Tag Archive | Trauma

Accept or Fight

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When another doctor tells you that what you want is not possible and you need to accept that and set more realistic goals for yourself, do you do it or do you keep fighting for what you want?

I have seen a team of neurologists and neuropsychologists now.  They are all singing a similar tune. That I am different. That I have to accept that I cannot return to the previous version of me that I recall before the brain injuries. (I’m not sure if I have discussed the extent of my brain injuries here, I haven’t wanted to talk much about it and writing was so difficult before. But I have some serious cognitive dysfunction, memory gaps, processing delays, visual lags and disturbances, sensory overload….it goes on.) That skills like creativity, and certain personality changes, once altered, do not heal and come back, at least not identical to what they once were. I may be able to enhance what I have, but I will never be who I used to be.

I may never be able to do what I used to do.

Every time I think of this as a fleeting thought, the tears return.

Another esteemed doctor told me this again yesterday. They are well educated, at a great hospital, known for their expertise, and my gut trusts them. However, there is also something in me that is screaming they are wrong. Doctors once told me I may never walk again, that my weakened leg would never regain muscle tone. Well look who is out there attempting to jog. So I don’t accept “never” as a final diagnosis. I feel like I’m still in here, just slowed down.

He recommended I either apply for disability or try to work with a vocational counselor, but he doesn’t think I can keep up with the pace and demands of a job. That was harsh, but possibly true. I may be overestimating my stamina at this point because I want to be better.

He said that I am still traumatized, understandably, and that for me, the trauma never stopped. 40 years of trauma. He said that would be enough to break anyone. But add all my medical issues and it was like adding gasoline to a fire. And then on top of that, a stressful marital relationship, he says it was a cascade of events and none of them were good for brain health.

We talked about my social support network, and I said I’m all alone, completely. I have a few online friends and my counselor. We talked about how I isolate myself and why. I told him about how I have low tolerance for people, no matter how much I try, I can’t enjoy being with them, or think they aren’t good people when they make fun of others, are greedy, I catch them lying or cheating, etc. I said I try to turn down my moral standards but I can’t. He said something I never heard before. He said of course you can’t. You have never felt safe in your life. As soon as someone says or does something that makes them have any possibility of being a bad person, you go into self protection mode and either stop talking, leave the room, or hide or whichever other skills you have learned to avoid conflict and being noticed. This is to keep yourself safe. It makes perfect sense and is your core belief stronger than all others. Safety comes first.

My jaw dropped, and I felt angry a bit, kind of embarrassed, and I wanted to say he was wrong, to fight that, but as it sunk in, and so many social interactions spanning 40 years flashed across my mind. Holy crap. He is right.

Here I was thinking I was over my trauma and it didn’t matter any more. That I was an introvert and yeah maybe I was wired differently, or maybe on the aspberger spectrum, or maybe just get annoyed with small talk and petty people. But no. Every social decision ever has come down to safety.

He said the right trauma based psychologist may be able to assist me with that component and he would help me to locate one near me to work with. He said I can’t live the rest of my life alone, or I will continue to deterioriate.

I don’t know. I feel like I’ve tried. I feel like the people that accepted me never accepted the real me and when I do reveal the real me people run for the hills, unable to handle me. So maybe someone can help me find this tightrope skill of balance of how to build a relationship that I feel safe in, connected to the other person in a real way, without overwhelming the other person with my intensity.

I think figuring that out will help me in any job I may come to have in the future, whether I go through the disabled workers board or get one on my own.

I do know that I want to be a part of the world and connected to people, to good genuine people, and I just don’t know how.

I do know I’m not ready to give up and get on disability and never work again. I think I still have something to offer. I’m still smart in some ways, just really slow, and get tired out quickly. I’m hopeful the new migraine meds will start helping with some of that too. I’m hopeful that my family is done adding trauma to my life and I can finally move ahead on my own. My parents are gone, my brothers aren’t speaking to me. The hole hurts, but an empty hole is a dull ache, not like the tortuous pain of constant flaming daggers tossed at you.

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Empty

Ever look deep inside and realize there is nothing there? A vast hollow vessel full of only echoes but nothing of substance?

I’ve graduated from my cpt group. So now I’ve completed two intensive group therapies, one with a dbt focus and this recent one was cognitive processing. I’ll think about sharing some of the exercises we completed but not today.

Cpt has taught me to feel the pain. It taught me exactly how much is excruciatingly wrong with me and allows me to feel it, and name it. The counselor calls this progress, and I suppose I’d see her point if it wasn’t me having to feel it. Honestly I’d rather return to the nice even numbness I had going for nearly four decades. It was more tolerable than this awareness. Of knowing what’s wrong with me so clearly now. Seeing the path ahead, I’m not afraid, but I’m not motivated. I see no point. I feel like a car totaled in a crash…best to junk it and get a new one. Or a condemned house needing demolished. I no longer think its possible to grow roots in this emptiness. I don’t dare dream any longer. I continue through this treatment program asking them to do the impossible. I’m asking them to help me to want to live, for me, for my own sake, not only clinging to a thread for my kids.

I’ve realized I have no sense of self. This is worse than no self esteem. I actually think I’m talented, smart, pretty, good at many things. But I have no value because I have no existence. You’ll either understand or you won’t so I won’t try to explain much more. Just to say it is apparently a parents job to instill a sense of self in a child. Mine wasn’t stolen by abuse, it was never instilled at all. I was never a separate, valuable human.

Like a slave, outcast, an untouchable, an invisible ghost only used and abused.

I’m starting the individual portion of my trauma recovery program now that the group work is completed. My counselor seems to actually understand a traumatized brain and has a structured program, saying I’m not a lifer, therapy will end one day, and one day I’ll have less PTSD symptoms and more living. I want to believe her.

We established some goals and metrics to get us started so our sessions stay on track. I feel like I wasted so much time and money on past counselors not trained in this traumatic stress program. But I didn’t know, no one knew. I’ve absorbed so much knowledge its going to be difficult to relay it all here.

I’m not who I was a few months ago, my brain is changing.

Hanging on

I am enjoying the daily poems, but finding that I am missing my usual come- to- the- keyboard- and- pour- out- all- my- thoughts posts. So here is one of those. I need one of those.

Yesterday was a doozy. And by doozy I mean a hellish nightmarish stressful panic ridden day. Just in my home, just in my own self, before I even saw the news of so many other people having a hellish nightmarish day in Boston. So I am not being selfish here, not taking away from their suffering with my own little story, that has nothing to do with them, and needs to be shared.

I’m going to try to explain what it was like to have an intense PTSD flashback, so be warned, the rest of this post could be triggering.

Tomorrow I see my therapist. And so I need some processing for my own sake.

Yesterday morning, everything was fine. Breakfast was fine. Got the kids off to school fine. Kept up fine with some chores and my work projects.  I made a vet appointment for my dog, because he had been breathing rough and just slow and acting weird the day before and seemed a bit anxious during the days lately. I was not that worried, just wanted to check him out.

And then I went upstairs to get my youngest ready for preschool, and noticed my dog still sleeping in my bed, at noon. He’s usually up and following me, and would have had his breakfast and been outside by then. I was doing so fine being busy that morning I did not notice his absence. I was not alarmed yet though. He is 14 years old and has been slowing down, and has slept in before. But then I petted him, and got no response. I mean nothing. I could see and hear him breathing, but his eyes were empty and did not seem to see me. I patted him harder and spoke to him, and still no response. It was like he was sedated.

I’d like to say my first response was to call the Vet, or something reasonable like that. No. My first response was to have a flashback, and then a full on panic attack. The situation triggered a flashback to a terrible traumatic event in my childhood, when my Dad poisoned my Dog. The image of my childhood dog kept flashing and merging with my current dog. Reality was flickering and I was struggling to remain present. I felt like I was suddenly 7 years old again and helpless, powerless. I did not just remember the event, I was transported through space and time to mentally re-live the sad death of my childhood dog. I saw blood pouring out of my current dog, then blinked to erase the memory and see my dog was still alive. Everything in me began to shake, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I rushed to the bathroom and closed the door, trying to escape the flashback, but, well, it followed me.

But then I accidentally looked in the mirror. I saw I was not 7. And then I saw I was 7, again flickering, old image superimposed on the real one. And then I looked at my hands. My own hands. And I remembered I was not helpless. It still took some time, but I worked through it and forced my brain to help my dog. I was not going to get in trouble for calling the Vet. No one poisoned this dog. My Dad isn’t here. I am safe – but my dog needs my help. I got dizzy and had to sit. I sat on the floor and kind of bumped my head against the wall until I could breathe and see again. And then I wiped my nose and eyes, and went back to my room. I tried again to rouse my dog. He straightened his legs a bit, but did not lift his head.

I went back downstairs and googled my Vet. I don’t what I’d do without google. In that state of mind, I couldn’t remember where I kept my phone number list, but I always remember how to google. The Vet asked way too many questions and finally said I could bring him in.  But then I nearly panicked again. My dog weighs 50 pounds – there was no way I could carry him down the stairs myself. I managed to tell the Vet I would have to find someone to help me and would try to get him there. I hung up and had another panic attack, overwhelmed by feeling weak and powerless. And stupid. And oh the shame, and the guilt. I cried it all out again.

Feeling drained, but calmer, I decided I needed to find my husband. I called and texted his cell phone, but got no response, which is normal, it is very loud where he works. He does not have a desk phone and I could not think through the next step. So as I waited a bit for him to call back, I instead emailed my coworker, just to share it with someone. I got back some instant sympathy, along with a bit of strength and clarity. I wasn’t alone.

I’ve never called Hubby at the new factory, I had no number there. So I googled again, called his corporate headquarters, then called his factory, then waited for someone to find him on the floor. I could barely speak when he finally answered, the relief at just hearing his voice was so great that I started crying again and I could barely tell him what was going on. I was already planning to call his Dad, who lives an hour away, to help if I couldn’t find him at work. Just hearing him say hello, meant the world to me. I knew he would help. I knew I did something to help my dog this time. That I didn’t have to just stand there and watch him die this time. Hubby just said, “I’ll be right there.” No questions. (He later told me he heard the pain in my voice and knew I had been triggered, and that he would have come to help with the dog, but that he was really rushing home to me.)

He called me on his cell as soon as he got out, and I was already so much better, knowing he was on the way. I knew it would be a while, about 30 minutes, so I got out the dog brush and gently brushed and rubbed my doggy to let him know I was there with him. I thought even if he didn’t make it, he would not be alone. I could do that for him. I brushed his one side, and then scooped him up to roll him over to do the other side. Rolling him still did not change his altered state. He even let me brush the frills on his legs, and the tangles on his tail and back side – areas he never let me near without a fuss. And then I scooped him up again, onto my lap, and as I held him, something happened and his glassy eyes recognized me. He nuzzled me and leaned in to my arms. Then he tried to stand, but fumbled, like he was a newborn deer. But he held up his head, and reacted to my affection. And then, just like nothing even happened, he jumped out of bed, ran down the stairs, and barked at his food bowl, as if complaining that breakfast was so late today.

I fed him, took him outside, and barely tried to have the hope that was filling me up then.

Hubby arrived, took him to the Vet. We don’t have an actual diagnosis yet. Just a bunch of things we know it isn’t. Bloodwork shows an infection, not sure what kind. His gums were pale, indicating low oxygen. Never knew to check that on a dog, makes sense though, only skin we can see. He started on some super Meds. At least I hope they are super Meds, as don’t want to say good bye to him yet. But I also know, that if he doesn’t make it through, he will know he is loved, and I will know that my love saved him this time. And maybe, just maybe, that other horrible memory can finally be processed once and for all, never to haunt me again since I finally looked directly at it and grieved for my first doggy, and also, more importantly,  for the little girl that watched him die.

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And then I saw the news. Or I should say I read the news, because I had already averted my eyes from the images, and knew better than to hit play on that video. My heart hurt for them, but I did not dwell there. I did not ask ‘Why’. I stopped asking that question long ago.

But what I don’t understand, is why are those videos on constant loop? I know what it is like to see horror and try to move on. Why does the world traumatize itself by watching those videos? Will we ever get a news media that can report without adding to the pain? Just because it was caught on camera does not mean it should be publicized. You don’t prove you care by watching those videos and getting hurt and angered all over again. All that happens is the news channels get supersized ratings. It does not help anyone to see the blood and pain and looks of horror – images they will never erase. There used to be a very small population that ever saw tragedy like this first hand, only if it happened to you or your town. And now we must see the world’s tragedy, over and over, and even in high def. I am not a coward. I am not playing ostrich. I just think it is in poor taste and I don’t understand why the tragedies of our times must be re-lived on every news channel, on TV or web, to repeatedly traumatize the world and make everyone, everywhere a victim right along with those that were actually involved.

I say read the headlines, say your prayers, and help out if you can – otherwise move on – so the healing can begin.  But who am I to say these things. Who am I.

Go West Young Man – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, part 6

Little is known about the years my brother lived in California. Or at least little is known to me, for a few reasons. His contact with me personally was limited to a few seconds on the phone every few months, or a quick letter in the mail. And everything was always “peachy” his word for life was great. The other reason little is known for this part of his Bio, is that my memory is terrible for this time in my life because, well, this was a terrible part of my life.

I can’t tell this story well, I think, because I can’t completely go back and put myself into these memories. So I will instead list all of the events that were happening in my home while my brother was in CA.

  • My parents divorced when the 2 years were up that my Dad had given my Mom to become independent. That day my mother came home from work to find all of her belongings in boxes and suitcases on the front lawn, and the door locks had been changed. She did not have a place to stay yet, and stayed with friends until she could find an apartment. They got a 1 bedroom apartment together, he slept on the floor at first. My other brother moved out to stay and support my Mom with his Fast food money.
  • I had back surgery to straighten my spine and woke up paralyzed from the surgery. My dad denied me the physical therapy at the hospital and told the doctor’s he would do it himself, because he wasn’t about to pay thousands of dollars for me to exercise. My dad’s sexual abuse on me worsened in that period since I could not walk away from him – being paralyzed, and from being alone in our house with him. I can barely type these words here, so moving on.
  • My dog “disappeared” (I now know my Dad took her away, but he let me search in vain for months)
  • I started menstruating. The joy soon wore off on that one.
  • I started high school as a limping freak with a leg brace and a cane. My one leg had come back mostly strong, but the other still dragged. I was not able to join any sports or wear pretty shoes.
  • Dad sold my childhood home and moved us to an apartment in another city, but told me to use my Mom’s address at school so I didn’t have to change schools too. I hated lying.

My brothers knew very little about me. Even my Mom knew very little about me. I felt alone in the world. My Mom did not ask for custody or even visitation – she just left me. I did not share any of these details in my letters to my brother in CA. I now know that he did not share his troubles with me either.

In his peachy letters to me, he sent me trinkets, once a ziploc baggie full of sand and shells from the beach. Another time he sent me a few guitar picks that he said belonged to members of Poison. A photo of him sitting in the “O” of the Hollywood sign. There were others too, but I can not recall. I cherished those items once, though now I have no idea where time and many moves have put them.

But I now know:

  • He was in a terrible motorcycle accident, hospitalized for many weeks, and that my parents knew but never went out to see him.
  • He lived on the streets/beach for much of his time in CA.
  • He had many girlfriends.
  • He tried every drug ever created.

At some point before we sold our house, my oldest brother moved back home – with his college girlfriend. He was asked to pay monthly rent to my father to move back into his own home at age 19. While they were there, they all decided we would take a family vacation that summer: Me, my dad, my oldest brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. They decided we should go “Out West” and see Vegas, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and my brother in CA.

I could write an entire book about that “vacation”, but will summarize here. All 4 of us crammed into my Dad’s car, and he did ALL of the driving. He has never been a passenger. He would load up on coffee and cigs and drive straight through the night. We crossed several states without stopping to sleep or shower for days on end. I did my best to freshen up in diner restrooms. My dad smoked continuously and I coughed continuously, or held my breath to avoid coughing, as he yelled at me every time I did. I’d have asthma attacks in the front seat, use my inhaler, while they all laughed at me. Our first hotel was a rustic cabin in Yellowstone park, 1 room, 2 beds, no water or electricity, that would have cost more. I was pretty sure my Dad wouldn’t touch me while my brother and girlfriend were in the room, but not positive. I slept sideways by his feet, like a dog, wheezing all night in the thin high-elevation air. By morning, I was sick and dizzy. I could barely stand. I apologized to them for walking so slowly, between my limp and the no oxygen thing.

We went to a bear safety class, mandatory for all visitors to the park. The ranger saw me and told me about the high elevation and that I was getting mountain sickness. My Dad said that was stupid made up BS and we were staying for the 3 days he paid for. My brother and girlfriend hiked through the parks, while I would make it to the trailhead and just sit there enjoying the beautiful park anyway. I saw geysers, blue pools so beautiful, but sulfur smelling, I saw a moose, an elk, so many birds, and even a Grizzly cub! Luckily my Dad did believe in bears, so we wisely got back in the car and far away from baby bear before Mama arrived.

Next stop was Vegas. I clearly remember the moment I could breathe again, as we went down and down out of the mountains. Until the  A-hole decided we needed to climb Pike’s Peak. Luckily, his car also had trouble getting enough oxygen so we went back down before reaching the summit. I was gasping, but it wasn’t until his car was sputtering that we turned around.

I was not impressed with Vegas at age 14. My dad bought me makeup and a short skirt, and told me to pretend I was 21 and that I left my ID up in the room if asked by security. He said it would be more believable if I was alone playing the slots, so he actually went off to play poker. I actually got away with it a few times, but I thought the slots were dreadfully boring and the room too smoky, and so just took my book or sketchpad to the restaurant or stayed in the room when my Dad was not using it with a prostitute. At least the room had electricity and water, oh how great that shower felt! Turns out the room was free if Dad promised to gamble enough.

And then I saw my brother, for the first time in years. He had driven from CA to meet us in Vegas! He looked so thin, too thin, and taller than I remembered, but had the same long hair and amazing, yet sad, green eyes. He barely recognized me in my 21 yr old costume, and just whistled, and said “My baby sister grew up while I was away”. He smiled and hugged me. I’ll never forget that hug.

We followed him back to his house in CA, and his van died in the extreme heat on the highway. They attached a tire to the bumper, and we pushed his van all the way back to his house, my Dad stopping every time his own car went into the red zone. My brother’s roommate clung to the ladder on the back of the van to relay messages from my brother to my dad. It was very exciting to me, and I laughed so much, more than I had in years.

My brother’s house was amazing! Just 2 blocks from the ocean, which I got to stick my toes in – it was so cold! I didn’t even wonder how he afforded such an amazing house at the time, but found out later it was owned by a drug dealer, and my brother and all his roommates were working for him delivering drugs with pizzas. Girls would come and go in this house, that could have came straight from MTV videos, wearing fur coats with string bikinis underneath. One girl sat on my brother’s lap, kissed him right in front of us, then said “see ya later” like that was a normal way to say good-bye. They had an in ground swimming pool, with a 6 foot iguana living in it.

Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That night, my brother took me to the Hollywood sign, and I have a picture of myself sitting in the “O”, just like him.

We then said good bye and started our long trip home. I saw the painted desert, Grand Canyon, Arch of Missouri. We covered so many states so my Dad could brag how many he covered in so few days. At the end, his coffee wasn’t enough, and he started veering off the road. My brother had the audacity to ask to drive, to give dad a break, which only started a screaming match of how he has no respect.

My CA brother stayed there for another 2-3 years, without much contact. We heard he lost that beautiful house, heard of a few arrests, heard of a few girlfriends, and heard of a few gigs for his band. My next post will tell the story of how he came back home, and how that hug in Vegas was the last time I looked in my brother’s eyes without the foggy veil of schizophrenia.

My Journey into Unchartered Territory-Healing from Child Abuse

[This post is emotionally intense]

English: Road to Healing. This road is to the ...

English: Road to Healing. This road is to the village of Healing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have changed so much in the past few months that I barely recognize myself. The main difference – the lack of fear. When you start each day knowing you are a valuable human being, everything else falls into place. I am so pleased, and even more hopeful for my future.

I have just returned from another business trip, full of meetings with some of the most powerful and brilliant people all in the same room as I have ever encountered. The air was electric with enthusiasm and ideas. I have to admit I agree with our sharky CEO and her vision for our company. I feel badly for the hundreds (not exaggerating, it was over 600) of employees terminated last week, but not so badly that I can’t function. The remaining core (which includes me!) were hand picked as the best and most likely to bring the company to a profitable standing. For years we’ve had unstable sources of revenue and no stable sources of profit, basically the corporate equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck. Not a good business model.

The problem with terminating so many people, is that I am now doing what 12 people used to do! I know, poor me, I get extra hours while those let go get to scramble for interviews and new jobs. Yes, well, umm, not much to say about that. I have to keep moving.

I do have to laugh a bit, because they told me I am valued for my positive energy, my willingness to work 24/7 as needed, my sense of the bottom line and prioritizing, and most of all – my ability to generate ideas. It turns out that being a PTSD brain damaged artistic person is actually an asset in my company. This cracks me up. See, the PTSD and insomnia and nightmares over the years allowed me to work all hours of the night for them, as it was better to work than stare at a wall and wish for peaceful sleep.

I do hope the people that were fired can still feel like valuable human beings. I know I would struggle with that. Losing my job 10 years ago was the final straw that lead to my suicide attempts, as I felt I had no worth and was only a bother to the planet. Everything was pointless and hopeless. I can still recall those endless days of despair, but it does not feel like my own memories any longer. I simply can not believe I used to hate myself so much.

Connecting with my husband these past few months have brought about the most healing ever in my life. I can not thank him enough for helping me find my shattered pieces of self and put them back in place. He has offered me love, and I have accepted it. Slowly at first, not completely trusting, still a frightened little girl inside of me. Afraid he will use that love against me.

I found a new way to share things with him that has been really helpful to me. Many events in my past, I have unable to speak or write about directly. It is one thing to say my dad sexually abused me, it is another to describe even one evening out of the thousands. I figured out one time, that if my dad only touched me once a day for the first 16 years of my life, that is over 5000 events. And most days it was more than once. No wonder I have such trouble seeing around these memories! Some people have trouble getting past a single night. It allows me to be more gentle on myself to put this into perspective. It allows me to own the PTSD as part of me and not feel shame. (not so much anyway)

So I was reading some books to try and find some that may help hubby understand me. Another blogger recommended Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. I highly recommend this book to any survivor or anyone living with a survivor. It so readily compares how I grew up to living in a warzone, and explains so much of my fear-based survival method of living. I feel like I understand myself better after reading this. It was also scientifically interesting, starting in psych history pre-Freud with some fascinating details.

I also found and read several autobiographical accounts from other abuse survivors. I have read so many psych and self help books, but have never been brave enough to read the words from other hurt little girls. Well, it hurt me. It put me in a vulnerable place. But I took it one step further. I picked out pages from that book and asked hubby to read it – the ones that could have have been written by me. The ones in Daddy’s Girl by Cheri Lane, and the ones in Don’t Cry, Daddy’s Here by Brinda Carey. The second one detailed a night where the girl had an asthma attack and looked for help from her parents, but was treated harshly by mom, given no meds, and told to get comfort from dad, and then molested by dad in the parent’s bed while mom was still in it too. I had some very similar nights and feelings to this author. I was terrified to have hubby read this, feeling it may be too disgusting and he would leave me. Instead, he cried, and hugged me, and put his hand on my heart and said he was so sorry for that little girl in me, and he loved her now even if no one loved her back then. I had the most powerful cry of my life, releasing so many pent up demons and fears. He didn’t think I was disgusting and he did not throw me away. He pulled me closer and wrapped his love around me.

That night, he was already over it and obviously wanted to make love. I told him I didn’t feel like he could want me after what I shared with him, and he said he felt a bit guilty for wanting me. So we went and watched a movie in each other’s arms until my brain and body got back together in the current moment and we enjoyed another beautiful night together. He said something about wanting to be inside my heart AND inside my body. That may sound strange out here in type, but in that magical intimate moment it was the most amazing thing to have whispered in my ear. He is so gentle with me. I have to give him so much credit at saying anything, and for trying. He is a good man, and I love him. I can finally let him love me.