Talking It Out Is A Lot About Listening

Yelling and screaming are easy, but they don’t heal, because they mask what’s underneath.

I’m sitting in my warm house, not obligated to go anywhere today while Iceblast2018 churns outside. Or something. I didn’t get too much precip at my house, so I could probably walk outside without falling on my butt, but I hear it’s bad other places so I’m staying put. Plus I worked my side hustle delivering groceries the past two days, and it’s been intense as people have been stocking up before the forecasted doom arrived. The tips were awesome yesterday, but I didn’t go to bed till well after midnight and I didn’t sleep in.

After my massive trigger episode Sunday night I was not feeling very steady. It’s exhausting to have your brain wreck off into a trauma pit, and even more so to claw your way out. I did though, and I got stable by myself – no Xanax, no relying on someone else to fix it, no blaming anyone else for this (except the guy that did this to me). It’s really tempting to aim this somewhere else, want to be rescued, want to avoid, want to make it someone else’s problem. It’s not though, it’s mine, and I won’t heal if I don’t own this shit and manage it. No one can do that for me.

What David did for me was listen. I got an unusually early text from him yesterday, and since I was still in “everything is a threat” mode I was a little slow to warm up. He had no idea that I had been through a really bad night because one texted sentence was so loaded with trauma for me. I don’t carry a list of sentences and words that trigger me, because I’m not going to live like that. I couldn’t make a list if I wanted to, I have no idea until it happens. And him avoiding my triggers doesn’t help me heal.

What does help me heal is how ready he is to listen when I’m struggling to sort out what’s going on. I work really hard to stay blame neutral when I talk about what I experience, because that’s a fast way to shut down a conversation.  I’m not a surface-dweller, and neither is he. So we talked, and he listened a lot, and didn’t try to tell me what my experience should be.

I rolled into my regularly-scheduled therapy appointment in pajamas and a blanket-like poncho because I had too much else going on to get dressed, and I get to go to therapy in pajamas if I want to. I did want to, and I have a pile of laundry to do before I can leave the house in any semblance of real clothing. I talked about what had happened and what I wanted moving forward, and she was supportive of how I view myself and how I want to navigate what feels like near-constant triggers. My resting heart rate is pretty clear that I have a lot of anxiety right now. It was a really helpful session, because, again, it was about repairing the damage that I have, not trying to push this on to someone else to fix. No one else can fix this.

But someone else can and did talk to me for a long time on the phone, which was reassuring in itself, and brought sexy back to this situation with a “yes ma’am” that just about melted my panties off.

You know how warm fuzzy it is for someone you like to pay attention and remember the things you like and respond to? After working about 8 hours side-hustling, half of it in the rain and cold, I got a recording of “Yes ma’am” in response to something I asked for, and now I can listen to that sexy sound bite any time I want…

When Not Being A Priority Is a Trigger

I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke.

I want to vomit. 

There is just no way to understand what I live with. At least that’s my assumption. Because after sharing blogs, sharing books, talking about my experience, trying to share what goes on in my head and trying to develop a way of talking about what happens in my brain in a clear and specific way… “I am engaged with old school friends. Probably best to say goodnight.” was like being shoved off a cliff. 

Hello, familiar pit of mental hell. 

And no amount of him saying, “I’m not very good at communicating over the phone.” can repair the neuron paths in my brain that immediately take me to the worst moments of my existence when they get hit with the news that I’m just not important enough to be a priority. 

Ever felt your soul scream? You can’t hear it, thankfully. I don’t think I could survive hearing it. Feeling it is painful enough. And it happens for me when someone safe becomes a threat because my injured brain reads threat. I’m in fight mode right now and am desperate to survive. I’m also desperate to rein in the fight, because I’m about to destroy things… mainly the him that just became a threat. 

I’ve worked so hard to repair the damage so that this wouldn’t happen. I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke. And now, because of a trigger I forgot I have, my soul is screaming in pain in between waves of nausea. 

The only thing I have to hold onto is that I didn’t break before, and this might be the worst trigger I’ve had in a long time, but I was able to manage two of them, so I might be able to handle this one too. 

Reclaiming Communication (It’s More Than Words)

Communication can cause me a lot of anxiety.

This morning I was reflecting on my post yesterday about Reclaiming Sex and I began to realize that wasn’t the only thing taken from me. And I want my shit back.

Communication, my self-worth, my sexuality (not the same as sex), my boundaries, my sense of safety, my ability to trust myself, my birthday – those were all ripped out of my hands, taken without my permission. Those things were mine, and for several years now they haven’t been. It’s a weird realization, but also a positive one, because I can reclaim those things, and I don’t have to ask permission.

Now that I’m thinking about it, the one thing I did give him was a wooden puzzle, a cube cleverly put together with dowels and odd shapes. When he blew my life to pieces for the last time, I demanded that he return the puzzle. He gave me excuses and put me off for a year, but I insisted that I have my puzzle back. Eventually I wore him out and he sent it back, and it’s mine again.

I would do that for a small block of wood, but I wouldn’t do that for any of the things that are part of who I am?

Until now. Now that I realize those are mine, and I get to have them back. Even better, I get to have them back the way I want them, not the way I’m told they should be or the way I’ve been demanded they be made to serve someone else.

Communication can cause me a lot of anxiety. I’m just now understanding that I have a lot of trauma tied to communication, so that’s really not surprising. It’s a way that I’ve been abused and controlled and made to feel like shit, and I have A LOT of bad communication habits. It’s a broad term, but so is my bad experience. I want that back. I want to enjoy communication as a way to express myself and my needs in a healthy, positive way, and not fear it as something that will kick my feet out from under me at any moment. I want it to be about building connection and not building fear. I want to not have my default set to “take this the wrong way” or “assume the worst”. And I don’t want to be scared to say what I need and what’s important to me and ask questions because I might get hurt even more.

That connection part? It’s so important to me, because I find connection to be deeply satisfying. Connection wasn’t taken from me, but communication (what I need to connect) was, and now I want it back. I’m reclaiming that for me.

Reclaiming Sex (And the Words that Got Me There)

I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was.

I have had so much negative association with sex. David and I have been held off, aside from some fun times fooling around, because I wasn’t ready, and I had a lot to process and figure out. It’s been hard. It’s also been really good. And, for the first time ever for me, sex is really good.

I’ve been reading Come As You Are by Emily Negoski. It’s a game changer about sex for every woman (I think men would benefit from reading it, and I was sending pages to David as I read it), and was especially so for me post-rape. I like science, I find information freeing, and I would rather have the information and make a decision than not know. Every time I learn I have a choice (abuse, rape and assault are not times that you have a choice, and that infects so much of your life), I get to move forward toward healing. This book gives a lot of information about how our bodies and our brains can better enjoy sex, and how people who have survived trauma don’t have to stay stuck.

There was so much I didn’t know. And now I know. And while reading that book, I started to think that maybe I might actually be ready for sex.

One of the things I appreciate so much about David is that he has changed his language to be more supportive of me. He’s listening and he’s willing to learn, and while our verbal communication styles are different, he’s saying very specific things that tell me he cares, he’s prioritizing me feeling safe and he’s making space for my experience to be valid and not crazy (I still often feel pretty crazy). I’ve also worked really hard to be clear and specific about my experience without assigning blame or shutting down. Go us!

He did the most incredible thing today. We had planned to spend the day in our “couple bubble”, and that got progressively interrupted by other people. I’m not interested in throwing fits or demanding things, and life is what it is, so I rolled with it, and when we finally rolled into his bed, he wanted to talk about expectations for when I was ready for sex so that he’d know.

Y’all, that man is a gift.

I had just read about making my sexuality my own, making it what I choose to make it rather than only what serves someone else and just making the goal pleasure and fun and curiosity rather than performing to some kind of insane and conflicting societal standard or the demands of an abusive past. Hearing him reinforce that I get to make the choice about when I’m ready and what will make me feel safe and comfortable? I wasn’t ready, but I was. All that negative shit about sex that has been drilled into me for years? I don’t have to make it my own. That belongs to someone else. I get to choose. And I chose yes.

I chose yes to today, yes to what I was comfortable with and who I was comfortable with and yes to whatever that brought up. I got to give consent and, to my great surprise and delight, sex was fun. It was good, it was pleasurable, I enjoyed him, I enjoyed me, and when I got home I felt no shame and no obligation. Those words? Those words are the words of someone who had earth-shakingly good sex. Not because we scared the neighbors a mile down the road with a deafening climax (haha, yet), but because everything I’ve felt before that was negative was gone. And because we communicated expectations beforehand, he wasn’t surprised when I cried, he just held me. I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was. Then tears. Really good tears that needed to happen a long time ago.

It is really easy to make me the center of this, to work around my needs, but his are important too. So when he breathed “I needed that.” after he finished I was glad – not because I had met some kind of performance standard, but because I want to see both of our needs met in this relationship, not just mine because I’m the needy one right now.

Naturally, I had a panic attack when I got home. I was in a safe place, had just showered, and had time to process. I wasn’t very emotionally connected to him during sex, which I wasn’t surprised about since that was a feelings overload. It was enough that I felt safe and comfortable, the rest will happen as it happens. But here’s the really great part, and the part where I did the real work of reclaiming sex: I handled the panic attack without meds and by facing it head-on, not by letting it control me.

My experience has been to be raped and abandoned. That sounds harsh, and it is, because it was harsh. It was cruel. It was meant to manipulate me, and feel horrible about myself so that I could be controlled. There is so much shame in that experience, and so much reason to shut down. Which is why I texted David to let him know that I was feeling a little bit of separation anxiety and may need some reassurance…JUST KIDDING, TOTAL MELTDOWN. The wave of panic hit hard and made everything that had just been so good out to be so bad.

PTSD is a bitch.

I got called Boss Bitch today, and that’s funny to me now because that’s kind of accurate. I made a decision to be open, to not feel shame, to communicate my experience, to give myself some space to acknowledge the panic and to face it and use the opportunity to reprogram those neuron pathways that wanted me to panic about sex. I settled into a meditation pose, acknowledged my feelings, inquired whether those feelings had any basis, worked though what I knew or had evidence for (basically talking back to the fear that I had just been used and was about to be abandoned, noting to myself that he wanted to stay with me longer, he had no expectations, he was being responsive even though he had other things going on that I had known about ahead of time, that he had made sure I felt safe, that he had checked with me for consent, that he was being intentional about communicating how his work schedule might be challenging for me given what he knows about my communication style), and told myself that I got to make the decisions, not anxiety. I told my brain what it actually needed to think, and that if it still wasn’t sure, we could ask. But I didn’t have to.

David called me my favorite nickname, supported me and stayed responsive until I let him know I was calm and ok. Short texts, big impact. The words that helped me get there as I reclaimed sex.

Whirling Through the Week – Until I Hit a Wall

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable.

I had a lot going on this week.

I had some kind of idea that work would slowly pick up over the month and I could adjust. Nope, things blew up this week and I’ve been scrambling to do it all. Plus I had to be “public me” a lot, and spent a lot of time managing conflicts, in conferences and meetings and taking on more work. Not surprisingly, I hit a wall this afternoon and started to slide into a panic attack.

I have been doing a lot to recognize and address past trauma, which I am increasingly aware was in great part due to abusive communication, and when I have already hit my stress limit I have a really hard time not taking everything the wrong way.

Basically, if I start saying I’m tired, there is a meltdown on the way.

I realized today that I have a tendency to recoil in preparation for a verbal beating when I start toward a panic attack. I start making plans to isolate, I use any and every excuse for why I must not bother someone and I make a really big deal out of something that hasn’t even happened. My brain, in the process of wrecking, ties communication to abuse and prepares me for it by telling me to shut down and shut out.

This is without there being any verbal beating or any communication abuse. Or any abuse. Or…anything.

Sometimes dealing with this shit is really weird.

It’s a little terrifying too. I was in the middle of talking to a client, changing a drawing and trying to tell David what was happening so that I could hopefully stop the process of making problems where there weren’t any. He reminded me to breathe, and that helped for a few hours, but now I’m back in a similar place, where I’m making a lot of assumptions and creating problems that aren’t there. I’m glad I’m starting to recognize what’s happening, but dealing with it while I’m also exhausted and have hit my stress limit for the week is challenging.

I did a couple of yoga classes when I finished work to try to continue the process of calming. They were more meditative than active, and I found the word vulnerable coming up repeatedly as I stilled my body and slowed my breathing. As in be vulnerable.

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable. I want to put up my defenses and not have to challenge myself and my thinking and repeat to myself that I am experiencing cognitive distortion and that things are not what I am making them out to be. I would way rather tuck in and take a Xanax than sit in pain and stop the negative, destructive thought patterns that I lived with for a few years.

I’m done waiting for a better time to deal with this. There isn’t a time that I will be less busy, will be in a better place, will have less on my plate, will have my shit together or will be more ready for a relationship. I can’t put my life on hold because this shit is hard, and I have so much opening up to me. I think that was the message in yoga. When the choice is before me, and the choice is hard, time to choose vulnerable.

Dating with PTSD – When Communication Holds Trauma

It’s a horrible realization, and such a hard thing to battle through.

Dating again has opened up a whole new area of trauma that I did not realize I had. I have actually been abused and traumatized by communication, or the lack thereof.

Shit.

I have had it burned into my brain that if I don’t perform to expectation, if I don’t do what the other person wants or what works for them – with no regard for me – then I will be punished or abandoned. If I try to ask for what I need, I will get abuse. If I try to have a voice, I will get abuse. If I do anything that might assign any value to myself, other than an object of whim and convenience, I will get abuse. I will be manipulated through the withdrawal of affection, attention, acknowledgement or care. I will be abandoned or discarded without notice or explanation. There will be no resolution or discussion, only accusations, abuse and silence.

I had no idea.

One of the things that is so important for me to communicate is how I feel and what I need. If I am anxious, if I get triggered, if I am scared or uncertain, the best way for me to resolve that and mitigate severe anxiety/panic attacks is to have the space to talk about it or work through it so that I can understand what’s going on. Which is the exact thing that I have been taught will get me abused. It’s a horrible realization, and such a hard thing to battle through. Because the only way this gets better is to do exactly what I’m afraid of doing, and I have to not only look at my own scars, I have to show them to someone else, someone I am just now learning to trust.

Shit.

In staying with my practice of gratitude, I am grateful that I had the courage to start the healing process once I realized what was happening. I am also grateful he was willing to listen and be accepting.

But shit.

Anti-Dating

I want more. Dating isn’t more, it’s why I stopped trying that.

My latest PTSD episode was a negative experience for both David and I. You can tell someone what it’s like, you can tell them what to expect, but they don’t understand until they experience it with you. Even then, they only see the outside. It’s worse when they think they’re at fault. This really is just about me and what goes on in my brain. I hate that it can hurt someone I care about… and that there wasn’t much I could do to prepare him. I got blindsided and was scrambling to understand what had triggered me. Not a very helpful place to be when you’re trying to communicate what’s going on. Add Xanax to the mix and I don’t even remember most of what I told him. It was probably better for both of us that we had a Christmas pause. I wanted to make a play on words and say Christmas break, but to his credit we didn’t actually break.

We hiked several miles yesterday in the cold to talk about it, without spending too much time talking about it. I knew it had affected him, I just didn’t know how much. I hate that something I can’t control just brought a really wonderful month to a sharp halt. I hate that I killed the fun. I hate that someone hurt me so badly that I have a negative neurologic response that is so severe it put a relationship I value at risk.

I hate dating. I’m terrible at it. So I asked if we could not date. Anti-date, actually.

Dating doesn’t work for me. I like to do what I like to do while living out what I believe. I like creative energy and being productive and dragging people into my schemes and solving problems and drinking good coffee and walking and talking and eating bagels on Saturdays. Once in a while I like to get hella dressed up and blow money on an amazing dinner. Most of the time I like to cook. I like heavy blankets and BBC Masterpiece and pretending I’m athletic. I like people who see the world differently than I and I like ridiculous high heels. I really like burgers that ooze cheese when you bite into them.

I like all of those things by myself. I think I’d like them even more with another person. I think I’d like them more with this person. I like to share things I enjoy with people I enjoy. “Dating” doesn’t seem to really fit that – or me. I want to live my life and invite someone to join me, not spend my time barely scratching the surface and deciding if we have enough chemistry to try to ignore the problems.

When you’ve been hurt deeply, when you’ve broken deeply and when you’re healing deeply, the surface barely registers. It’s not enough to make me look up from my knitting. I want more. Dating isn’t more, it’s why I stopped trying that.

Then average-height, dark and handsome shows up across the table from me and I think I have to date him because that’s what you do.

Until a scratch on the surface digs up something much deeper, and you have to tell someone they’re free to go for fear of what you might pull them into. I had to be painfully vulnerable to hold my hand open and accept we might not be the best thing for each other. Living with PTSD requires courage, and courage is painful.

I drove home in my three most-feared driving conditions – wet, dark and fast. I was so relaxed I was in shower thinking mode.

THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. 

It indicated how far I’ve come in processing and putting to rest my car wreck. It’s taken two years, but I was on autopilot and concerned with more pressing issues. I’ve beaten it… So I can beat the next one… the one that’s still blindsiding me with trauma. That’s when I said to hell with it all, I’m doing this the way I want. The only way I know how to not run this relationship into the ground before we have a chance to see if we want this to work.

“Let’s anti-date.”

He said ok.