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 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.

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.

 

First Successful Trigger Cope of 2018

It wasn’t long before I starting thinking I might want to prepare for a trigger…

The work is paying off.

I’ve spent the last week or so working on new coping techniques for anxiety while I didn’t have a lot of anxiety (relative to what I can and often do experience). I’ve learned to not pressure myself to learn new things while putting my energy into dealing with intense anxiety episodes, which is why my default anxiety food is still grilled cheese.

I found out two days ago that a friend of mine from grad school had been hit by a car on Christmas, and was in the hospital recovering from severe injuries. It wasn’t long before I starting thinking I might want to prepare for a trigger…and sure enough it was a trigger.

I dropped what I was doing and went through a yoga practice. Didn’t sit around stewing or freaking out or getting really emotional, I acknowledged what my brain was doing, let it go, chose another way to think about it, and did yoga for a while. It stopped the trigger experience, and I was left with mild to moderate anxiety the rest of the day instead of a massive panic attack.

I’ve been practicing yoga every day for a week in the hopes that getting accustomed to that will help me not have such a barrier to accessing that tool when I get triggered. Different coping tools for different trigger, but this one was a success, and the first trigger of the year didn’t become the first panic attack of the year. #grateful

Dating With PTSD – Communication

Telling how I feel and what I need is another trigger, because doing that previously got me another round of abuse. 

I am dating an incredible human who is accepting of my traumatic experiences and who is willing to listen (patiently) while I try to work out the things that trigger me. One of my challenges is that I don’t know what will trigger me or when, or how badly. I can’t predict my anxiety levels or what will make me want to push him away, what will violently drag up fear or what will be a small raising of my eyebrow.

Part of the trauma that broke my brain was an abusive relationship that I was in for four years. The first two years he was abusive and manipulative, the last two he was unbelievably cruel. I was in a horrible car wreck at the end of year two, after I had moved away but we were still talking. I had no idea I had PTSD, I had no idea why I couldn’t let go of him, and he took every bit of shame over what he had done to me and my near-death to emotionally beat the shit out of me, again and again and again.

He was a broken person not looking to heal. He nearly broke me. I still have a lot of scars, and it feels like I am now having to pull them back open to heal correctly.

He used communication as a weapon. He would not respond, not give me straight answers, not let me know what was going on or what to expect, because as long as I couldn’t get my feet under me in the relationship I had no way to access control. Post-car wreck I spent two years unknowingly creating negative neuron response pathways in my brain. It is taking a long time to repair those, and because I don’t even know what they all are, I keep stumbling upon them.

For example, David and I were texting, and I didn’t get a response back at one point. It wasn’t critical, and rational brain wouldn’t have thought much of it. I knew he was busy and I had my own things to do, and if I did have a rational brain I would have just checked in with him later. However, that drop in the conversation hit a neuron pathway that remembered that this is a negative thing, that when this happens I am going to get hurt, that when he doesn’t respond it’s a reason to panic and fear the worst. It snuck up on me before I could figure out what was happening, and a few hours later when we did start texting again it took very little (he was telling me what he’d been up to, a positive experience for me in normal conditions) to set me off on a severe trigger.

I don’t want to lash out or start a fight or make accusations when this happens. It isn’t David’s fault, it has very little to do with him and he doesn’t know. I don’t even know until it happens, then I am scrambling to understand why the hell I just had this deeply negative response to a circumstance that feels like it should be no big deal. Then I have to – in the middle of a fear-riddled experience for me – be completely vulnerable and ask for space and understanding while I sort out what’s happening. Telling how I feel and what I need is another trigger, because doing that previously got me another round of abuse.

I am so, so thankful that David was accepting, accommodating and that he listened once I got to a place that I understood what had happened. I needed to have a safe space to work through what had happened, and once I did, once I did a bit of reprogramming, I realized that for the first time I made it through a major trigger event without Xanax. Pretty amazing.

For those of us who live in the hell of PTSD, we need that safe space to process, to try to understand what is going on and to have you listen openly and without trying to tell us what our experience is. Our experience is hard enough for us to understand and deal with. When you add a partner to the mix, it’s a challenge to open up and let you know what’s going on. A challenge I’m slowly discovering is worth it.