Tag Archive | thriving

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water—triggers, PTSD, and healing

Last weekend my seven year old son arrived home from a sleepover with his sister and began telling me all that he had done.  He was happy.  I was feeling quite happy and I was enjoying his narrative when suddenly, amidst all of the other happy chatter he announced, “Oh, Rufus is missing.”  Rufus was my cat and he was what is termed in our family as a “kitty supreme.”  I watched him be born, the runt of the litter and ugly as sin, and he grew into a magnificently gorgeous cat with a disposition to match.  I loved him very much and I suddenly felt utterly shattered.  When we moved to Montana, he went to one of my older sons for safe keeping. When that son graduated college, and began a job in DC, he could not have a cat and left Rufus with his father.  Soon after, I got out of prison and wanted my Rufus back, but my first husband had now become too attached to him to let him go.  Rufus was now also declawed and was kept indoors.  Rufus loved the great outdoors more than most anything else.  Rufus had escaped his confines and was now gone.

Clearing the road of your past takes work.

Upon hearing that Rufus was missing, my mood plummeted instantly.  I went into a frenzy of trying to get more information from one of my adult kids but with no results.  I was upset with the way my son had delivered the news–he had the smallest of smiles on his face at the time–and that bothered me terribly.  I stepped outside to clear my head and make sense of the extremity of my feelings.   I was a jumble of feelings and I needed to sort them out sooner rather than later.  The first thing I realized was that I was reacting to something bigger than the bad news my son had told me, and his poor delivery.  He is seven years old, after all.  He has not yet mastered the fine art of sharing upsetting news.   It was at that point that I realized that as upset as I was about the loss of dear, sweet, gorgeous, Rufus, I had been triggered and there it was in a nutshell.  I was reacting to a past trauma that he been reactivated by the news of Rufus.  PSTD is a bitch like that.  Just when I think I have got it all dealt with, managed, and under control, something comes out of no where and socks me in the gut, leaving me gasping for air, and shaking my head hard trying to erase a memory I no longer want.

But there it was, the memory of an incident from almost four years ago, and one that disturbed me beyond words at the time, but horrifies me even more now.  We were still living in the “blue house”–the house of horrors.  There had been a bad storm that had knocked down many of my then husband’s Jerry rigged fences made of pallets held together with wire.  We had over 50 farm animals and they were loose and the fences needed to be put back up quickly.  I do not remember if my son was yet four or not, but it was sometime in November.  My husband and I were already sleeping in separate bedrooms, and I was already trying to find a way to leave him.  I do not remember what my son and I had done while he fixed fences.  I do not remember if this was the storm that knocked the power out for two days, forcing me to go to my first husband’s house to bake the seven layers for my son’s rainbow birthday cake.  I just do not remember.

What I do remember is going up to my husband’s bedroom with our little boy to wake him up.  He, my husband, began to talk about all the work of fixing the fences as he lay in bed.  On he prattled as I sat listening, and then with absolutely no change in facial expression, tone of voice, and without any words at all that might have prepared me, he began listing off names of animals.  I cannot remember how many names he recited, but it felt like ten or so.  Because of the look on his face, and the emotionless way in which he was talking, I remember feeling myself relax, certain that he was going to tell me they were all fine and back in the pens.

So, he listed the names with an almost cheerful expression, and I let down my guard, and when he finished the list of names he said in a matter of fact manner, “All dead.”  Yes, our little boy heard every word.  Yes, I freaked out.  Yes, I loved those animals very much.  Yes, I was utterly crushed and my reaction to the death of the animals obscured, for that time, the more disturbing fact which was that my husband smiled as he told me, and he did not care enough to prepare me for the horrible news, nor did he care that our little boy heard every word.  I have learned since that sociopaths are like that.  They do not care about anyone, or anything, but themselves.

Two or three weeks later I would be arrested for driving to the grocery store without a license.  I got pulled over because his car was not inspected.  While I was a complete idiot to drive without a license with my past arrest record, I now fully believe the car had not been inspected on purpose.  A month after that, I went to court thinking I would have a fine to pay only to find out that, because of a minimum mandatory sentencing law I knew nothing about, I was now facing up to five years in prison.  Later that night, he came into my room.  I did not want him anywhere near me.  He got into bed with me and leaned over me and said, “I am so sorry you have to go to prison.  I just want to hold you.”  He had a smirk on his face…a knowing smirk.  It was the smirk of someone who had accomplished a long hoped for goal.

Of course, I erased that smirk from my mind almost immediately, but it never left. It was over two years later, with the help of a trauma specialist, while I spent my six months in prison, that I spoke out loud of the smirk and realized I had been set up.  I can accept that now with a grace that comes from God, fully knowing that it was that arrest that got me out of that marriage, and that it was in prison where God blessed me beyond imagination, and gave me my calling.  It is a gift that I cherish, even when that smirk flashes into my head.

As awful as all of what I have described sounds, and it was awful, there is plenty of good, and hope to be found among all of this.  In the past, when triggered, it might have taken me days to figure out what I was reacting to, or more often, overreacting, and it might have taken me days to recover.  From start to finish, this PTSD trigger event was recognized, felt, figured out, and resolved within about an hour.   While I remained sad about Rufus, and am still sad, I was able to settle back into an optimistic mood and we have a good evening.  That is progress.  That progress is the fruit of some very hard work towards healing from a lifetime of trauma.  It was hard work, but at times like these, I am reminded of just how important, worthwhile, and life-giving the work of resolving trauma is.  It brings with it freedom that is far more glorious than my release from prison was, because while I was in prison, I came to see that I was finally free for the first time in my life.

Rufus—my kitty supreme…

The effects of the trauma in my life had manifest itself in many ways over the years, and had looked like many things.  There is a huge link between trauma and substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and misdiagnosed mental health issues like bipolar disorder.  PTSD can come out in many forms and can mimic many things.  All of those things are prisons that confine and define us inaccurately.  PTSD can be healed with hard work, commitment, and the courage and desire to truly be free.  Triggers still happen, but they will no longer consume.  The experiences are integrated, and I move on, and I heal a bit more.  I thrive.  Today, I thrive in a way I never though possible.  If you are a trauma survivor, I encourage you to work to heal it all no matter how long it takes, or how much it hurts. I encourage you to become free.  I encourage you to thrive, not merely survive.

Thoughts on tolerance and boundaries

In the last two days, the hot topic amidst my gaggle of female friends has been boundaries, and tolerance, as an offshoot of the boundaries discussion.  One friend asked, “Why are boundaries so hard?”  For those of us who have abuse backgrounds the answer is easy—we never learned boundaries as children, or if we did, abuse in adult relationships made us doubt and question our boundaries at time and again.  We got told we were in the wrong at every turn and we began to believe it, sacrificing our own boundaries, wants,  needs, and beliefs, to try to make the abuser happy, or simply to keep the peace.  While our boundaries were being dismantled most of us grew extremely tolerant of what was purely bad, toxic, unhealthy behavior on the part of others.

Because so many women who are abuse survivors go on to have issues with alcohol and drug abuse, boundaries are further blurred and lost.  We begin to do things that do not mesh with our own values and beliefs. We develop a great deal of guilt and shame because we are betraying ourselves, and those people that we love the most, so our tolerance for poor treatment goes up even higher, while our boundaries become even more fuzzy.  We are miserable and needy and unhappy and we attract people who are miserable, needy, unhappy, or outright personality disordered.  Women with abuse backgrounds, or substance abuse issues, are the perfect targets for those predatory people of the narcissist and sociopath varieties.  Who better and easier to manipulate than someone who has no set boundaries?  Of course, we want to be needed, so these toxic people who attach to us help us to feel better about ourselves, even if they are using us, or do not really love or care about us.

But a funny thing happens when a woman from an abuse background starts to heal. It really begins to upset the apple cart in our unhealthy relationships.  The same thing happens when an alcoholic or addict gets clean and sober.  As we get better, our boundaries begin to return, and we grow stronger, and more self-assured.  We begin to ask for what we need and set firm limits for what we will not tolerate.  Guilt and shame starts to drop away, and surviving begins to head towards thriving.  The unhealthy people in our lives hate that.  It threatens them, and so they revolt, usually in the most unpleasant of ways.  They lash out, they accuse us of having “a twisted sense of boundaries,” they blame us for their shortcomings, they get jealous, they undermine, they get mean, they set out to hurt us, demean us—anything in their bag of trick to try to get us to fall back into old behavior—seeking their forgiveness, accepting the blame that isn’t yours to own, and going back, once again, to tolerating bad behavior.  When that does not work, these folks tend to get madder and meaner in their desperation to regain control.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it?  It certainly feels awful when one is in the midst of if, but it is such a good and positive sign that you are moving in the right direction!  It is a sure sign that you are moving towards health and wholeness and the unhealthy relationships that you have been enmeshed in are dropping away.  It is unfortunate that the dropping away process is not more gentle, but the fact is that toxic and disordered people are not known for gentleness, or quietly disappearing into the sunset.  The relationship will end with them kicking and screaming and blaming you all the way.  You simply must not take their behavior personally.  You are getting better and leaving them behind and they are mad as hell—at themselves for not having the courage to follow–or for the disordered, they are mad that you are not falling for their crap anymore.

This is a time when your boundaries and tolerance will be tested in ways beyond belief.  You will feel torn and guilty.  You will question yourself.  “Is what he/she said really true?”  No, it is not.  It is far more apt to be true about them than it is to be true about you.  What you are being afforded is an excellent opportunity to firm up your boundaries even more by disengaging.  So many of us want closure, or the last word, or an apology from the one who lashed out at us.  None of those things are helpful.  What is helpful is moving away from the toxic person as quickly as possible.  Do not take on their “stuff,” and do not look to mend fences that were falling apart to begin with.  Love yourself enough to let go as completely as possible, with the maximum amount of compassion and forgiveness possible, for yourself, and for the person you are leaving behind.  Getting healthy is a process and this is a part of the process.  Do not beat yourself up for not seeing the person for what they were sooner, or for ignoring what you did see.  Know that you will not make the same mistakes again.

Once you enter “thriving mode,” you will attract other people who are happy, healthy, and thriving.  It is true, and I really want you to know and believe that.  You will also gain a sixth sense about people and you will be able to spot someone who is disordered or toxic with lightening speed, because as your boundaries become solid, your intuition will sharpen in the most magnificent ways.  Suddenly you will know, maybe for the first time in your life, that you are fully capable of keeping yourself safe and healthy and nothing, and no one, will stop you from doing just that.  There is a big difference between being needed and being well-loved.  You will choose to be loved rather than needed.  You won’t do it perfectly, but that is okay.  Just keep moving forward.

Boundaries are tricky in so many ways.  We have different boundaries with friends and family than we do with strangers or people on the outer edges of our lives.  We recalculate and relax as we get to know people.  I have found, for myself, that I am still an extremely tolerant person, even with firm boundaries.  I can tolerate political difference, different religious beliefs, child rearing practices, pretty much anything, unless it violates my boundaries, or the behavior violates the rights of those who cannot defend themselves.  That is where my tolerance ends. If you want me to respect your religious beliefs but will not do the same for me, something is wrong with the picture, and I will turn off the TV, and so on.

Yes, I will give you a chance or two to change your behavior as long as the offense is minor, because that is how I roll, but three strikes, and you are outta here!  If you cannot, or will not, respect my boundaries then I will know you do not care about me in a healthy way and I will say good-bye without a backward glance.  If your offense if major, know that there are some things I have zero tolerance for, such as abuse of any living thing, especially those that cannot defend themselves.  Not only will I remove myself from your life instantly, but I will do what I can to make sure you never hurt another soul, knowing full well that my power is quite limited.  And I will pray for you.  I will always pray for you.

What About Bob? What about you?

I am not in the business of doing movie reviews, but our family has a number of favorite movies, our own cult classics, so to speak.  One is the film, What About Bob?  It stars Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, and if you haven’t seen it, you should add it to your Netflix queue, or better yet, go buy it on Amazon.  It is inexpensive enough.

The movie is a comedy, and it is the story of Bob, played by Bill Murray, who is a man with a number of phobias that have him nearly crippled.  Bob is bounced from one psychiatrist to another, because he is so high needs, until he becomes a client of Dr. Leo Marvin, played by Dreyfuss.  Dr. Marvin sees Bob for the first time just as his new book, Baby Steps, is released at the day before he and his family are set to go on a month long vacation in New Hampshire.  Bob is very upset at the idea of going an entire month without seeing Dr. Marvin, and leaves his appointment, book in hand, distraught.  I am not going to tell you the entire movie plot, but Bob follows the family to New Hampshire, much to the chagrin of Dr. Marvin, but to the delight of Dr. Marvin’s family, because as they get to know Bob, as flawed as he is, they find out what a treasure he is as a human being.

Why is Bob such a treasure amidst his giant ball of fears and phobias, and with his absolute lack of boundaries?  He is such a delight because he is genuine, and honest, and extremely transparent.  Bob is who he is, warts and all, and he’s not ashamed of that.  This blatant personal honesty about his many quirks and shortcomings seems to draw people to him like a magnet.  Bob gives people the gift of allowing them to admit to their own fears and imperfections and he accepts them unconditionally.

As the movie progresses, Bob begins to take some giant steps forward in facing, and removing his fears, and he begins to deliver another gift to the people around him–the willingness and courage to face their own fears.  As Bob heals himself, quite publicly, openly, comically, and with no apologies for who he is, others begin to see that they to can be who they are, speak about what scares them, and erase their fears, too.  Bob becomes a beacon of hope to the people he meets.  It’s a hope that they can be genuine, and flawed, and courageous, and in the end, still be loved and accepted.

I wonder what would happen if we were all more like Bob?  If we did not build elaborate facades to hide our true selves, and our flaws, and our fears?  What is we were trusting enough, and willing enough, and courageous enough to just be who we are, each and every day, with no apologies needed.  What if you showed your own fears, and imperfections, and vulnerabilities, and quirks fearlessly?  What if you were genuine?  What would that look like for you?

Why do we so often fear being who we really are, and work so hard to hide our flawed beauty?  I suspect the answers are as unique as their are people, but there is a commonality in there.  We have all been hurt, or felt “less than,” or been told that we are not enough as we are.  We relentlessly compare ourselves to others instead of looking in the mirror and working on that one person.  We are afraid that no one will like us, let alone love us, if they really knew our thoughts and feeling and fears, so we pretend.  It doesn’t have to be that way, and it takes far too much work to maintain the facade.

We all have areas that need work, or where we need help, but if we do not face them, or admit to them, there will be no change.  If we are not genuine with the people in our lives, how can we expect them to really know us, or know what we really need?  At the same time, how can we expect to have honest relationships if we are not who we genuinely are in public, or in private?  So many of us are terrified of being human.  What will people think if I am not perfect?  If I do not hold it together all of the time, what will become of me?  What if people find out that…fill in the blank.

Generally speaking, I think we would find out that we are all more a like than we are different.  I think we would all enjoy our lives more if we were “real” with ourselves, and with others.  Of course, if we dropped the facades and exposed the areas where we need work and fine tuning we would have to have the courage to do that work, but we wouldn’t be alone in doing so.  In the film, Bob is not a victim. He is a person who strives to become better, then he becomes a survivor, and in the end, he thrives, surrounded by people who love him, and celebrate his uniqueness.

What is the key here?  Is it the willingness, or the honesty, or the courage?  It is a combination of those attributes along with a healthy sense of humor, and a lot of hope.  I believe we all hold those keys within us.  They are the keys that turn us from people pretending to live  into genuine people who are not just surviving, but are sincerely thriving.  Don’t be afraid to use your keys.  The door is waiting to be opened.

So, here I go…

I’ve tried to blog before and it didn’t last, probably because I was doing it for a reason that was not something that was in sync with what my heart knows that it wants to accomplish.  So, I plugged away, and plugged away, and what do you know…it became a bore and a chore.  This is going to be different.  This blog is going to be all about me.  The essential me, who I’ve just come to know at the age of 52 years old.

To say that I have lived a life of extremes would be a gross understatement.  I have lived a life where I never had to worry about money, and I’ve lived in abject poverty.  I have survived childhood sexual abuse, incest, rape, and two abusive marriages, the first mostly emotional, and verbal, though I guess those two black eyes and being held captive in my home for a week when I wanted out do take it to a higher level, and the second to a sociopath.  You could say that I do not pick ’em particularly well, but I am thinking that I won’t make those mistakes ever again 😉

I am a recovering alcoholic, 8 years sober.  I have a college education, and have been on many boards and committees, and all of that good stuff.  I have also been to two rehabs, and one halfway house, and I have been in jail twice, and just got out of prison six months ago, after a 6 months stay paying for sins of the past.  While, it was not on my prison “to-do” list, I made many lifetime friends there, and found myself, as well. I have seven of the most beautiful, caring, generous, forgiving, and accomplished children on the planet.  I like to say that they turned out quite well despite me, but when I am honest with myself, I know that it is because of me to a great extent.

I believe in God, and I love Jesus Christ.  I am devoutly faithful but not religious.   I think that most of the time it is Christians who give Christians a bad name.  I work very hard to walk the talk.  To that end, I am fixin’ to start and ministry and mentorship program for women coming out of incarceration situations. I am a true introvert who does an exceptionally good extravert imitation 😉

Most people, when hearing of my life experiences say, “Oh my, what a tragic life!”  I do not see it that way at all.  I am the eternal optimist, and idealist to the core.  I love my life, and finally knowing who I am, I love myself.  I spent a lifetime trying like crazy, until it made me crazy, to conform to some elusive standard of normalcy, or perfection, or success, and I never quite got it.  Now, I honor myself, and my heart and soul.  And suddenly, because of that one big change, I find that I am no longer just surviving, I am thriving!

The world is a beautiful place and I love life!  Most day, I feel like the most blessed woman on the planet, but this wasn’t always the way that I saw things.  It’s not easy getting from pain and blame and negativity to a place of peace and radical acceptance, but I know that if I can do it, anyone can.  So, let’s saddle up and ride and get to the other side, because the other side is a glorious place!

I typed this while eating toast and jam, which I highly recommend.  I must now go get something to clean my keyboard!  Onward!