Friday 4 August 2017

Digging around to find the 'raw me' as a foundation for my life from here onwards

The little girl who
was about to get ticked off
on her first day at school
When I was 10 or 11, I used to walk back from orchestra rehearsals on a Saturday morning (violin...) via Woolworths in the city centre. Woolworths was famous for its 'pick'n'mix' sweets (candy). I'd pick a bit of this, a bit of that until I had a bag full of my favourites. Beginning to reconstruct a post-trauma life uses a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) technique (from Rosenthal's book Your life after trauma) that's a bit like pick'n'mix.

This technique helps you to see the wider picture of who you really are, at the core. The 'raw you', if you like. And to home in on the characteristics you want to keep and discard those negative characteristics or thought processes that you don't - those traits that may have come about as part of the trauma, weren't true to the 'real you', are no longer relevant at this point in your life, were just downright destructive, and so on.

I have been homing in on a time when I believe I was the 'real me'. The 'core me'. The 'raw me'. The 'me' before life's changes pummelled me this way and that. This 'raw me' re-emerged during my son's eating disorder as I struggled to get him diagnosed, treated and recovered from anorexia. There was no time for all the nonsense that had built up over the years: shallow stuff, trivia, pretending to be who I wasn't... trash like that. All this stuff was stripped away as the 'raw me' re-emerged to focus on my son's recovery from anorexia.

Indeed it didn't take long for me to realise that the eating disorder had the power to kill my son. During the summer of 2010, especially, my 24/7 focus was 100% about trying to prevent him from killing himself, either by dangerous accident or intention. At times like these, you find yourself stripped down to the bare essentials: those inner resources that are needed right then, at that moment in time. I imagine it's how most people react when faced with extreme threat or danger. 

Looking back over the wider picture, my life looks kind of like a sandwich. There's the 'raw me', aged around 3, 4 or 5 years old, and the older 'raw me' which emerged as a result of my son's eating disorder and my subsequent struggle with C-PTSD. In between is a mountain of squished-in, mashed-up stuff: some good, some bad, but the bulk of it isn't who I am today, as the mother of a 23-year old young man who has recovered from a hellish battle with anorexia.

Me with my teddy bear, Caesar
The younger 'raw me', aged 3, 4 or 5, was confident. She stuck to what she believed to be right and challenged what she believed to be wrong. She was infinitely independent, refusing to go along with the crowd and, instead, preferring to do her own thing. Even at such a young age she challenged the establishment. In her case she simply couldn't understand why, as a girl, she wasn't permitted to do 'boys things' at school like woodwork. So she set up her own woodwork classes, in the cloakroom, at breaktime (aged around 5 or 6).

Indeed she didn't really understand why she needed to go to school at all. At the age of 3 she walked out of kindergarten school, striding down the road towards home (before being scooped up by a neighbour who took her back!!) At the age of 4 she could already read like someone much older. She worked at a far faster pace than her peers. At the age of 5 she was sent to stand in the corner of the classroom during breaktime - on the very first day of infant school. Her crime? To correct the teacher's mispronunciation of her name. "It's MattOCKs, not MattUCKs, Mrs Macintosh."

Going through a bit
of a wild phrase
in my 20s
That was the start of (mainly) school whittling away at her confidence and independence, and all those other raw characteristics. By her teenage years, this girl had become a very different person. Totally unrecognisable.

Years of suppression and knocking the confidence, self-belief and independence out of her had taken its toll. My teenage diaries are jam-packed-full of angst, loneliness, school phobia and depression followed by rapid weight loss at the age of 18  (sounds familiar??) and other eating-disorder-type behaviours in my twenties.

The girl who could read before the age of 4 left high school, aged 18, armed with just two grade E 'A-levels', two failed 'A-levels' and zero ambition.

And so the messy bit in the middle of the 'sandwich' that was my life back then continued into my twenties and early thirties...

It seems so very obvious to me now, doing these CBT exercises, that the 'me' that emerged over the eight years that we fought my son's eating disorder, followed by my own struggle with C-PTSD, was that 'raw' me again. The pre-school 'me'. All those characteristics that had been hidden away for 40-50 years came back to the surface. All the other stuff was naturally discarded and stripped away as being irrelevant, even a hindrance, to the tasks in hand.

Rosenthal's book takes you through exercises that help you establish who the 'real self' is and to reconnect with it as a foundation for constructing the post-trauma 'you'. You're not building a new identity, as such, it's more of a case of drilling down to who you really are and building on that, which is probably why the subtitle of the book is Powerful practices to reclaim your identity.

Reclaim being the key word here.

I've found these exercises immensely helpful, liberating and empowering.

Kind of like building the foundations of finding out who I am and where I go from here, and discarding all the trashy stuff that's no longer relevant to my life.

If it were the Woolworths 'pick'n'mix' that would be anything with coconut or licorice in it. Yuk.

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