Saturday, July 9, 2011

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Someone's Story

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The jungles of Nam caused it in some, the jungles of my childhood caused it in me.

I was a child, born unloved and sold, again and again, to men for money. Not just sold for sex, but for sadistic rituals as well, some in which my mother participated. To the point that my body was damaged (broken bones, etc.) not just my mind, my heart, my psyche. Given birth by a mother who didn't love me (she told me more than once how she tried to abort me before I was born). She was, in fact, my creator. A child's creator is the first source any child looks to for validation and love. Instead of validation, I was treated like I wasn't worth loving, was only good to be used and abused by others, not protected from torture, not taken to the hospital when wounded or broken, constantly told by men who were strangers, and my mother, that if I didn't submit, I would be killed. This went on for many years.

One creates any coping skills that will work if one is to heed the primal instinct to survive. Until one is no longer helpless, we remain passive, quiet, and ... endure. We escape to a world within our own minds - or latch onto other families that seem much healthier and fantasize that they are our true family. Or that we were kidnapped and are not truly part of the family that is abusing us. Denial works as well. "Don't remember". And we develop selective memory. Make up a different identity for ourselves. One that isn't "damaged goods". One that others can love. Deep down, suppressing the rising panic in our bones that keeps telling us that at any time, people are going to find out ... find out that we were never good enough to love from the beginning.

How, once we're grown, is this suppressed PTSD expressed? Some express rage outwardly. Violent outbursts. Terrible anger. Acting out. Others, like me, who were helpless to protect themselves from the beginning, learned to be very quiet and passive in order to literally stay alive, and directed the rage that had to go somewhere, inward. Once away from the abuse, those of us who were passive were now free. And as for me, no longer overpowered and raped regularly over 11 years by mother's customers, or locked in the basement, or hung by my heels and tortured, or forced to take drugs in order to be compliant - I was free. And with that freedom I ran. I ran with exhilaration. I ran with abandon. I ran from fear and pain. And ran ... and ran ... and ran.

And looked for places to hide. I saw all men as monsters and stayed as far away from them as possible. I rarely allowed myself to be touched. Or, as in the case of marriage, I did my duty in the bedroom, but my mind was carefully placed somewhere else ... anywhere else, so I could control the scream that would always start to rise from my belly, choking to get out my mouth. Somewhere deep inside, I sensed that if I ever started to scream, I would never be able to stop. And then I would be put away. Trapped again, but this time in some psych ward somewhere. Never free again. So I had to stay quiet. But this time, it was to protect my hard won freedom.

Once an adult, and on my own, I would protect what small space I might allow myself to claim with all that I had (I was simply on the road for years, never staying in one place for more than 3 months at a time). I stayed behind closed doors. Walled myself in where it was safe. Safety is paramount. Safety matters. Nothing else. Run, hide, find a place to be safe. But this seclusion intensified to the point of, as an adult, not being able to relate socially to most anyone in any normal kind of fashion. But that didn't even matter. I was safe. That's all that mattered.

How do some of us ever initially get into any relationships? And how do we think we will be able to make them work? Well, most of us don't reason it out on a conscious level. But we want to "fit in". We want to live a normal life, so ... we observe. Copy others who seem normal, and who other people seem to like, and we try to act that way. We look around and realize that it is a man's world, and try to find a strong man to protect us from all the "bad men" out there. Most often, though, we've walked into a relationship where the strong man is the very type of abusive person we most wanted to be protected from.

How? ... we don't know. How many of us can afford counseling to begin to tell us what we're doing wrong? That we're repeating patterns from our childhood and being subconsciously drawn to the "known" (an abuser) because that is less frightening then the "unknown". Who has time to figure that out when you're always running and looking for protection and trying to find love, be lovable, pretend to be like everyone else, and on and on and on. And God knows how many bad relationships we're in before we finally begin "to get" that, even in choosing a man to be with us, we can't even trust our own choices anymore. So now, besides not being able to trust the people around us, we must deal with the total shock of not being able to trust our own judgment to keep us safe, either.

So, even though the abusers are no longer with us - they are. They've become a part of us. Chase us inside ourselves, and keep us running, looking for ever more safe places to hide. And the rage? It yells at us that we are unworthy to be loved. Not important enough to be noticed. Or to receive kindness. Or to even seriously aspire to a life of happiness like others have. Like "the normals" do.

So, this inner directed rage becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-sabotage. Without being consciously aware - something good comes along and all the deeply ingrained tapes say "You don't deserve this - you're not worthy" and somehow ... somehow we shut down, stop the process of love and kindness coming our way because, deep down, we know we can't sustain whatever it is that these people think they see in us as "good". It must be a lie. We must have fooled them somehow and they'll find out that it's a lie and be repulsed by us. We run, so we don't have to face their rejection once they see that we are really not worth their effort.

We reject ourselves before they have a chance too.

Now, there are many kind souls, who with not a clue of what they're triggering in us, say to us "OK. That was your past. Don't live in the past. Just forget it. Live in the present moment. Make the best of your life now." A reasonable thing to say. But only if you've led a reasonable life and have had only a few minor bumps along the road. To those of us who have endured serious abuse, that statement is heard by us as "You are overloading me with too many facts I can't relate too. You're not important enough for me to listen to you anymore or try to understand. Get back to "acting" like a lovable person or you're just not worth the effort of knowing anymore." OK. Now we know. If we don't keep up the act of "pretending to be normal" rejection is sure to come. Be quiet. Compliant. Lovable. And never, NEVER tell anybody again who you really are.

The sad thing about this conclusion is evident. Because we can't suppress who we are indefinitely, so in order to maintain others good opinions of us, we must leave before they find out, once we've seen the indicators that they are acting as if there might be something they don't like about us. That's all it takes. Just one trigger. And we're off. Gone. Running. The cycle starts over again and again from one new town to the next. One new relationship to the next. Never staying long enough to get anything accomplished in our lives. Never making friendships that last. And if there are any children involved, most probably losing them somewhere along the way, in the blur of the fear that rules our lives.

Now, should one have the opportunity of eventually getting into counseling, the rudiments of why one is acting like this as an adult, are learned. Some tools are picked up, from various and sundry counselors to help us handle certain triggers when they arise. We are assured by the counselors that there is no cure for us. Just learning techniques that can be taught to us so we can "manage" our "illness". Those of us with PTSD who have had good counselors are the lucky ones. Many never get that far. They've either successfully committed suicide, become permanent recluses, or continue the rest of their lives "on the run."

As one who has lived, or attempted to various degrees, all of the above, I have arrived at a point in my life where I've finally landed. I've lived in the same apartment for almost 5 years now. I've made several friends that actually have remained my friends for over 12 years now. And I continue, cautiously, to make more friends. I've overcome many of my repulsions to men and actually find some of them attractive, interesting, intelligent, humorous and kind. And yes, have even allowed myself to receive love, and give love, to them. I never thought I'd make it this far. But if I can make it this far, I begin to indulge in the hope that maybe I can make it all the way. All the way to happiness and the never before experienced feeling of "completeness". A life of balance and beauty. Love and the ability to handle conflict in a reasonable, harmonious and respectful manner.

Now, it's time to work on self-sabotage. And ... to learn that the right men can be trusted. I need friends and family who believe in me. Encourage and support me in the inner work that I must do if I am ever going to exist in a truly loving relationship with them, and those I am destined to meet.

I wrote this down because I just needed someone to hear me. Hear what I've worked out so far. Where I've come from and where I'm trying to go. And know that with my last breath, I will never stop trying to be ... someone.

1 comment:

  1. When I hear or read of others' such sad beginnings, I feel embarrassed to take my own trauma seriously, and ashamed to ask for help. I'm grateful that you take it seriously, however. Maybe that means eventually I will, too. Thank you.