Life is a Gift

I cried.

I got triggered while driving again last night. Two cars stopped IN A LANE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HIGHWAY to deal with their fender bender. No pulling off the road, no hazard lights, no brake lights…until the line of speeding cars in front of me slammed their brakes and started swerving.

It set me off…lately imminent threat throws the trigger switch. I stayed calm and breathed until we got to David’s house. Then I cried and had to lay down for a bit. I drove home rather than staying the night, and I hated every minute of that drive. Every. Minute.

This morning I’m still a little shaky, and I got maybe 5 hours of sleep last night because I got home so late and was up early for the weekly walk and talk with my business partner. He failed to wake up, however, so I grabbed some bagels for myself and my parents and ended up in a long talk with them about what’s next for me.

I’ve been given a very substantial gift, they let me know this morning. It’ll let me focus on what I want to for the next six months or so without having to worry about having to sustain myself. No strings attached, just a gift.

I cried.

I don’t understand something like this landing in my lap. I’m still trying to process this kind of generosity. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to work as hard, it just means that I have some room to fail or grow or both without it taking me out. It also means I don’t have to side hustle this weekend, so I’m taking that opportunity to rest and recover and think about what I want to do.

Grateful doesn’t even get there, but it’s a start.

Adulting Hard (And the Bruises to Prove It)

I think I’ve outgrown my life without realizing it, and without the room to move and stretch I’m getting banged up.

If there was a point in my life that Fridays elicited a “Yay! It’s Friday! The weekend!” response, I have forgotten when, and those days are long gone. Weekends are not a break, weekends are a continuation of work, a different set of work, or an endless round of chores and responsibilities. The only thing that distinguishes the weekend for me is that BAGELS happen on Saturday mornings, and traffic downtown isn’t as bad in the morning.

PTSD took away whatever semblance of “fun” I used to be, and there’s not a lot of free-wheeling, spontaneous, free-to-seize-the-day about me. That and my grandma not aging well (lots of things upset her and I’m the one that gets to hear about it), the unending health crises in my immediate family (we are maybe stable again after my brother’s visit to the ER last week for addiction), running a company with a business partner that has no executive function (it all lands on my shoulders) and my efforts toward recovery, which lately have just meant getting triggered a lot and being tired to the point that I hallucinated while driving.

What am I doing wrong? I thought I had this handled?

I have a stack of work on my desk that has approaching deadlines, I don’t have the focus or energy to tackle it head-on, yesterday I had to pivot to finish two courses for my fellowship that I hadn’t realized weren’t done so that pushed other work off a day, I ran a meeting last night that was completely dominated by a woman who has expertise and does know a lot about the topic our committee meets about, but who does not know all of the context and connections to the topic (and I do), so for every point I made that will help expand the breadth and depth of our organization’s position on this topic, she said “No.”

Y’all know the type. She knows everything, and everything she knows is stuck in the past, and not easily communicated to people who are not experts. That’s why I’m the committee chair, I am good at translating and good at connecting, and I hold more experience and more degrees relative to how to manage the process. And I got stepped all over. And it wasn’t going to be any other way without a fight. Cause she says “No.”

I can’t even make anti-dating fun. David has just as much chaos and barriers as I do at the moment, and it’s starting to consume his energy too. My struggles with mental health killed any kind of “honeymoon phase” we might have had, and my continuing series of triggers has not made our relationship less challenging. I can barely function some days as an individual (my therapist has described me as “high-functioning anxiety”, I see it more as “high potential to fail” anxiety), and there has not been a lot of time for me to adjust to functioning as a couple before everything has kind of hit the fan. Yay.

Long story for another time, but I was at Disney World a few years ago having one of the worst moments of my life. I had been obliterated by my ex and the fireworks show was going on and on about your dreams coming true. What a shitty message to the broken person I was. My dreams were destroyed, thanks. Anyone have a flask in this park?

I’m not a fairy tale kind of girl. I don’t dream in sparkles, I don’t wait for a happy ending and I am certainly not going to be rescued from the shit show that is my life right now.

That message wasn’t for me because that message isn’t me. It doesn’t fit. And I think that’s part of what I’m struggling with right now. I don’t fit. I think I’ve outgrown my life without realizing it, and without the room to move and stretch I’m getting banged up. In figuring out who I am and what I want post-trauma (I am a different person, and it’s a good thing), I don’t fit. Anything. So I guess now I get to figure out how to make it fit…

The Both/And Experience of Feeling Good In My Skin

I’ve come to the realization that I can experience two things at once.

I’m open to non-exclusive.

Feelings, that is. I had a new experience yesterday that I don’t recall having had before.

For most of my life I’ve thought of myself and had the experience of being all or nothing. I was either all in or not interested/engaged. Which means that there has been no balance. I would work furiously to the detriment of my health, or I would get nothing done. I was either working out 11 hours a week or not at all. I was either eating healthy every meal or eating whatever I wanted. I either felt awesome or horrible, calm or anxious, exhausted or energetic. There has been no balance, no chill and no both/and. Until yesterday.

For the past couple of days I’ve been experiencing what I can only describe as physical anxiety. From what I remember I haven’t had that happen, the anxiety I experience has all been in my head. I haven’t been close to reminders of physical trauma in a few years though, and I do remember that driving after the car wreck was physically difficult. I would get headaches and a lot of tension in my shoulders. When I started getting the trauma worked out of my connective tissue through physical and massage therapy, it hurt like hell. That was a bit more than two years ago, so it’s possible I don’t remember. Sometimes I don’t, and I’m fine with that.

So to yesterday, reclaiming sex is looking like more of a trauma-clearing experience than I had realized. I was somewhat prepared for the mental anxiety, after all, that’s what I’ve been focused on healing for the last two and a half years. What I didn’t think about was that I have physical trauma that also probably needs to be addressed, and that’s now coming up too. My body hurts, I don’t feel well (feel like I have either a cold or allergies) and I would really just like to rest in bed for a few days in comfy pajamas and under my heavy blanket. I really don’t like not feeling well, I have other things to do. However, I don’t want to hold on to this, and releasing it would probably feel amazing. I’m thinking through that today as I handle business.

At the same time that I am experiencing physical anxiety without accompanying mental anxiety, I am feeling really good in my skin. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since my face looks rough, my skin is a bit loose where I’m starting to lose weight from going off the drugs and the constant blast of the heater/winter air combo makes me feel…shriveled. I’m not rocking a summer glow, is what I’m saying.

And yet I feel really good about my body for the first time in…years? Ever? Maybe realizing how much I’ve survived and how well I’ve done to heal from it is showing me that my body is pretty amazing after all, even when I have a lot of anxiety swirling around it. It’s weird, but I like that this is the way I’ve come to the realization that I can experience two things at once. I’m not limited to either/or, it can be both/and. I like not being limited, I spent enough time with limits.

Letters to Linda – Feeling Like It Was Your Fault

One of the first thoughts after trauma or abuse is, “It was my fault.” That is a lie.

If you don’t have someone with you at the time to tell you that no, it was not your fault, you keep believing that lie, and that lie does a lot of damage, so I will tell you now:

It was not your fault.

It was not my fault when my car wrecked. Yes, I was driving the car. No, I did not have control over the road conditions and hundreds of cars drove over the exact spot that sent me spinning in the 5 minutes before I did. The assessment by emergency services and my insurance company was that I was not at fault. Did I still feel at fault? Yes, until a few years later when I got into therapy. Sometimes accidents happen. Things happen. That does not make them my fault. And if it’s not my fault, I do not need to assign blame or shame to myself.

When my brother was in a work accident and was injured by a machine, he felt that he was at fault until the investigator told him that he wasn’t. He was in control of the machine, right? He could have done something else that would have made sure he didn’t get hurt, right? Wrong. What happened was outside of his control or responsibility, and it was not his fault.

When someone abuses or assaults you, you feel at fault too. You should have walked away, should have said something, should have said no, should have…

No. Abuse and assault perpetrated against you are not your fault. You did not invite it, you did not cause it, and there is no fault for “allowing it”, because you didn’t. When you were in that situation, you had to balance and navigate threats and consequences, and you didn’t ask to navigate that. You probably weren’t prepared to navigate that. When people talk about abuse and assault like you can just walk away or say no, they miss what happened, which is that you were trapped by whoever was perpetrating this against you, and you didn’t see a way out. None of that is your fault.

Outside voices can also make things into something more or less than they are. As a survivor of a terrible car wreck, people told me over and over again that I must have been saved for a higher purpose, that I must be meant for something great. Two years later, on the edge of losing my sanity, I hadn’t achieved anything great, I was barely surviving, and the pressure to make something great out of my experience was almost too much for me. It was so freeing when I could embrace the statement, “It happened.”

No more, no less, it happened, and I could do with that what I chose. Not what others chose for me, but what I chose based on where I was and what I could do.

Blame and shame do not help you heal. Believing it was your fault does not help you heal. What helps you heal is accepting that it was not your fault, you are not to blame, and there is no shame in your experience, because you have done the best you could with what you had. Put the fault where it belongs, on abusers and assailants, not on you.

Letters to Linda

I can open doors and invite her to walk through.

Sometimes you go through hell so that you can help others through it.

If all of the pain that I have lived with for the past few years can be used to help someone else who is in pain. It’s worth it to me. Not because I’m that self-sacrificing or any kind of imagined hero, but because it gives my pain a purpose, and it isn’t wasted. If someone benefits, whether that’s me or another, there’s purpose, and I find peace in that.

Having a platform to speak about my experience with PTSD (traumatic car wreck) in a way that I don’t feel compromises me the same as speaking about my other PTSD-causing experiences (traumatic abuse and sexual assault) gives me the freedom to say things that I find many trauma survivors don’t feel the freedom to say. When your trauma comes with shame, the last thing you want is for people to know. It’s why I don’t talk about being in an abusive relationship. I don’t want to re-live it, I don’t want to explain it and I don’t want to hear what most people have to say about it. Car wreck is different, it’s much more socially acceptable, elicits sympathy and the stupid comments don’t hurt as much (anymore).

Through a series of mistakes and judgmental attitudes (mostly on my part), I ended up at a coffee shop earlier this week sitting across from a woman ten years younger than I, who I will call Linda. After a brief conversation that you can read about in the post link, we got down to purpose. She asked me about my experience with PTSD, because she also has it. She was exposed to violence in a Mexican drug war and later to sexual abuse from a group she thought were her friends. In a story that felt so familiar, she didn’t realize for a long time that the violence was traumatic, or that the abuse was not ok, and that she wasn’t able to exercise choice. It left her empty, detached, obsessive and ashamed.

“Normal” things are triggers. She’s working so hard to hear a bachelor’s degree, but she has a hard time focusing and her grades suffer. Groups are uncomfortable for her at best. Her friends don’t understand and don’t try to. She’s ashamed of her response to “normal” things and hates that people perceive her as cold and disinterested. She’s dating a guy who loves her for who she is and is trying to learn how to support her, and she’s scared she’s going to sabotage the relationship because she doesn’t feel that she deserves to be loved. She doesn’t feel that she has access to mental health care, and she is swirling around in anxiety, not knowing what to do to break free.

That was, and to some extent still is, me. I’m further along in recovery, so I have a bit more clarity, but that is me. I don’t have to say I understand, because the energy I give off in response to what she says communicates how deeply I understand. And accept. And don’t judge. And I know how hard it is to ask for help. I know how hard it is to even understand what’s happening, or why all you want to do is lay in bed and watch tv. Why you torture yourself with negative thoughts and why self-harm is so attractive.

I’m not a mental health professional, I’m a client. And I can’t fix people, I gave that idea up already and my life improved drastically when I did. I can, however, share my experience with her in a way that meets her where she is. I can open doors and invite her to walk through. I can explain why she experiences some things in the way that she does, and I can give her the space and support to recover in her own way and her own time.

I think in this instance giving is the gift, and it’s one I want to share on my blog, so I’ll be posting the letters in the hope that they multiply the encouragement and acceptance for whoever will benefit from it. ❤

I Got My Ass Kicked Again

It opened the door to the kind of thing that moves the earth on its axis a bit.

And once again, I deserved it.

Twice in the last year I have said something that I did not intend to be harmful, and have gotten called out on it by women whom I respect. They let me know how they perceived my words, I apologized and explained my position, and through civil and forgiving dialogue the relationship was restored.

This time I had said a few negative observations about someone at church and her boyfriend (she’s dating the roommate of this guy), and I had said them to people who did not take them for what they were and move on. My comments turned to gossip, word got around to her through three people, and she asked me to meet her for coffee.

I’ll call her Linda because that works well for an idea I have that I’ll write about in a later post.

I don’t know Linda very well, but she has come across as cold, detached and not willing to invest in the group. That has not sat well with a few people, and some group dynamics have not been very receptive to her perceived attitude. I certainly have not been receptive to it. For her to ask me to coffee was weird. Not thanks, I don’t like you.

But this is church, and I didn’t want to be starting something by declining, so I figured I’d better hear her out, even if she was also going to lay into me for who I choose to date (or anti-date, as the case may be).

She blew me away.

She said she had heard that I had said some unkind things about her, and wanted to know first if that was true, and if so, had she done something to upset me? I was sitting across from a woman ten years younger, being schooled on maturity and kindness. I didn’t think I’d said what she had heard, so I told her that I had made some negative observations, that without knowing who said exactly what it was hard for me to know if the gossip was true but that didn’t matter, because I was sorry I had hurt her and I had no business talking about her, especially since I didn’t know her well. She graciously accepted my apology, then the magic of authenticity happened.

She asked if she had heard correctly that I have PTSD. Yes, I’m open about the car wreck aspect of my diagnosis, and have found that sharing that connects me to people who do not feel as comfortable talking about what their experience is. There can be so much shame with PTSD. I have a platform for talking about it that doesn’t have to get into the years of abuse, and I use that. She doesn’t have that cover, which I quickly understood as we spoke. She’s were I was, experiencing the after-effects of trauma without knowing what to do. As we shared our experiences and I told her that it’s more than a car wreck for me, she bravely told me her story, one that I related to, and one I understood.

When you have PTSD and you meet someone who understands and lets you know that they will give you only acceptance and not judgement, it is freeing. It’s a big step toward getting out of the prison. I have had people open the door to freedom for me, and I had the chance to open the door for her. It was wonderful, and I am kind of glad I got called out for gossip, because it opened the door to the kind of thing that moves the earth on its axis a bit.

That kind of experience also drains me, and I had a panic attack later that evening because I was too tired to manage anxiety. I ended up stonewalling (new term for me, I’m learning so much this week!) David, and shutting down, then texting him an hour later to try to explain what had happened. I had been triggered by something that connected to past abuse, and it took me a while to track it in my brain. I keep stumbling into these triggers and it’s exhausting.

This whole week has been exhausting. I have put so much energy and work into relationships and into myself. I’m back to work so I’m having to balance some tense dynamics there, and heading into the weekend I’ll be working with my grandma on her end of life directives. I may just stay home on Sunday and hide!

The work is worth it, and I’m so grateful for what I’m seeing happen from acting with kindness, honesty and acceptance.

 

Flashbacks in the Rain

I almost died in a car wreck that happened in the rain. For the most part (and thanks to EMDR and a lot of therapy) I don’t really have problems anymore when I drive. When I do, I have coping skills that work well. So today was a pretty big surprise when I was driving in the rain on my way to a meeting and started having flashbacks, not about my car wreck, but about the day of my brother’s accident. Clear as anything were the memories of getting the call from my mom, picking up his truck, sitting in the ICU waiting room unable to pray and barely able to hold it together, leaning on the prayers and shoulders of friends.

I’ve rarely had flashbacks of my own trauma, much less that of someone else. And while that day was traumatic for me, it hasn’t had nearly the impact that my own trauma has.

As I began to write this post, I also began to ask why and to process what happened this afternoon. I’m dreaming again… I’m processing again… I’m resolving trauma again.

I am done being afraid of the hold the past has on me. I’ve survived this much this long, and I can deal with whatever else boils up. But this was interesting, because as much as the flashback experience while driving on slick roads was not pleasant, it didn’t shake me. I’m now more curious about it, about where it came from and why that day?

I dream when I’m relaxed or when I am processing. Emotions, events – they all get run through my dream cycles in full color and epic drama. I don’t dream the exact thing, I dream versions of it, or nothing at all related. I started dreaming again this week after a long time off. My resting heart rate is slowly dropping, I’m a little more calm during the day and now memories are emerging that probably haven’t been dealt with. The human brain is fascinating.

Am I excited by this? Nope. Am I afraid of it? Also nope. Gonna deal with it and move on…

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