My Voices

My voices
Speak to me
Inside my head.
They travel in a troop
Like a cloud
Of babble.
One is shame,
mud soaked,
discarded, and yet
loudest of them all,
One cries ‘look at me’,
she wears a red dress
and high, high heels.
One slips by invisible, almost.
Transparent,
made of cellophane.
One clings.
Wanting to be held.
One rages.
My angry girl,
so brave,
so vibrant.
Behind them
Walks a silent old woman
Dressed in dark oil skin.
Always prepared for disaster
She follows them
in silent solitude.
Slung across her back
In a rucksack twice her size
The colossal collection of
My lost memories.

Two Roads – ala Robert Frost

I stood upon a road facing a divide,
I trembled knowing that on one path
Without premonition, sign or guide
Both branches were equally eyed.
Filled with doubt I must choose to pass.

On both roads stood dread unknown
Faceless fears and boogie men
Childhood monsters though I’m grown
Follow me far from home
And try to draw me back again.

I was caged safe and sound
My hands could span from wall to wall
In silence I sat making myself small
Blinded to the bars that did surround
For if I did not rise then I could not fall.

When I saw the cage I had designed
Silver bars and barbed wire fence
About myself for fear I did wind
I was prisoner in my own mind
And that has made all the difference.

New T-Shirt (aka. I did a thing)

Ok. I did something extravagant last year. I made myself a T-shirt. This is it. I was planning to wear it on a family trip – but that went bust. Maybe next year?

I’m so excited every time I wear it. It starts conversations on #cptsd – and that is exactly what it is designed to do.

This is the back

Change your spots for no one.
A patch of leopard spots
#ThinkingTooLoud


#mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #cptsdrecovery #cptsdawareness #cptsdsurvivor #trauma #ACEs

Off the rails

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a bitch.
I was trying for something more academic sounding, but let’s face it, I’m not on that plane today. Nope, today is one of those days where I’m just trying to figure out where I put my sh*t. Or, more accurately, where I lost it.

I know when. That much I am certain of. But, where all my bits scattered to after that I have no bloody idea. I’m off the rails, ground to a halt and trying to find a way to right myself and start moving again.

I hate this.

And yet, I know this process very well. This is a cornerstone of my CPTSD. This cycle repeats itself ad nauseum. Every time through this process these days I’m better at being able to identify which part of the cycle I am in. That, although it sounds trivial is a huge step.

It used to be that I didn’t know what was happening. My CPTSD manifests in many ways. The aspect being activated here is my emotional dysregulation. The cycle goes something like this.

Phase 1:
Calm, cool, collected. Moving forward with life tasks and goals.
Small emotional moments are managed by either listening to the emotion or ignoring.
The sum of the emotion is no change in my equilibrium.

Phase 2:
An event of intense emotion.
The event can be almost anything and can trigger almost any emotion possible. The track-record is more to the negative, but positive emotional events have also kicked the cycle into motion.
In the event there is a sharp dichotomy about expressing or not expressing what I am feeling. More often than not I fall to the side of repression. Which, as loved ones have told me, can feel deceptively normal – or intensely dangerous. I’ll admit, from the inside I can’t tell the difference.
On the upside, I am at least getting better at acknowledging that I am feeling ‘something’. Even if I cannot always identify the emotion, these days I am at least aware that I am feeling. It may sound inconsequential, but for someone who has lived with emotional paralysis for 40+ years, this is a huge step.

Phase 3:
Working my way out of ‘the moment.’ Because of the confusion surrounding my emotions, their muted state and sometimes just the delay in determining what is happening, the ‘moment’ of emotion can last. It is like sitting down and teasing apart lines of rope that have been coated in tar. Laboriously I peel apart the strands of what I am thinking from what I am feeling. At the end of the process I need to sit with that feeling and try to not only understand it in a rational manner, but to also process it at an emotional level. That processing is another intense period of labor as the creaking and stunted machinery of my inner emotional self is prodded into motion.
Previous patterns of attempting to ignore or stuff the feelings away results in anger, depression and intense self-loathing. Enough of that and I will begin to start longing for ‘out’.
So, these days I work through it. Believe me when I call it work. It is.

Phase 4:
The aftermath of one of these events is all encompassing. Every system of myself suffers under the impact of such an event. Physically there might be muscle spasms, stomach upset, migraines, exhaustion. Emotionally the rawness caused by this unprepared for intensity leaves me in one of two states; hyper-aroused or depressed. Periods of hyper-arousal are followed by emotional numbness.
There is another feature in all this backwash. The question inevitably comes up of “Why am I doing this again?” Why am I spending time and effort and money on trying to connect with these emotions when I was doing well-enough as an automaton?
All those storylines where an android wants to ‘become a real boy’ – wow, I’m pretty sure I could talk them out of it. Because, seriously – why am I doing this?

Phase 5:
Recovering my balance.
Much as I wish that recovery from such an event was as simple as recognizing that I am in the midst of one, it isn’t. Recovery takes time. Time to process the emotions. Time to process the event that caused it. Time to herd the physical and mental processes back on-line. Time to pour it all out onto a page in an effort to move past the wreckage. Time to reflect, but not to fall into an old pattern of over analysis.

That is where I am, right now.

I’m trying to feel my jaw unknot. I’m coaxing my shoulders to relax. Telling my stomach that this too shall pass and to try to stop cannibalizing itself. Above all reminding myself to breathe.

I will end with a couple of quotes from Winston Churchill:
First “When going through Hell, keep walking,” and the second – “Success is never permanent, and failure is not fatal.”

So – here’s me, walking.

For my brother

Duane Robert Stewart
October 16, 1964 – January 18, 2021

My brother died today and I wept for him, for us.
For all the warm words we never exchanged,
For all the jealousy we held for each other,
For all the times pain was our only contact,
For the words of hurt,
For the thefts,
For the bruises,
For the silence,
And for the little boy
At the bottom of the stairs
Who screamed in panic
As I fled upward
And father raged below.
You deserved better,
And so did I.

Touching base

Well, January 2021 certainly led off with a bang. I still see things on the horizon of concern. I’m trying very hard NOT to focus on those.

Instead, I am head-down in editing my second novel while waiting somewhat patiently for my first novel to have a pre-order date. I’m also trying to remind myself that even though things seem overwhelming at the moment there is the slow, steady process of just taking one breath after another.

One thing I did learn from CPTSD is that some days just getting to the end of the day was enough. Those days, sometimes, are the hardest. Remember, it can be done.

There are some behind the scenes ‘shenanigans’ going on which I am not yet in a position to relate. I hope it will be a funny story with a good ending – but, until then, everyone buckle up.

With any luck, I will be able to write next week about a very boring and uneventful Inauguration. Let’s keep hoping for that.

Peace, ya’ll.

In the can.

CPTSD is a strange thing to grow up with. Even stranger to live with once you know you have it.

For Example:
My latest InstagramPost-

There it is the manuscript for Book 4 in the Unhomed series. Still debating titles. I do like to stick with one word – but this particular word is proving elusive.
Despite that this manuscript will be placed into a drawer to ‘marinate’ for a year, at least. I’ll come back to it in Jan 2022. Provided I’m still here.

You might be wondering what is so ‘typical’ of CPTSD in that little post above. I’ll point out the last line. Now, while it may be very appropriate in 2020 to not take making it to tomorrow for granted it goes a bit deeper than that.

From Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving I pull this quote from the section on “Toxic Shame and Soul Murder.” (If that isn’t a powerful phrase I don’t know what is?)

Quote: When our emotional intelligence is restricted, we often do not know what we really want.

~ Pete Walker

I don’t think I can convey how estranged I was, and let’s admit still am, from my feelings. I can see that emotional emptiness echoing back through my life. With it I can follow the ambivalence I had about life.

One of the questions I have always struggled with is “Where do you want to be in ten years?” Or even five. Hell, I don’t know where I want to eat lunch let alone what I want to do with myself in a year. Never mind ten years.

Learned helplessness is a survival tool. Additionally, it is a phrase I absolutely loathe. But, love it or loathe it, learned helplessness is a firm part of my past. I still wrestle with it.

I never really planned for anything because promises were broken, plans were ignored, asking for something was too much. I became able to be grateful for what I was given and not to expect or hope for more. This is the core of learned helplessness. There is nothing you can do to improve your situation, so you learn to endure. Later when the cause of the suffering is removed the mind is still locked in the role of the abused and cannot see that circumstances have changed.

How does all that relate to planning for tomorrow? For me there was no planning for any future. I dealt with what was given to me. My future was to fulfill the expectations of my family. I didn’t think about my future. I didn’t get to.

So, although I have every intention of revising, editing, and publishing the book above, I know that nothing in life is promised, not even tomorrow.

Thanksgiving, rewritten

As many of my readers will know, Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. Putting my family together with the expectations of a celebration to rival the covers of the Saturday Evening Post never worked out well. It was more like a production of The Crucible.

For many years, and I know I’m not alone in this, I avoided this holiday in any way I could. I worked. I was ‘on-call’. I watched a sick kitten. Even sitting here thinking of those past gatherings has my stomach trying to tie itself into knots. Easy stomach. Down boy.

Being an analytical sort I thought I would sit down and dissect exactly what was going through my brain. Plus, it takes me out of the arena of emotions and solidly back on the ground of intellectualism. Hooray for avoidance.

What is Thanksgiving at its very core?

  • A historical commemoration
  • A family gathering
  • A celebration of (something?)
  • A time to reflect on what we are thankful for

I have no problem with these ideas.

I believe in commemorating historical events. I don’t believe in most of the myth that surrounds the discovery and early European colonization of the Americas. That is a history lesson for another day.

Family getting together is not a bad thing. Not in the main. Some people simply have ‘chosen’ families rather than biological. I know that it is common to trot out the old saw that ‘Blood is thicker than water.’ Indeed, some folks have wonderful, giving, supportive families. Others, don’t.

Celebrating something. Sure. Why not?
But, to celebrate something doesn’t require mounds of excess that devolves into this frenzy of acquisition. Again, that is a different essay.

A time to reflect on what we are thankful for. Yes. This is, in my opinion, the reason to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day.

So what do I have a problem with? The expectation that the day will be perfect. That the family will rise to some level of decency and caring that isn’t there the other 360+ days of the year. That in one day we can reach over the chasms between us for appearances. To provide the feeling, no matter how false, that we are a close loving family.

I stopped being able to do that years ago. The mask and the costume wouldn’t fit anymore. I was tired of pretending.

It’s a sad thing to think about. There are lots of ‘maybe’ and ‘what if’ and ‘why’ in all those memories. There’s a yearning for something that we pretended to have really been true. It’s a lovely wish.

I know it is just a fancy, all that stuff about wishes and fishes and bicycles and beggars.

I would rewrite Thanksgiving and I would make the center of it consist of gratitude. I admit I would strip it of most of the bells and whistles. So what might it look like?

It would look like me writing and contemplating all the people who have helped me this year. I would take a moment to say ‘Thank You’.

Thank you to the people of the CPTSD community for your support when I have needed it. Thank you for allowing me to help and offer support where I could.
Thank you to the mental health professionals who have helped me find more pieces of myself.

Thank you to the wonderful folks at Episodic Publishing for having faith in my novel.
Thank you to LaNae and Kaleigh and Bex for helping polish the manuscript and for creating images that will help it shine.

Then I would probably go into a long litany of individuals of who I wanted to thank, for their help, their encouragement, their kindness. The occasional dose of reality and keeping me on track. My chosen family whom I miss and pray that you all stay safe and healthy.

I would finish by thanking those who are on this journey. Thank you for supporting me, for understanding, and most of all sharing this road with me.

Two paths diverged in a yellow wood

I love the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost which contains the line used for the title. The simple idea that we all face choices that define our lives. Those choices can be momentous or tiny. They can be so small that at the time we didn’t notice that we had made a choice.

I suspect we have all stood at a decision point in the path and tried to discern which one would be ‘better’. For me, the reality is that often I made the choice based on what I knew others expected. I did this no only because it was the expectation, but equally because I had no idea what I wanted. I spent the bulk of my life constrained by fear of the unknown, fear of punishment, fear of speaking up, fear of speaking or doing, at all.

I am learning, rather late in life, that these choices were mine or at least they were meant to be mine. I still wonder, were the choices taken from me or did I abdicate them in the hope of buying safety?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I stood upon a road facing a divide,
I trembled knowing that on one path
Without premonition, sign or guide
Both branches were equally eyed.
Filled with doubt I must choose to pass.

On both roads stood dread unknown
Faceless fears and boogie men
Childhood monsters though I’m grown
Follow me far from home
And try to draw me back again.

I was caged safe and sound
My hands could span from wall to wall
In silence I sat making myself small
Blinded to the bars that did surround
For if I did not rise then I could not fall.

When I saw the cage I had designed
Silver bars and barbed wire fence
About myself for fear I did wind
I was prisoner in my own mind
And that has made all the difference.

As the author of the poem stated, “And that has made all the difference”.