March 3, 2013 – PTSD

It’s quiet in the bedroom right now. I’m sitting up trying to pass the time online. It’s my wife’s birthday, so I’m staying up to see her when she gets home from work a little after midnight. I’d try to sleep early for awhile, but I can tell it’s probably going to be a rough night. I’m debating on whether or not to take something powerful to sleep. The lights are on, the dog is sleeping at the foot of the bed, and the two cats are curled up on the bed next to me. The only sound is the howling wind outside. We live in a very small town where we’re at the end of a street which borders a wooded area. The only sounds you hear here are the occasional distant siren from the fire department or the dog barking next door. Today was a good day. Work was hectic, but it always is. It’s nothing new and that doesn’t get to me most days. Aside from today being my wife’s birthday, it was for a coworker of mine too. Someone I’ve come to regard as a friend. I insisted on paying for lunch. We had steaks from Applebee’s. After work I took my wife coffee and something from Edible Arrangements for her and the other nurses on her floor. Nurses need coffee..

It’s been a good day. My mind is wandering to some places in the past that I’d rather forget. It’s rare that this happens in waking hours, but it has today for some reason. When my eyes are open I can stay present. I can tell that the here and now is indeed here and now. I know my age and where I am. I know I’m safe. I know I’m an adult in my own home, and a formidable adult at that. When I close my eyes though, that’s another story. I see fragments of memories going by at a blinding pace. None of them are in relation to the other. Some last less than a second. A muffled voice here, an image that’s distorted that my brain doesn’t have time to process when or what it’s part of specifically, but the feelings are attached and building with each one. I try quieting my mind but it’s futile. I open my eyes and snap back to the present. I close them again and the familiar violent images that I always see regardless of the day or time are now mixing in with these that are actually causing me distress. I go back to what I’ve learned to cope with.. Breathing exercises, attempting to control or change the outcomes of the visualization I see in my mind’s eye, blocking it out by going to my happy or safe place, using any number of techniques to get present… It helps a little. The images don’t go away though.

One thing that living through these things is though is a set of skills that get me through situations.. They aren’t useful for things like this though. If I’m in distress and need to maintain composure, I can literally shut my emotions off. I can turn ice cold at will. Not mean, cruel or angry – just completely numb. I can get things done in times like that. I can get through a current traumatic event unfolding in front of me while others freeze and try to process what’s happening, or get through a workday, or even a social event. I’ve managed to go through the motions without drawing attention, and when things are critical I can act when many others simply can’t. It comes at a price though. As soon as things are calm or safe, it rushes back all at once with a force that I can only describe as an emotional sucker-punch. That skill was acquired through years and years of.. Unpleasantries. That’s not tonight though. This is just an ordinary night. It’s best to just go through these things when they come. I’ve stopped trying to understand why they do and just accept that it’s part of life as lived through my experience. I make it sound as though I brush it off.. After it passes, I do brush it off, but in the moment – it’s awful. Unspeakable at times.

Tonight, my demons do have a name. I’ll leave it at “A”. A is still living in my home town. He’s again remarried and as far as I know, he resides in the house I grew up in. He has a good life, but I can only assume he’s still just as angry and hateful as he’s always been. I’ve heard from others that this is the case. What must it be like to live in a mind full of hate and anger all of the time? I see horrifically violent images every time I close my eyes every hour of every day. It sounds more terrible than it is. I’m so used to it that I only rarely notice it. It’s always been like this. But to have such hate and anger nearly every hour of every day.. What’s that like? For all of the pain and suffering you’ve caused me A, which of us suffers more? I’m not trying to compare apples to apples. One can’t compare the impact of maladies of the mind. It’s pointless to do so anyway. Your reality and the lens in which you see the world through that’s unique to you may have the same history as me, but your orientation to the world around you may be quite different. As much as I’d like to thing that you and I are complete opposites A, I see similarities to you in myself. When I’m seething with anger or rage, it’s your words that shoot from my mouth, not mine. It’s your blind rage and hate I feel. Or maybe it is purely mine and I see myself in you. Tell me A, when you close your eyes at night, what do you see? Do you see whomever made you into the person you are today, or do you see me? Maybe I’m being too self-centered or self-important to believe that I even cross your mind. Maybe part of me still hopes that I do and that maybe you feel remorse. I used to think like that, but I don’t anymore. At one point I felt pity for you.. After all of my pain, anger, hate and sadness eventually passed. I stopped asking why. I wanted to know why, A. How could you be that way to me – a quiet, shy and meek child? No answer would have been good enough, much less justify any of it. When I’ve been awful I’ve taken responsibility for it. I’ve owned it. I don’t blame you for that. It’s a choice. I choose to not be abusive. I don’t know why you did’t make the same choice A. I’ll live with seeing you in my nightmares, A. Can you live with being so miserable? Maybe you’ve found peace. Maybe it’s gotten worse for you. Regardless, I’m glad that I don’t have to ever see you again, A. I did wonder, just now as I wrote this, what’s it like to live in such an angry and violent mind. Maybe for you, the horrific violent images don’t go away when you open your eyes.

My lovely wife will be home in a couple of hours now. I think I’ll go take a hot shower and watch something funny on Netflix. I’m glad that she and my friend at work are here for another year. I’m glad I’m still here to say that.

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4 thoughts on “March 3, 2013 – PTSD”

  1. I’m glad you are still here too.

    It’s only been recently that I’ve started having those fast-paced flashbacks. I had a pretty high tolerance for trauma, because I never had them before. In the past few years, I have dealt with a great deal of trauma and loss. My former defense mechanisms/emotional armor has been breaking down and I find this to be a good thing, for me. Not comfortable, but, I think necessary. I hope anyway. Trauma recovery is often paradoxical. I’ve heard it said that PSTD wants you dead, so it will do anything to make it happen.

    It seems like all the file cabinets of my mind have been opened up and dumped out. Many of the negative things in my life have been out on display. The way I look at what is happening to me, is this: My brain is doing whatever it needs to do to purge itself of the burden of having to hold these things back from my awareness. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to do so. And I finally ran out of it.

    It’s an opportunity to either be afraid, or be curious as to what this means for me. I was always in charge of my emotional state in the past, and yet, never healed. I was very high functioning in the past – able to compartmentalize in order to get on with life. And my work and writing helped to keep me focus.

    I’ve never fully dissociated, but partially so. I believe I’ve had subpersonalities that came forward to help me out in times of extreme stress. But they never were fully at the helm. I could recognize inner shifts within me and watch myself do and say things that surprised me.

    I was grateful when one of my stronger parts came forward to deal with conflict. Also, other parts of me came forward to, well, explore some things I probably should not have, because they caused more trauma. I also tended to be a rescuer, so I ended up storing up secondary trauma as well.

    Now I’ve been inviting myself to emotionally process this stuff, and it’s been kind overwhelming, to say the least, especially without a therapist. But, I’m also developing deep self-compassion for what I’m going through, which helps.

    I keep telling myself there is no need for my experience to be anything other than what it is. I have been listening to Tara Brach’s Meditations for Emotional Healing…and it’s been really good for me. Learning to give up defenses that have worked for so long can feel almost deadly. I appreciate her gentle voice and tender compassionate treatment of my pain. And the fact that she’s a woman helps me too. Though I have a mother and three sisters, I lack compassionate female understanding and support in my life.

    Up next will be Jack Kornfield’s Meditations for Difficult Times. I heard about 15 minutes of his voice and ideas and knew he will be a great comfort to me.

    If we treat our pain with tenderness and compassion, we allow it to move through us more quickly than if we try to stop it, judge it, or find ways to avoid it. Carl Jung said, “what we resist, persists”. I find that to be true.

    The harder part has been accepting the fact that I am still in contact with my abusers – my family of origin, and my husband (who was more covertly abusive). I can’t say my in-laws are abusive, just really ignorant. But it’s understandable. My mother in law was physically abused by my husband’s father, until my husband intervened when he was 14.

    As much as I can, I don’t think about what’s going on in my family’s minds, nor my husband’s mind. It only hurts me more, because then the anger and resentment builds, following by anger/bad behavior on my part, followed by pain and shame. The hard part for me, for the longest time was understanding that other people gave practically zero thought to the pain they caused me. Their own ability to dissociate, deflect, or deny gave allowed them to have a different history than the one I remembered. My husband has told me he’s blacked out after drinking and didn’t remember the things he’d said or done.

    And it is okay, now.

    No, it wasn’t okay for the longest time. But it is now. My healing will not be hindered by their lack of acknowledging me/my suffering. I used to hope for their acknowledgement and for their suffering. I don’t anymore.

    I can’t be too hard on my husband, because the way I coped hurt him and ultimately caused me more trauma.

    My husband is growing. He’s revealed to me secrets I never knew about him, that ‘explain’ how he could be so hurful to me. I’m grateful for his acknowledgement, even if it’s been slower than I have needed it to be. And I’ve had to work through more of my own anger and resentment, because there’s still a part of me that knows I can’t un-do the damage of the past 17 years. I know my difficulty being emotionally intimate with him now has to do with a part of me wanting him to be punished. But in punishing him, I punish me too, because I choose to stay with him. I also realize I have a slightly masochistic side, because when I’m feeling ‘off’, I will shut him out or act cold/harsh.

    Whether it’s A’s introjected rage you feel, or your own, does it really matter? It’s what you feel. And it’s understandable. And it’s okay. There is no need for that experience to be other than what it is. No need for your feelings to be other than what they are, unless you want them to be.

    So that I can learn to deal with my rage and previously unconscious desire for punishment, I’m reading and listening to nonviolent communication skills from Marshall Rosenberg’s books and cd’s. I want to learn how, despite my needs not having gotten met for most of my life, and the abuse I received when all I wanted was love and acceptance, to give up the need for punishment and make life wonderful for those who I choose to interact with. This is so, so not easy for me, since holding myself emotionally distant from those closest to me has been the only way I could survive for so long. I also know that I’ve got some work to do if I want it to be different.

    But I’m really in no hurry.

    Sorry this post is so long. I don’t mean to overwhelm you, but, I think you know what it’s like when you have a lot you’d like to say.

    I wish you well as you learn about these flashbacks. It’s hard to allow your experience to be what it is during these flashbacks. I’ve heard it said though, the more you try to control them, the more intense they get.

    Like I said, trauma healing is a very paradoxical process.

    Well, it’s late, about 12:18 am. Please forgive any typos. I’m too tired to edit.

    My husband’s been snoring on the couch…I’d better go rouse him and get myself some sleep.

    1. It seems we’re both analytical by nature… Having read some of your other posts on your blog and reading your replies here. I know you already know this about yourself and I about myself. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I take strong feelings and try to analyze and break them down into something understandable.. Something logical, even. I suppose it’s possible to do this, and that many people see a therapist to help them see things that they simply can’t. I often treat myself more like a specimen to be examined and understood – that’s far preferable to experiencing a full range of uncomfortable emotions. I prefer silence. I prefer neutrality. I prefer to have my emotions be somewhat sterile. If things are going too well or I feel too good then I fear the inevitable crash – so has been my experience. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, so they say. There have been so many times in my life, especially early life, where there was no control to be had. I had to live and experience all of it basically at the hands and will of others. As an adult I attempt to protect myself from things that cause me distress, or may cause me distress. In doing so I cause distress by not feeling. Such is one of many paradoxes that I live in within my own mind. I’m free of the trauma that bound me physically so long, only to remain bound nearly 15 years later. Certainly I’ve gained perspective from some of it and haven’t thought myself to be a lesser person or deserving of any of it for literally years. Have I healed? I can’t say.. I’ve done the work. I don’t secretly have distortions of my environment or relationships. Still though, when things get uncomfortable I try to crush it with thought. Is that a form of self-induced CBT? Who knows.. It’s worked for this long. I’m warming to feeling the intensity of what life has to offer, but in classic fashion, I’m trying to understand it in my head first.

      I’m lucky in that I’ve broken the cycle of abuse. I have been only two abusive relationships, one where I was the target and one where we were equally cruel to each other. The first where I was the target it was a mix of verbal and physical abuse. The second we were never physically abusive, but my God we both had a wicked tongue. I feel safe in the safety that I’ve made for myself. I don’t live under the cloud of fear, I just dislike comfort. Every time a flashback comes back in waking hours is frustrating.. I tell myself “we’ve already done this.”

      Your description of dissociation sounds similar to my own. One trait I’m left with is the ability to turn off all emotions at will. If something gets too intense I can literally will it to turn off. I’m cold and logical then. Not mean or cruel, just objective. It will always come back later. The longer I maintain being emotionless the stronger the wave that strikes me. I always wait until I’m in private to allow it to come back. Other times I can move, perform and speak in a way that’s clearly not me. I feel more like allowing someone in the passenger seat of a car to take over the wheel while I readjust myself. I can always snap back into control – I maintain that, but otherwise I can feel that it isn’t “me”. Dissociation is nearly a novel of posts in and of itself. It seems everyone in the mental health industry (it is an industry more than a field at this point) has their own strong beliefs on the topic. It’s nearly dogmatic if you try to speak with them objectively. Again – labels and removing the individualism form the subject.. The brain simply does what it needs to in order to survive. You can’t hand an infant or child of any age a manual and state that they can only deal with abuse, trauma or any experience for that matter in a certain way. The closest thing we had was someone shaming us when we reacted in a way that annoyed them or made them feel uncomfortable. Generalizing in my opinion is as dismissive of our feelings as that of our original abusers when we bare our soul and get a fast-food one size fits all interpretation and solution..

      I see the irony of my generalizing about generalization…

  2. I spent time last night reading your blog. I think I have read most of it. And relate to a quite a bit of it.

    There is so much that is similar.

    I’ve had relationship difficulties too, but my husband somehow managed to stick it out with me and I with him. I keep wondering how we have managed to stay together given both of our deep struggles with childhood trauma and depression (for me, more stubborness than anything, I think, partly because of my daughters) We were both really hurtful to each other at times. I may have to email you privately about the details, because I don’t really want to broadcast all that we’ve been through the ether.

    I have a great deal to say, yet I’m not going to rush it. And I’m tired…having spent much of my energy teaching first graders…which was fun, but tiring.

    I’ve done some reading into dissociation and subpersonalities. It will take me some time to gather my resources about this to share with you, but there are people who’ve handled dissociation and partial dissociation as strengths, not illness. They view it as a gift, to be able to split consciousness and give certain tasks to parts developed to take over when we can’t. It’s protective and HEALTHY for the mind to be able to split tasks up. I think the alternative would be to end up schizophrenic (not that that’s a bad thing or has to be a permanent condition in my opinion…and I’ll tell you why…later).

    I have a really, really hard time talking about mental suffering as mental illness. I don’t even talk about mental illness on my blog. Yes, I talk about madness…and crazy…sometimes, but I really don’t consider myself, or anyone else struggling from bipolar or depression as mentally ill.

    Jiddu Krishnamurti has said “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.

    I probably could have lived my entire life not having to process my pain. But I became a mother. I’ve been having PTSD symptoms triggered by their difficulties coupled with extreme marital stress, his job losses…and…the ways we both coped.

    I read your article for the CNN thing (I think that’s what it was)…and yeah. I want to comment on that too. You know…I’m glad to know about how awful it was to lose your friend you loved but didn’t tell to suicide. There’s times when I have been ‘practicing’. Seeing how I would do this. Seeing if I could do this.

    No, I don’t want to, now. I just get so broken-hearted when I think of all the pain and loss I’ve accumulated.

    I started listening to Jack Kornfield’s Meditations for Difficult Times. I can not tell you how timely this is. For me, I can’t live the way I have been and I really don’t want medications (though I am taking an herbal supplement that seems to be helping) and it’s extremely necessary that I figure out how to detach from all the pain, without avoiding it, self-medicating with sex, pretending I can pull myself up by my bootstraps anymore or without letting the pain overwhelm me. Avoiding the emotional processing isn’t good, but neither is drowning the emotions. There is no real resolution in either extreme.

    You may not be ready to emotionally process. I don’t know. If ever you’d like to, I would wait until you look a bit more into compassionate trauma healing. I can’t afford therapy right now (really broke), but, I can afford the MP3s.

    Pema Chodron is another good one.

    For conflict resolution, I really like Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC.

    Any resource that guides me how to hold my suffering with tenderness and compassion and teaches me how to get needs met without hurting another one is what I need right now.

    I’ll be back.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    Have a great afternoon. It’s rainy here today. 🙂

    I can’t wait till it’s sunny again.

    1. I apologize for the delay in responding. The last three days have found me rather busy with only a few minutes here and there to respond to emails, texts and the like. It’s odd – I’m not that social of a person, though it seems I spend a lot of time communicating with others of late. Regardless, I truly appreciate your thoughtful responses and suggestions. I am going to make a list of things that I need to look up that you’ve suggested. Hopefully over the course of the next week I’ll have time to truly sit and absorb some of what you’ve shared.

      I agree on being bothered by the term mental illness.. I guess I’ve always thought of illness being founded in biology, whether it’s something that can be irradiated with medication/treatment or not. Maybe the term mental suffering hits a little too close to home for some. Our culture loves to bury harsh realities in euphemisms. I don’t care for the term survivor, either, but that’s another story. In short, I see it as another label loaded with assumptions. I find the terms used with emotional suffering and trauma to be slightly to quite dehumanizing. I’ll spare the rant for now.

      I’m glad that reading of my friend’s suicide offered what sounds like may have been needed perspective. I look back and am amazed at her strength to the very bitter end. I wonder at times in all seriousness which of us made the right choice in either pushing forward or just ending things. I have some thoughts on the subject right now that many in the mental health industry would find to be massive warning signs. I’ve read the same materials and intellectually I know that what I think and feel certainly isn’t what one “should”. The two paragraph excerpt of an email to a friend of mine that managed to get me admitted when I was at my lowest point weren’t nearly so close or honest to my true stance on suicide. I will say that anyone who believes that suicide is the easy way out hasn’t held a blade to their neck or a gun to their head. Suicide takes incredible strength, courage and willpower. I’ve considered posting the full email here, or at least my side of it. My friend and I generally trade off with being the voice of reason in order to get each other thought the hardest parts. This was arguably the worst I had been in over a decade. I’m conflicted about posting it here though… Not for the sake of my own privacy or anything like that, but because of how logical and compelling my argument in favor of it is. Logically my stance hasn’t changed.

      When my thoughts straddle the line between thought and contemplation I tend to go into nature to re-center. I’m thinking I will do just that this coming weekend, regardless of the weather.

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