I thought last October that I was done with needing such intense support and therapy. I had a congruent past, I had processed my memories (as much as I was willing to go) and my “tool-box” was full of ways to cope, stay grounded, employ distraction, understand that emotions and feelings are like waves to be surfed and are time limited, etc.
I knew, I still had a few big truths, hidden in my inner file cabinets labeled classified and heavily guarded by the same worn out threats, of never talk about this. I knew they should also be processed and they were pretty key to my successful mental health, but I had this intense desire to be finished with therapy and be rid of PTSD. My book had just come out, and I wanted that momentous event to shake my brain into being fixed. I was ready to wake up and be cured of all symptoms. So I started to talk to my therapist about transitioning to less support, starting immediately.
If you have dealt with mental illness yourself, are a therapist of any kind, or are just casually reading, you can probably see the flawed thinking in every word of the above paragraph. A kind of…well that doesn’t sound like a good idea.
It wasn’t a good idea. All along, I had this intense desire to find out my past, makes sense of it, deal with the repressed memories as best I could and just live in the truth. Even though it was terrible, I knew my goal for my life was to live blinders off, eyes wide open. It’s at my core, it’s the reason I went through this misery the past seven years. I wanted a life, my life. The dissonance of only going 90% and my ultimate goal of truth was making me internally feel crazy, which exasperated my symptoms, so the last of those locked down file cabinets busted open with an explosion.
We worked through the memories. It made a whole lot more sense in the big picture of my life, and it was scary. It didn’t change things, it just helped explain some loose ends. It wasn’t a new story, it was just part of my story. We spent a few months sorting through this information, processing it, not forgetting it, and finally metabolizing it as part of my past.
Part of my therapeutic process was that I wouldn’t search the internet and books while I was remembering and recounting my story. I didn’t want to put anything in my head that wasn’t there. It was my therapists’ job to research what I was saying, and he never shared with me what he learned. In the seven years we worked together, I never renigged on this agreement. But now with ALL my story told and processed, I was given permission to read some books to fill in the minutiae of the big picture on the people who had controlled my life.
I learned from my monthly writer’s group that I attend, that I needed an elevator speech. I had never heard of this term and had no idea what that meant. I was taught, it is part of a pitch to sell your books, get interviews, etc. I was reluctant to create this for myself because I always stumbled around when people ask me about my past. My therapist had worked with me throughout the years on words to say when people ask, “What happened to you? or, Why can’t you work full time? But the term elevator speech was a whole new concept for me. This past May, I had my autobiographical elevator speech. If/when someone asks me now, what happened to you or why did you write your book, I have my verbal paragraph summarized in a way that’s congruent, honest and not too traumatizing for a listener to hear.
I’m a first generation American born into a family, where there was an uninterrupted bloodline on my mother’s side. My mother was the first to marry outside her extended European family; most probably an arranged marriage. My father had ties to a country (that I will always keep private) that had worked hard for their independence after WWII and he traveled there often with his job. There was inter-generational abuse that was practiced in my childhood home and at the hands of other’s who were part of the “society” that my father belonged to. When I was 19 I was sent overseas, where some people thought I was going to follow in my father’s footsteps. Clearly, they were mistaken in my abilities and after many months, I was sent home with threats that I will never talk about anything that had to do with my past, to anyone for the rest of my life. The threats continued until I was 37 years old. I repressed my past and made a life for myself until one day my mind could no longer keep the secrets of my life under lock and key. I developed and have lived with a severe case of complex PTSD ever since. It has left me disabled on many levels, but the underscore of my story is one of hope, and survival. It’s an intriguing and horrific past, but with determination I found there is life after becoming emotionally Untangled.
I realize that may be a long elevator speech, but a person’s life is hopefully a long elevator ride, and I speak fairly fast 🙂
I’m in a place where I can again think about stepping down the level of support I need at the moment. I have learned that I most probably will endure the symptoms of PTSD for a long time. And really with what I lived through, it makes complete and total sense. These are the effects of my trauma. But now, I have some even greater tools, one of the most grounding of them all is knowing the truth. There is something calming about the truth, it’s a place where for me, all healing can take strong root.
Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph