Nailed in the past… a paradox

This is one of those things that when I think about my Complex-PTSD should have been obvious. How I missed it for so long really confounds me.

I often talk about the paradoxes that arise in C-PTSD. Here I have stumbled into another one. It goes something like this.

Huh. I just realized how weird it is to live with one foot nailed in the past when you can’t remember any of it.

ThinkingTooLoud

CPTSD Paradox #3 : joy and fear

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.

CPTSD : Paradox #2

A young girl sits dejected on a bench.

The turmoil of having an anxious/ambivalent attachment style is in some ways worse than those these folks have in their relationship with others. The internal conflicts involving panic that a partner will leave them and fighting to contain the behaviors that ensue from that panic are horrendous.

They have an inner conflict going on all the time. 

Anxious/Ambivalent Attachment Style: An Examination of Its Causes and How It Affects Adult Relationships

The article above specifically addresses relationships and the way that a person with CPTSD approaches them.

But, this internal ambivalence isn’t confined to relationships, it bleeds out and touches everything. In my head that ambivalence colors every corner. From core beliefs of my own worthiness and capability, to my value as a human and a host of other self-identification parameters.

For example:

I received a glowing compliment from an editor on my latest work. Most people would think this a good thing. It would act as verification that they were doing well, a pat on the back. Validation! It would spur them to continue their work.

However, in my mind, that initial rush of “Wonderful” is welded to the thought “That can’t be right.”

From that well-meant compliment springs a host of worries. That all lead back to one option, and one option only. “Quit now, before it all falls apart.”

Some people might look at this and think “imposter syndrome.” But, it goes further than that. This example is just one area of my life. In truth that ambivalence is threaded through every fiber.

It plays out on two stages – side by side.

On the first stage in my head, I have this driving need to be perfect. Absolutely perfect. Flawless. I push and I strive for that, and whatever I do, or achieve it is never enough. For one simple immutable reason. What is going on over on the other stage.

This stage has one purpose, to remind me of one fact. The fact that I am not enough.
– not good enough
– not smart enough
– not pretty enough

Not enough in any measure, not possible. Not me.

Incoming compliments are equally fished for and avoided. And, if someone has made the mistake to think I have done something worthwhile, then I should not revel in their mistaken perception, but I should instead correct it. Because if they continue in this idea, when they see the truth of me, they will feel deceived, and then leave.

Being abandoned is my greatest fear. It is the fear that strikes at my core. So, to keep people from leaving me I scuttle out of the light. I linger in the fringes of the darkness, barely seen. Because if people don’t know I’m there, they can’t choose to leave me.

So here I stand divided, one foot in light, one foot in shadow. Torn in both directions because if I’m not good enough, people will abandon me and because if I allow people to think I’m worthy they will abandon me when the deception is revealed.

It’s a no-win situation, that can only be survived by remaining unnoticed.

CPTSD : Rescue / Safety Paradox

Quote from 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 remained exposed and empty hurt. Because I knew, I knew with all my heart and soul that this magical being would make me complete. And 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.