I wonder if anyone without ptsd would understand how much you can crave the oblivion of sleep and yet be terrified of losing control to the night haunts that stalk through your dreams.
To sleep is to open the door to horror, and yet I am tired and long for rest. My eyelid twitches almost constantly from fatigue; I force myself over and over again to release my jaws, to relax my shoulders and even to remember to breathe as the fear and tension activate the instinct to freeze. Don’t move and maybe you won’t feel. Don’t breathe and maybe nothing will happen.
The dread anticipation that has us holding our breath again.
I am the tug-of-war between tension and exhaustion. I am the stretching rope pulled equally from opposing and opposite sides. Eventually, if neither side gives way then the rope will stretch and start to fray. It will hold until the thinnest strand remains twisting and unravelling. Then a final snap and the rope breaks.
Moments, hours, days, weeks or even months later the rope is finally spliced back together. A new join where it came apart. Ready for the game of tug-of-war to begin again.
Our brain provides the electrical impulses that stimulate our muscles into movement. Some impulses are unconscious: heart to beat, lungs to expand and contract, eyes to focus. Some are so well practised that although they were once conscious, now we can rely on desire to create the appropriate impulses and the correct muscles will move in the needed ways. As toddlers we stumbled and fell but now, health permitting, as adults we walk confidently forwards expecting our bodies to perform the complex dance of movement and motion required to keep walking without falling.
But sometimes our brain keeps us frozen, paralysed by a state of mind that seems to disconnect our thoughts from our conscious movements. Sometimes our brain refuses to make the connections; to send the impulses; to pass the information onwards through the rest of our bodies.
Sometimes we are frozen by shock, or by fear. Sometimes we are held in place by pain. We hold ourselves so still as if it will mean that the pain will forget us and slip away to find fresh prey.
I hold myself frozen. I hold myself still. I hold myself against the pain which comes from inside me and so cannot be escaped. It paralyses my body and my thoughts. Tension tries futilely to be the barrier between my self and my pain. But the pain comes from within and so all my tension can do is hold it in, to try and stop it running off to tell tales on me. Tension Is the fighting when you cannot move, you may nor or dare not move. When all you can do is hold tight within yourself and hope that eventually this too shall pass.
My whole body is reverberating with the shock and pain of freshly awakened trauma. Peace has vanished and desperate survival has returned. Time. Mindfulness. Learning to relax. All these things I need. But right now it just hurts too damn much to be able to do anything but try and remember to breathe and hope that sleep will be quiet and deep and swift like an anaesthetic skilfully administered to the sickening patient.
Maybe I should not compare myself and my ability to function with people who have not experienced trauma in childhood? A friend suggested that to me a while ago and I did not pay much attention to it. Something in the past day or so has brought it back to my attention and I am revisiting the thought. Maybe I am being unfair to myself by comparing my ability to function with people without severe trauma in their past. My friend said to me that really I should be impressed that I am functional at all, especially that I am capable of holding down a job, paying a mortgage, raising two kids who seem largely well adjusted, kind and considerate young people. he said that given what I have lived through, it’s a wonder that I am not some alcoholic homeless social casualty, drug-addicted prostitute or long term psychiatric inpatient. I think his view is an exaggeration perhaps but I get his point. Instead of criticising myself so harshly for my inability to do everything well and measuring myself as a failure for my enduring PTSD and inability to sustain intimate personal relationships, instead of all that I could be being impressed with how well I am doing and with how many parts of life I am managing to do at least as well as the average person. Ah… But my inner critic says that if I am not perfect then I am worthless, and if I were perfect then everything would be alright and my parents would want me and show me the affection I so craved without demanding a price in abuse or emotional game-playing. If I were just good enough then maybe it would not have all happened. I wonder where and how in my twisted excuse for a childhood that idea first arose? .. When did I first feel that if I could just be good enough then the bad things would not happen? Was it the only way I could make sense of the displeasure of my gods, the controllers of my world? Was it the rationalisation of why I was hurt by my loved ones? Those all-powerful all-knowing authorities that ruled my life. Our parents are gods to our small, smaller selves. I know that it is common, even usual, for abused children to blame themselves rather than blame their care-givers as to do that would be to fundamentally undermine their universe. How much pain must a child be in to choose to judge themselves as unworthy failures out of preference to the alternative? To choose to hate yourself because it is better than destroying your own gods and universe? It is such an easy decision to make. I am small and weak; I can be wrong and bad and the world still survives. If I am not wrong and bad, then The world as I know it will be destroyed and the horrific truth will be laid bare with no place to hide from the soul-crushing reality that my parents were not good enough. That they failed to protect me and keep me safe. The omnipotent gods of my childhood are revealed as tacky fairground imitations. Worse still is that they chose at times to put their own needs to control, humiliate, hurt and dominate above the basic right of all children to be cared for.
I have moments where I can glimpse this.
Days and nights pass. The ability to sleep comes and goes. The breakdown of everything, well not everything but that’s how it feels, begins to pass. How to describe the experience of struggling to get out of bed. A mental challenge to form words and sentences, to move my body through the house. A feat of stamina and stubbornness to force reluctant hands to move through the motions of making food for the children. Barely functioning, head broken. And then slowly returning to mostly observable functioning only to find my mood and overall mental state slipping down between the cracks again.
20th November 2013
I am writing to you because I am struggling to understand your decision. Were you so easily swayed by expensive words? Were you so repulsed by the details of my life that you had to pretend that they were fictions? Were your memories so poor that it just took a week for you all to forget my words? Were you also fooled by the smiling predator sitting in his glass cage? Or taken in by the people who were willing to lie to protect him?
I am struggling to understand your decision, you see. I know that it took me two decades to wrestle with enough of my fears to be able to stand in front of you. It took all my strength to walk into that court room and not run, run, run as far and as fast as I could from who else was in there. It took all my courage and breath to take one step after another up the steps and to stand in the witness box and let the prosecutor with her careful scalpel slice open all my old scars so that you could see the details of my wounds and the damage done. And I stayed there, and displayed my humiliations in front of you. I willingly looked at the photographs of my pain, and the pictures of the weapon used to inflict some of that pain. I held nothing back; I kept nothing to myself. I did not shield myself from any of my terrors. I told you all the dirty truth, the full- and half-remembered truths, the parts I had struggled to recall and wished so hard to forget. And then I kept on standing, kept on breathing, kept on not running away as the defence pushed and pulled, prodded and poked with her vinegar soaked hands into those raw wounds. I held my head up and answered every grain of salt she tried to embed deep into that raw screaming flesh. And I stood there and let her do that over and over, and then over and over again. For a day and a half you watched her deliberate cruelty, and you sat there. In all, I stood there for two and a half days and exposed my hurts in front of the very person that had taken pleasure from them and in the nights between I howled into my pillow and hoped that no one heard.
And why did I do all this? Why did I agree to this? Because when I walked into that courtroom I took the small scraps of faith in humanity that I still had with me. I took with me the desperate belief that even I, used and damaged though I may be, deserved to be heard. I laid not just my wounds but my heart’s hopes in front of you. I trusted you…
Well I guess I should have known better. Trust is a thing to be broken like old dry twigs and set to burn away to ashes. Certainly your verdicts taste like ashes in my mouth. So I just want to know: why did you turn away from truth and swallow the lies? I laid my faith in Justice and you all as Her hands and you have failed me. And now I wonder if you left the court buildings at the end of that final day with any thought for the consequences of your actions. You, the jury, acquitted my father. And you, the jury, gave him permission to walk out of that court secure in the knowledge that he had got away with repeatedly raping and abusing his child.
And all I have left to say is that somehow I will survive you too.
Do old pains need to be expressed, acknowledged or made visible? What is it with us humans that creates a need to be witnessed by others in order to believe ourselves? And why has the mirror image become more ‘real’ that that which is being reflected? Do we truly not know a thing until it is seen or heard or acknowledged in some way?
Today I had a phone conversation with a friend and they told me that over recent days they had been thinking about me and my past. My friend acknowledged my past, and my hurt, and my successes in my life also. And I cried. I cried good healing tears, the sort that release pain and leave a measure of peace in their wake…
And this leads me to wondering if I need my pain and my accomplishments to be acknowledged. If I need my hurts to be seen before I can heal from them… That both feels right in some way and also brings some sense of vulnerability and exposure. And a little frustration. It would be more comfortable if I could do this all myself, if I needed nothing from others in order to recover from what was done to me. I don’t like the feeling of being dependent on others and when you have been a child victim then it really sits uncomfortably to think that your healing as an adult may be reliant, at least in part, on others…
It’s an idea and a feeling that I think I will have to sit with for a while…
Sometimes it hurts too much to move. Strange how emotional pain can make our bodies react the same way as physical pain does. I sit huddled over trying not to move. My eyes burn with unshed tears, my throat burns still drier. All week I have wavered on the edge of a personal abyss and now the weekend has come it seems like some part of me has decided it’s okay to slip over that edge.
I had one brief moment upon waking where light shone on my day before the familiar greyness descended.
I don’t know which way to go next to best help myself. I don’t expect to be rescued. “No one is coming”. The only way to get out of this is with my own efforts but right now I’m scared to move for fear of the pain worsening. I’m just trying to wait it out…
I usually listen to the radio in the morning. It’s not always my favourite kind of music but it helps me to feel connected to the world outside. This morning the latest single from Rhianna came on the radio. I’m not sure what it’s called but the chorus is: “I found love in a hopeless place”. That set me to thinking whether the lyricist had ever had PTSD too…
Let me clarify; I am an optimist. Always have been and I guess I always will. No idea why – I guess it must be my survival instinct coming to the fore. But why then did this track resonate so strongly with me this morning? Answer: my daughter’s bad dream. Now you’ll have to go with me a little ways to understand this one..
Last night my daughter had a scary dream; she’s still quite young and had woken up around midnight crying having had a dream that we were all in danger. As I sometimes do in such situations, I bundled her up and brought her into my bed for the night where she slept deeply and peacefully in the way that young children can when they feel safe and secure. Unfortunately I did not have the same experience – one of the more frustrating after-effects of prolonged childhood trauma for me is that my defences are on high alert when there is another person in the bed with me. It doesn’t stop me sleeping but my dreams are difficult and I wake feeling stressed and needing a lot of peace and quiet to let that threat-alert system calm down. And that brings me back around to Rhianna and her latest track… It feels like relationships; loving personal relationships where people usually relax in each other’s company and sleep next to each other are a hopeless wish for me. My mind and heart feel completely safe and secure with my daughter next to me but my body cannot follow along – how then to deal with a partnership? So if I ever were to find love, it feels like it would be a hopeless place indeed. Morose I know, but even I cannot be optimistic about everything…
I was surprised and annoyed yesterday at school when I discovered that our local authority’s web filtering service for schools had a block on http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/
I could see no valid reason why a website that details the lives and circumstances of ordinary american citizens should be blocked. Then I realised that someone had actually requested that it be blocked. In the UK we have had an erosion of civil liberties and civil rights over the past few years and decades and maybe I am just being naive but I would have thought we should be teaching our kids that there are peaceful ways of engaging in civil protest; ways in which each individual can be heard and can join together in an attempt to make the world a fairer place for all of us.
I have of course requested that the site be unblocked, though I am still waiting to hear what the response will be. In the meantime, here is a little act of protest of my own..
I encourage you all to visit the follow site and support a campaign that you agree with:
Go on, make a difference.
So after a bout of feeling sorry for myself, I have kicked my own butt out of that headspace and reminded myself of how rich my life is: I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, healthy children, good friends, a job and so much more. And here is just one way that I like to do something worthwhile and get to feel good whilst helping others. Go on, click on the logo below and give it a try. You’ll feel amazing!