If you want to know more about this cycle within Complex-PTSD take a gander at this post.
CPTSD is a strange thing to grow up with.
Even stranger to live with it.
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.
There is so going to be an essay out of this one.
For the moment I’m going to have to leave you with this dashed off thought.
Yesterday was a remarkable day. So many people felt as if they were coming up for air after fighting to breathe for years. The announcement of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being elected as the next president and vice-president of the United States was literally celebrated around the world.
All the aspects of life that bring my CPTSD into full bloom were central at that moment; change, relief, uncertainty, hope. I was caught between feeling the moment too much or not feeling it at all.
That first instant of glorious relief was cut short by the fear that this was an illusion and would not last. As I watched the celebrations erupting around me the only thing that passed through my mind was, How long until we find out this is a lie?
I couldn’t dive into celebration. My brain, my past, kept telling me that this was a mirage. Don’t trust it. Wait until you see if it sticks. Don’t let go. So, I kept that death grip on myself that I call rational self-control.
Change can bring such a relief. It can also throw everything into the air indiscriminately. With change I wonder will it stay? How long? Can I trust it? What are the rules for survival now?
Folks with CPTSD often live with the knowledge that what you have been given can just as swiftly be taken away. So many parts of me were echoing with past experience last night that I felt ready to fly to pieces. The memories were jumbled and pressed in from every direction. This was the moment of the backlash, or the crushing blow.
This was the moment when if you allowed yourself to believe the world contains goodness you invited disaster. Happiness only exists in milliseconds because inevitably the hope is smashed, the toy broken, the dream shattered.
With CPTSD you try to remember that this moment can’t last. We guard our feelings so closely because we have been taught that to show emotion is like placing a drop of blood in the water. To demonstrate a moment of happiness is the same action that summons the monsters which will destroy it.
Hope. Hope is the most treacherous emotion of all. That is the driving force that makes you pull yourself over the glass time after time. Hope is so often an illusion, untrustworthy. For those of us who live with CPTSD hope is a double edged sword where both sides can wound .
So, last night, with the world celebrating around me, I clung to my husband unable to breathe. I lay there feeling the muscles around my eyes tighten, my jaw clench, my throat close, my chest contract. Afraid to breathe, I was waiting for the blow to come.
I like to think I am relatively ‘easy going’. I’ve had folks tell me that I was a pleasure to work with. Huzzah. And I like to think that not many things send me into a point of anger. Of course, that could just be the CPTSD and the fact that I have virtually no emotions talking. But, hey. It’s chill. I’m good.
But then I meet folks who want to redefine my story of my life. They sit there and explain to me how my representation of my experience is ‘wrong’. Yeah. I ran into one of those recently. Oh… I really wanted to ‘rage post’, but my interior editor stopped me. Thank goodness for that titanium trap in my mind that usually keeps me from uttering something that might later be – ahem… unfortunate.
So, instead, I sat down and wrote this 100-word essay. I hope you enjoy.
And, just as a tip. When someone is divulging their truth to you, do not attempt to invalidate their experience in any way. It makes us grumpy.
Oh, the irony.
Thirty plus years of
Being various degrees of suicidal
And now we have a pandemic
Upending the world
I want to live.
Strangely, that’s about average for me.
Let me take a moment to unpack this one.
My depression started somewhere in seventh or eighth grade.
It’s possible it started earlier, but
I have no memories earlier
Except for a very few, so let’s say – around 12.
At age 12 I started to self-harm.
‘Escape’ was the word always in my thoughts.
I didn’t know much as a pre-teen
but, trust me, I knew I wanted out.
At this tender age
Out was still a fantasy
Of rescue or of running away.
Other people, with other issues,
Might have managed to escape on their own.
Where would I escape to?
Was escape even possible?
Did I even deserve better?
Who did I think I was?
This was where God put me.
This was my lot.
Suck it up.
As a teenager, my resources changed.
I had access to a car and endless mountain roads.
I was always safe in my car.
I felt ‘in control’ of something.
That was where I started to think
Maybe, at least, I could control my death.
My fantasies of escape became fantasies of dying.
I wore black constantly.
I was erasing myself from my life.
(Not that there was much to erase.)
Vanishing before my own eyes.
I was content with that.
I was content with
The process of unbecoming
Because I had a way out.
Sitting in the driveway was
A 1980s bright orange mustang.
Ugly as sin, but the straight six was a beast.
Having that door made staying easier.
Because I knew I didn’t have to stay.
I had a choice.
Of all the things in my life that were broken,
Out of my control,
Dangerous, or terrifying.
I had control over one thing.
How does all of this relate to today?
For better than 30 years
I managed to face tomorrow
Because I knew that if I didn’t want to,
If it was too hard, I didn’t have to.
I could stop.
In my 20s,
I saw all my friends growing and flying,
Becoming these spectacular people.
While I was sheathed in lead.
The learned helplessness,
The ‘shoulds’ of my family
Ruled every aspect of my life.
I slept a lot.
hoping I wouldn’t wake.
And when I was awake
I prayed to die.
Or finish me.
I actively debated suicide.
And came close to death a couple of times.
I was so depressed
I had my first hallucination.
Thankfully, it was also my last.
My 30s were calmer,
At least, on the surface.
I finally found help for the depression,
But not for the problem at the root of all of it.
Ideation moved back and forth
Between passive and active.
As my 30s wore on
I found the pendulum
Spent more time towards the passive side.
That was good.
I was able to function.
Although I went through the motions
I did not understand
This ‘joi de vivre’ that others expected
I’m not saying I was never happy.
I am saying every day was a trudge.
An exercise in existing.
So, where I slept through most of my 20s,
My 40s were marked by
A type of emotional numbness.
On occasion, the ice beneath my feet would break.
Plunging me into terror.
Two years ago,
I finally made the connection with cptsd
I found a good therapist to work through it.
I’m still working on it.
Likely, I will for the rest of my life.
Now, I’m over 50 and discovering how to live.
I grieve so much of the life I missed.
So here’s the irony:
I’m writing. I adore my husband.
Finally, I am discovering who I am.
I have put most of my desire for death aside.
I want to live. I have something to live for.
Here, at a very scary moment,
In a world that I have always shunned
Because of my twisted roots,
At the moment when
Life seems most precarious,
My life is most precious.
Now – I want to live.
Weird title, right?
I saw a thread over on Twitter, some of you all may have seen or participated in it as well.
What it was about was looking at the positive side of the traits of CPTSD that we have.
I was skeptical at first. It struck me as rather ‘wishful thinking’. But, I stuck around and listened and I realized there was something amazing happening.
Folks in the thread were giving examples of the parts of CPTSD that they struggle with, and sometimes another reader would turn that struggle into a positive. Sometimes the person who still struggled with the trait could express how it influenced their life in a positive way. It was, for me, a lightbulb moment.
So I started thinking: What is one of the biggest things I struggle with or a trait of CPTSD that I still cling to? And has that had any positive outcomes in my life? For me, a trait that I know I still possess is the inability to ask for anything. Which results in a distinct pride of being able to do without, or do with less. To make do. I’ve been called Spartan in the manner that I live.
The positive side of that is that I have skills that are quickly vanishing from the 1st world. I can preserve food, I can mend just about anything, I know basic carpentry and electrical work, and I’m thrifty.
Those are some worthwhile skills to have.
What is it for you? Give it a think. Perhaps you can see the positive outgrowth of some of your traits. Please share them so that others who might be struggling with something similar can see that there are some useful/positive aspects that we can dig out of the mud of our past.
You’ve seen it most likely. It makes the rounds every year, starting about now-ish. That question that floats around the internet about the movie that most represents your family Christmas.
People usually don’t understand why I pick “The Lion in Winter.”
Go, give it a watch if you have never seen it. The Burton/Hepburn version is my favorite, but I’ll admit that the Stewart/Close version also had some brilliant moments.
That is the film that most closely depicts my family in “The Holidays”. All of us crammed together on our best behaviour and underneath everyone seething. So many emotions all just under the surface. No one talking about them. Just playing out our roles until time to do it again.
One day, perhaps, I will be able to look at the “Holiday Season” without my teeth clenching. Until then, enjoy the movie.
This is it. The dark and dangerous hour when my mind, released by a weary body and the tasks of the day cease their incessant calling, this is the hour when my mind ignites. Words, unbidden and unbiddable cascade across my mind in a torrent that I cannot stop, and would never hope to withstand. The words tumble and converge. Ideas branch from one another and then wind their way through a mind in chaos, only to re-merge, just to fragment again.
This spell that the words put on me shatter my peace. What little I have. I am compelled, down the darkened stairs into the light of a single flame to write what I am bidden by the words in my mind. Uncontrolled, chaotic, tumbling, spinning, crashing, forming and reforming, again and again. So I pour darkness into darkness, howling with ink onto a page that will end crammed with vowels and syllables and ideas and have no meaning. It is the stuff of madness.
As lighting gives but a fraction of illumination I chase the words hoping that in the chaos I can glimpse some semblance of the mind behind them. Is it vast, beyond my comprehension. Is that why I can only ride the torrent of words and not find sense in them. I tie up my hair, a distraction from the relief I am trying to find. Words.
What are you reading, my Lord.(Hamlet, Act II Scene II)
Words. Words. Words.
Hamlet had it right. Words. They are the key to and the respite from madness. For in words are both the hinting and healing of a mind in chaos. Find the right words, string them together, make sense and Lo, you are sane. Find the right words, string them together and have a meaning that means nothing or which cannot be discerned and Lo, you are mad.
I know I am not mad, I ride the torrent, down into Charybdis and back again. Taken up by the same words that pour out, for unlike Claudius, though my words are somewhat torn, they rise up to heaven. In the darkness they fly like sparks.
There is no draft in this. This is pure, pouring out of what is inside. There is no editor, there is no process, but to sit in the dark, and to let the pen cross the page. The house may creak and groan around me, but the only sound will be the churning of the words in my head as I struggle to push them out of the pen. Out through the fingers, out into the world, where they will dry. Living things drying to mere reminders of the turmoil.
Sometimes there is a reason. Some days there is a thought or an idea or a passion that cannot remain silent any longer. That need will start the torrent of words and feelings and emotion that is so often shut securely away. Not tonight. There is no wound behind the words tonight. This night in this stillness they simply wanted to shed their skins and fly. So I obey. Eyes closed, watching the words form in my mind and paying no attention to the page. I let my hands move unfettered across the surface, no resistance to the words that want to escape or shape themselves. Let them go. Unimpeded. Freely. For only in that is there peace. Try to hold onto them, they will choke and dam everything behind them. Let them run. Let them be.
When silence comes. My hand is cramped. Ink smudges the page. There are misspellings, but there are no mistakes. The mistake would be to try to hold the swell back to ensure better precision. This isn’t an exercise in writing. It is survival.
Some people travel through the Shadowlands and after trial and tribulation they emerge. They shake off the dark soot of so many sorrows and return to the sun.
I did not travel through. I lived in the Shadowlands. I ate of the fruit and drank from bitter streams. Years have passed here and the Shadowlands have swallowed decades. Now even though I, at times, emerge into the whiteness of the midday sun, I know that the Shadow is with me, hidden beneath my heel. For I have learned, after long and ardent denial, that the Shadows live within me.