PTSD: a Disease Not Shameful

No news isn’t the cure. Up at 1AM looking at the clock in disgust, down goes a pill and out for an hour of TV until it takes effect. Waking this morning the typical hate for myself broils. A softer voice tried to interject, you aren’t hateful towards the need for statins, this is no different. But it does bring up the reasons why my nervous system is so reactionary, a childhood inescapable, the damage life-long.

No amount of weight loss or running mile after mile ever changed high cholesterol numbers because it is hereditary. It has been dealt with for years with medication with no self-despising attached to it. So why hate myself for having to take a prescription in the night to go back to sleep? Something activated my alarm system, but what?

It is so hard to offer kindness to myself for this ongoing disruption as if it is somehow my fault, just like all the early trauma felt like my fault. My daily job is trying to offer nurturing lacking during those years. My safety was violently and irrevocably shattered.

Sadness wells The outcome was the burden of self-hate. Because if blame were pointed properly, at the only family I had, that meant complete abandonment and isolation. Yet being a part of it caused the exact same thing.

I do not know the reason why after waking to use the bathroom that restlessness kept me awake. Sending Christmas cards to two brothers I don’t trust? Though never touching me in that way, they certainly buddied up with Tom, a terrible attacker abusing me when only 8 years old. Their loyalty to him shouts, YOU DON’T MATTER. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU DOESN’T MATTER!

In the night thoughts swirl of the past, some that may never surface. But the sharks of memory swim in me. Will the most violent memory surface, and if so, when? Does the memory move closer as my being claims more peace? Maybe a supposed friend who I try hard to like but don’t but is part of our monthly group is causing upset? She proclaims niceties but my gut tells me she is trouble causing opposite outcomes than her fake niceness.

Though feeling this ambivalence about her, I make the rounds from one town to another dropping off gifts and cards to each of the four friends at the doorstep in attempts to push myself out of the isolated cave Covid has forced me into. She calls saying it brought a smile. The dilemma as always, am I a doormat or magnanimous? Brought up as a pleaser with no needs or truth of my own, it is hard to know for sure especially during these difficult times where the longing for true companionship is thirsted for.

Her words cast criticism on me about my carefulness towards the pandemic so that she can feel good about her carelessness. She has friends in for the weekend who stay overnights, along with gatherings for dinners, totally oblivious to the reality of possible infection.

“Oh, she’s not infected, and I’m not either,” she retorts after asking if she has any concerns.

How does she know? My lifelong grappling with having and keeping friendships due to ongoing trust issues ignites from the continual smolder at my core which isn’t totally comfortable with anyone really except for my cat.

Whatever the reason, PTSD issues continue causing upsets in the dark of winter no matter what is done to counteract them. It feels useless to try so hard when it does not help. But what then, blob around waiting for death to consume me. That’s not me. But it does make me sad evoking memories as to the reasons why I have these struggles, saddening me further.

The work through past memories cannot be complete when the most violent of them is still repressed. It sits there chomping away at my nervous system in the shadows of unconsciousness voraciously devouring my peace.

HAPPY

Photo by Patricia

Feeling the vastness within once again opens me to possibilities not there when lack of sleep steals it. The work to become the best version of myself stalls, everything stops. Living takes energy, and energy comes from good sleep.

Suddenly feelings of happiness, hope, and the profound satisfaction of bringing a smile to someone else returns. Digging into the day, making the most of it, enjoying it- even the work of it, all comes trailing back as another night of improved sleep occurs.

The looming threat of the virus, like a monster chomping down closer and closer, terrorized me. Powerless to do anything more than what we are doing compounded PTSD, and that beast tore at me shredding my life like cheap paper. Removing myself from it by banning all news is working like magic.

Samuel turns the news on at 5PM. “No, not till 6,” I demanded.

He clicks his tongue like a moody teenager, then flicks it to a crime show. We have talked about this already, so he knows the plan. I am to leave the living room to go to our bedroom to watch a movie at 6PM. The news and anything else is then all his. Movies in the comfort of our bed are happy, romantic, or funny, just the thing to go to sleep on. It is working!

Home, home inside of me settled as before, which though not perfect, is livable without wanting escape. I write Christmas cards, call a friend, something done less and less the more fear crept in, and even worked in my studio for a time. Happy pleasurable activities are experienced once again. Sometimes ignorance IS bliss.

Health for Body and Mind

No news being consumed. No politics, no more seeing a face or hearing a voice that sickens me. No more dire warnings and death tolls, because that fact is already drilled into me. No reminders are needed to pound me further into the dirt.

So far, so good. Also, my body did not adjust to the time change making sleep (when it was possible) much shortened by an hour or two.

Even though going to bed an hour later to stay on the new schedule, waking remained the same which greatly reduced the hours in REM. So now bedtime is as early as a toddlers’, but it is working.

Everything feels and looks better with adequate sleep. Without it, everything does not. Energy became available for walks in the fresh air, wondrous walks around and around breathing it in with a smile. Rest by the creek lengthened as the sun shone down.

The woodpecker in the rotted tree made sawdust fall as it drilled for bugs. A train in the distance echoed. Feelings of aliveness slowly return, but weeks of diminished sleep take time to recoup.

A firm diet of no news, good food, enough sleep, and lots of exercise are the keys to health for body and mind.

TRUTH

Woe is me. Never before have sleep issues been so astoundingly bad, chronic yes, but so much sleep being deprived over a short period makes for despair. If only the answer to why, then there could be a solution.

But it has taken days into weeks. Perhaps this batch of medical marijuana oil isn’t as potent, or had nothing in it at all? Yet that stuff is highly regulated so goes through rigorous testing even if this prescription is lighter in color than the last.

Then what? Well, my consumption of news. Of course. So a moratorium on news is in order for the next few months. A lover of movies where I can be close to people without the burn will be my replacement.

No more listening to reports of the thousands of deaths to come in the next two months because no one will be at the helm of the country to lead us out of this until January 20th.

No more tears rolling down my face watching health care workers desperately ask that we all wear masks because they are drained from caring for the sick. Or tears when the news hones in on particular family members describing their loss of a loved one— making those tens of thousands dead real not just numbers. No more dread in the pit of my belly while falling into a vortex, a void with no end.

I must regain my equilibrium because going on like this will truly make me crazy. It does not help when two brothers call on Thanksgiving Day, first Don, then Stevie, my one younger brother. Seeing who the first call was from on the answering machine made me hesitate, but not for longer than a moment.

Trying to be cheerful and upbeat, prattling on happily wanting to believe they do care. But later in bed restlessness makes sleep impossible.

They go on as usual emailing the group omitting me because I have asked not to be included if Tom is. How hard is it to email a little note just for me? Too hard I guess. It is easier to pretend I don’t exist, but give a pity call on a holiday to make themselves feel better.

That hurts deeply… craving family just as anybody does. But after any interchange it takes days to reclaim equilibrium. Don, a once beloved brother, is the most recent culprit sending a group email including both me and Tom.

How could you be so disconnected from the truth, my truth, and yours too? Your brother, who you interact with, even standing with against me, abused me in a horrible way, then spent the rest of my life punishing me for it.

So Tom responds to the group which means there sits an email with Tom’s name on it in my mail. That brought him and all the memories right home inside me where they swirled curdling and souring the peaceful life I’ve built…stealing it.

On Thanksgiving Day for the first time in my life I spoke up to Don, but even over the phone it brought bubbles of fear foaming up from my stomach.

“I’d rather not be included in emails like that. What he did was horrible and I’d rather not be reminded of it,” I said, hands shaking.

“No problem,” Don said blithely, the goes on, “I didn’t think of it.

He continues on, no apology, no nothing. But a while after the call was done my hands were still shaking. I held them to me noticing the upset which caused vibrations throughout my body. I broke the taboo. It only took 60 years. To be clamped down this way for most of my life has stolen so much.

To not be free. To not live fully, honestly, openly? Like wrapped tight in a rug unable to breathe, the only parts escaping are fake, here to please you, but not me, the real me.

I still search for her. She is truly special. I am special. Courageous. And worthy.

They don’t know. They never will because each is too afraid to ask, too afraid of the truth. And it doesn’t matter. I know. And when I forget, I have friends here to remind me of just who I am. This safe place has saved me.

sent to me by a very dear friend…

SUGAR PLUMS

Stevie and I were excited; a mammoth understatement. I was nine and Stevie, only six. Though Dad had died the year before, kids recoup, and Mom agreed to our usual tradition. We were allowed to sleep on the couch, end to end, one night before Christmas watching the tree lights with “visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.” 

In the sunken living room, called that because it took two steps down to get into it from the dining room, the Christmas tree stood in all its splendor, smack dab in the middle of the gigantic picture window that looked out over the flower garden and driveway. The thick, floor-length curtains were closed, keeping out the dark chill, but the room sparkled with glowing colors from the fat bulbs twirled round and round the tree. Tinsel sprinkling from branches swayed lightly against the tops of presents.

 We knew there’d be more. Santa hadn’t come yet, Christmas was a week away, but we were thrilled as each day brought us closer. And now, to our delight, we were to sleep right by the tree, Stevie curled up at the other end with the pillow he brought from his bed and me at my end, both with our own blankets. The long couch cradled us comfortably; I didn’t even feel his feet. And the tree! So pretty! How could sleep arrive when I was so full of excitement over the coming holiday, thinking of each gift I’d made for every brother and my mother?

 After inspecting the pretty packages one more time under the tree—we’d already memorized to whom, from whom—we hopped back under our covers. Nothing new, we knew them by heart, heavy, light, shakes or not. The only thing left to discover was when they were opened, the culmination of all the weeks leading up to the big day. It’s no wonder we didn’t drift off to sleep till well after the rest of the household.

 Stevie fell asleep before I did. Except for the tree lights, all the other lights were off and everyone had gone to bed: Mom, Tommy, Don, Danny, Seth, Chet, and Paul. “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Tommy, the eldest at twenty, and the brother I looked up to most, was home from college on Christmas break. We were all together! Somehow, finally, my mind fell into happy Toyland slumber.

 Something woke me. It was dark, the tree lights were off, but something wasn’t right. Something was very wrong, but felt so good, confusion anesthetizing all ability to speak or move. My child’s mind couldn’t make sense of what felt so dreamy tingly down there but seemed so abhorrent. Was that my adored, eldest, most loved brother’s head between my legs, sucking and licking my peeing spot? Not a sound was heard. Santa spoke not a word either, but this wasn’t Santa. It was so quiet, and though bewildered, I didn’t cry out; my body became mesmerized by the very pleasing sensations yet disoriented into petrified stiffness. Then his head just disappeared. Up the chimney he arose? He must have crawled off.

 Stevie and I awoke the next morning, hungry for cereal as if nothing had happened, full of kid energy for the day. But something had happened. Something had permanently altered within me, dimmed, unsure of myself or the world around me, my mother and the brothers I loved so dearly. They were my world, but it all shattered. I shattered. A cataclysmic shift, an avalanche had occurred with the nighttime brother, inside my belly where the edges no longer met, couldn’t meet, there would be no more crossing, no making sense of it and no telling. He made sure of that. 

Tommy changed. With the morning light, I lost my brother. Malice and anger filled the eyes where love had once been. I knew not to tell from the frightful mix of menace and hate, and I didn’t. What could I say? What words would I use to describe what my little girl brain couldn’t comprehend anyway? And maybe what I perceived to be as hate was fear, apprehension of my telling, not that it made any difference. 

Being the oldest carried weight in the family. We looked up to him, the only one besides me to have his own room, the first to do things like dating, working, then going away to college. I only wanted to please him, to make him love me still, though he didn’t anymore, or didn’t seem to.

I tiptoed around “it,” afraid of waking the beast because Tommy could get very angry. He had snapped at me before just for tugging at his sleeve during a phone call. Though in his defense, the phone call had been of utmost importance for a student home on holiday. It had been to his new love at college who later became his wife. But the sinister being in the house that morning was not Tommy, the brother I would do anything for. He had become something else.

 The earth split; his eyes pierced me with a spear of hatred, but only me. I fell through the crack, falling, falling, then steadied when his voice softened with apparent kindness, sweetly toned toward Stevie, until Stevie left to get dressed. Then the thing, posing as Tommy, turned again towards me, reeking of malevolence which shed off his body like dried snake skin. The hissing, threatening eyes never matched the syrupy smooth words.

This dissonance of tone and action became a pattern, a way of life; the beast changed colors like a chameleon, but also changed shape depending on people and circumstance. I never got a hold of the real Tom again. Others did, but not me, and no one else noticed the schism or the way he played it to perfection.

 A child grows though, and the sister he had power over and controlled by the use of psychological force found a partner outside of the so called “family.” His sweetness became so thick it couldn’t be stirred and sat in my stomach like cold hard stone. Samuel came with me to Tom’s house in the city for fancy dinners he and Tara cooked, elaborate and expensive. But it was too late. No longer a child, in my early twenties, I watched him. I observed it all, sensing the phoniness, feeling it, seeing it, yet never knowing how to make it real between us again. 

Being the eldest, starting college when Dad was still alive, he received a solid start financially. He passed each hurdle, every year in college, one after the next. The entire family flew to New York City to see him graduate cum laude at the Waldorf Astoria, a huge undertaking for Mom. The expense of flight tickets and hotel costs for all eight of us must have been substantial for a woman recently widowed. But he was her firstborn and Dad would have been proud too. Tom followed Dad’s footsteps into the legal arena. 

He continued on to law school, graduated, then passed the Bar and was invited into a prestigious law firm where he later became partner. The rest of us struggled with college and several didn’t make it, some only through a semester or two, one not managing life at all. But Tom succeeded with honors and aplomb.

 A person could go insane with these thoughts, secrets, and memories. I try to imagine myself at twenty going after a younger sister sexually, or any child. I just can’t. Is it possible males aren’t accountable because they have such irresistible urges? Or because our double standard doesn’t hold them accountable?

 Tom and I attempted to talk about the past on the phone in my late thirties. To explain, he said, “I was so young then.”

 Not ready for excuses and a long way from forgiveness, I screamed into the phone, “You were twenty, home from college, you could have been prosecuted!” 

Crushing the receiver down so hard it rattled the wall, I rushed outside for air and release, whacking at a tree with a bat till some calm returned and the red blackness of rage lifted. We didn’t discuss it again.

 Years passed and we attended some of the same functions, a funeral, a wedding, but I wouldn’t talk to him, I couldn’t. The fight for my life continued. And there was no winning against an intelligent person slyly looking out for himself, only the loss of my own dignity and worth. Tom belittled me with comments interspersed so cagily that no one else in the family noticed, but the effects of his disguised put-downs on me were disastrous. His method reduced his crime to less than nothing; if I’m looked down upon as inconsequential, a sister unworthy of love or respect, then what he had done was no big deal.

 And in my family system, it seemed to work. His diabolical, unrelenting manipulations hurt more than all else endured. I was stomped upon so repeatedly I couldn’t get up, yet did anyway, bruised but persistent. I felt trapped alive in a coffin with nails hammered down, scraping and clawing for a way out, fighting for a life with my head up and heart full.

 He garnered sympathy from other family members because of the way I treated him, ignoring him, stepping away from his attempts to hug me as if he were dangerous. In the reception area at Shasta’s wedding, we gathered, sipping drinks, several siblings and their wives. He moved back from the group so I felt comfortable. It may have been the first time I allowed for the possibility that he possessed genuine empathy, not selfishness, but hope springs eternal. The deferential movement made him look magnanimous, more likely the goal.

 There was a point, as I approached fifty, when we tried again to reconcile. We met at the old building where I took pottery courses.

 He helped move my stuff that needed glazing to the back room and told me, “I used to teach a class here,” paused, then added as if with humility, “Just one though.” 

And I thought, So you surpass me once again, here at a place where I found joy, my hands happy in the wet earth with women who laugh and play with me.

 Our plan was to go have coffee together. I hopped into his little sports car and we zipped off to a coffee shop closer to his neighborhood. Though he owned a snazzy, expensive car, it was messy, with paper coffee cups strewn about, food wrappers, and books he moved so I could sit. We were lucky to have made it alive. I didn’t realize how nervous he was and we almost creamed into another car. Shaky, questioning doing this, we got out and he helped me negotiate our way into the place he frequented.

 He seemed generous and expansive in his willingness to buy our coffee. “Want a pastry?” he asked, a little too eagerly.

 “No, coffee will do,” I replied. We sat and chatted for half an hour or so before running out of banter.  At my request, we didn’t talk about the past. I had wanted to begin where we were now, yet what he did seemed like it had happened yesterday. Why? I want to know why? There’s no hope for a connected, close relationship. 

The ride back was calmer and without incident. He dropped me off. I watched him go, but felt empty.

 Sometimes I feel pity. I replayed what he said once when we tried to reconnect, something about having the sister he wanted. I immediately thought, That’s not your choice, it’s mine. You lost that right to choose; it’s my choice now, under my control and you’re not ready, you may never be ready. Remorse means true sorrow, not concern over what your law partners, friends, and family would think if they knew what you did. You worry about you and your reputation, not me. And family members do know and don’t seem to care.

 I don’t see him anymore since Mom’s gone. There were occasional get-togethers for brunch at her apartment and then times during her decline when we’d be together, sometimes for long periods in the hospital and that last night of her life. It seemed okay, like no rift existed, and during these emergencies, when life or death decisions had to be made, Tom was the steady voice of reason while my anxiety over losing her made me frantic. And though my biggest fights with her were about Tom and her wish for our reconciliation, there’s sadness in the loss of hope for closure for us both. 

She was right all along, and not just for his sake. A victim as a child, I then became a victim of rage. I have luckily lived long enough to quell the fires and know what a peaceful moment is. And through meditation, my broken brain mends. Life is for giving, yet some things are unforgivable. Still I try. I forgave Tom for using my child’s body for lustful sexual pleasure. Harder is what came after. Dismissing me like I no longer mattered or existed killed something in me, or quieted it for a very long time. She, the essence of me I barely know, slowly comes out, showing her face in small doses to those I love and trust, a select few. 

During my sessions with Raymond, I relayed my perceptions of Tom’s treatment towards me. 

Raymond said, “If it’s true, that’s psychological abuse.”

 If? 

Though I’ve thought of ways to torture and dismember Tom, and more him than anyone else, it’s in the past. I do not wish revenge, just peace. Though rage sputtered into ash, it reignites. I dance with her ghost shells, blowing away the swirling smoke, tamping it down, remembering its unwanted vapory clutches.

I impulsively sent a Christmas card to Tom the year after Mom’s death, the first in over thirty years, and a birthday card the summer after. And the very last communication since was a phone call where I apologized for ostracizing him, for not letting go sooner. I felt peace, felt all ties, even unholy ones, unravel, dissolve, evaporate. After fifty years, I have myself back again. I did what I had to do, what he does is up to him. The craving for a family will never go away, but lessens with time and the acceptance of what is and was. I long for a family, any family, just not mine. 

CHAPTER 19 from SHATTERED

THANKFUL FOR…

My London friend.

Friends here who lift and support.

Friends in person.

My cat.

Samuel, devoted, loyal, loving.

Sons who continue to cause me to admire their goodness.

Grand-children, all 5 unique and precious.

Our plot of land and home.

Nature, my church.

Being a part of this world, no matter how hard it has been.

Prayers for Biden

For the last few weeks as the news becomes more dire, my outer world heightens my startle reflex preposterously. A leaf moving across the grass scared me many times while walking, and anything blowing in the breeze. Wow.

No wonder restlessness invaded sleep. No wonder. The war within rages on day to day. Hard work and routine helps to calm. But the war all around me is as rampant as wildfire threatening death, a horrible death not wished on a single soul.

No wonder. Food is used to calm anxiety and has been a survival tool since age 8 when the attacks began. Food was my mother’s answer. She practically pushed the spoon down my throat. Eating her food made her happy, but it made me fat. Fatty Patty, that was what the bullies called me.

Eating still calms but not in a way that feels good, just in a way that is familiar. Hate myself, feel so stuffed that it’s not possible to think of anything else, and be numb. And when up in the night that is my motes operando, eat crap that is never consumed in the daytime.

Part of the eating may have to do with successfully losing a nice hunk of weight with a forward catapult to losing more. There is a part of me that doesn’t want that. Perhaps the loss of the weight might allow up the terrible memories of the first attack which have been obliterated from my mind by my mind to protect myself from losing my sanity—- even now at age 67.

But the feelings of real hunger and satiation are glorious. Eating from emotional hunger numbs causing constant self-hatred. Eating from true hunger makes eating pleasurable.

When in my body feeling feelings, eating stops when my body has had enough. The process is enjoyable, unfettered from guilt, and self-abhorrence… the albatross shrouding my life since childhood.

Who to abhor are those that hurt me in a way that lasts a lifetime. Not me. It is such a hard job to love me. They didn’t, so why should I? Little by little there are glimmers of hope. Hope for me, hope for us all.

The newscaster gave Biden the floor as he instilled hope into my very pores. A man with a soul, a heart, and a plan, unafraid of hard work.

INSOMNIA

In the last ten days, sleep does not come. Jittery restlessness vibrates until getting up to take something. Last night was a double dose.

What’s going on? Could it be Covid, all the dire reports that will tally by mid- January after travelers return home from trips they shouldn’t be taking? Then the skyrocketing cases overwhelming hospitals that are already overwhelmed.  

Could it be the outgoing treasonous murderer pretending to a president who tells all Not to wear a mask, (and they don’t wear one just as the dictator commands). But he is pocketing all incoming money from these same losers and suckers who support him.

Until yesterday, Biden was blocked from taking over safely so that American lives could be protected. During this time golfer man lines his pockets with millions because supporters keep sending money to fight a vote already cast. He legally can pocket 60% of it, knows it, and is taking full advantage of an outrageous and destructive law.

He’s making as much money as he can get away while tweeting, golfing, and doing as much damage as possible to all Americans before being dragged out of the Whitehouse. It will have to be thoroughly fumigated after his heels make an exit path.

He is brilliant at doing evil. Only that. Imagine being brilliant at only doing evil

While watching nurses interviewed after their shifts on the news, tears well up. When families talk about lost loved one, tears come.

When our governor speaks with such eloquence about this Thanksgiving being special and the very best one due to the deeper meanings it conveys, tears come. Because thankfulness rises in a tsunami or gratefulness for all those out there amidst this killer virus.

For all of you who go to your jobs each day, I bow in deference and admiration. To each and every one with the dignity to conscientiously wear a mask, not because you’ll be ticketed if you don’t, but for caring… good job. For all those who don’t, you are murdering others including your own loved ones.

STRUGGLING

Things go along really well, so well it feels miraculous, then they don’t. Once believing that something happened in the daytime to make sleep impossible, it seems not. The reason relates solely to chronic PTSD issues that have compounded the usual sleep issues aging women often have.

Taking the gifts life offers means accepting the harder stuff too. The darker days and time change have taken a glorious summer with good sleep patterns and shortened them, disrupting everything else.

Striving for that steady feeling of being in my body no matter what feeling passes through is a new and novel experience, one that poor sleep and tiredness steals. To be back in it and whole is so relished. Decisions come more naturally, steadiness guides my day, and much gets accomplished without rush or leaving my body.

Sleep and wholeness, gifts of the season to work towards…

SANITY

The next two months, the next two months. Fear grips my belly in a whirling ball, the stray wires ripping at the tender flesh. So many sickening then dying.

Every night while watching the news I ask Samuel, “Does it bother you?” when the numbers of infections and deaths are revealed with further projections of what’s to come because of Thanksgiving then Christmas.

If you don’t ask Samuel directly, oddball answers come out of his mouth. This is so direct it insists on an answer.

“Yes, it does,” he said. That’s it from him, not a talker unless it’s about motors, electrical issues, or things like that where my brain immediately zones out.

How to keep sane while all around me falls apart, including fears for my kids safety as our area’s infection rate is also climbing. How do keep sane, safe, and calm during this horrific time? I am losing my ability to do so.