Hi. I'd like to share week 14 of my recovery from PTSD. I've been kind of skirting the edges of this subject these last few posts. But this post I want to go deep and tell you about my breakthrough. What a HUGE difference between my outlook now and that nearly two years ago. You may recall, I was at such a loss making female friends. Yeah, I had 'girlfriends', you know, the kind you do things with. But why, after a deeply satisfying marriage with an emotionally available man, was I picking emotionally unavailable women to be 'friends' with? It was clear my Girlfriend Picker was seriously broken. I wrote about it here: http://www.postwidowhood.blogspot.com/2014/07/fixing-my-girfriend-picker.html
Last weekend, for my 63rd birthday, I squirreled myself away in a Boston Hotel. Awesome place. I've returned to celebrate three birthdays there. Look at this incredible view! There is the Tea Party Museum. It sits mid span off the bridge from Boston to South Boston, with two authentically restored tea ships. It truly brings history to life, and last weekend it brought my personal history to life, too.
It's like the weather conspired to keep me room bound. Rainy and raw on Saturday, snow on Sunday, a minor blizzard predicted all day on Monday. No way was I driving home as scheduled on Monday, so I booked another night at this delicious spot. Entertainment outside required too much discomfort, so I decided that what I wanted for this Birthday was to return home with a lighter load. An emotionally lighter load. That would come from solving the mystery of my PTSD. I started on Friday with one word, an obvious one for me: aversion. So, free of distractions for three days, I turned to face my demons, whatever has been tormenting me my whole life for as long as I remember.
This was my premise: it's known that abused children typically grow up to be abusers of a similar kind, unless they choose differently. A child adapts to what is normal, as bizarre and hurtful as it is. A grown-up child merely reproduces what feels 'normal'. So my premise was that I had only to look at my attitudes, feelings and behavior to see traces of what was done to me. What feels normal to me is definitely hurtful. My counselor and I trace my PTSD back to natal and infancy trauma, a non-attachment disorder. For an infant, there can be no explicit memory, because the mind hasn't come online. But there is plenty of implicit memory. And unconscious compulsion to repeat the injury. My counselor has told me that I am stuck in the STARTLE response of PTSD, and until I am able to locate what is panicking me, I'll not resolve the trauma. All trauma, of course, starts with the startle response. Picture this. You're in Boston, happily watching the Marathon. Then Ka-BOOM! Your ears are blocked, hearing nothing. Dust and glass sprinkle through the air around you. Pain. You're in STARTLE. Then, you begin to come online. You first locate the threat. Next: orient yourself to the threat. Next: evaluate the threat. Next: take action. Flight! Fight! It happens in nanoseconds. Unless you get stuck, freeze, dissociate.
I was stuck in STARTLE, the bomb going off, going off, going off, going off, going off. It happened when I was around most, not all, women.
Aversion. I own that. Yeah, I project it onto others, but it's really all my aversion. Hmmm. With that admission I felt lighter. With a spring in my step I went out in the rain and explored South Boston. I continued my inquiry. Surely I experienced aversion for good reason. What was my aversion toward? Me? I gave shape and words to a possible core belief, as odd as it sounded: "People are required to feel and express aversion for me if I move and peep." Hey. These words made complete sense. Around my mother, around my infant self. Then in an experiment, I switched players. Now it was not my mother I was saying these words to. Instead I said these words to someone I knew for sure loved me deeply: "You love me because I'm not moving and peeping, and you will feel aversion to me if I move and peep. You love me only if I do not take up room in your heart."
I said these words, imagining I was looking into the loving eyes of my late husband BOOM! Slow motion. Now I see the bomb's source. For real. I can orient myself, I can evaluate, I can act. The source is a contradiction!!! I have been living my life in a contradiction "I can only be loved if I do not take up room in your heart."!!! Hello?!?
|That's me on my mother's lap. Miserable. Dissociated.|
Everything .... became so clear, so simple, so unscary - What my mother was giving me wasn't love at all. Here was this infant trying to make love out of what was NOT loving, what was begrudging, what was actually an aversion toward my care. But because a baby is wired for love to survive and make sense out of life, what? I couldn't make sense out of aversion, so....love must be there, but it can only happen if I'm not here. But I'm here! >> Brain freeze. << Good Lord. What I experienced from her wasn't about me AT ALL. At this point every cell in my body shifted, relaxing and thawing.
The history of my origin flooded into my mind. Making perfect sense. In a 'felt' sense. Way back when, before I ever showed up, there was a woman, a mother, who hated the choices she had made, and blamed her husband and circumstances, never herself, for them. She herself was the wounded party. She faithfully and with an ample dose of martyrdom rendered the duties of a 1940's wife. Secretly she counted the years until she, what... could turn back the clock and start over? Reality bore down on her. Three children, one right after the other, inside a loveless marriage to a man who was emotionally clueless. She resolved that, despite her frightful loneliness, her children would have wonderful opportunities through education and good grooming. She could bear it. Then the unimaginable happened - a pregnancy she never consented to started inside her belly. She was nearly 40. THIS invasion was beyond what she could bear. She lashed out. She blamed my father. She drank and smoked throughout her pregnancy. And I can totally imagine her saying to my father "I will have your baby, but I will never, ever love it and I will never be a mother to it." And, by all accounts, she was true to her word. Now, tell me, wouldn't you develop an aversion to a mother like that? And of course, not being able to repel her because your life depended on her, you'd tie yourself up in knots?
I did. Now I feel liberated from this impossible contradiction.
The way I described it to my trauma counselor: "It's like the caboose on my train, the caboose that was holding all my pain, got unhitched. I see it receding in the distance. With no power, it's slowing, fading as my train powers on with its much lighter load."
Lifelong anxiety, anguish, fear, panic - vanished!
In trauma recovery it's called uncoupling. In therapy it's called a breakthrough. That was one terrific Birthday present.
Thanks for listening. Hugs to all!