wordweaverlynn: (no pity)
[personal profile] wordweaverlynn
Before Christmas, I was in correspondence with a very pleasant, intelligent person who took exception to the “Are you ruined?” survey I had, in a spasm of anger, written and posted. That meme listed some handicaps—in the racing sense, the extra burdens placed on some runners—that poverty and dysfunction might lay on individuals. (It was in response to the “Are you spoiled?” meme then current.)

Although that meme touched a lot of people, I’m the last person to defend it as fair or balanced. It was begun as a corrective to the assumed privilege of the other survey but rapidly became the expression of some very old rage. Much of it was written in a white-hot fury, and I didn’t edit it before I posted.

One thing in particular bothered my correspondent: the inclusion of one of the final questions about whether your childhood left you with PTSD.

At first I couldn’t understand why the question about PTSD should be the big issue. Anybody who has been through that particular kind of hell has a higher than average likelihood of having PTSD. I couldn’t see why naming the syndrome would be a problem.

Then I realized that most people’s exposure to the concept has been strictly as a form of insanity defense: part of the culture of victimization and an all-purpose ticket to do nothing, take no responsibility, and mistreat other people while maintaining the moral high ground.

This is so very far from the way I use the concept (and the way most therapists and PTSD sufferers do) that it took me a while to even see the possibility.

PTSD is not a license to abuse other people or waste one’s own life. It’s a useful description of what happens to some people (not all) under extreme circumstances, and because it is an impersonal diagnosis, it helps the survivor separate the scars from the self. Once you’ve done that, it’s much much easier to find the strength to heal and change and grow. Instead of believing myself evil and dangerous, for example, I can see the ways my life made me think that I was—and therefore free myself from that crippling perception.

The diagnosis also helps explain a lot of things that frankly terrified me when I was younger. In 1980, for my 21st birthday, I went to see my first therapist. (When I was 14 I did tell a family doctor that I was crazy; the response was that I should be a better Christian.) When I told the psychiatrist about the flashbacks I was experiencing, he (literally) patted my head and told me that a young lady with such a dramatic imagination should go on the stage. In 1980 very few doctors understood PTSD, and the ones who did were working with Vietnam vets.

As a child, I carried unbearable loads of responsibility. I still take the blame for almost everything bad that happens to me—even things that were not really within my control. And trying to remember that responsibility is not identical to blame is something I’m still working on.

In psychological terms, my locus of control (who I think is responsible for my life) is firmly within myself. I don’t think it’s luck or circumstances or that I’m controlled by either the past or a mental illness. Believing that I had power is one way I survived; recognizing how vulnerable I really was would have killed my hope and thus been insanely dangerous. I needed to be competent. And God help me, I was thoroughly competent.

So now, as an adult, I have to unwind those threads of belief and experience in order to get a clearer idea of what really happened. For whatever reasons, for me, it is very important to be able to name and recognize the damage done to me. IMX, it helps me heal. I know that other methods work well for other people. This one has worked for me.

So when I talk about what was done to me, or enumerate the horrors of my childhood—or even the ways in which my life fell short of the ideal, like not having decent guidance counseling in school, for example—none of this is intended to excuse me for anything I have done or not done.

What it is intended to do is to remind myself that if I haven’t gotten as far as I would have liked, I have come a hell of a long way from my origins. Some of that is attributable to sheer good luck in having books around to teach me what my parents couldn’t, brains to help me think of alternatives, and a profound faith in God that made me feel sometimes that my life could be redeemed. But some is because I have worked damned hard at surviving and making a decent life for myself, and because I never gave up.

Moreover, a big part of my vocation is to help other people who have suffered the same way I have. That’s why I talk about it. Not to keep us all mired in the past, but to show realistically that it’s possible to drag ourselves up from it. “Realistically” is the key here. That means showing that I still struggle. That the pain comes back sometimes. But that it’s possible to fight it and win, to make a decent, loving, productive life.

I struggle with this shit. Someone might as well benefit from that struggle. And I do, too—when things are hard for me, I can go back and reread some of the things I’ve written and some of the comments I’ve gotten, and be comforted. My life has made a difference.

ETA I recognize that this is not the only healthy way to deal with a difficult past, whether that's long-term abuse or a single traumatic experience. Everybody approaches these issues differently. I am not prescribing my tactics for anyone else. It's what works for me right now. Later, I may do other things. And everyone else is free to do what works for them.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 03:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] orejen.livejournal.com
"As a child, I carried unbearable loads of responsibility. I still take the blame for almost everything bad that happens to me—even things that were not really within my control. And trying to remember that responsibility is not identical to blame is something I’m still working on."

For years, I too took blame for things that I was not to blame for. I apologized for everything.

I am stronger and better now, but I too am not where I would like to be. I am working on having faith in myself, that I am doing the best I can.

Something that has me wondering how far I have come; recently I was talking over my past (verbally abusive father, verbally abusive ex husband) with my current boyfriend (a thoroughly great guy, not abusive in the slightest) when afterwards he said, "If I were an abuser, you would be my dream girl." It makes me wonder how much of that apologizing, blame accepting girl stills shows through.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 03:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wild-irises.livejournal.com
Thanks for this; it's superb (as so often).

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 04:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dragonflycat.livejournal.com

You expressed the PTSD experience better than I ever could.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 04:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] noveldevice.livejournal.com
It helps to talk about it. My post last night was because that's true--it helps to get it out, and getting it out often leads to some kind of understanding.

People who don't have any kind of history that could lead to flashbacks and that sort of thing often don't understand people who do, I've noticed. There was a question on [livejournal.com profile] thequestionclub a week or two ago about whether the members had experienced various sorts of sexual violence, and the OP didn't understand--literally, as though she had suddenly stopped understanding English, didn't understand why people would say that the question alone triggered them. It was posted in the clear, no cuts, and when I read it I felt sort of...tharn, really, for a minute or two. I just sat there with my shoulders hunched trying not to think.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kr8vkat.livejournal.com
I don't know for sure that this pre-dates my meeting you - so maybe it is YOU that let me believe this - but I would never assume PTSD was a license to give up, blame, or continue abuse. I'm a little shocked that someone else would assume that, actually.

I don't think I've ever said it, but I would like to thank you for sharing your story, over and over again. It has opened my mind in many, many ways.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 05:13 pm (UTC)
ext_3386: (Default)
From: [identity profile] vito-excalibur.livejournal.com
I'm glad you talk about it. Some of the things I struggle with are the same as your burdens and some are very very different, but in all cases I get a lot out of hearing about how you continue with your battles.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 05:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ororo.livejournal.com
Great post, hit the nail on the head for several of my issues as well. Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mojave-wolf.livejournal.com
I should probably go back and find the original post before responding, but just in case something comes up . . .

My soulmate also has ptsd, and I know how nightmarish this can be, and how even when it's not an overtly front and center part of your life, dealing w/it can take up so much of your coping skills that it makes everything else harder to deal with.

(tho weirdly enough, it's me and not my spouse who tends to be overly apologetic and blame myself for everything bad that happens anywhere near me)

My own white-hot fury is reserved for the victim-blaming and/or "just get over it" types, whose lack of sympathy/empathy/understanding makes me wanna hurt them in measure proportionate to how much hurt their idiocy causes others. It's not a very common criminal defense issue, either, certainly not enough to give rise to rational people thinking it's a commonly made-up issue. And I will shut up now before I get on a rant the first time I ever post in your journal.

Anyway, just wanted to lend some support; this is certainly a real and sometimes frightening disorder, and to applaud you for trying to educate people about it.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 05:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] margorose.livejournal.com
PLease keep talking about it. The fact that you have survived and are the person you are is, for me, a personal example of how fine and strong the human spirit can be. I hope someday you publish your story; it will help and inspire millions.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 06:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sagefemme11.livejournal.com
Triggers and responses.
Sometimes I feel that's all I'm made of.

Thanks for the post, Lynn. You articulate quite well the place you are in your recovery and life work. I love how you are able to express so much of the horror and excruciating pain without spattering the hot grease on your readers' faces.

I feel I can read your intimately emotional stuff like this in a safe place, and I often do not feel that way with most other folks here who leave me wanting to scrub real hard and apply lots of lotion after reading their hard stuff.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aerinha.livejournal.com
Your life HAS made a difference, and continues to do so. For me personally, your openness and willingness to share, and to perform self-examination here where I can read it, has given me courage to open my own Box of Horrors, or whatever I should call it. I've been shocked, the past month, at the clarity with which I'm finally seeing my childhood and adolescence, and at the false life I built in order to survive it all. I don't know that I would have had the guts to peek inside all that without you, and a couple of other key LJ friends, as role models.

I hope your journey towards wholeness continues in leaps and bounds, this year, and brings you great bushels of joy.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thenetwork.livejournal.com
Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ruth-lawrence.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for writing lucidly about this.

I'm lucky in that my experience of my asthma was real enough (life threatening, repeatedly) that I stopped believing that what people in authority imagine is 'all in the mind' in fact is so. It's their scotoma, and their other claims are discredited by it.

I've been vindicated on a number of occasions since (ulcers - are an infection- and impotence -almost always has a physical basis-).

So part of me doesn't believe their trip, hasn't since I was small.

The damage I'm having the most trouble with is the result of my mother's drunkenness, her haranguing me in my bedroom half the night, several nights a week for many years.

This has left me with a habit of self-blame, a deer-in-headlights reaction to some forms of power-theft. I beat up on my self over being human, over trivialities. For years. And I worry that I have huge scotomata too.

As for others blaming, especially innappropriately...well those folks aren't the most adult, ethically mature persons on the face of the globe, are they? I don't think my PTSD excuses me, either. I didn't have a name for it, like, forever even.

With the PTSD, I know it's a brain thing and have strategies to avoid, halt or defuse it that often work for me, thank goodness. I just need to teach myself (by rote,if necessary), reponses to troublesome attacks.

Thank you again.

I'm sure you change lives for the better.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 08:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mlion.livejournal.com
Thank you, as always, for your courage, your grace, and skill in wordsmithing. You've expressed it far more eloquently than I could have today, and helped me see a couple of things I needed to see.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 10:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] guysterrules.livejournal.com
Please keep writing it down--it helps you, it helps me. All I can do is write it out. I don't care if it's repetitive. It's just the only thing I know to do to make some sense of this, any of it.

And I thank you for your graceful words.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 11:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] adamant-turtle.livejournal.com
When I was 14 I did tell a family doctor that I was crazy; the response was that I should be a better Christian

WHAT?! Christ...

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-10 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 2wanda.livejournal.com
This is good stuff. Keep it up.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-11 03:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jb98.livejournal.com
I'm grateful for all you've shared. I see myself in a lot of your posts and that gives me hope. I admire you greatly.

I still take the blame for almost everything bad that happens to me—even things that were not really within my control.

I take this one step further and take the blame for everything that happens. As much as I have realized it and consciously stopped doing it, I still hear "Please stop apologizing" from new friends and partners, so apparently it's still prominent behaviour. It's a deep pattern *sigh*

Moreover, a big part of my vocation is to help other people who have suffered the same way I have.

*nods* Me, too. One of the employment ministry meetings at church involved a visioning process. One of the steps after envisioning what we wanted and soaking in it for a bit was to inquire into what was the highest purpose of that outcome. I saw very clearly that I would be an inspiration to others. I feel it's my vocation to demonstrate that if I can overcome all I have and create a life that's wonderful for me, anyone can. I want to be a walking, breathing demonstration of that. It's the least I can do.

Thanks for sharing all that you do, it truly does change the world for people.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-01-11 05:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pure-agnostic.livejournal.com
Thank you for writing about your experiences. Your writings have touched many people.


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