I’ve been browsing the blogosphere lately. There’s some funny shit out there, and I do mean shit. It’s drivel, but it makes me laugh. That’s what I’ve been doing for a while now. Reading shit. Now that I’ve got an iPad, I have access to mind numbing crap at all times wherever I go. I can buy it in app form, book form, or just sit in a café with free wifi sipping my full-fat caramel macchiato campfire white chocolate mocha with extra whip while I peruse www.damnyouautocorrect.com. Aaah…this is the life, right? Access to online crap, 24/7, on demand, wherever I want it, whenever I want it, guaranteed to suck the creativity and life out of my gray matter and the quality out of my daily life. It’s my right as an American, damn it!!! Somewhere in the small print of my cable company’s bill I’m pretty sure it says that I have a right to rot my brain. Better yet, isn’t that in the Bill of Rights? I think it must be a sub-amendment under Freedom of the Press.
I’d like to blame someone for my choices. How on earth could I waste the hours, eyes dilated, looking at websites about mustachioed women, morbidly obese cats, man boobs, and “you knew your relationship was over when…” scenarios? (I’m not kidding. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve done this. These websites are real. To spare you my fate, I will not provide URLs to any of them….particularly the man boobs website. You aren’t missing anything.) If I’m painfully honest with myself, then I’ll admit that I’ve been RACEing. (Running, Avoiding, Condoning, Entitlement). I just made that acronym up on the fly here, but it works. It defines my actions and state of mind since last November.
I’ll be honest (I’m feeling narcissistic here), I don’t like August. I was abducted in the month of August. My captivity and all that it entailed occurred in the month of August. I also escaped in August. Oddly, I’ve watched many Augusts come and go, and I was never bothered. Last August was different. I had flashbacks, and my PTSD was triggered. I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped, but I made it. I returned to the therapeutic setting and set out to do good work. What I never posted here was that my insurance company decided to change their coverage, and I had to cease all therapy sessions. It was disastrous for me although I didn’t know it at the time. I thought to myself, “Hey, you’ve already done years of intense work. You’ll ride this one out. You’ll be fine.” Uh…not so.
When I went to my therapist, I came with some very vivid memories and acute anxiety. The good part in this is that the memories were “new” in that I always knew certain things happened to me during my captivity. I just couldn’t remember them “in color” if you will. Now, I remembered them in Technicolor, and my body was reliving the events, too. From a therapeutic perspective, this is good. The time was ripe for healing, but the process was prematurely shut down. So, everything went “underground” again, but the immense psychic pain associated with these events didn’t leave. That stayed with me. Where was I supposed to go from there? My brain had been coping with that pain by compartmentalizing the events associated with it. Well, against my wishes, my brain annihilated my compartment. This is one aspect of PTSD. This is what it looks like to emerge from it. You come forth holding your pain, your memories, and your body holds it, too. There must be a safe place to go to relinquish these things, look at them, understand them, and, then, put them away. Not compartmentalize them. Put them away. For good. My therapeutic process was interrupted by my insurance company so I was never able to relinquish anything. Let the RACE begin…
The Running comes first. That’s how it works in my world. I shut down my inner life. It’s very much like Francis Hodgson Burnett’s lovely novel The Secret Garden; my inner life is rich, lush and beautiful. We all have one, too. You have one. The things I ponder, the books I read, the places I go, the friendships I maintain…they all fertilize this elaborate landscape cloaking my inner life. There is, however, a secret garden protected by walls, lock and key. For many years as a little girl I was the only one who would go there. This is the place where I mingle and interact with the spirit of God. As we grow into adults, we allow our lovers there, too–maybe. This secret oasis inside our inner landscapes is what? Our souls? Our hearts? Our truest identities?
Diana Gabaldon’s hero Jamie Fraser of her Outlander series describes his inner secret space as this:
“It’s…difficult to explain. It’s…it’s like…I think it’s as though everyone has a small place inside themselves, maybe a private bit that they keep to themselves. It’s like a little fortress, where the most private part of you lives–maybe it’s your soul, maybe just that bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else…You don’t show that bit of yourself to anyone, usually, unless sometimes to someone that ye love greatly.”
What happens to this secret, almost sacred, space when abuse, trauma, or extraordinary loss happens? Jamie’s character was brutalized and tortured in Gabaldon’s Outlander. Jamie’s words capture my feelings perfectly:
“Now, it’s like…like my own fortress has been blown up with gunpowder–there’s nothing left of it but ashes and a smoking rooftree, and the little naked thing that lived there once is out in the open, squeaking and whimpering in tears, tryin’ to hide itself under a blade of grass or a bit o’ leaf, but…but not…makin’ m-much of a job of it.”
The gardens are burning. The walls have been torn down. The lock was torn from the gates. There is nowhere left to run to so we run from.
My first instinct is to turn inward, run to my secret garden, the place where I’ve played, rested, pretended, and hidden since I was a girl, but my torturer and captor not only set fire to it, but he also dwells there, waiting for me. Lurking. I can’t get away from him. It feels like there is no safe place anymore. Not even in my own sacred spaces because what was once sacred has been defiled. As Jamie goes on to explain:
“He’d hurt me a bit, then stop and love me ’til I began to rouse…and then he’d hurt me fierce and take me in the midst of the hurting…I fought, in my mind…I tried to keep myself from him, to keep my mind apart from my body, but the pain broke through, again and again, past every barrier I could put up. I tried…God, I tried so hard, but…I know why young Alex MacGregor hanged himself. I’d do the same, did I not know it to be mortal sin. If he’s damned me in life, he’ll not do so in heaven…it’s all linked for me now. I canna think of you, Claire (Jamie’s wife), even of kissing you or touching your hand, without feeling the fear and the pain and the sickness come back. I lie here feeling that I will die without your touch, but when you touch me, I feel as though I will vomit with shame and loathing of myself. I canna even see you now without…I want you to leave me…I will love you as long as I live, but I cannot be your husband and longer. And I will not be less to you.”
The skilled perpetrator weaves his way into our biological memories and our physiology, and even when the trauma is over it isn’t really over for us until we’ve been healed. If the breaking process was thorough, then oftentimes the borders of personal identity are wiped out. The pain, shame and self-loathing permeate the entirety of one’s personhood leaving nothing untouched. And so the victim associates the goodness in life with evil. A lover’s tender touch is likened to a perpetrator’s grip of domination. The look of desire passing over a date’s eyes as s/he moves in for a goodnight kiss becomes predatory, and, suddenly, your body tells you it’s time to fight/flee/freeze. A spirited debate among friends feels like a storm gathering–it’s time to run and hide. A promotion in your job feels like a curse–something bad is coming because nothing good can last. We must always be vigilant. The other shoe is going to drop. Anytime now. Anytime. This was the case with Jamie’s character. He was “broken in” very well. His inner fortress was obliterated. So was mine, but that was the point. I was supposed to be sold at auction. Slaves don’t have identities. They’re property.
So, there I was, my inner life turning to ash–or so I thought, my perpetrator haunting me, and I was going to run away from the perceived threat. Running. What else could I do? Every malignant deed and fear were tied to every hope I had. I want to feel alive! Well, feel the fear first. No! I want to feel excited again! Well, feel the anxiety that is preventing you from feeling the excitement. I want to feel like a normal, healthy sexual being! Well, feel the panic first. No! To feel the joy that is present in life you actually have to feel, and that requires feeling everything else. Oh, God in heaven help me!! I don’t wanna.
Avoiding. Once you’re Running, Avoiding is easy. Avoid prayer. Avoid stillness. Keep moving. Stay busy. Oh, just avoid God altogether. I’ve done that before. Avoid contemplation. That requires asking questions like, “How are you feeling today?” Avoid all things inspirational and beautiful because that will lead to contemplation. Contemplation leads to questions. Questions lead to deeper ponderings, probing and pain. Start reading inane books and websites (man boobs, anyone?), and only watch movies that dudes between the years of 18 to 30 would like. This should provide adequate emotional anesthesia to get you through the day. Soon, however, you’ll find yourself unable to think an original thought, and if you’re in any sort of business requiring creativity you’ll find this very inconvenient. You’ll also find yourself primed for addiction.
Condoning. Once I was well into Avoiding cultivating any sort of authentic inner life, I could condone just about anything. I mean, hell, I’m making these choices to make myself feel better or, more accurately, feel nothing, right? I have neglected my foundational relationship with God. I have now neglected my intellectual pursuits. I have neglected my values at large. All in the name of self-medication. Why? Hmmm….here’s the short list:
Entitlement has made its way into my life. I’m in pain, I’ve suffered, so I can do what I want even if it’s self-destructive and selfish. Well, that’s not the way it works. I suppose I can make poor choices, but I’m going to have a mess to clean up once I wake up to reality. I’m not entitled to make poor choices just because I’ve suffered. PTSD, C+PTSD, Fibromyalgia, migraines, my daughter’s autism, my mother’s Borderline Personality Disorder, my neighbor’s racism, the weather, you name it…I am responsible for my own choices AND my own suffering even if I am not the source of it.
I found myself saying the other day, “God, I just want to FEEL again!!! And, I’m so weary of only feeling pain.” Aye, there’s the rub. When I stop RACEing and turn and face it all, I’m desperately afraid that I’ll fall to pieces. When I finally stand still, I cry. Immense grief comes to the surface. I didn’t sow this pain into my life, and yet here I am reaping it. I’ve been reaping it for 19 years. It’s August again, and I’m reaping the seeds of grief, pain, fear and anger once again. I suppose the good part is that I’m in a different field, right? The view is different. The crop is different.
There is more good news for me, too, if I stop, look inward, and look at the One who is running next to me. My secret garden isn’t on fire anymore. It isn’t covered in ash. The walls aren’t in ruins either. They are actually rebuilt, and their foundations are new and deep. Those four years of therapy, prayer, and abiding with God were purposeful. As Jamie says later to Clare: “Ye know the fortress I told ye of, the one inside me?…Well, I’ve a lean-to built, at least. And a roof to keep out the rain.” And, the man who took me all those years ago is gone. He’s a ghost who still haunts me, but he’s gone. He doesn’t really live inside my sacred space. That is a lie.
So, what now? Well, RACEing isn’t really a good option. It’s hurting me. The pain that I’m currently avoiding has the potential to be productive. The pain I’m causing by RACEing is in no way beneficial. It’s time to grieve again. I’ve said it before–grieving applies value to the loss and the self. When I grieve, I say that what I lost had value, and I also declare that I have value. That’s productive. Proper grieving puts meaning to our suffering, and that puts a different spin on PTSD. It is essential to put meaning to our suffering so that we will have traction to move forward–out of the suffering.
For, we must all know this, there is so much more in this world than pain, fear, torture and suffering. Jamie Fraser’s story does not end in Outlander, but Gabaldon’s Outlander does end with hope, “And the world was all around us, new with possibility.” That’s what I want. A new world, A new day. Ripe with possibilities. Alive with hope.