views may be. Also universities have good counseling services. And the city, possibly, has some, depending on where you are.

I don't think the human brain is equipped to forget this sort of trauma. (IANAD, etc, but this could possibly be a type of PTSD ) My advice is confront it. There is a lot of anger and fear and grief and resentment from these types of events. The facts are, you DIDN'T deserve a dad who did this, a mom who left and didn't protect you, and you aren't broken and none of this was your fault.

So, next time one of these comes up, sit down. Take some deep breaths. Close your eyes, and think calming thoughts. Then, insert yourself into the scene of ye olde ass beating. Comfort the young you. Hug him, tell him it wasn't his fault, he did the best he could, and that you, the older wiser you, love him and will take care of him. The guilt is on your dad. separate it all from young you, and put it on your dad. Not from anger or hate or fear, but because this is your dads flaw and he should never have put it on you. Do this each time it comes up. (Yes, I know how it can sound :) This is weird..... but it can work, and work quite well)

As a side note, the half-sister thing sounds very much like the sort of incident that can easily trigger these episodes. That is not unusual. I do worry about the self harming though... hitting anything else (anything not alive, anyway) is way, way better. Channel the anger- and yes, the grief (your dad WAS shitty, and he did and has chosen things/people other than you) into good things, but don't try to suppress it. Its time for you to clean that crud out of your memories, so you won't carry it into your married life.
posted by Jacen at 8:06 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah. Bad childhoods suck.

I highly, highly second Ruthless Bunny's suggestion for therapy. Depending on where you live, there are free support groups and different low-cost/no-cost programs for counseling. From personal experience, when your life starts getting better (especially when you are in a healthy relationship/family dynamic), and you aren't struggling or just surviving or treading water anymore, painful things from your past start bubbling up so you can process them. God, I wish we could just suppress them and not ever worry about them bothering us again on any level, but that's not how it works.

I am sorry you are going through this (again), but you and your wife shouldn't be going through this alone. Here's a support manual which may help from Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.
posted by msladygrey at 8:08 AM on April 16, 2013

Oh, let me add one practical thing I did that seemed to be part of the healing process:

Any time a bad memory would come into my head, I would (silently or aloud, depending on my surrounding) basically say: "That was NOT RIGHT and NOT FAIR, and I have a right to be ANGRY about it."
posted by The Deej at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2013 [17 favorites]

Therapy, yes. You could process this on your own, but it would take years, a lot of luck and a lot of time and energy when you have an awesome wife and a good life. A therapist will help you figure out what's going on and help you learn the coping skills and mental framing of the stuff you need much faster and with you getting to enjoy life again. The immediate cost is ouch, but spread out over the time this could otherwise take, so so much cheaper - not just in money, but in being happy and secure again.

In the meantime while you organise therapy, there are replacement activities for self-harm. You want something physically exhausting that pushes out all the noise in your head. Running, heavy gardening, scrubbing floors, baking, dancing are all pretty good. I highly recommend Tetris or Bejewelled as a quick fix when you feel overwhelmed - small absorbing games help you coast through the immediate crisis without sucking you into a game vortex. If you're having trouble crying where it just wells up but chokes in your throat, very hot steamy showers can work.

A soundtrack can also help as a self-soothing feedback. This Year by the Mountain Goats got me through 2009-2010.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:12 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

EMDR is said to help with traumatic memories. Interestingly I glanced at a headline this morning that said that Tetris may help with PTSD - don't remember where, but viggorlijah's comment reminded me.

If you can follow up with your location I am sure people will be able to offer ideas for affordable therapy and support. I'm sorry this happened, and my heart goes out to you.
posted by bunderful at 8:18 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I researched this phenomenon, and lots of websites equate this to "cutting." I've never done that and never will, but this self-directed anger makes me think that maybe subconsciously I am punishing myself for all of the ass beatings I got, like I deserved them or maybe they were my fault.

I think you're probably right. And it makes me wonder about the other ways in which you might be punishing yourself.

Avoiding therapy might be one of those ways. Because right now, without therapy, you're suffering. And avoiding therapy means prolonging that suffering. Could it be that you're doing that, too, out of a misguided subconscious belief that the suffering is something you deserve?

One way to prove to yourself that you're a good and worthy person is to treat yourself like a good and worthy person. And one way to do that is by doing hard work on your own behalf — and telling yourself "It's okay. I'm worth the effort." Find a therapist who works on a sliding scale. Save up the $30 or $40 a week, or however much it is that they charge. Borrow money if you have to. It will mean making a lot of frustrating phone calls and sacrificing other stuff to save the money, and in the short run it will be very hard work. But in the long run, just doing that work will help make you feel better — by reminding your subconscious that that's how you deserve to be treated.

You deserved a dad who was kind and loving enough to make that sort of sacrifice for your happiness. You didn't get that, and that sucks. But the next best thing is to start treating yourself with the same sort of loving kindness.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:23 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

AlAnon can be a good place to talk through things like this, even if your dad wasn't an alcoholic. Your story and where you are now are (unfortunately) not unusual and you'll meet people who are working through this and who will be sympathetic and may have good advice.

Also, therapy. You will find a way to afford it, because a) sliding scale, b) you need this. You've got a lid on things, but you know you actually need to take that lid off in a safe place to work through this.

So, I'd recommend therapy plus finding an AlAnon meeting you like as a supplement to therapy.
posted by zippy at 8:26 AM on April 16, 2013

Dear Anon.

1. I have been where you are. Some days, though not so much anymore, I have given myself bruises to rival any that were given to me by my dad. One of the things I do to stop this in the moment is to see if you can give yourself 5 minutes. The anger rises quickly and punching seems to release that anger. If you can hold the punch for 5 minutes or even one minute, your anger can dissipate and you can give yourself a moment to have rational thoughts.

2. Get the PTSD Workbook. Start writing.

3. Nthing above. You can't afford not to have therapy. If you love your life, your wife and the future you are going to have with her, you absolutely need to start dealing with this seriously. For every year I didn't start therapy because I could deal with it myself (I can take it. I can take anything), I think, perhaps I would have been this happy (content/less disordered) a year earlier.

Be gentle with yourself. It's a long journey.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:36 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I had a similar set of experiences when I was 35. It was a long series of intrusive thoughts of violence that would come to mind in the midst of other things, casting a pall on everything. And I understand the rage that you are feeling. I broke many things during that time, that when I think of it now, makes me quite sad for myself. I hurt myself and I hurt other people with this upsurge of emotional memories. And I understand the really present lived experience coming to the surface. Those beatings feel as real now, as they did then.

Perhaps the place to start is where I did, before therapy, and certainly much more as therapy progressed, is defining your emotions as you feel them. "I feel ANGRY" is okay. Say it aloud when you feel these emotions. In more dedicated, reflective moments try "I am WORTHY" because you always were worthy of good parenting, a safe home, a loving experience in childhood, and you are worthy of having a good life now in your marriage and your life from this point on.

I also second The Deej's suggestions - to tell yourself, aloud, that what happened was wrong. Not YOUR wrong. No child deserves what you endured.

It gets better! I have come to accept my history, to care more for myself and identify my angry emotions more methodically so that I can recognise them and not turn them inward.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:42 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you really honestly truly feel like you can't afford counseling, then check out a free support group or Al-Anon. If you're a religious person, go to a church and ask to talk to the pastor; if you're NOT a religious person, you can still talk to the UUs. Religious officials are trained to deal with people in pain, and they can help connect you with other sliding scale or low-cost resources in the area.
posted by KathrynT at 9:38 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is not a human relations question, this is a health & fitness question. You would find the money for treatment if you had a physical illness. You deserve to treat this too. Your health is worth the short-term sacrifice.
posted by headnsouth at 9:40 AM on April 16, 2013

I will suggest cinematherapy. Assuming you have a TV, it doesn't necessarily have to cost anything "extra" though you can also rent movies to look for specific things.

I was sexually abused as a child. After I moved far enough away and felt safe, I spent two or three years watching tear-jerk movies (alone) and wailing like banshee. After that, I stopped being sad all the time.

It sounds to me like you are safe and secure enough now to let this toxic stuff come out. I would view the desire to hit yourself as just "habit" -- it's what you know. I still have a couple of (really minor) sexual things like that which upset me (quite a lot, even though I know they are minor -- it carries a lot of emotional weight) that I have yet to put an end to. I view it as like a "bug" in the wetware. Someday I will find a solution, probably with the help of a nice guy who can understand the importance of pushing those things out and replacing them with pleasanter things. It might help you to view this similarly and also work on debugging yourself of this alien thing someone else put in there rather than making it some self-blaming thing.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 9:50 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yep, classic PTSD. I have the same thing due to horrible childhood. I had a wicked case of flashbacks and uncontrollable crying triggered by watching tv trauma/crying. Occassionally, high stress situations get me in the wayback machine as well.

Like everyone said, talk therapy is much needed. I finally let it all out in a very safe environment with a wonderful therapist 12 years ago. It was the only thing that made me truly believe it was not my fault and just move on. Its' not to say you won't still have bouts, but the self harm and feeling of self harm goes away. You are very lucky to have an awesome wife. My son helps me to have purpose as well in rethinking my actions before they get out of control (I would have suicidal idealization but suicide would be the last thing I would want to do to my son, thus the thought doesn't come into my head).

If you ever need to talk, MeFi me.
posted by stormpooper at 10:04 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

IANAD, though I agree this sounds like PTSD.

IME with childhood experiences of abuse resurfacing in adulthood, I can confirm the similarity of raging anger symptoms emerging in my late 20s and compulsion to take it out on myself (I don't! I DO understand the comparison to cutting though). Getting professional help has been a patchwork of good-to-mediocre resources for me. So to compensate, I invested in becoming my own expert. YMMV.

If you are the type to become your own expert, you might enjoy reading material such as The Body Remembers and the work of Bessel van der Kolk. I also found that reading a lot of Alice Miller helped to bring those feelings that suffered injustice to the surface. For some reason seeing fragments of my childhood experiences articulated so clearly helped me to comprehend that those experiences were in fact abusive and damaging to me. Courageous, truthful writing lent a lot of justice to it.

That said, I am not suggesting that it can be resolved entirely on your own. Another necessary component (for myself) has been support groups. The need for human re-connection as these memories are processed and put into perspective is just as crucial as the need for isolation when the rage threatens to become injurious.

My personal take on it in a nutshell: Active, aggressive forms of child abuse, such as physical and sexual, force a child to "split" their natural response off from consciousness in order to survive. While the strategy is often successful, that also means that much of your natural energy reserved for your personal growth goes into unconscious hiding so long as parts of you feel you are still "surviving". Then later in life, when the whole of you perceives that you are finally safe and out of survival mode, those splits of highly charged emotional response re-surface to be properly re-integrated into your personality's experience.

Until you are able to connect with strong resources, practice as much self-compassion for these feelings as they arise as possible. Imagine a child-you reacting with age-appropriate child-anger to that abuse inside, and imagine soothing that part of you the way you needed a caring adult to at that time. Such an adult would have helped you to express hurt and pain, where (in the absence of mindful guidance) parts of you internalized expressing anger instead. As I and others can attest, it DOES get better, though it requires a LOT of self-work. Best of luck, anon!
posted by human ecologist at 10:27 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Me too, crazy violent childhood. It's weird how it affects the body years later. One of the things I've found helpful is daily exercise. Now it's just walking, but I worked out in a gym for a while and if you had stood close enough you might have overheard me repeating phrases like "fucking bitch", "get the fuck out of my head", etc. and thought I was completely nuts, but it was quite therapeutic to imagine punching or kicking or squishing my abusers. I wasn't nuts and you aren't. Therapy has helped too and I urge you to find some. As someone above said, tell us where you are through a mod and we'll steer you to local resources.

I know you didn't mention this, but there is a misguided notion that people who have been abused by their parents will end up abusing their own children. This is not true, yes some people who have been abused as children do abuse their own kids but most do not. I have three sons, all a little older than you, and I did not abuse them.
posted by mareli at 10:28 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Alice Miller's books. The one that broke the dam for me was "The Drama of the Gifted Child".

I never in my life thought I would end up in therapy much less find it helpful but life can be like that sometimes. I've only been going a few weeks but it really has been beneficial. Finding the right person is key, though.

One thing that has been very helpful for me is stream-of-consciousness writing, or free writing. The idea is to write for a given time-period (say 30 minutes). You put pen to paper and write whatever comes to your mind on any topic at all. Don't slow down, don't edit, don't correct, don't stop, don't hesitate, just keep spewing. Most of what comes out is mental and emotional venting. Sometimes real insights show up. Make note of those. Then shred the pages immediately. Knowing that nobody will ever read those words gives you the freedom to really let loose.

I also write for general consumption, and my new understanding of my childhood traumas now are a big element to those stories.

I'm also very much at the start of my own journey. MeMail me if you want to talk.
posted by trinity8-director at 10:49 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a similar way (crazy mom, violent dad, mom took off when I was 7, leaving me & younger siblings stuck living with dad, dad shrugged and continued beating the shit out of us for 5 more years, until CPS finally got us out & moved us in with our grandparents) and have been actively self-injuring since I was 8; I am now 30. I've cut myself to ribbons with any instrument available so pretty much every part of my body is heavily scarred, I've broken my own hand punching a wall out of self-directed anger and delayed the inevitable ER trip specifically in order to make myself suffer more, I've given myself black eyes and too many bruises to count. So insofar as it can be 'gotten,' OP, I get it. I am incredibly sorry that you have to live with this and I empathize with your situation very deeply. But I'm still just going to parrot the same line as the folks above me:

This issue can only be properly addressed with professional help.

Therapy needs to become a top priority for you and there are many ways to make it more affordable; eventually, you will come to see therapy as being of equal importance to the rest of your regular self-care routine (brushing teeth, taking showers, doing the laundry... going to therapy!).

As a fellow obsessive compartmentalizer, it's taken me almost two years of bi-weekly therapy sessions to even bring up anything that happened to me prior to age 20. Talking about the abuse out loud makes me flip out into this weird jokey mode that suffuses my speech with peals of physically uncontrollable laughter; I don't know where that comes from, but please know that if you have a similarly unusual-seeming reaction to telling someone about what happened to you, it is 100% normal!
Being abused when your brain is still developing creates new and different wiring there that is very different from the wiring belonging to everyone who was not similarly abused. As such, I don't mean to be alarmist, but this is not going to start hurting much less through reading or writing or much of anything except talking/seeking/working it out with someone has been professionally trained to address issues like C-PTSD and childhood abuse. It will probably take a few years, but being able to finally, truly grasp even one non-injurious coping mechanism through therapy will pay for itself a thousand times over.

Others have provided links to support groups; if you send a mod a quick update with a general location, I'd be happy to help scour the ends of the earth to find you a proper sliding-scale therapist.
It took me three goddamn decades to accept that I couldn't (shouldn't) just keep trying to suck it up, and to convince myself that I would not be irretrievably and irredeemably weak and pathetic if I asked for professional assistance regarding a matter with which only professionals are truly equipped to assist. I still get extremely panicked and disassociative when I try EMDR, but it's on the bucket list, and I definitely believe in its power and efficacy when it comes to dealing with post-traumatic stress. I wouldn't wish these feelings on anyone; it has been a very long, hard slog -- but I know that every time I go to therapy, no matter how much I don't want to be there or how much I 'know' (in my heart of hearts) that I don't deserve it, it is helping.
Translation: Hell yes, I'll PayPal you the cost of your first therapy session, if you just tell me where to send it. Seriously.

Some reading material, in the meantime:
* National Child Traumatic Stress Network (say it with me, OP: no matter how lonely, we are never alone)
* Q&A about child physical abuse
* Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman
* The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, Babette Rothschild
* Getting Through the Day: Strategies for Adults Hurt as Children, Nancy J. Napier
* Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society
* and the work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, in general

In addition to therapy (and Klonopin as needed), taking up a regular mindfulness meditation practice has taught me how to give myself space. Whenever I get flooded with unbidden memories from decades past, I immediately bail from whatever I'm doing to take a lot of deep breaths, run cold water over my wrists, and focus on nothing except continuing to inhale and exhale until my mind has cleared and my heart has stopped beating out of my chest.
I'd also recommend finding something that can be repetitive and numbing (exercising to exhaustion, mindless puzzle games, absorbing MMORPGs) as a stopgap measure, so you can carve out a little cave of refuge amidst the massifs of sadness.

Forgive yourself over and over and over and over again. Be delicate and gentle when you are dealing with the lead-up and aftermath to a dark spell. Keeping a gratitude journal helps, too; it gives you something to revisit when the universe starts feeling suffocated and impossible. Write down every single thing you love about this strange and beautiful world -- the way sunlight starts to gently stream through the blinds and the birds start to chirp at the crack of dawn, the way your awesome wife looks at you when you've done something sweet or funny or daft, and how totally amazing it feels to wake up every day as a bona fide adult, safe in the knowledge that you will never have to be a helpless little kid again.

In the liner notes to one of his records (The Sunset Tree -- wouldn't recommend touching it with a ten-foot pole when you're feeling particularly raw, given that nearly every track is explicitly about childhood abuse, but the song "Lion's Teeth" is just. well.), John Darnielle sends a message to who we used to be:

Dedicated to any young men and women anywhere who live with people who abuse them, with the following good news:
you are going to make it out of there alive
you will live to tell your story
never lose hope

So, hey! Some congratulations are in order: You made it out alive. You have lived to tell your story. Now you need to tell it to someone who can help you figure it all out. Trust me, these events get stuck in your mind's craw will stay there unless you get help dragging them out into the open. Never lose hope! Mourn your stolen childhood, embrace the love and joy and wonder that exists in your life today, and please take at least a modicum of comfort from the fact that your dad can never lay a hand on you ever fucking again. That bullshit is all done. That business about today being the first day of your life is true every day, but it will be especially true on the day you feel ready and able to start tackling this problem head on, no holds barred, by any means necessary.

Good luck, OP, I'll be thinking of you. Please feel free to MeMail me if you need a friendly ear or help with anything.
posted by divined by radio at 10:52 AM on April 16, 2013 [20 favorites]

My complex PTSD came roaring to the surface when I was almost exactly your age, and also when I was in a very loving and supportive relationship with a partner who also was awesome when the bouts overcame me. I don't think it's coincidental that those compartmentalized feelings finally burst forth only once I was in a safe, supportive relationship.

What I'm getting around to is: this is the perfect time for you to start unpeeling the layers. You're safe now. You have adult allies to help you.

The future-you will look back on the present-day you, and be so damn proud that you chose to break the chain.

Invest in yourself. I bled my retirement account dry to deal with my trauma in therapy. It was worth it. (And not coincidentally, my earning power went way up during therapy, so it more than paid for itself.)

You can do this thing.

P.S. Here's a link to a guy who I think gets it. Even though I get a little twitchy at Inner Child stuff (and holy crap, is the website ever homely), I've found his writing useful.
posted by nacho fries at 12:10 PM on April 16, 2013

You are not alone. You do have to carry your own ruck, but you don't have to make this journey by yourself. Counseling is your first step. You have discovered that compartmentalization is only a temporary fix. It's not about making wrong things right...that won't happen. It's about putting things in their place. Call and ask someone, as RB has suggested. Starting here is a good idea as far as it goes, but I believe it should lead you to a hotline, at least, where you can be referred to some appropriate counseling. Online help, by itself, isn't the place to get yourself organized to deal with the issues you've described here.

I'm tempted to call your narrative a description of PTSD--you could almost check off the classic symptoms from a generic list. But be aware that PTSD often is a companion to a cluster of issues, so labeling (at this point) isn't really all that helpful. In any case counseling will help you sort out how this is working for you. No single version of counseling fits all persons. In my experience, some folks respond better to group sessions than they do individual sessions, and of course, the all important: vice versa. A referral center may help you get started, but don't be afraid to challenge the type of counseling you undertake.

Please know that there are no magic spells involved: you won't have a flashy epiphany and then be free of all your anguish. You will have moments of revelation. And you will discover ways to regain your life. This is a bit like any physical injury, in that it needs to be diagnosed, then treated, then time is required for healing. But in this case, while your counselor actually heal you, he or she will be able to give you the tools you'll use to heal yourself.

This is in no way a character defect or a sign of weakness. You are experiencing the "delayed" aspect of a series of traumatic experiences. Symptoms may take decades to manifest themselves. In my view, your situation resembles in certain ways experiences undergone by soldiers in combat. Your body has stored these events, sort of like a virus, and now it wants to heal. Help it to do so.

Good luck with this.
posted by mule98J at 1:10 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't say what will work for you. I can only say what worked for me. I'd been blogging for a while, and one day, I decided to write one of 'those' stories from my past. I literally trembled while writing the story, but shortly after I posted it, the feelings associated with the story changed. Rather than feeling like the main character in the story, I became the narrator. I can't change any of what happened in my childhood, but I found that writing my stories turned into a way of letting go... a way of opening the closet they'd been hiding in and setting them free. In the process, I set myself free of the power they had on me.

I can't say this would work for you, but it sure worked for me.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:20 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

First, I am so incredibly sorry to hear about your abuse history. I am really glad you have a loving healthy relationship with a wife who can help you through this.

My thoughts come from my experience with my husband, whose childhood was incredibly damaging, though through neglect rather than abuse.

I think the process of moving into full adulthood can really bring up a lot of buried debris from childhood. Are you the same age now that your dad was when you were with him as a single parent? Or maybe settling into the role of husband is pulling up this rageful behavior... Your dad's role modeling as a husband certainly showed you that husbands are violent. Those kind of archetypal life role changes can really activate this stuff.

My husband went to therapy, which was pretty useful, but what really resonated with him was the Mankind Project. Getting into a community of men who really value integrity and connection has been huge, huge for him. A lot of what they do has to do with addressing and repairing damage from childhood, with specific emphasis on the kinds of dynamics that cripple boys and young men. I gather that it is especially powerful for the guys to see other men who have had similar experiences to their own--I think men are far less likely than women to share information about these things in general so the sense that one is not alone is particularly intense for guys. Since your abuse came from your father, it may benefit you to get into a community specifically about healthy masculinity...and there will probably be guys with stories similar to your own who know exactly where you are coming from.

Best of luck. You are brave and strong to ask this question.
posted by Sublimity at 4:21 PM on April 16, 2013

Most large communities have Adult Protective Services. You can call them for help locating affordable counseling options or support groups or community actions.

Mindfulness takes practice; it's not easy to remember to stop and take the moment at first. It's well worth the practice. I can now stop most memories along those lines within seconds, before the brain dumps the anger/sad/scared/PTSD chemicals into my system.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:29 PM on April 16, 2013

I can relate to you with crying over it, so I just try not to think of those things, but I know they can come randomly. I know that doesn't help in the longterm, but it seems like no matter how much I can think I'm over it, I can still cry like it's a new feeling I've never faced each time. Sometimes people don't seem to realize getting over something consciously or rationalizing it doesn't mean much because it can be ingrained in you as a person in an implicit way. Like.."I'm over this. I'm over this. It wasn't my fault. I'm a worthwhile person.. but why am I crying and why do I feel like disgusting, flawed human being?" It just comes out in your interactions with people and how you live your life I think. I also get what you mean with wanting to hit yourself(my face in my case) and also, in my case, wanting to dig my nails into my skin. I think it's more personal and agressive that way. I don't know if counseling works. I haven't done that for those kinds of issues, but it might, and they're almost guaranteed to not judge you I suppose. I only told one person, and that person essentially said, "Yeah, sorry.. that's bad, but you have to get over it and move on," which feels worse than keeping quiet. Just expressing yourself doesn't mean you want advice or that you're weak if you can't just move on so easily.
posted by wholecornandsalt at 2:38 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everyone upthread has covered the therapist angle (which I support), so here's some other thoughts:

What you are suffering from is intrusive and persistent memories. There are ways to manage it (somewhat) until you can get other help.

First, practice grounding. The first time you start to have one of those vivid memories you don't want to, try to think of three things you actually see or feel in that moment. "The floor is hard beneath my feet, this chair is cold, i can see my loving wife" type stuff. It anchors you to the real now-world and lessens some of the emotional impact of the other.

Keep a journal for a bit. When do these memories come up? What do they come up in response to? How often? How long? Then look at it, and see if it's certain, avoidable things that tend to be starting these for you.

You also want to focus on something that balances body/mind. Exercise is good IF it is variable enough that your mind needs to concentrate. Any kind of physical/mental hobby. Carpentry, car repair, etc.
posted by corb at 5:07 AM on April 17, 2013

Corb's comment reminded me of this previous comment which outlines some grounding techniques.
posted by bunderful at 6:43 AM on April 17, 2013

Oh, god, the fucking crying, right? Where the fuck did that all come from? Jesus. I went decades without a tear, now some goddamn song I've heard a thousand times comes on and for some reason I'm on the floor sobbing.

It's worse when I'm tired or already sad about something but holy god it is always just below the surface anymore.

I think I need to get it out but it never seems to end. Yes, still very early, I know, but shit. I was about to say I'm crying like a little kid when it occurred to me, "Exactly so."

This is the reservoir of tears never shed. The sluices have been opened and the tears are draining but it is one big fucking lake.
posted by trinity8-director at 7:53 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was notified that my earlier link was unsuccessful: trying again.
posted by bunderful at 8:15 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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