Conformity

curled, twisted
broke and bent
pulled and pushed
torn and rent
pieces dropped
limbs lopped
all to shape
a perfect figment
of feminine
accomplishment

Tragedy

My Brother

My brother
A name
I simply moved
From
One column
To another.

An Analogy: the Wetsuit

When you grow up in a minefield, it seems normal.

People often find it difficult to explain, or to understand Complex PTSD. I often find myself falling into metaphor or analogy to explain the experience. The reason for using an abstraction is because in Complex PTSD the particulars from one person to another vary – greatly. I have found that trying to paint a detailed picture often results in becoming lost in the need for exactitude. It is impossible to be be ‘exact’ for everyone. Enter the analogy.

One question I have seen repeatedly about Complex PTSD is “Why am I having to deal with all this NOW? Why not when it was happening? Why 10/20/30/40 years after the fact?”

In the past I have often explained that when disfunction is your norm – you don’t see it as dysfunction.

Recently I thought this idea needed to grow. While comparing the environment to a minefield works it doesn’t go far enough. The minefield only addresses the environment, while Complex PTSD is the product of how we adapted to that environment.

Think of all those adaptations we learned or created to keep us safe as a wetsuit. See it in your mind and make it as thick or detailed as you like. Maybe you have one of those ‘survival suits’ for the North Sea, light blinking on the top and bright orange. Perhaps your wet suit is more like the body glove of neoprene we often visualize on Navy Seals and Frogmen.*

No matter how you envision your suit to look it all served one purpose – to preserve your life in a hostile environment. By ‘hostile environment’ any diver will tell you – you don’t need sharks to make the water dangerous. The water itself – everything surrounding you – is quite capable of ending you.

That is the mental state in which many of us grew up. Life itself, our most immediate environment posed an imminent threat to our survival. Perhaps there was a shark – a person(s) with the ability to harm you. Perhaps there was not – but your surroundings were as cold as Arctic waters. And some of us endured both.**

To survive we adapted. Those adaptations became the ‘wetsuit’ we wore to help us survive.

Our ‘wetsuit’ served us while we were in those dangerous places. But as we grow, age, we leave the environment(s) that caused us to make those adaptations.

When we no longer need that wetsuit because we have left the freezing water we don’t abandon it. Primarily because we are unaware of it. Those adaptations are integrated. Our ‘wetsuit’ is an intrinsic part of who we are.

Over time, out of that hostile environment, that wetsuit – our adaptations – no longer serve us. The neoprene becomes hot, binding, restrictive, and could even become more than an impairment, but a danger. ***

It is not a sudden appearance of Complex PTSD. We have carried it with us since we entered that hostile place. The reason for the sudden appearance is not because the wetsuit has changed, but because they have changed their environment and no longer need it.

Now – comes the work of peeling that sucker off. And that’s part of the reason you always have a dive buddy. It is easier to get out of the wetsuit when you have help.

At least, that’s one way to think about it.


*Note: I met one of the original ‘frogmen’, once, years ago. His stories were beyond impressive.
**Note: Just imagine a shark wearing a wooly knit jumper.
***Note: Good friend went to a Halloween party dressed as a ‘diver’ – full suit 5mm – almost cooked himself into heat stroke.

Divided

Siblings and Complex PTSD

I cannot describe
how deep
the wound goes.

When I lost my
brother – he was
only seven and
I was only three.

After that
we shared
the same house.

We fought
and shunned
one another.

Neither one aware
of the poison
that forced us apart.

For my brother

Zen Stones and a candle.

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”