Saturday, March 18, 2017

Embracing Terror

I've been working with a new therapist for a few months now, and I've noticed she's brought up the word "terror" fairly frequently in regards to a particular issue we've been focusing on. Each time I say, "no, not terror..." and wrinkle my brow that she's brought it up again. Last week, she had asked me what emotion I experienced in a particular moment and I couldn't name it..and you guessed it! She suggested "terror" again. I didn't know what the hell it was, but no it wasn't terror. For some reason though, I really started to think about terror...

I scanned my life looking for times I felt "terrified" and couldn't come up with anything. Sure, I could identify plenty of anxiety and fear, but no terror...at least I don't think so... I know the difference between anger and rage...I know the difference VERY acutely. But what is the difference between fear and terror. I thought about what movies tell me...terror involves screaming, sobbing, shaking according to all of the horror movies. But what if that is only one side of terror?

So, with a slightly different perspective I started scanning through my memories again, without judgement, just looking for events that perhaps others might find terrifying. It took a couple days, but I found it...

I'm 6, I've just gotten off the school bus...Walking up to the door…the screen door is closed but the door is open. My “Spidey-sense” is tingling when I approach the door. I hear sobbing/moaning/mumbling…and wait. I catch of brief glimpse of my sister as she walks on her knees from the hall into the living room…sobbing and rambling unintelligibly. I freeze briefly…I KNOW it is imperative that I don’t be seen…I KNOW there is “danger” here, and I need to get away. I’m momentarily paralyzed by this...dare I say? terror? If I move, she’ll see me, and surely that will mean disaster. My mind races…what do I do? A breath, and I decide to sneak downstairs and hide until someone gets home. I stand quietly for a second…I can hear her jangling around in the silverware drawer, still moaning and crying. I make a break for it, and run downstairs trying not to make a sound. And I wait in the half dark until my brother returns from chores and finds me hiding.


I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of in that moment that I stepped up to the door... I didn’t have visions of her killing me, or skinning me alive. But the relief in my brother’s voice when he found me downstairs let me know that I wasn’t off track in my …terror, as did the conversation when my parents called later that night and he told them K had gotten fucked up on diet pills and he had hid the knives because he was afraid she would have tried to killed me.

Yes, that was terror. And yes, those moments that my therapist suggested might have been sprinkled with terror were indeed terror. Frozen terror. 

Oddly, I'm feeling a bit like a kid with a new toy having uncovered a new emotion. But, then it is kinda cool to have reclaimed another piece of myself, even if it is a little thing like being able to name terror. And to speak it, is to have power over it, so it's all good. I'll embrace my terror...it is an old friend after all. And an old friend who helped keep me safe...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The trigger

There have been many, especially this last year, but the one that has it's roots in deep at the moment, and is strangling me happens to be about he-who-must-not me named, and a certain audio tape that was released in which he brags about his sexual assault of women (And if you are in any way confused about what sexual assault is, here is the definition: Sexual assault is a sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or non-consensual sexual touching of a person. Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence, and it includes rape, groping, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the person in a sexual manner.)

I am not alone in having had this disturb my calm; this has shaken people across the globe...and yet, somehow, he got a pass. And for me, that pass is the most disturbing.

So, how does this happen? Perps dismiss and blame the victims, and some how, even women, even women who have victims, will roll over and say, "Oh yeah, SHE must be lying..HE wouldn't REALLY do something like that." Why is it so easy for people to believe that victims are making this shit up, and perps are really innocent (victims) of "false" accusations? Is it that so many people have committed sexual assault that the behavior really has become "normalized." Or is it just that the perps scream so loud, and so many times that they are right, and everyone else is wrong that we start to believe them in spite of evidence to the contrary? Is it that we so de-value women that even we women think that this behaviour is what we deserve some how? So far, the evidence points to all of the above.

Let me tell you my story. In grade school I was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a teenager. There was a female adult around who, although she didn't participate knew what was happening, and when I tried to escape would try to goad me into submitting. Said adult also was involved in gossiping around my small community about what was happening. From what I learned years later, many people were aware of some version of what was happening, but the general version of the story was that I, at 7, was trying to seduce him, a post-pubescent young man, and that he only did what he did to get me off his back. He didn't even ask for it, and he got a pass.

So here we are, 2017, my country, my community has decided that a self admitted sexual predator is innocent, so innocent in fact that he was handed the most powerful position in the world...and still when woman after woman comes forward and says, "this man has injured me", the general consensus is that the woman is wrong/lying/the predator, and the real predator is the victim. My community has sided with the perp...again.

What is it that we have to do to believed, to be protected, to be supported? Do we really have to be the ones to scream the loudest? Well, if that's the case, consider this my scream: I was innocent, I was injured, I in no way asked for what happened to me, it wasn't okay, and Mother Fucking Hell: SEXUAL ASSAULT IS 100% NOT ACCEPTABLE!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

May we all have the courage to be so much More

Bear with me while I try to get my ambiguous thoughts into cohesive words/ideas. So, this morning...no let me go back a little further.

So...I've been in therapy for years...over half my life pretty much...trying to "overcome." Trying to become normal...in spite of...many things. For a few years I felt like I had accomplished that. I didn't feel like I was constantly fighting to be more than my traumatic past. I was engaged in life, engaged in the present...in my heart I felt the lesson I had been presented (that I didn't have to settle...that I could have good things in my life, and my life didn't have to be about me not having needs). I just was...me.

Things happened...I found myself in old external patterns, and I reverted to old patterns of coping. The coping patterns that are relevant to this conversation, are those of assuming in dysfunctional situations that I must be the wrong one since it kept happening in my world, and feeling like I needed to be the one to fix (the un-fixable) the dysfunction.

Jumping back on this train spiraled down to the point of me completely losing my equilibrium, and getting swallowed up by that old trauma crap again. So, I got back into therapy...and I've been through several therapists...and because I'm busy repeating patterns, I stayed with therapists who weren't helping because it must be me who wasn't making it work. Recently though, I've started with a new therapist, one who Sees. Who Sees me.

In addition to being seen, I've been doing a lot of shamanic and meditation work. The seed was planted a while back that I wanted to be released from my past/my traumas. But, what does that mean to be released? It is a piece of me, right? It is what has shaped me, right? To say I want to be released is to say that I want to let go of a piece of myself...right? Or does it? If I think of it as a growth...yes something that is part of me, but something I DON'T want to be a part of me, then hell yeah, cut that shit off!

So...back to today...as I meditated on healing, being whole; I saw in a shadow corner an attachment: If I identify as the victim, or even the survivor as trauma I can easily use it (and do use it) as an excuse...for laziness, for not being "good enough", for being negative, for falling into old patterns, for mistakes, for not trying, for being stuck.

I'm kinda done with that. I want to live my life as just a person...not a trauma survivor...because for me, if I use that language, I'm kinda giving credit for the awesome shit that I have done to my victimizers. Screw that. They didn't make me. I made me. I don't need to put all of my energy into that crap anymore. I don't need to be the wounded healer, or the wounded warrior...I can just be the healer/warrior. I dig that.

It starts with focusing on the good things in my life today. With being grateful. Instead of trying not to think about the crap in my past, I instead exert my will on doing, saying, and thinking about the good in me, the good in my life, and the good I can do. And I remind myself that I am so much more than that shit. We all are.

May we all have the courage to step out of the shadows of fear, and hate. May we all have the courage to honor our True selves...and honor the True selves of others. May we all have the courage to be so much more than our past.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

There is no "other", there is only "us"

I don't know why this story has been on my mind so much lately, but it has, so it needs to get out of my head.

So there was this guy (we'll call him "Wes") that my mom met while I was in high school, and eventually married (after, of course, he threatened to kill all of her children...but that is another story for another day) while I was college. She in Wes lived in a small town near the college town that I lived in. I didn't really care to be around drunken Wes who regularly beat my mother, but she never left his sight really, for fear of getting in trouble, so I had to go out to visit them if I wanted to see my mother.

One day when I was out for a visit, we were all sitting around the kitchen table, and glassy-eyed-drunk/drugged-up Wes was playing with his newest pistol. The farm house they rented was hot, and stuffy so my mother asked me to turn the fan on. As soon as I hat cleared my chair, "BOOM!" We all started in shock, registering what had just happened as our ears rang. My first, instantaneous thought was that he has shot my mother, and I would turn around to find her dead, a day that I had worried about almost every day since she had moved in with him.

I Before I could wonder if I would be next, I turned around to survey the situation, and saw with my dilated eyes locked in tunnel vision that she, although stunned, was bullet-less.  We both looked at the smoking gun in the slack jawed Wes's hand, then visually tracked the path of the gun barrel to the hole in the wall...right behind my chair.

It turns out that had I not gotten up the instance I did, that bullet would have gone through the left side of my chest, either hitting me in the heart or the aorta. Either way it would have been a kill shot.The funny thing is; I really don't know if it was purely an accident, or if he intentionally pulled the trigger either to a) miss, but send a message to my mother about his power over her and me, or b) to simply shoot me because he was a psychotic, insecure, addict, toxic human being. Based on his behavior over the years, it every easily could have been any of the above reasons.

I share this story because it it very easy to think of violence as happening to "other" people. When I say "other", I don't just mean other than us as individuals, but as a whole "other" set of people. Like it only happens to "those" people who live in inner cities, or drug addicts, or uneducated-toothless-white trash living in the trailer park. And that sense of "other-ness" makes it easier to ignore violence against others. Whether it's domestic violence, a hate crime, sexual assault, etc it can happen to any of us. You, me, your child/mother/sibling. And when we ignore violence (whether verbal or physical), dismiss it, minimize it, or deny it we make it easier for the violence to continue. Do not tolerate intolerable behavior or actions, my friends. It is time for us all to speak up, and to act up; whether it is us, or our best friend, our neighbor who needs support...whoever needs our voice, whoever needs us to stand beside them in solidarity, let us be there. Let us be the change we wish to see in the world.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

PTSD 2.0

I've had a LOT of therapy for my PTSD. A LOT, including EMDR. Prior to EMDR, I suffered pretty heavily from intrusive memories and flashbacks, gawd awful startle reflex...like constant...like hard to function day to day.  EMDR really dampened the symptoms down, as long as I hadn't gone too long without adequate sleep, and wasn't hyper-stressed out, or currently triggered as shit.

I did have a couple years where I really felt like I had a handle on this shit...like it was just one little piece of who I am, as opposed to The Thing that overshadows all aspects of my life.  I had some glorious moments of "wow, this must be what it's like for 'normal' people." Eventually little chinks in my armor that didn't' seem like much until they all piled up, pulled me back into those old loops. Some experiences I can identify that got me off course include a couple experiences when I was doing sex offender treatment, toxic work environments that were not safe, reliving childhood dynamics of not being heard/validated/protected by those with power. Then the subsequent feeling like a failure, like I can't do anything right, the decreased ability to deal with stressors... And then the whole Broch Turner thing knocked me flat on my ass, and I haven't been able to really get my legs under me. Add to that the insanity of our country electing a man who has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women, and who has openly admitted to being a sexual predator. 

When I slow down ...especially when I lie down to go to sleep, as silence sets in, "it" is un-ignorable. It's like when you can hear your neighbors...they're just loud enough that you know who is speaking, and just loud enough that you can't ignore them, but not loud enough that you can make out what they are saying. I know what is there, and these days, instead of coming as the video recording of events, it's the emotional/visceral piece...the claws sunk into my chest that are the anticipation of the inevitable/unavoidable that I hope if I just pretend it's not there hard enough, that it won't be...even though deep down I know it will be the same...that I am not safe, I am alone, no one is going to make it better, and all of my efforts were useless. 

There is a darkness...a heaviness that surrounds me and fills me. It is hopelessness, and helplessness...knowing that I am powerless. It is the constant vigilance; wondering when the next attack will come...and knowing that it will come, because it always does.


It is being caught by the loop of the trauma, the hopelessness, the sense of endless torture.

I wish I could say that today I AM safe...but I can't. As a gay woman, I am a target...it's been a few years since I've been accosted, but the politics of the last several months has put those of us who don't fall into the standard Straight/white/male/christian category back in the cross hairs. 

So, I don't sleep at night, I eat like an elephant all day, and I can't seem to slow my brain down long enough to focus on studying for my boards because that might allow "it" to creep in. I busy myself with trying to make this world a better place so I can feel safer in it, less powerless...but I'm still struggling.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Step up, speak up

My mind has been on social change of late...like, actual action toward social change. And a lot of people have been feeling the need for social change. Everyone has their own idea about what it means to work for making this a better world. For many it's posting stories, signing petitions, or going to marches. All good things, but I would hope that people will be there to help someone in need when they aren't safe behind  computer screen or when they aren't standing beside a crowd of people. Let me share a story to illustrate my point:

About 10 years ago I was leaving a Stevie Nicks concert holding hands with my girlfriend at the time. As we're walking along, I hear this drunk dude behind us, getting louder and louder with, angrily ranting about the "disgusting dykes." Not wanting to escalate anything, I tried to ignore drunk man as he got closer, with his two drunk girl friends tittering at his side. As this was going on I could hear people in the crowd around us muttering about what was going on, but I couldn't tell if the were going to be on my side or his if things did escalate. Mr. drunk man eventually managed to get beside me, at which point he started shoving me...after the second shoved back and sent his ass flying.

Fortunately, I scared the shit out of him and came chasing after me groveling about how he "didn't mean it", and fortunately no one in the crowd decided to pick up where he initially left off. I've had several years of martial arts experience, so 1 against 1, especially when the other was drunk was okay odds. But, that didn't mean that I wasn't terrified, because I was. I was alone in that crowd, and in that moment it was me against that entire crowd because no one let me know that they weren't against me. My guess is most of the people around us didn't support Mr. drunk man, and were probably horrified by his behavior. But guess what? Not a SINGLE person stepped up, and spoke up. My gf and I were lucky; we weren't hurt that day. But how many people HAVE been hurt when the people around them didn't speak up.

So, for the 3 people who will read this, I implore you to speak up whenever you hear someone talking shit to or about a marginalized group, cuz hey, in their mind your silence equals support/agreement. Speak even if your voice shakes. Who knows, you might save a life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What happens when...

What happens when your dad is known as the "town drunk" in a town full of drunks? It's an interesting question to ponder, isn't it?

Then, just for fun; what happens if your mom is mentally ill and everyone expects you to be a "good girl" and not "stress out" said mother...because she's already got that drunken husband to worry about.

And then, your older sister is a psychotic drug abuser who sometimes tries to do you great bodily harm...what then?

The answer would probably be a little different for everyone. Here is my answer...

From an early age I was taught to keep secrets. Between my family, and all of the weirdos I've encountered in my life, I'm just overflowing with secrets; some mine, some not. And I'm so over-full, that everything else just spills over. I say things I probably shouldn't, and I don't mean to say, but I can't even keep a lid on my not-so-nice secret opinions of people and things. I make an ass of myself, I hurt feelings, and I really don't mean to.

The world isn't a safe place, and no one can keep me safe, not even me. We've talked about safety before...there's no such thing as absence of risk...but I have a pathological belief that I am not safe. New experiences terrify me to the point of inaction. Certain social situations petrify me. I've avoided doing so many things that I really wanted to do because stupid little things terrify me. Logically I know that it's...illogical, but the terror overrides anything that I know in my Right Mind.

I believe that everyone thinks less of me. I'm always the trashiest of the trash. The dumbest of the dumb. I can never be the smart one, the cool one, the best one. No matter how hard I work. I will always be the outsider.

...And I hate to be around alcohol...I use my own alcoholism as the excuse, but the truth is that it is just as much, or probably more because of my dad. When I was about 4 my mom asked me if my dad was drunk. I couldn't answer because I didn't know what he was like sober...so it was kind of a dumb question for her to ask. He was never not drunk...just lesser degrees of drunk. He went to bed drunk, and woke up drunk. That was all I knew. And I can smell booze on someone a mile away...and I just don't like it. It doesn't make me think of good times and parties, it makes me think of hours stuck in the bar with dad on a "parts run" to town, of the nasty stench of weeks-old BO and booze that wafted off my dad, and permanently was embedded in the interior of the pickup...and of the many, many scary rides home not knowing if we were going in the ditch, and not knowing if this time when he ran off the road he was going to roll the truck or just take out the neighbors fence, or how far we were going to have to walk home in the dead of night in the middle of the 30 degree winter night. And does that smell of alcohol mean that that person is going to mean, flat, creepy, psycho?

And all of this means that as much as I love people, I kind of hate being around them. My guts are always in a knot wondering if I will say or do the wrong thing, or if they are going to do something to harm me...and if they do hurt me, surely it'll be my fault anyway.