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Dear Tempurpedic™,

These past two weeks, I’ve spent more time in an intimate relationship with you than I have in a year. My hip bones have made a permanent crease where typically my shoulders lie.

I look out my window at the world that goes weirdly on, as the world in my head swirls like the season of hurricanes hitting the south. I want to sleep so badly as I’m desperately exhausted, but when my eyes close, they can’t stop moving.

Your support has moved into just a container for my body to be while my mind quickly falls apart.

I get glimmers from the outside world while leaning against the back, my head with imprints of the columns of the headboard.

  • An email from my mother about hanging pictures on her wall (sure, let’s do that next week; defer.)
  • A Facebook message from a friend about Anderson Cooper (Yes, still sexy as hell; this is making me seem totally stable right?)
  •  A text from my husband that my child got the winning goal at his soccer game just now with 5 seconds left in the game.
    • Brain path:
      • –> I’m so proud.
      • —>Wow that’s great.
      • –> I wasn’t there.
      • –> I am in this bed right now instead of at his soccer game.
      • –> Watching fucking House of Cards.
      • –> What the hell am I actually doing?
      • –> I am failing at mothering and adulting and wife-ing.
      • –> I am failing at life.
      • –> (I fall apart at this moment.)

My place of solitude and refuge now becomes the place that has a grip that prevented me from participating in life.

The fingers of PTSD have me trapped in your expensive mattress.

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“You’re So Brave.”

Brave: having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty; making a fine show 

“You’re so brave.”

When people say this to me in regards to my story, my go-to outer response is “thank you.” My inner response is “I have no choice, so it’s not bravery, it’s survival and even that isn’t always a given.”

The past two weeks have been full of the bravery of a different type, simply figuring out a way to stay alive. I walked among the living, not feeling a part of them.  I smiled and joked, and played the part of the living, but was not one of them. I am around people, but alone.

PTSD is a Liar.  Anxiety is a Liar.  Depression is a Liar. Trauma is a Liar.

As someone aptly mentioned, trauma is like “my neighbors who not only play their music super loud but have extra bass that you can feel from across the apartment.” Wednesday night, that music brought me to the brink after a full week of operating at emergency trauma level, and I took a handful of pills on top of my typical nighttime medication.  This was brought about by quite a few of events involving a mix-up with a member of my care team, a person from my past coming up on Facebook surprisingly, and continuing feelings about the friend-breakup from the prior weeks.

 

My thoughts were scattered when I made this choice.  I can’t describe it.  I didn’t want to die.  I just didn’t want to live.  Or didn’t want to feel.  I’m not sure, maybe both.  Trauma is a liar. You can’t escape your brain, it’s always there.

So I talked about it.  First in a terrifying text to my therapist- where I downplayed exactly what I took.  Second, to my husband when “the story in my head” told me that likely my therapist would call the police to do a wellness check (which didn’t happen.)  Third, I reached out to my sister-wife, Diana.  Fourth, to Katherine.  Fifth, made a small circle post to my trusted people.  Oddly enough, the scariest reveal was to my bodyworker, as I was totally feeling very vulnerable about sharing this very deep scary part of my soul.  With previous attempts, I kept silent.  This time needed to be different.

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I was talking with a gal on Insta today about how she was worried about her mental health stories being depressing.  And maybe they are.  Maybe we ARE telling the depressing stories.  We talk about clawing against the walls to get out of the well.  We talk about the awful side effects of medication and how we want to crawl out of our own skin with it, and without it. But here’s the thing, these stories HAVE TO BE TOLD.

Mental Health HAS to be talked about.

Suicidality has to be talked about.

I can appear at a mom’s group at 9:30 AM on Wednesday looking perfectly functional, joking, and at 5:30 pm try to end it all.  The person right next to you could be struggling with trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all sorts of things and we AREN’T talking about it.

This HAS to change.

I’m not brave.  I’m alive.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts.  This week, despite my best efforts.

Bravery, in this case, is “Making a Fine Show.”

 

 

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Dear Flashbacks,

Flashback

a :interruption of chronological sequence (as in a film or literary work) by interjection of events of earlier occurrence; also an instance of flashback
b :a past incident recurring vividly in the mind

This week, you’ve moved into my body with a vengeance. An interjection of events of an earlier occurrence, an interruption of my normal day by inserting your grainy fingers vividly not only into my mind but into my body, into my lungs, around my neck, through my belly.

You bring the war back into my soul unexpectedly, and by that I don’t mean Iraq or any other desert, I’ve never been there, and by that I mean I sometimes wish that was the case because people might be able to relate in some way or at least ask about the war I lived.  And by that I mean I can’t say that out loud because of the shame of saying I wish I had lived through the war of people rather than the sexual war I lived through sometimes.  I could speak about you more in groups, people would understand better.

Instead, I spend most waking moments consciously working to keep you in check.  People don’t typically focus on how many breaths they take per minute.  How often I hold my breath and wonder “why am I so dizzy right now?” grab the counter and then gasp when I realize I’ve been holding my breath.   How often I realize how often I feel awful and realize it’s because you have caused me not to leave my room all day and need to eat.

Massage is one of the only places where my main job IS to breathe, IS to relax, and the place that you make me work the hardest.  For months you have been poking at me, knocking at the door of my brain just WAITING to jump out. Only once before have you come out to play, and you scared me.

This week I was unable to keep you put away in your little box.  My feelings were at the surface, I was working so hard just to keep myself together generally that once I got on the table, I realized that the whole 90 minutes were going to be hard work to keep you at bay.  My feelings started swimming at the surface immediately before she even came back in the room.  I became hyper-aware of every single noise.  Every person around the building became my rapist, every voice, the one who was going to come get me.

Once she came back in the room I felt my focus go extremely inward to manage you. You started immediately when she touched me.  You started teasing me with small little memories.  Some were benign compared to others.  Little leadups to the Big T traumas.  Then in one quick moment, you hit, as if physically, and I had no control any longer.  I’ve been able to keep you in check for months, but yesterday I was totally helpless to keep you in your box.

Little t traumas either in Charlie Chaplin black and white skipping silent reels will play, where I can’t keep track of where you are leading me or when you will stop.  A mix of little t and big T traumas will play in mini cartoon style where you insert sound or feelings and my body will start to react. My hands and body will start to shake and my breathing will start to alter. In the largest situations, Big T traumas will play in full film or even 3D fashion, where you just move right into my mind and hijack everything.  This is the scariest part.

I have a deep fear that people around me can’t cope with you, mainly because *I* can’t cope with you.  I can’t imagine what it is like to watch someone experience a flashback from the outside, as I just know what it feels like inside.  The way you make me feel is so out of control.  I can’t breathe, I’m suddenly thrust into 17 years past like a horrific Christmas ghost of trauma.

I told someone this week, “you can’t handle this.”  Truthfully, *I can’t handle this.*

Truthfully, *I can’t handle this.*

I can’t handle you.

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Dizzying Dance of Disclosure

I’m thankful for the once a week where I can walk into a room where trauma isn’t a foreign language.  I’ve been spoiled in this sense.  I can walk into therapy, sit there and say nothing and be understood.  (I’ve done this once, in fact with almost a full session spent in absolute silence, and I totally don’t recommend this.)

Though this implied understanding served me well there, I’ve not branched into explaining my trauma to others in my immediate circle.  Which has led to innate lack of understanding by those around me.

Let’s be honest, who WANTS to talk about trauma?  As I discussed in a previous post, trauma stories are the elephant in the room that no one asks about.  So when I was finally asked about it outside of the room of understanding, I was unprepared.  Enter, my massage therapist.

Bodywork is a very vulnerable place for a survivor of sexual trauma to be in.  Starting a relationship with a new body worker typically involves explaining why one is there. This goes like this.

“Hey.  I’m *****, I’m here because I was assaulted in 2000.  I injured my back & neck which flares up from time to time.  I suffer from migraines and sleep issues. I’m on a cocktail of medications to help me ‘life.’ (they ask questions) Yes, still. (they ask questions)  No, I have issues from time to time with emotional trauma flare-ups because of Complex-PTSD from the assault. (they ask questions) No, I didn’t have x-rays or an exam.  I went to the hospital but didn’t stay.” (wait, what? This is about the time where the person flirts with the idea of asking more questions or not. This is also where I IMMEDIATELY know whether a provider is a sexual assault survivor.  This one line of “I went to the hospital, but didn’t stay,” will fill in the details to most survivors of what happened.  If they pick this up, I can usually dance a bit more into disclosure.  If they move into confusion, I tend to move into another topic.)

Often this intake discomfort leads to a survivor staying with a provider for longer than they should, simply because they don’t want to go through this whole inquisition AGAIN. We get used to the routine, even if the routine isn’t ideal.  We get used to the office, the room, the person, the routine etc.  If we do find someone that makes us comfortable, we may even be wary of disclosing things in order to make sure to not make them uncomfortable from our story.

This dance of disclosure is dizzying.

It had been a while since I had to vet a new provider, and I was not looking forward to the process.  Body work is already a tight wire to walk for a team to walk, survivor and bodyworker.  I found my massage therapist through a recommendation of a trusted friend, who explained that this LMT had worked with trauma survivors.  I had recently fired my previous body worker as she had worked on a part of my body after I asked her not to (due to flashbacks I had experienced earlier in the day.)  I was wary already about meeting a new person, and on edge due to the previous experience, but in desperate need of a new #team member to help remedy some of the major damage left from the assault both emotionally and physically.

Fast forward to now.

I survived intake.  I’ve been with my LMT for 6 months now.  One of the best things about her is that her energy/craniosacral work is amazing.  She spends enough time allowing me to unwind and just be.  Over time she’s been able to access some hidden chapters in the story that has been written on my body.

For a long time, I put off turning off the emotional barrier I kept up to protect me from crying.  She mentioned that several of her client’s dialogue with her during sessions, where I liked to be silent (spoiler alert, so I didn’t have to talk about feelings.)  Over time, however, she’s been able to access further into the story of my body, and only recently I agreed to give it a try.

I’ve gleaned interesting insights.

  1.  Crying in a massage is really vulnerable.  You’re mostly naked, feeling exposed, and crying.  I still have a really REALLY hard time with this. First, I hate crying anyway.  I was told that crying was weak, and I just dislike feeling like the weak one in the room.  During my church days, the leadership looked down on the “chronic criers” as needy, so I learned fairly quickly to shut that shit down.  (Side note:  I realize that this church was/is emotionally and spiritually abusive, yet old habits die hard.)  I still worry about seemingly silly things.  (“What if she gets my tears on her?” *And yes, I’m laughing as I’m typing this.* “What if I’m the only client who cries?” *Because THAT’S likely* “What if I cry EVERY.TIME?” *This is becoming exceptionally likely.*)
  2.  Disarming the body is a moment by moment process.  (And god, I hate the word process.) I spent a lot of time in my massage working on trying to disarm my body.  As a trauma survivor, and someone who lives with PTSD, I often forget how “on alert” my body is at all times.  I didn’t realize HOW “on alert” until I met my LMT and had an experience where my body fully disarmed for a period of time.
  3.  Relaxation is not disassociation, but sure as hell CAN feel like it.  During my rape, I disassociated and left my body behind.  When I am able to totally disarm in massage, I am unfamiliar with what it can feel like to feel totally relaxed, it can feel like disassociation.  It can feel disconcerting, and it is a feeling I’m not totally comfortable with, not having a hyper awareness of every part of my body at all times. (And, if I disassociate in the massage room, I am safe, and I will be taken care of.)
  4. Letting people into my world is okay. Letting people out of my world is okay.  This isn’t a statement of my value, but of theirs.  Not everyone will understand the language of trauma, but I can slowly give them a primer.  MY comfortability speaking the language will inevitability lead to their comfort level being exposed to it. I will choose wisely, but so far, my gut has been doing pretty well.
  5. Breathing is good.  This seems obvious, but one of the first things to go during a trauma scenario is the breath.  Only recently have I even been SOMEWHAT comfortable with my LMT being anywhere near my belly or chest.  It’s where I carry anxiety, trauma, pain, sharpness.  Just today I *disclosed* that is where I was carrying tension, which in itself was a big deal because I knew that was an invitation to have that area be paid attention to.  Saying that I have anxiety, causes anxiety.  Saying “I have a hard time breathing” causes me to catch my breath.  If you can do nothing else, you can breathe.
  6. Expect empathy. I was reading The Empathy Exams, and read this amazing quote:

    A 1983 study titled “The Structure of Empathy” found a correlation between empathy and the four major personality clusters: sensitivity, nonconformity, even temperedness, and self-confidence.  I like the word structure. It suggests empathy is an edifice we build like a home or office- with architecture and design, scaffolding and electricity.  The Chinese character for listen is built like this, a structure of many parts; the characters for ears and eyes, a horizontal line than signifies undivided attention, the swoop and teardrops of heart.

    I just love this.  Expect that others have the ability to empathize, and offer empathy, (ears, eyes, undivided attention and your heart.)

  7. Give yourself some damn grace. You/I am doing the best we can.  We’ve got this. Carry on, Warrior.
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Perhaps.

“Of all the things trauma takes away from us, the worst is our willingness, or even our ability, to be vulnerable. There’s a reclaiming that has to happen.”

~ Brené Brown ~

Perhaps you are living in a trauma body.  Perhaps breathing is a luxury at times. Perhaps people tell you to relax and you smile, half wishing you could take the advice and half wishing you could peel your head open for just one moment to let them into your world.

Perhaps you show up to the restaurant 15 minutes early to see if you are in the right place… Perhaps even to make sure that HE isn’t there.  Whoever HE is to you.  Perhaps you sit with your back to the wall, facing the door.  You know every entrance, every exit, and every person in that bar.  Perhaps you take a sharp breath when you smell that scent, you know the one.  Perhaps it’s that trench coat.  I mean, who wears that in a restaurant, what is under there, it’s likely going to do you in, oh wait it’s just his golf polo and khakis, you can stand down for just a moment while you scan for more danger as he sits down with his blonde twenty something.

Perhaps you have the ICE app on your phone, set to every person who could save you.  Perhaps that ICE app only has one number.  Perhaps that number didn’t save you before. Perhaps it’s only in there to let the people know who find you where to find your next of kin.  Perhaps this is the only reason you don’t have a pass lock on your phone.

Perhaps when you leave you grab your phone, and take your keys, one between each knuckle.  Perhaps you hide that you do this with your friends by putting your hands in your pockets.  Perhaps you envy the ease in which they walk at night to their cars. Perhaps your heart races while you walk, wishing you had packed nearer to your friends so you could pretend to talk to them when in fact you were just needing them for herd mentality.  Perhaps you moderate your breathing so you can have enough to take a deep breath and scream or run at any second.

Perhaps you see him everywhere.

Perhaps you needed to hear you are not alone.

Perhaps.

 

 

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A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

I recall when The Five Love Languages was in its heyday in the relationship scene.  I was heavy into the church phase of my life, and EVERYONE seemed to be reading this book. (Along with “Boy Meets Girl” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” which I will discuss later in this blog series, and I refuse to link.)

For those who need a refresher, the premise is that everyone gives/receives love in 5 basic ways:

  • Physical Touch
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
(Important to note, the way that you receive love may not be the way you give love to others.)

And while the book tended to be wielded into use by the couples on the scene, I started to use its guidance more recently for self-examination.

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My large circle of church friends vanished as I focused on survival after my assault.  I learned a difficult lesson. Friendship (for me) is about SHOWING UP.  Showing up is a lifestyle.  It’s not a singular event, it’s a pattern.

Non-survivors of complex trauma don’t understand the extent of the risk involved with friendship.  It goes beyond the risk of a typical friendship. It is a risk to us survivors to hold our heart out and hope that those friends will not let it drop.  It’s a risk to offer it in the first place.  It’s a risk if we have shared our stories with you.

Soon, we will stop asking you to show up (because that means we have learned.)

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SHOW UP, friends.  

 

And DON’T FOLD, Survivors.

The vulnerability project is never as real is it is right here.

“I like my body {self} best when I’m not worried about how much space it’s taking up.”

 

 

 

 

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Limbal Ring of Insight

 

“Of all the qualities that give an attractive person an edge, here’s one you’ve likely overlooked:  the limbal ring,  the dark circle around iris.  The limbal ring is the line that separates the colored part of the eye from the white…. 

The limbal ring is well-named. Limbis means border or edge, and it’s related to limbic, meaning emotion or drives. The limbal ring, seen from inches away, is an intimacy zone.”

~ Pyschology Today~

Last night I attended a game night hosted by Authentic Relating  (A.R.) in a neighboring city. Authentic relating meet-ups are based on the idea of deepening interpersonal connections and really pushing aside the fluff and getting to the meat of the authenticity of each other in conversation and interpersonal relationships from the get-go. From their page, their goals state that their activities are created to: “Highlight and train body awareness, Create deep connection, Boost empathy, Strengthen community, Be fun!”

For someone who survived trauma and has anxiety going to this event was a BIG leap.  I had already bailed on this event once two weeks prior, and I was committed to attending this time around.  I was challenged already as it was in a new place, with new people, at night.  The topic was “self-love,” another topic that can be hard for us women/mothers, as putting our needs and self-compassion in the forefront can be challenging.

As someone with PTSD does, I got there early and parked where I could see other people enter to make sure I got to the right place.  Then when I was convinced that I COULD, in fact, do ANYTHING for 2 hours, I walked in.  This event was held in a lovely space, and the people were friendly.  I sat down on a comfortable pillow in a giant circle and waited for the event to begin.

Marina Abramović’s performance at MoMA in 2010 emphasizes the power of eye contact. Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist who has various performances that push her body to extremes to experience pain, nudity, violence, and vulnerability. In her performance The Artist is Present, which took place in MoMA in 2010, Marina sits on a chair as the spectators come one by one to sit in front of Marina to look at her eyes for a whole minute. The moment they look at each others’ eyes and communicate without any words is so deep that the vulnerability of eye contact becomes the power of communication. In just one minute.

During my two hours with the other twenty authentic relaters, we went through several activities meant to help us gently grow, and find our edges.  They didn’t waste any time diving right in, starting with the very activity Marina Abramovic did at MoMA.  We were to find a partner, hold hands and simply hold eye contact with each other silently until we found that we had really connected, then move on to the next person.  Thankfully, I had chatted with someone who sat next to me when I arrived, to the two of us partnered up.

My partner had been to previous A.R. events, so this particular activity seemed within her comfort zone, where the immediate and sustained eye contact with a stranger immediately hit up against my edge.

Knowing this was the idea of the activity, I went inside those feelings and started to explore them while maintaining eye contact with my partner.  She had a kind face and an accepting expression.  Knowing I was new, I sensed she knew this was challenging for me.  Mere seconds in, my heart began to race, my shoulders tensed, my breath was unsteady, and it hit me… how little I sustain eye contact with people when I am expressing feelings.

In this one minute, I managed to have a full soul search and had the serious realization of a need to be more bold with those I talk with, and to connect with them more when I am speaking my truth.  I have no problem connecting with others with full eye contact when they are speaking about THEIRS, but I shy away when I am speaking about mine.

Tomorrow night is the gathering of my delightful tribe of twelve ladies who gather once a month at my home to fellowship and simply be among women.  I will be exercizing these new skills if the opportunity comes up!