PTSD and the bigger picture

Posted by on Jan 30, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on PTSD and the bigger picture

PTSD was first brought to our attention in relation to war veterans and things they witnessed while on the front-lines.  It also can be a result from so many other things, rape, mugging, being tortured, being kidnapped or held captive, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, child abuse, natural disasters.  Basically, any situation a person has witnessed in their lives when they have had to go into a survival mode. It can manifest immediately after the incident or can come back years later.  The psyche is a wild place.  It wants to protect us from pain so we will block the memories- sometimes, until the person is ready to deal with it on a conscious level or when they are “violatedâ€� and triggered to remember.

It is a mental change that happens.  It can be linked to, but not always, low serotonin levels in the brain and other possible genes.  It is triggered by fear and situations where one feels in danger or will be harmed.  Everyone has s flight or fight mode, which is healthy but in PTSD patients, this is changed.  People with PTSD may feel stressed or frightened well after they are no longer in danger.  It weaves deeply into the psyche and isn’t something which a simple pill or counseling will cure.  It takes time of being self aware to break the patterns and programs these traumas have made. Many will never get the help they need and many will not find the right avenues to help them heal this wild and draining condition. Most will want to call them crazy. I have had friends whose loved ones wanted to lock them up, and I have lost many friends and loved ones from their lives because they do not have an understanding of what it is.

Recently I experience a bout of PTSD.  What most people do not understand is it took some time to realize that is what was happening to me.  It was something simple that triggered it. I had too much time on my hands from lack of work, which created huge worthiness issues.  It cracked open the door.  Then someone I trusted needed space to figure out some of their own life issues which added to the fear and abandonment.  What I thought or perceived as a solid foundation to lean on had left me. I was here again, all alone and rejected once more.  That push away helped me notice I have been in a survival mode from my move last March.  Being in a place with un-familiar surroundings and not really knowing anyone or having people to socialize with on a good mental level had already put me on the anxiety side, and I was ripe for the fear closet doors to open.  I felt abandoned, as if I was not worthy of love, like I will never amount to anything in this life.  It was like a borderline suicidal depression.

First and foremost, I never know what will trigger and episode.  That needs to be made clear. It doesn’t matter how much counseling, medication, etc. that each individual has, it still likes to rear its ugly head.  When that happens, it can change the personality till the cycle has run its course, if not self-aware, can last days, weeks, months or more.  They may even seem like or act like a different person.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve witnessed it.  The person with PTSD falls into a past reality and mindset. SURVIVAL!  And, how does one survive?  We put up defenses, shields, and push the people away that triggered the PTSD.  The HUGE picture here is the ones whom love us the most that get the backlash of the episode.  We don’t mean it but are “woundedâ€� in that moment or situation. Sometimes it brings about full flashbacks of the trauma, which are like being in that moment seen crystal clearly.  I had never understood exactly what a flashback was till I went through my original breakdown back in 2009.

Many times people want to call us crazy, which in fact we are not!  We are humans trying to understand how this disorder holds us hostage and preys at our every level of security.  Once triggered, the spiral starts and it takes conscious effort and loved ones around to help steer the person back into what is real, not what the person with PTSD perceives is happening.  I hope I can make that as clear as possible.  It is just as important for those around to bare witness and hold the space and help the person see true.  This can be a difficult task at best. 

We have been taught that certain behaviors are unacceptable, that when people lash out, act out, etc, it is wrong.  When people are in the middle of an episode, the person with PTSD has no clue what is happening other than they have turned into survival mode.  It’s like opening the door of the fear closet and throwing them into it and locking the door.  Everything at that time is happening in their brain. You cannot see it.  They look normal.  Those with PTSD seem to speak, mostly normal with some neediness and may feel like a person who is co-dependant or mentally messed up.  The truth is, WE DON’T KNOW IT IS HAPPENING UNTIL WE ARE IN IT.  It can last for days, weeks, even longer.  To the person having the episode, it is like the rug is pulled out from underneath them.  Like they have lost all hope and what tends to happen is a flight or fight mode.  Until the person sees that they are having the episode, there is nothing that can be done except for being present and speaking with them to break that cycle.

This is not an easy task for those whom have never experienced it before.  It can seem like the person is neurotic or mental when in reality, the button has been pushed and they are deep in the darkness of their past.  I don’t care who you are, triggers happen regardless of all the work you do on it.  When people we love yell at us, when friends get angry, when lovers walk away, when we are in an environment that is toxic (drug, alcohol, bars, funerals, you never really know), it triggers all of the insecurities of past trauma and almost puts the trauma in the driver’s seat. It takes quite a bit of work on the individual’s part to recognize that they are having a bout and have started the cycle of PTSD.

To give an example, my PTSD is anchored in my having been sexually abused from the ages of 8-12 by a priest.  It was the level of abuse that created my issues with PTSD.  I will not go into the details of that, but it is the foundation for how I have made huge miss-steps in personal relationships, not only intimate ones, but work as well.  In my case, sex was validation.  It was done in the name of God, and I was taught that it was LOVE.   I know, try to wrap your head around that one.  Consequently, until I dealt with that abuse, I kept messing up and pushing away anyone that would try to get close to me.  If I wasn’t being “lovedâ€� (sex) then I must have done something wrong.  In addition, it made me create abusive relationships and draw abusive relationships to me.  It hid like a shadow for years in my psyche.  It was this elusive thing, I had remembered bits of it but pushed it way back into the depths of my brain and felt like I wouldn’t let that affect or infect me.  However, what I did not know was it already had laid the groundwork for many hard years of struggle, which to this day I am still dealing with.

When times became tough, when I felt as if things were falling apart, I would start lashing out; I would go into survival mode, something I had done since 8 years old.  My inner wounded boy did not want to get hurt again. Let’s be realistic, I am 42 now and that means for 34 years, I have validated much of my life with sex and these survival patterns.  When people didn’t want to be around for whatever reason, my brain created stories that were not real. The rejection set in. When people didn’t want to go out on a date, or when a boyfriend didn’t treat me in a specific way, I would fall down the dark abyss and spiral out until I blew the relationship apart.  Until I had pushed them so far away there was no recovering.  What sucks is the number of amazing people I pushed away before I recognized this was part of my brokenness.  This all stemmed from something which happened so long ago, yet it was running many areas of my life.

Traumas were abundant in my childhood on top of that.  Deaths of friends, grandparents, etc, all added to the psyche madness. Remember, trauma can be from just about anything: abandonment issues from adoption, losing a loved one, rape, sexual assault, being held at gunpoint (and yes, I’ve had that happen), and watching a friend die before your eyes. The list can go on and on.  I think you get the point.

Trauma creates a state of shock.  When that shock hits, we imprint that moment on a cellular level in the body.  Memories are stored not in the brain as much as in the body, in the muscles, etc.  The pain body as Eckhart Tolle would say.  These memories can be reactivated in many ways.  One reason why so many people have long-term physical problems comes from them not dealing with the trauma on an emotional level, only treating the physical body.  Therefore, many people walk through life not ever taught how to deal with emotions or allow themselves to grieve from the trauma.  Many will sit and stew in pain and wonder when they will ever heal but it goes well beyond that.  Our weakest spots gather the trauma and then create many of these dis-eases in us.

Many people will never even recognize their trauma has left a mark.  Many of us push it deep down until the subconscious pushes it up to be healed.  That is exactly what happened in my case.  I attended a funeral for a friend’s mother and it triggered the traumatic response for all of my abuse--I relived it.  And folks, it wasn’t just some simple touching that went on.  It was beyond what any 8 year-old should ever endure or witness.  I had my innocence taken away.  Something you never get back.  All traumas take something away.  They freeze you; lock those moments into you, until the psyche is dealt with.  Most people don’t even realize how much they have locked in their body and head. 

For me, I had to find ways to find people with good touch. I found myself even having to find sexual healers.  Someone I could trust that would touch me in a positive way.   People who made me feel good, not just to get off, not just physically, but mentally.  Before I recognized the PTSD, I found myself basically doing what made others happy, not me.  I was allowing myself to be used, per say, not honored.  I felt that sometimes I just needed to do what I did as a child and allow the discomfort cause that was LOVE. I attracted many men whom I allowed to basically do what they wanted and not even think about what my needs were.  I never really learned how to correct that until just a handful of years ago.  I still fall into that pattern and try ever so hard to find a companion who gets it, one who sees the “larger picture of meâ€�.

So as I know look back on all my relationships, I can see the through line in them. I can see where I would attract abusive partners and friends.  People whom would use me, talk down to me, make me feel less than, and not love me.  This went even into my work life with bosses and co-workers. When they would be abusive, I would create chaos by reacting from the wounded child.  I also saw how I would create the drama when I wasn’t being abused if that makes any sense.  Again, years of “survivalâ€� and programs can be hard to recognize and understand until you sit back and truly look deeper at the situations. 

Now for me it was sexual abuse, for many women out there, you understand this.  Also, there are far more men who were molested that have come to terms with it in many other ways, but I also see the ones whom have not addressed it and taken on addictive and abusive personalities or even committed suicide from it.  If you don’t address it, more then likely it will eventually come up in some way, shape or form. The point is to try to be aware and conscious of what you are doing.  Not letting the programs slip in.  Learning to be self-aware in all situations and recognizing what is triggering your reactions.  Learning to respond and not react is key. When someone is trying to speak, take in what they are saying and listen in that moment to the words they are using, not what you think is being said.  Mindfulness.  When feeling the fear slip in, step back and be mindful, paying attention to what is going on and seeing it clearly.  It’s way easier to react and go into “fight or flightâ€� program, as we do not want to be hurt yet again.   

I cannot even imagine what it must be like for those who have lost fellow friends in combat or to lose a limb fighting for what you are told is right.  I cannot even imagine what is would be like to have been beaten profusely as a child or in a battered relationship.  I cannot even imagine what it is to be held at knifepoint and robbed or raped.  The list could go on.  All these things can create the PTSD issues.

PTSD is such a broader spectrum than what we are taught.  We are now only learning about it and how it affects people.  It takes a lot of work to try to regain one’s self after these things. It has taken me almost 7 years from my breakthrough (some call them breakdowns) to finally find myself again.  The Sam I know and love. The one not stuck always in his head but the one who loves to share life with the outside world.  It has not been easy and I know it isn’t over, but with people that care, standing by, watching, and not judging, I am healing and living.  As a support person, it is important to stand witness and take in what is happening and when the cycle is breaking, come forward with what you witnessed and help all of us with PTSD understand what it was we did.  For we cannot see clearly in those times and is why the miscommunication happened in the first place.

Many of you can say, well that isn’t my job to fix you. I am not saying it is. I am saying it is important, and if you care,hold space, witness, take it in, and when the time is right, relay the story of what you saw. Help us through the rubble of the blow up.  Help us to see how we reacted when we didn’t need to.  Help us understand you are not there to hurt us.  Usually, the ones we love are the ones we hurt, regardless of us knowing we do that, it still happens.  I have worked a long time trying to not let this happen but alas, it still does from time to time, just much less frequently and with more understanding each time a cycle happens.

Over time, the cycles tend to become less, if you surround yourself with good people.  This is also very common with addicts.  Witnessing and being available to relay the story, when they are ready to heal.  We want to believe a pill can fix it or some counseling but it goes well beyond a pill. It is cellular trauma which must be worked out through active participation, counseling, being open to learning that it isn’t over and will always be something to keep in check but you can only keep it in check if you open yourself up to healing, not judging.  Be open to breaking down and getting all that crap out of your head, reframing that trauma, so you can be free.  It is conscious work and it is constant work, just like life.  Life takes time.  Everyone wants an instant cure and to avoid dealing with drama and emotions.  Sometimes the drama and emotions you see are really someone asking for help, needing someone to be there to hold his or her hand so we are not scared.

Supporters--be the love you want to receive.  Be the change by being present and available as you can.  We all have full lives and our own issues to deal with but maybe this will help you with some of your friend, co-workers, parents, friends, partners, so much better.  Maybe with a little bit of effort, you can help comfort those who are frozen in the traumas and help them heal as much as they can.  Remember, those of us that have PTSD may not really even know that we are doing things until after we are in it; it is up to you, the supporters, to help guide us to the reality of the moment.

PTSD survivors--Remember to be mindful, be self-aware.  When you are feeling the fear set in, take a deep breath, step back, and see the whole picture.  Remember you are here now, in this time, and the person before you is not the same person whom violated you.  Remember that you will not have another car accident and are capable of living a healthy life.  Remember that life takes time and PTSD is something that is not cured over-night but learned how to be dealt with on a case by case.  Counseling can do wonders, and sometimes, but not always, medication is needed.

For those who have family and friends with this, learn to be compassionate.  Learn to hold space and not react.  I know it is tough.  No one wants to feel emotional pain and this brings that up ten fold.  It is through the outside world that we with this can heal. Through understanding of exactly what is happening and being able to talk us off the ledge, you can help us win.  In the end, it is the feeling of stability and love that wins the race here, not pushing people away and calling them crazy.  Through your witness, we can be set free.  Through your love, we can break these patterns and cycles and become the persons we are meant to be.