Shedding shame

mask

At the start of this year I was finally diagnosed with Complex PTSD. I say finally as this is around 30 years overdue but better late than never as they say. Greater appreciation of the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the profound effects of developmental trauma on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing are increasingly to the fore of mental health awareness.

The diagnosis did not come as a surprise to me, having spent the last couple of years in particular working out the face of what I’d been dealing with my whole life, fleshed out by research and mounting recognition in all I read. To have it confirmed, however, elicited a number of conflicting emotions within me.

Relief came first, like ‘it’s not just me then, this is an actual thing that’s happened to me’, some bluster came next, a ‘I told you so, and I bloody knew it, go me for working it out’. Then came fear, because it’s quite a serious thing and therefore scary. Because it means doing something about it. Anger waded in, anger at my father for causing the repeated traumas as a result of his out of control drug use and violence perpetrated against my mum, my pets, my home. And anger against my mum, for despite being compromised herself, didn’t or wasn’t able to do anything until it was too late, and for still being physically and emotionally absent. I feel like an orphan, with both parents still alive. Last to the party snuck in shame, like an uninvited guest sliding in the back door, settling down and whispering poison. I became quite indignant then, I was not going to allow myself to be shamed by myself for this any more, this is what was done to me, not by me, and I’d had enough of feeling shame at what I came from and what I had to and then chose to hide behind masks for so long.

Everyone I told at that time thought it was a positive thing that it had a name, and a plan of action. That finally I could access what was needed to deal with it. The thing is, this scares me shitless. I want to say thanks very much for the diagnosis and forget it. To walk away and get on with things. To invalidate myself.

I know, sadly, that developmental trauma doesn’t just go away no matter how hard you try to will it away, you can’t just ‘move on’ and forget it. I’ve learned that developmental trauma actually changes the cells, the chemistry and make up of the brain, and that it can be life limiting. That toxic stress caused by ACEs damages the function and structure of developing brains, and such toxic stress affects short and long term health, and can impact every part of the body, leading to autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, as well as rapidly increasing the odds of developing heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, etc. That there’s even links to historical and generational trauma (epigenetic consequences of toxic stress) in how toxic stress caused by ACEs can alter how our DNA functions, and how that can be passed on from generation to generation.

So as much as I’d love to run away, put my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalala’, I can’t. I owe it to my children, my husband Cuiplash and myself to tackle this head on. Because it is really serious and I’m really angry about that. And really sad for the little me who experienced all that shit.

I have since started trauma therapy. I get to attend a group with other survivors of Complex PTSD and attempt to….not sure what. Heal? Manage? Accept? Share, learn, shed shame. Although shame nearly stopped me you see. Because to access this meant telling my work, and that felt just too hard to do. I’m in quite an important profession, the type where you need to have your shit together at all times, managing multiple people, needs, projects, deadlines, responsibilities, amongst other things. And I’m bloody good at that. Under the shame lies the fear of being viewed differently, but it’s time to shed my masks and search for absolute authenticity.

I say it nearly stopped me as initially I outright refused that route. Until the second professional, who also confirmed the diagnosis and posed that option said to me ‘you self deprive though, don’t you’. And yes I do. Because that’s what happens. And I realised I needed to start stopping old ways of being and start standing up for me. And so I went to work and I told them, and it was really hard and I had to be really brave but I did it. More telling will need done over the next few weeks but it’s all part of me shedding shame and moving forward towards a more healthy, peaceful and carefree future.

I need my people to support me during this, as few as they are. I need safety and strength, and patience and honesty. I need to be called out on any bullshit and held accountable. I need consistency and to trust. I need to find continued peace in my submission and I need to embrace the strength in the vulnerability I have in my relationship with Cuiplash and integrate this in all areas of my life. And I will because, despite how much this hurts, I’ve already experienced it once and so can do it again, this time with an armour of ‘let’s get this done’ and one arm around little ca and Cuiplash’s arms around me. We’ll try hard not to forget how to laugh and have fun along the way…bear with me.

Becoming

5A438FB8-18BF-4949-988F-4E8BF125F723

Many years ago, during a particular period where I was finding things difficult and feeling rather lost, my Sir bought me two books. ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams and ‘The Velveteen Principles for Women: How to Shatter the Myth of Perfection and Embrace All That You Really Are’ by Toni Raiten-D’ Antonio. They were pretty much the most perfect presents my Sir could have got me as he bore witness to my struggles. ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ especially has held a place in my heart as both a precious and meaningful gift and as an inspiration to strive for authenticity plus, well, it’s about a little rabbit and I do love rabbits.

It focuses on a toy rabbit who desperately wants to become a real rabbit. The story is a touching metaphor about vulnerability and authenticity and how we can push past the pull to present to the world a polished version of ourselves and move towards shedding this unauthentic persona for one where our perceived flaws are integrated and accepted and, as a result, transformed into ‘realness’. However, as the Skin Horse explains to Rabbit, this process of becoming real hurts sometimes.

*“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”*
-Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

The prospect of being vulnerable enough to allow yourself to be ‘real’ and unconditionally loved for being so can be scary as it takes a certain amount of bravery and trust to open entirely to another. Over the last 3 years or so of our commitment to growth in our D/s and in my submission I feel I have ‘become’ to a level like never before as a result of the structure, open and honest communication, radical care giving, respect and trust inherent in our D/s. The development of our D/s opened the door entirely to share myself fully with my Sir like never before; emotionally, mentally, physically and not doing so simply was no longer an option. I recall that it was a relief to drop the mask I had cultivated young to prevent difficult conversations and had become reliant on wearing, despite feeling suffocated by it, and to let go of the weight of the fears around rejection and perceptions of being a burden that I had been carried for so long. Our love was never in question, ever, but in recognising both our authentic selves in our D/s my protective mask was torn away to reveal a deeper level of intimacy and connection through embracing vulnerability.

You see, toxic shame around what I came from in combination with being allowed to keep my deepest feelings around my hurts hidden in secret silence prevented my words from taking shape. But, if I couldn’t acknowledge or share fully my own challenges and vulnerabilities to myself then being open and honest with anyone else, even him, often just felt too risky, the fear of rejection too great often leading into a further spiral of self rejecting self. I trust, however, in the premise that there is no real way to be rejected, ridiculed or dismissed if you can honour, accept and comfort yourself, as long as your sense of self worth is not dependant on confirmation from others. Not easy, I know.

”Once you become real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always”

So my hair has been loved off, my eyes have dropped out and I’ve become loose in the joints and very shabby in my 41 years as a result of the wear and tear of living, loving, parenting and working and all else these years have wrought upon my body, heart and mind but it really doesn’t matter. Because I’m not a perfect anything, not by a long shot, and I’d now rather be authentically imperfect and unconditionally loved. Maybe, in turn, I’m just perfect enough to those who matter, including myself.

My Kintsugi

kintsugi

“Down.”

His spread palm pressed between my shoulder blades, once again pushing me back over the pillow that I clutched and released, like a kitten pawing for milk. The pillow I buried my face in until the heat and lack of air forced me to lift my head and suck in another breath, both dizzying and replenishing. The pillow that cradled me as I twisted, tensed then relaxed, each blow of the cane testing my tolerance in increments.

He knows exactly how to keep me on the knife edge of yellow, not enough yet to break me, but more than enough to prevent me from relaxing into it comfortably. This time wasn’t about allowing me to softly drift away. This was what was needed now, a raw, primal dance.

In spite of my craving, I knew I was fighting it; eyes screwed shut beneath the soft flocking of the eye mask, teeth gritted, body as taut as a bow string.

He watched me closely as his aim stayed true, noting my hitches in breath, the long inhales and exhales as I tried to control it, tried to sink into it, the increasing pauses that betrayed my breath holding, the twist of my hips, the slight buckle of my knees upon each impact, my toes screwing into the carpet searching for respite. The sheen of sweat that broke across my back. My face nuzzling the pillow as my long red hair slid from shoulder to shoulder. How he loves my hair, he tells me it was the first thing he noticed about me when we met so many years ago. Still long, like when I was a girl.

He knew I was waging a war with myself. Such was my way in life. A paradox. Showing one side whilst nursing another. I was needing but resisting, knowing where he was taking me. And he was going to take me there, because he knew what was needed today.

He paused as he slid one hand around my throat, aware of my collar across his palm, feeling me automatically relax into his grip. Trust. I tilted my head into him. My safe space. Home.

“Are you going to break for me?”

I whimpered now, a slight nod.

His other hand snaked through my hair, his grip on it pulling my head upwards and backwards.

“I can’t hear you.”

I paused. The conflict of shame and relief momentarily gagging me. Mistake.

He leant closer, his breath at my ear now. His voice low and slow.

“Say. It.”

My lips pressed together. Futile.

He wrapped his fist tighter in my hair.

“Yes Sir…I’ll break,” I croaked, his grip on my throat anchoring me, “for you.”

He twisted my head, his lips brushing mine, his teeth tugging my bottom lip, devouring my breath on the first sob. “Good girl”.

It was done. Requirement. Permission. Admittance.

The cane lit up my already bruised arse as my core cracked open. Hands gripping the damp twisted cotton beneath me. I broke.

As the blows rained down, so did my tears. Steady, regular, the drum beat of the strikes accompanied the rhythm of my release. Heat. Pleasure. Need. He watched my back as it shook with the force of my sobbing, the expand of my inhale, then more sobbing. He stroked my back with his free hand, protecting me from my storm whilst his cane urged me on.

Animalistic. I let it out. Hurt. Grief. Trauma. Worthlessness. Guilt. Anger. The ugly putrid darkness that claws at me. And in the background the heat, the beat, the pleasure, the pain. More. More. More. Don’t stop.

Catharsis.

I was safe, I am loved, I am his.

The final blow brought me to my knees with a cry. Pooling on the floor between his feet. He dropped his cane and cradled my face between his hands as my tears ran down his thumbs. He gently cleared them away as I smiled, my skies clearing.

“Can you stand?” He bore my weight, easing me to my feet as he enveloped me with his warmth. Anchoring me to the ground as I wobbled. A giggle escaping as I sunk into him.

“Thank you” I whispered as I felt myself fly. Free. Calm. Clear. Renewed.

He carefully turned me and nudged me forward. “We’re not done.”

I winced as I lay down, his fingers kneading my welts, delicious pain transforming again to pleasure under his hands as he rebuilt me. Putting me back together piece by piece. A sculptor. Transforming. Healing. Nurturing. Loving.

In Japan, ‘kintsugi’ is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy recognises and respects the history of the object and visibly incorporates the repair into the new piece instead of hiding it, creating something more beautiful than the original unblemished piece. It gifts new life, healing and rebirth to damaged objects by celebrating their flaws and history, finding value in the missing pieces and flooding the scars and imperfections with care.

And as I smiled, I knew I glowed. For him. Because of him.