I recently had an email exchange with someone who has CPTSD from childhood trauma who referred to “that constant inner voice denigrating me. My, ‘Mom voice,’ I call it.”
I understood exactly what he was talking about, because until VERY VERY VERY recently — like a month ago, anyone looking at me would see a tough, butchish, cheerful Mom Getting Shit Done, Kicking Ass and Taking Names, Being Employed, Laughing With Friends, or even Scratching Her Butt.
What they could not see was the constant refrain that rang in my head. I mean constant. Chugging, like a train. The words, over and over and over and over again during everything I did, the entire time I was awake: I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself . . .
It was a neverending refrain. Behind my work as a copywriter, behind my work as a mom. Showering. Cooking. Riding my bike (sometimes it would stop a bit as I rode my bike, especially when I would exchange cheery greetings with folks).
Although I am naturally an extrovert, part of why I found being alone so excruciating was that when I wasn’t talking with others, I could not drown out this constant refrain.
I would interrupt myself reading with this i hate myself i hate myself i hate myself tune and be unable to concentrate.
I tried some pop psychology by contradicting the voice, but I wound up turning up the volume and repeating it longer, more constantly, more viciously:
I maybe tried this for a week or so. I was weak and useless in this area. There was no way I was going to silence this with a pathetic, unbelievable and whispered: “I love myself.”
I’ve been trying very hard to undo some of the damage in therapy with EMDR. I’ve been trying to work on a bit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, but this constant constant refrain never seemed to change.
For a while, I’d berate myself even more for it. Or I’d yell inside my head (or out loud): STOP IT!!!
Sometimes the suddenness of the interruption would stop it for roughly three minutes, but it would always start up again:
Those three minutes or so were such a relief. I didn’t imagine it was very kind to the part of me that was spouting these words (and obviously she needed some kindness), but I felt I was acknowledging it was going on and interrupted it, sort of like slapping an hysterical person always works in movies.
It would start up again, but not actually louder or anything. And I’d yell STOP IT and it would stop, again, for a few minutes.
Those minutes were precious, truly. And it was working for months. Maybe even a year. I mean, to give myself a few minutes of peace.
Meanwhile, I worked and I EMDR’d and I talked and I changed my life in profound ways I never could have before:
- leaving a relationship that had become unhealthy
- getting my own space and accepting generous help from my sisters and others
- going for a job I cared about learning from instead of the job that would pay most
- going on medication
All of these things were clearly steps forward. All of these things were and are clearly signs of growth.
But the weekend I went camping, I started doing something else to my internal monotonous monologue.
When I started to think: “I hate myse–” I would interrupt and say to myself instead: “I hate the way she’s speaking to me.”
When I started to think, again, “I hate myse–” I would interrupt and say to myself instead: “I hate the damage my mother has done to my sister.”
And after I interrupted that voice?
An internal silence in my head. A calm, cool, hush that reflected the wilderness around me. That lasted for HOURS.
And you guys.
It’s still working.
This is what the inside of my head looks like, now:
There is this amount of calm quiet in my head that I didn’t even know was possible.
As with all developments in my psychological state such as the vanquishment of dreams, etc. I will try very hard not to be crushed when/if it continues, because healing is not a linear process, but so far it has not — and in this particular case, unlike my nightmares, I have an enormous amount of control over it.
I cannot draw a straight line between EMDR and my sudden, overnight, newfound ability to silence that voice by directing the hatred to the situation instead of myself.
But I know it’s there, and I know that as much as it appears to have been overnight, the structure supporting my ability to silence this refrain was built over years: with good therapy, EMDR, and this blog.
I am still working. I still have so much work left to do.
But this is real, profound progress. And I am so grateful for it.