Tag Archives: trauma

Gratitude

I started writing as a way to process trauma and other difficult things that found their way into my life. It never lets me down. I’ve been doing some journaling over the past few weeks to deal with some family stuff, and each time I write, I have a cathartic cry and end up feeling lighter. Every single time! You should try it!

Over the past few months, the need to write has decreased. Sure, life continues to shit on me whenever it gets the urge, but  I’m kind of OK when life shits on me. I chalk it up to life sometimes being shitty, maybe have a cry about it, and go on about my day. Does this happen every time life shits on me? Nope. But way more than it used to, so I’ll take it.

My therapeutic writing transitioned into writing about amazing experiences I’ve had that had nothing to do with trauma at all..still things I needed help processing/understanding, I suppose. All I know is, when my soul tells me to write about something, I listen.

Tonight, my soul is telling me to write about gratitude. Not processing anything, not pages of angst, no questions…just gratitude for what I have, what I am, what is.

  1. I am grateful for my health. Even though I have two chronic illnesses which cause chronic pain, annoying discomforts and require time, effort, money…and I can’t eat bread, for crying out loud…I’m grateful for my health. I’m alive. I can work. I can drive my boat. I can love.
  2. I am grateful for my family. Of course, my sons…my reasons for going through all this shit. God, I am blessed with those guys.  But, when I say I’m grateful for my family, I’m also referring to the members of my family that have been a part of the whole “life shitting on me” crap. Despite all the heartache…and let me tell you, it’s a LOT of heartache… I’ve learned some valuable life lessons from them, and I think going through what I’ve gone through with them over this past year has allowed me to become something akin to angelic. I’ve learned to love when I’m not being loved. I’ve learned to forgive when I haven’t been asked for forgiveness. I know a lot of people know how to do these things, but for me…it took a lot of work. I think it’s a little harder when you have to give this love and forgiveness to people you’ve been craving love from your entire life. To be able to love them, and be OK with them not loving you back, well… that’s just something bigger than any words I can come up with, so I’ll stop here.
  3. I am grateful for failed relationships. Who would’ve guessed it? Well, not really all of them. Most of them I could do without. Maybe because they’re all really the same guy. But, the last couple, I’m grateful for those ones. With them, I was able to accomplish things I never could figure out how to do with the other guys. With one of them, I’ve learned how to stand up for myself, how to value myself. How to feel worthy…at least, for a little bit. At least, until I met the next guy, ha ha. Hey, that’s a pretty big deal when you haven’t done that before. And that next guy? Well… I can’t say the lesson is 100% complete, but I think I’m pretty close. The lesson I’m finally learning, the same lesson all the other guys came into my life to teach me…I’m learning how to let go of people I’m attached to. I’m learning to not take things personally if someone can’t love me. This is so important, because by learning this lesson in a relationship, I’m also learning how to do it with the people in my family. It all comes full circle. You know, you keep unconsciously seeking out the same situations you’re struggling with, in order to resolve them. Except you don’t KNOW that’s what you’re doing, so all you do is keep repeating the same pattern over and over and over, wondering why the hell you’re so unlovable…until something clicks (really, just therapy….just go to therapy. Everyone. Just go.) and you understand that saying, “Remember that time you confused a life lesson with a soul mate?” You learn that some people aren’t going to love you, and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with how lovable you are. Yeah. That. I’m so close…
  4. I’m grateful for my practice. “Practice” is the word I use to put all of my “work” into a nice, neat little package. Therapy (which I don’t go to anymore, but don’t want to leave out how important of a piece it was in solving my puzzle), writing, meditation, going to church, surrounding myself with people who empower me and lift me up, consciously validating myself, not seeking validation from others, service to others…all of this is my practice. And my practice is what connects me to “source”…which is a long-winded way of saying I’m grateful for my connection to God. Without it, I’d be the lost lamb again. I’m not lost anymore. I am grateful… I am touched by grace… I am love… I am light… I am.

 

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Bubbles, caves and ecosystems

Relationship dynamics are so complex. It doesn’t matter which type of relationship you look at…romantic, friends, coworkers, family…there’s fragile framework in a lot of them. Sure, some are pretty rock solid, but as far as I can tell, many are like a house of cards. It can look nice, and be fun to participate in…but you’re always mindful and know that one misstep can make the roof collapse.

It’s funny how you can live in a house of cards your entire life, and not even realize it. Maybe you think everyone’s house is made of cards. Or maybe you know your house is made of cards, but you don’t want to let anyone else know about that shoddy construction. Or even more likely, you don’t want to admit to yourself that there’s just no real support around you.  So, you tell yourself everything’s just fine. “This is SO normal”, you say,  as you walk on eggshells, trying to keep everything in place.

OK, this analogy is getting away from me, sorry. It sounded so good in my head when I started. Let me switch gears here… some people create these little ecosystems of lives. Like Sandy Cheeks on Sponge Bob. She’s a squirrel living in the ocean. As a land animal, she needs to put her entire home in a bubble in order to survive…her own little ecosystem. Except Sandy is living there because she wants to enjoy life with her friends. The people I’m talking about, well…they create these ecosystems because they are hiding. Not so much from people, but from the truth.  I’ll let you interpret the truth in any way you choose…the truth of a painful past, the truth about their insecurities, the truth about their guilt, the truth about toxic behavior, the truth about shame… pick whichever one suits your fancy. Or maybe they’re hiding from a toxic person. An abusive person. Or addiction, or abandonment, or neglect.  Or past failures. For this conversation, let’s call the truth and/or the toxic person/environment “The volcano”.  So, if you spend enough time in their ecosystem, you don’t even realize what’s going on isn’t normal, because everyone living in the bubble is acting just like you are…walking on eggshells to keep the volcano from erupting. Acting like it’s perfectly normal to live in this giant, explosive shadow. Or like it’s normal to live with shame and guilt. Or like it’s normal to live with abuse. Keeping the lid on the volcano becomes automatic. It’s a survival technique. No, it doesn’t always work…that sucker still blows it’s top from time to time, but if everyone tiptoes around enough, it settles down. Till the next time….

The trouble brews when you finally realize, “Hey, I’m thinking maybe this isn’t so normal, after all”. You take a step back, outside of the bubble, into the sun. At first, it’s too bright….so bright, it hurts. Because you’re used to living in the dark. Like living in a cave. It’s so much easier to hide in a cave. The dark corners can feel safe, although they are cold and lonely. You sort of end up picking your poison. So, you find some sunglasses and do some hard work…facing things no one else wants to face. You face the truth. You face the toxicity. You face the guilt, the shame, the insecurities, the pain…you even start to talk about it. And trust me, that’s a big deal. NO ONE talks about what goes on in the bubble. No one. But you do it, anyway. Because it’s freeing. And once that’s said and done, you realize walking on eggshells hurts like hell. You can’t believe you never noticed the pain those shells cause you. And then you look at everyone else in that bubble and wonder how the hell they can stand it in there, bleeding from walking on shells, just to keep a volcano from erupting. The sun doesn’t hurt anymore. You throw your sunglasses to the ground and yell to your loved ones “Just leave the volcano, for crying out loud! Save yourselves!” They look at you like you’re crazy.  They are wincing, from having to look at you in that bright light of the sun. “Leave the volcano? God no!” and just like that, you are the black sheep, because change is hard. They get mad at you. Maybe some of them gaslight you. Maybe some of them shame you for talking. Maybe some of them resent you for doing and facing what they are incapable of doing and facing themselves.  They might even allow you to come back in, IF you stop talking about “it”…whatever “it” is that makes them so uncomfortable. God, you even think about it for a while. I mean, these are the people you love, for God’s sake! You want to be with them, to be loved by them… accepted. Chosen. You really think about it, without even noticing that these conditions they are putting on you means they aren’t choosing you at all. So, you try, but soon discover, in order to survive in their bubble, you need to let go of your light. And you find you can’t do that, even if you wanted to…because you realize, you ARE the light.  They just don’t realize that the light will stop hurting once they face it, and there’s not a damn thing you can say to make them understand. Oh, you try alright. But it doesn’t work.  They just become more angry, more reactive, more withdrawn.  All because you cracked open their bubble, their fragile ecosystem, their house of cards. The light shined on them, and on all the things they are hiding from. It’s blinding. They are not ready to look at those things.  You really can’t blame them…you lived in the bubble your entire life, just like them. Coping. All you can do now is love them from afar, and pray for God to give them just a touch of grace, like he did to you…back when you found the light. A touch of grace to allow them to see the light. Just enough to find their path out of the cave.

P.S. I will always be waiting at the end of the path to share my light with you.

The Friday Reminder for #SoCS & #JusJoJan Daily Prompt, Jan. 6th, 2018

This post was written in response to Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Social Consciousness Saturday. No edits allowed! (none needed…this flowed from my soul…)

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Butterfly party

 

reborn

 

I can remember when we were deciding to buy this house. It was about 8 years ago, and as we toured the open floor plan, we both kept saying how great of a house it would be to throw parties in…and we were right. I’ve hosted so many birthday parties, Christmas parties, craft-night parties, baby showers… you name it. I love entertaining. If I was not out doing something fun with my friends, I was having them over to do it here. Social butterfly, always something going on. I was a good time!

I was not consciously aware that by constantly socializing and developing new friendships, I was covering up the “real me”…the me that I hoped no one would ever see. The me that was insecure, and unlovable. The me that had done so many shameful things in the past. The unworthy me.   I was desperately trying to fill the hole inside me and create that feeling of emotional intimacy I didn’t even realize I was craving. I was trying to create a feeling of being needed and wanted… “worthy”… the feelings I never felt in my marriage, or from any boyfriend, or from my parents, or really from anyone other than my children. It fascinates me that I was oblivious to all of this as I went about my socialization. I knew it was an accomplishment that I went from being that “loser me” to the “popular me”. I had worked hard on changing it, but honestly never thought in a million years it would work. I slipped into this dream role so effortlessly, no one had a clue. I was so good at it, even I didn’t have a clue.

Fast forward to earlier this year.  I started therapy and the journey of processing my entire life. Opening up Pandora’s box was painful and raw, and made me realize the role I had been playing was not the “real me”. I felt like a fraud, and knew that if my friends found out who the “real me” was, they would know I’m a fraud, too. I couldn’t imagine keeping the act up with them, now that I had acknowledged who I really was. I dropped out of the public eye for a few months. I couldn’t face anyone. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere… except my therapist’s office.  This is when I realized where I was my entire life…in a cocoon. It’s one thing to live in a cocoon, blissfully unaware. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but when it’s all you know, it’s not so bad. It’s a whole other thing to be aware… to realize you are trapped inside. It’s crazy how shame can be such a bully. Trauma causes your brain to protect you in the most bizarre ways. Blaming and shaming yourself is so much easier than acknowledging the horror of what really happened to you. I became my own worst enemy. No one could judge me harder than I was judging myself, but I couldn’t understand that at the time.  I understand now.

I understand now, because I spent the past 9 months working hard to rewire the thought processes in my brain. It took me 9 months to  crack through the layers of that cocoon and start my real life.   I’m now on the outside, with the cocoon pieces surrounding me, admiring these beautiful new wings amidst the dark remnants. I think it will take me some time to figure out how to use them to their full potential, but that’s ok…I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.

Last night, I entertained friends for the first time in over a year. I just turned 45, so I threw myself a party. It seemed fitting, as it’s been 9 months since I started this journey. Sometimes, you have to die a little bit inside in order to be reborn. I called it my “Re-Birth Party” and invited my tribe. My tribe consists of friends who have met the “real me” and didn’t think I was a fraud at all. Friends who didn’t judge me one bit (something I still occasionally have to remind myself to believe) for those horrible things “I did” over the years. Friends who saw me feeling unworthy and unlovable and instead of running away like I assumed they would, stayed and valued me and loved me. Still, I have had a hard time feeling that love, even though I now know it exists. This work takes time, I guess.  I actually have quite an extended tribe, which is pretty amazing. I couldn’t have all of them here… you gotta start in baby steps. Anyway, this party was perfect. We ate and drank and laughed and danced, and even had a disco ball! It lasted till 1am, which is pretty late for a group of 40 and 50-somethings! Everyone was happy. I was happy. I was surrounded by empowering, uplifting, loving friends, and it was real. Towards the end of the night, we linked arms and sang along with “Danny’s Song”. I ended up in the middle, with me singing to them and them singing to me. “And in the morning when I rise, bring a tear of joy to my eyes and tell me everything is gonna be alright…”  and that’s exactly what happened. I was moved to tears, but for the first time since I started this journey, they were tears of joy.  I was worthy. I was lovable. I was happy.

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45

Today I turn 45. I’ve never been one to regret growing older. I’m grateful to have made it this far. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always had this feeling that I was going to die young. I never really knew how young, but I knew I would never make it to grandparent age. I think I often pictured it to be in my 30s or 40s, so to make it to 45 is pretty good. Why? No idea. Just something I’ve always “known”. Not a suicidal thought, just regular old dying…like disease or accident or something out of my hands.  Kind of like how I’ve always known that living “happily ever after” was never in the cards for me. I grew up knowing I wasn’t the type of girl who was going to have someone fall madly in love with her and want nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with her.  Sometimes, I would imagine it, but inevitably scolded myself for dreaming about things I didn’t deserve. I was never quite sure why I didn’t deserve them, but I was smart enough to be aware of it. Like not living to be old, it was out of my hands. These are things I’ve just inherently known, like knowing I was female, or I was Native American, Italian and French…you are who you are and the things that are going to happen, well…they just happen.

 

Now that I’ve started on my journey this year, I think I’ve started to unravel the mystery of why I’ve always had those feelings. They seemed so normal my whole life, up until this year. Now I know they are not normal feelings…unless maybe you have unresolved childhood trauma. It makes sense for me to feel my life is not in my control. How could it be? It never has been.  At 9, I learned the first lesson: It just wasn’t in the cards for me to have my mom want to stay. At 13, I learned it wasn’t in the cards for me to choose with who and when I wanted to have sex for the first time (and second, third, fourth….15th…20th time….). At 14, I learned I could not control the anger of my stepmother, nor her impulsive rage towards me. It was out of my hands. Just how things were. At the same age, I learned it just wasn’t in the cards for me to have a dad that could protect me from her. Through the rest of my teen years, I kept on learning that first sexual lesson I received at 13. Actually, for the rest of my life I kept learning that lesson. I can’t remember at what age I figured out that it just wasn’t in the cards for me to ever know what real emotional intimacy felt like. It’s sad that this realization didn’t make me sad. It was something I accepted before I even realized it. I knew I wasn’t worthy. I even had come to the realization that it wasn’t in the cards for me to have kids, because really…how can that happen when no one is going to love me? Thank God I was wrong on that one…I have somehow been blessed with two of the most lovely, compassionate, amazing boys anyone could ever dream of having. I’m always surprised at how these two awe-inspiring human beings were created from the nothingness of me.  I knew I didn’t deserve them. I figured I must have slipped one past God, and was so terrified that he would realize the mistake and take them from me. So far, he hasn’t noticed, but the fear still exists.

 

I’ve come a long way in the past year. I’ve started to understand how I’ve become who I am. I understand why I have that hole inside my soul. Heck, even understanding there is a hole in my soul is pretty amazing. I always thought my feelings were normal. Just how I was. Now I know they are from trauma. Lots of trauma. So much trauma that I kept hidden in a box, deep down inside of me. The jagged edges of that box are what carved the hole inside my soul. That’s often how it works…one trauma sets you up for the next, and so on and so on. It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself because it’s all you know. Since it’s all you know, as far as you can see, it’s normal. It is what it is. People can live and die without knowing any better. Luckily for me, I happened to stumble across a little glimmer of light while in couples therapy. It turns out, that little glimmer of light was a crack in that box I kept my trauma in. Amazing how a little bit of therapy with the right person, at the right time, using the right tools (writing in my journal, meditating) is powerful enough to crack open that box. I ended up spending the past year diving head first into that box. I saw the darkest parts of my existence and for a while, I thought I might suffocate and die in there. By the grace of God, I came out. I’m not all the way out…I think my feet are more often than not, still standing in the box, and sometimes, I get tired and just lie down in there, but other times I step out of it. I stepped out enough to realize that I actually have some control over what happens to me. The trick is to understand that I can’t control what others think or do, but I can control how I respond, how I act….what I’m willing to let happen to me.  It took me reaching the age of 45 to realize I control me. I control me. I could have just taped up that crack in the box and went about my business. I think that would have been a lot easier, but you know what? That just wasn’t in the cards for me.

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Brag about Jag

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I’m attending a Halloween party tonight and bringing my signature party dish, Jag. I love bringing this to parties because I can  be pretty sure no one else will be making it.  I cringe when I show up with something that someone else brought…it always makes me feel bad for the other person, like I ruined their contribution.  I don’t like carrying that kind of guilt around all night. One time, I brought a Mexican dip to a party and sneaked it back into the car, because I didn’t want the owners of the two other Mexican dips to feel bad when they see no one eating it.  With this dish,  I know I’ll never hear, “Oh, you can just put it on the table next to the other Jags”. More often than not, I have to explain to the guests just exactly what Jag is. I live on Cape Cod, home of clam chowder and lobster rolls. Jag is a Cape Verde beans and rice dish, though often thought of as Portuguese, as it’s full of delicious linguica.  Everyone’s recipe is a bit different, but it really doesn’t matter, because on Cape Cod, in my circle of friends, you can be pretty sure no place I’m going to has even heard of it.  Mine is full of bacon, linguica, butter…(do NOT tell my cardiologist I eat this stuff!) I’m not the type to brag…unless it’s about my Jag. (Damn, the poetry just kinda flowed right there).I’m sorry, but my Jag is the bomb! My friends at this party are expecting it. I can’t show up with paltry cheese and crackers anymore. That’s so beneath me.  People are depending on me! Tonight, as I walk in, the crowd will part to create a path for us.  “It’s here” they’ll whisper. I’ll cradle the pot in my arms, smiling… holding it out towards the food table like Rashiki holding up baby Simba in the Lion King. “Behold…the Jag!” Yes, that’s right…my Jag is as good as a royal newborn son.

I wrote about my Jag once, in my journal. I know I’ve mentioned in my other posts about going to therapy.  My therapist got me started on writing in a journal as a way to process things when I wasn’t in her office. Most who know me know how fortunate I am to have found the perfect match in a therapist. Let’s be real here… she is the best therapist on Cape Cod. I know, I haven’t actually been to any other therapists on Cape Cod… or anywhere, but it’s pretty obvious. Her name is Susan and she is a compassionate, badass, confident, empowering LISCW. She’s the kind of woman who’s not afraid to tell you when you’re off track, but also the first to validate you when it’s right. She has a way of planting seeds in my insecurities that grow into confidence. It’s really hard for me to give an accurate description of her, other than to say that I am 100% sure I would have ended up stuck in that dark, uncomfortable, cold cocoon for the rest of my life if I hadn’t met her. I wouldn’t have even known I was in a cocoon. I just would have died in there, never knowing  I could have fought my way out. She’s given me the tools I needed to chip away at my shell and progress in my transformation to the butterfly. I always kind of feel bad for people when I hear them say they are going to therapy. I think, “gee, it’s too bad they are going to such a mediocre therapist”, which is funny, because I have no idea who they are even seeing. All I know is it’s not Susan, so they must at least be a little sucky. Even when they talk about how much their therapist has helped them, I think “Aw, poor thing. It’s too bad that you think this is good help. Imagine how much better you would be if you went to Susan”. If Susan ever retires, I’m screwed.

Earlier this year, as I started to peel off the layers of trauma, I started to have a spiritual awakening. It’s really a whole other story for another time. Though one interesting part of it was the synchronicity I suddenly  became keenly aware of. It felt as if the Universe was trying to show me that I was on the right path. Coincidences and signs everywhere I turned. Some major, some small, but they happened all the time. Even Susan noticed it. Guess what her signature party dish is? Yep….Jag!

The awakening came at a time when I was doubting so much in my life….doubting myself, mostly, but also the entire process of my therapeutic journey. When you start peeling off those layers you’ve been carrying around all these years, it can get pretty ugly. You begin to wonder if you are doing the right thing. “Hmmm…I’m paying Susan one hundred dollars an hour to make me feel like I’m dying inside?” It seems like the process is taking forever and you begin to think that this might be as good as it gets.

It was an emotionally charged day when I had finally mustered up the courage to tell a friend for the first time about my childhood sexual abuse. I had only told Susan and my husband, and never imagined telling another soul. I honestly couldn’t even believe that I had told them about it. I thought I was taking that shit to the grave. You don’t just go around sharing your shame with people, you know? That’s the whole reason I kept it inside me for 30 years….if anyone ever found out, they would know how dirty and disgusting I was, and realize I was a fraud. As I pulled up to her driveway, overflowing with anxiety and considering turning around and going home, a family of four deer walked out of her back yard, crossing my path on the street. NOT a regular occurrence around here! I’d never seen anything like it. I couldn’t stop thinking about those deer, and how they appeared as I was about to share the most shameful secret of my childhood. Later that day, I looked up the meaning of a deer visit. It symbolizes “the innocence of the inner child”. Whoa. I told my husband, in disbelief.  He was not impressed. How could he not see the connection between the innocence of the inner child and me telling the story of losing my childhood innocence? Come ON!! That man just does not get anything about me. Those next few weeks were dark for me. There were way too many puzzle pieces swirling around in my brain. I was confused and depressed, for sure.  I had been working hard on figuring out how to forgive 13 year old Jami (I was 13 when the sexual abuse started) and I just couldn’t find a way to do it. I thought 13 year old Jami was shameful, dirty and disgusting. I just couldn’t shake it. I was discouraged and felt like giving up on all this therapy. It wasn’t working. I was more miserable than when I started. I remember lying on the couch one day, staring at the TV. My husband and youngest son came home. I could hear my husband say something to my son about “tell Mom what happened this morning”. I pulled myself up to a sitting position for the first time in hours. I knew I was just going through the motions for my family, but it was the best I could do. I looked over at my son, who was just 3 days shy of his 13th birthday. His face lit up as he started to share with me…“Mom, I was getting ready for school this morning and I looked out the window in the back yard and there was a deer looking at me!” I stared at him. It was like I had cleaned the dirt of my glasses and could see clear, for the first time in weeks… no, months. As I stared at him, it happened. I understood the significance of what was going on. God, it was right there, in plain sight, this whole time! It just took the coincidence of the deer to get me to notice. My son was turning 13. My sweet, innocent son. The son who still gives me tender kisses goodnight. The son who plays video games and hasn’t even gotten his braces yet. The son who feels excitement about a deer being in our yard. My inner voice spoke loudly, “He’s 13, just like you were. If that happened to him, would you forgive him?” I got up and went into my room so he wouldn’t see me crying. He’s only 13. If someone molested him, he wouldn’t be dirty. He wouldn’t be guilty. It wouldn’t be his fault. I would not think he was disgusting, shameful or unworthy. 13 year old Eric is pure. So why do I feel those things about 13 year old Jami? And just like that, the dark cloud lifted.

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I just might wear this costume all year long.

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Bully in my brain

bullyWhen I was first diagnosed with PTSD (and really, even now), I punished myself for having it.  I guess that’s pretty common for people like me. As I journaled through the influx of emotions and hyper-vigilance of those first overwhelming weeks, I wrote and said some pretty nasty things to myself. Stop being such a drama queen! You’re such an attention whore…these things happened YEARS ago! Get over it!” It was pretty ugly, but I was ugly, so it makes sense. I was a bully.  I shamed myself for needing to go to therapy twice a week. I shamed myself needing therapy at all. I shamed myself for being dramatic and sleeping with a knife by my bed and one eye on the door. I shamed myself for how I felt when I was faced with a trigger. I shamed myself for even having triggers. I shamed myself for my nightmares.  I shamed myself for not being a good enough wife. I shamed myself for spending so much time writing in my journal.  Yeah, I shamed myself for just about everything. That’s PTSD for you. It’s a self-centered bitch that likes to be in charge. Oh, you’re planning on spending time snuggling your husband on the couch tonight? I don’t THINK so! You’re going to have tachycardia and nausea instead, loser!”  My life was like a giant puzzle tossed in the air…pieces flying everywhere and nothing seemed to connect. I couldn’t put any of it together to see the bigger picture, or even a fragment of the picture. Pieces would fly right in front of me, and slip away before I could make any sense of them. Even a four year old can put together a puzzle. What the hell was wrong with me?

Somehow, I managed to keep it together enough to continue raising my kids and keep my business running. It took every ounce of energy and concentration I had, because what I really wanted to be doing was lying under my blanket in my locked bedroom. I spent most of this year like this: kids, therapy, journal, work, bed…kids, therapy, journal, work, bed.  Unfortunately for my husband, there was no room for him. Journaling was a tool my therapist gave me. She gives me the tools, and I have to figure out how to use them to fix my problems. At least, that’s the plan. Anyway, I just so happened to have signed up for a four week course to become a Certified Alzheimer’s Case Manager, right around the time all this PTSD shit hit the fan. “Great”, I thought. “I have to learn about dementia right now?!” She started the lecture by discussing the brain, specifically the limbic system. I dreaded where this was going, but once we started,  I actually found it to be a welcome distraction from my flashbacks and paranoia. But here’s where it gets exciting… I actually learned about something that was directly related to what I was going through…the amygdala.

In a nutshell, the amygdala ( pronounced “ah-MIG-dah-la”) is a section of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, including detecting fear and preparing for emergency events. Any physical or psychological threat activates the amygdala. When this happens, the pre frontal cortex part of the brain activates. It assesses the situation and decides whether the threat is real and what to do about it, then shuts down the amygdala. Like when someone startles you…your amygdala reacts with fear, and the pre frontal cortex realizes it’s someone you know and shuts down that fear response. Pretty simple, right?  However, chemical and biological imbalances can present after trauma, resulting in an over-stimulated amygdala. So, instead of the quick “fight, flight or freeze” then relaxation, sufferers often find themselves without the relaxation part of that process. Basically, the amygdala holds on to that trauma…and won’t let go.

“Ahhh…so THAT’S why I feel this way”. It made sense. It was like I put at least 6 pieces of the corner section of my puzzle together. Validation! “So, I’m NOT a drama queen, after all…it’s just my amygdala”. I felt the heavy weight I’d been carrying around just lift from me. I felt…good.  I sort of skipped out there, humming U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” and replaced the word “beautiful” with “amygdala”. “It’s an amygdala dayyyyy…..” (yes, I’m that big of a dork). I felt free. Wow…I couldn’t believe an Alzheimer’s class cleared up my PTSD! So easy! Why didn’t my therapist know about this? We could have saved me so much angst…and so many co-pays!  I couldn’t wait to fill her in on the cure I’d just discovered. She was going to be so grateful to me!

Well, that’s kind of funny to read now, isn’t it? Yeah, that euphoria lasted a good 45 minutes or so, before I returned home to my trigger of a husband and learned my next lesson… just because you understand why you have these feelings, doesn’t mean you can control them. So, in perfect traumatized form, I beat myself up for singing that song… for thinking I was better. “You fool. There’s no fixing you. You’re damaged. The whole world doesn’t change just because you took a dumb class, you dumbass. You’re still scared. You’re still needy. You’re still worthless. What’s wrong with you?” God, I  hate that damn bully.

So here I am, 7 months later, still finding I’m beating myself up for my feelings, my needs, my expectations. Only now, since I’ve learned about why I’m such a bully, I’ve found I’m a little less mean. I’m slowly rewiring my brain to allow myself have these feelings and not judge them so harshly.  When I’m feeling sad or insecure, I allow myself to feel sad or insecure (well, sometimes). That in itself takes a boatload of work, but that’s what this journey is: work.  The rewiring work is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve got the right tools. Each therapy visit, each journal entry, each mediation, each yoga class…each one gives me a new tool. Now it’s up to me to remember to use them.

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