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.

Thanksgiving rewritten and CPTSD

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.

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.

The Perfect Nerd Date

Perfect “nerd date” with hubs last night.
Alexa – open internet. Find “Pathfinder 2e character elf”
“OK.”
And – it worked.
So hubs and I spent the night reading through the changes from Pathfinder 1e to 2e cuddled together on the couch.
Like I said.
Perfect nerd date.

NaNoWriMo 2020 – Out of Darkness

The Thinking Read

Yes, the “Holiday Season” is difficult for me. It has been for almost forty-plus years. In that time I have tried many different approaches to managing the time of the year between November 1 and January 3. I’ve tried sun-lamps, vacations, visiting my husband’s family, going nowhere, shunning parties, and straight up hiding. As you might guess this time of the year is pretty dark for me.

Because of that I search for the good in a holiday. Strangely in the darkest part of winter with Solstice, Yule, Kwanza, Christmas, Chanakya I actually find it easier to manage. The emphasis is on bringing light to the world. That is something I can celebrate.

Thanksgiving, not so much. This holiday carries a good share of the family dysfunction that marks most of this season. However, I can’t find an aspect of it that helps me relate to it in a positive way. Because of that November has become a month of dread.

Every year culminated with this slow wind-up to Thanksgiving, the heat of the proverbial water increasing until a rolling boil was reached at Christmas. “The Holidays” were a mania of seeming.

When I discovered NaNoWriMo I found a way to pass the days of November which allowed me to avoid the slow escalation of expectations. Being able to lose myself in my writing helps me focus on something that is very tangible. Ink on a page. Work.

All the expectation, and the anxiety, the roles we played becomes fodder for stories. I can take that pain and turn it inside out and into something useful, healthy, beautiful. NaNoWriMo helps me navigate my most difficult time of the year.

Things are changing, slowly.

I’m beginning to look forward to November. For me it is the start of ‘hygge season’, time to curl up to listen to the wind, and to allow my imagination to wander across a page. Send up some warmed cider and a turkey sandwich and I’ll get along just fine.

It’s the Hap, Happiest Time… No. Pass.

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.

A short story about beer

It is a typical summer evening for my husband and I. The cicadas are humming in the trees, the occasional addition of frog song chimes in.

Continue reading “A short story about beer”

CPTSD Paradox #1

Since they never develop a sense of safety, they distrust others while simultaneously searching for a “rescuer” who can finally give them the unconditional positive regard they were robbed of in childhood.   

~National Center for PTSD

My earliest fantasies were of a man, a Prince, who would rescue me.

In my dreaming, I was always asleep, or sick, or injured before this magical person arrived. Their presence rewrote me. With them, I was well. With them I was alive. I physically ached for that person. The hole in my chest that remained exposed and empty hurt. Because I knew, I knew with all my heart and soul that this magical being would make me complete. So I remained in my prison, waiting.

I was the dog that cringed in the back of the cage. I was the cat, injured and half-dead that would claw and bite anyone who attempted to rescue me. Why?

Because people were dangerous. They put me in this cage. People cut the hole in my chest. People taught me I was hollow, defective, broken. They – those outside – could not be trusted. In my cage, I was separate from them. I was so alone. I was broken. I was voiceless. I was forgotten.

Being forgotten by all the world made me safe.

No one ever came to my rescue.
There was no knight, no prince. There was no magic to make everything better. No touch to soothe away the fear. I was singular, alone, a broken thing that marked time pacing the limits of my cage. For decades. There is a track worn along the inside of my prison. I know it grain by grain. I could close my eyes and tell you where I stood in the gray nothingness of my life by the feel of the sand beneath my feet.

I have never lived. I have only paced my circles. Over and over and over. Waiting for a fantasy.

Truth

grey illustration

You do not know my story.

Do not dare to soften my reality
to fit your comfortable limited view.

If I make you wince, good.

Is my honesty too much?
Too bad.

I spent years stuffing myself
Into silence for the comfort of others.

NO More.

You will not use my truth as a tool
To advance your fiction.

I do not accept your rewriting of my experience.

I have come too far
To allow a fantasy
Composed by a stranger
To limit me.

I am my own.

You do not define me.

My truth is not yours to alter.

Silent

As a child
silence was my haven.

I learned to be quiet,
talk quiet, walk quiet.

I knew every board beneath the carpet.
Those that would betray me
and those that would not.

I crept in the mornings past
my brother’s bedroom door.

Evening time I huddled close to the television.
Silent images flickered over the screen.
The idiot box and I were muted.

Silence meant safe.

When voices climbed violence gathered.
Shards of the silence were wielded like knives.

The spoken word was a weapon.

Shouted threats followed crashing doors.
The pounding of angry fists
echoed my pounding heart.

Safe

With two words you have unmade me.

All my armor is stripped away,
my defenses lay at my feet.

You see me.

I would, I could… if I had any agency of my own.
But I am helpless.
As raw as the wounded child I am
at first I cannot breathe.

The past suffocates and
I struggle to draw in air.

Then my shattered senses make out your embrace.
You hold me as the storm rages.

You are the oak to my ivy, the shore to my wild oceans.
My haven. My husband.
You whisper,
“You’re safe. You’re safe.”