So I was at a coffee shop the other day…

Last Sunday morning, I arrived early to meet a friend at a quiet suburban coffee shop. As I stepped inside, I stood face-to-face with a large man standing there with a pistol strapped to his belt in plain sight. Besides the workers, he and I were the only ones in the shop at that moment.

The way he was wearing his shirt he was obviously trying to show off his weapon. He had on a button down shirt that could easily cover both sides of his belt. One side was down, the other side was tucked precariously so his gun was showing in plain sight.

Two things struck me right away. The first was, why is this man standing here at 8:30 am with a gun hanging off his belt, and two, is he going to shoot us?  I have seen plenty of plainclothes police officers with their department-issued weapons and badges on their belts in plain sight, and my instincts told me this person is not an officer.

We live in a conceal and carry state. I don’t personally know anyone who walks around with a gun, so I’m not sure what that looks like, nor do I know the laws, but I was sure concealed meant out of sight. But to be honest with you, I’m not positive what the word “conceal” means when it comes to having a gun in public.

I am very triggered by guns. I have gun violence in my past and the mere sight of them causes me to experience increased anxiety and fear. I stood there frozen for a few seconds, and locked eyes with the guy then scanned the exits. I also noticed the workers were all laughing, singing, talking and relaxed. Just a group of young people working their shift and bonding with each other. I was confused and stood rooted in place until he sat down in the corner by the window.

Because I look at the world through a trauma-related lens, I sometimes need to know what is socially acceptable behavior and what is just extreme distrust in strangers. I honestly didn’t know what to do. In my mind, this person was either a bad-guy and we were all about to get shot, or I was going to ask him if he was a cop and that’s why his weapon was showing.

Intuitively, I thought there could be other possibilities and before I confronted this stranger with a gun, I texted a friend who often suggests other ways for me to look at things (probably the way most people look at social situations) and has saved me a lot of embarrassment throughout the years.  I asked him why a person would be sitting here with a pistol hanging off his belt. He told me to be aware, but most likely it’s just some guy who wants to prove that he can carry a gun. When my friend arrived she looked over at him and made the same determination.

It never occurred to me that I suggest to my friend that we go to another coffee shop because I felt uncomfortable sitting in the same place as this person who was openly carrying a gun. The point is, it didn’t matter why he was there or why he choose to have his weapon out in the open. He has the right to carry it, and he was exercising that right. This is not about him or his right to carry a gun. This is about me, and my feelings of internal safety.

I used to put myself in unsafe situations because I knew how to navigate the behavior around certain kinds of people. I stopped doing that a long, long time ago. I have learned the difference between perceived safety and real safety.  But when I came face-to-face with that guy a few days ago, I immediately got triggered into old patterns of fight/flight/freeze and responded by staying in a place where I didn’t feel safe.

This has all been very interesting to me. I now have it firmly ingrained my mind that I have the right to leave any situation where I don’t feel safe. That is not unreasonable and I don’t have to justify it to anyone. I feel like this was an important lesson for me to learn, and I definitely learned it.

Some people may not have even noticed or cared that this person had a pistol hanging off his belt. I did, but that’s just me. I wonder, What would you do in the same situation?

 

Thank you for reading my books:  If I Could Tell You How It Feels,  and  Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

 

 

Advertisements

Shaming myself into silence?

I have been in a contemplative place lately. I’ve stepped back from a lot of things to organize my thoughts, needs, wants, and realities. Part of it was an intentional rest from years of writing and marketing my books, part of it was because I found myself falling into old patterns of not having good boundaries by not speaking up for myself when it was appropriate. And part of it was because I was trying to figure out how I wanted to continue to use my voice to de-stigmatize living with PTSD.

I have been in a poetic place. It’s been easier for me to express myself in poetry vs journaling style. It’s a way to get at the meat of my feelings. I absolutely love the creativity of poetry. It feeds my soul, it takes me to places where I say to myself, “If I could paint a picture, this is what it would look like.” But, I found that I was holding my feelings at a bit of a distance, and it caused me to pause.

I wondered if I was falling into a place of shaming myself into silence. If I was becoming fearful that some of the messages of  (let go of the past, it happened a long time ago, can’t you just get over it, you can decide to be happyyou don’t look sick) were beginning to seep in, and I was pushing play on my tape of shame that I live with complex PTSD.

I’m not ashamed of my past. I’m not ashamed of my story. It is the truth of what happened in my life, to me. I didn’t choose it; the people in my life made those choices to traumatize me. 

What I find I struggle with, is living with the effects of the trauma. It manifested in ways that affect my life, probably for the rest of my life. I have found the past four years when I began to speak publicly that I am not alone. A lot of people struggle with mental health issues directly related to trauma.

The good thing is that there is a tremendous amount of research being done to help trauma survivors right now. There have been some fantastic treatment options to help alleviate or extinguish symptoms. But, not all symptoms can be extinguished. They can be managed, and quality of life can improve to a level that wasn’t thought possible even five years ago. Some people depending on their symptoms of PTSD can absolutely be cured. Some of us may struggle for many more years to come. 

I had to re-evaluate that if I’m one of the people who have persistent and pervasive symptoms do I stay silent?  Do I watch as I see people struggling, repeating the lines and trying to live up to the many memes of, just do (or think) this and your life will be better? No, I just can’t do that. It goes against my nature because of all the survivors I’ve met along the way. Yes, there is a place for the feel-good memes, but it can shame us into silence if we don’t self-regulate.

I’m the most obnoxiously optimistic person I know. I love affirmations, I love mindfulness, I love yoga, meditation, dharma talks, and I really do get out of bed and say, “Today is a brand new day.” But I also have to make sure I am living with my feet firmly on the ground. When I’m sick, I’m sick. When I have symptoms I need to talk to my support system about them. I do not want to shame myself or watch others feel shamed into silence.

The other day one of my most trusted friends said to me, “You seem to be very calm about everything unless you aren’t telling me what’s really going on inside.” The reality was, I was calm and at the same time, I wasn’t being completely honest about how I felt. I was calm, I was numb! I didn’t realize it until I went home and thought about how I was feeling. Right now, numb is an okay place to be. My brain and body are resting after being very ill, and experiencing a recent trauma.

I will continue to use my voice to bring awareness and help de-stigmatize living with PTSD. I think it’s extremely important to create a community where people can relate instead of hiding and feel ashamed for having an illness. I continue to work on creating boundaries and will keep learning to speak up for myself, and I will not allow myself, to shame myself into becoming silent again. I’m grateful and acknowledge how far I’ve come in my healing that I recognized that may be happening and reaffirm my tenacity to stay the course on the long, winding road of healing.

Thank you for reading my books:  If I Could Tell You How It Feels,  and  Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

I See You ~

Did you sit across from me on purpose?
Yes, yes I did!

I was afraid you were going to see me
I do see you, you are a beautiful light!

I feel like I’m invisible, I want to be invisible
I see you. You are worthy of being seen, being heard!

Do I have to stay strong? Do I have to stay silent?
Your strength is in speaking your truth!

Will it ever get better, will the pain stop?
It does get better, the pain changes. It ebbs and flows!

Is it okay to ask for help?
Yes, it’s important to ask for help. You’re important!

Will I be okay?
Yes, you will be okay…you Are okay!

As I drive away, I spend the day thinking, that one of the most important gifts we can give another person is to be their mirror.

To understand that to be a mirror for someone is not just a concept, but that sometimes a person’s reflection is non-existent. That sometimes our own reflections may be non-existent.

To be lucky enough to engage with a person who at that moment needs to see the essence of who they truly are, to be their mirror so they can see themselves.

Yesterday, a lesson was etched deep into my soul. It is a true gift to be able to say to another person, “I see you, I hear you, you deserve to be here, you matter!”

Photo by Jovis Aloor on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

From Protection to Art

Over an eight-year time span, I unpacked secrets hidden deep in my mind. Some secrets were repressed and some were just sitting in storage, never meant to be unpacked to see the light of day. But for me, I had to make the choice to face, process, accept, and resolve my past so I could continue to heal.

Throughout those eight years, I had given my therapist many, many things that I had saved from my childhood. Some of the items were pictures, a baggie of dirt, rocks, pieces of jewelry, gifts that identified places I had been, and a wooden baseball bat.

I saved all these things because I thought they were proof of what happened to me. I thought they were my smoking guns. My therapist described them as my breadcrumbs. He believed I unconsciously (and consciously) kept these mementos to help lead me back to my repressed past. When I would bring my “breadcrumbs” to him we would talk about them in detail. I got to a point with each one that I no longer needed them in my house. 

One day I brought him a heavy, professional grade bat that had been in my childhood home since the 70’s. This bat was my protection against the people I thought would come for me in the middle of the night. From the time I was young and for many decades since then, that bat lay under my bed.

The day I brought the bat to my therapist’s office I felt ready to relinquish it. I knew I had to learn to trust that I was safe in my home from past perpetrators. We talked a lot about the bat, and that day, feeling extreme anxiety, I left it with him and successfully learned how to fall asleep without that professional Brooks Robinson bat under my bed.

That was four years ago…

Last night I met with my former therapist for a quick post-therapeutic check-in. After 8 1/2 years of intense therapy, I still reach out from time to time. When we met he said, “I have something for you.” He handed me a piece of that old bat that he has sculpted into a wonderful and practical piece of art.

I was stunned! I just assumed he got rid of it. I didn’t think I would ever see any of my breadcrumbs again. They had met their purpose. I was able to give them to someone who completely “witnessed” my story and taught me the tools to feel safe.

Also, one day after giving him the last of my hidden items, (not the bat) he said, calmy but very assured, “There is your smoking gun.” That was the moment I felt free from needing anything to prove the what, where, who and how of my past.

Even though I felt immense relief when I gave up my squirreled away mementos, there were a couple of items that I still thought about every now and then. The things that I felt had empowered me. The bat was definitely one of them. I knew I needed to give these things up to release the hold they had on me, and their association with the past, but every now and then I had a bit of nostalgia for some of the things that helped me feel safe.

Holding this beautiful piece of polished wood in my hand yesterday I felt so many emotions. I felt cared about, I felt a safe connection to someone who knows my whole story, I felt elated that I could see this transformed bat for its new purpose, and I felt a little like I got a piece of my warrior super-power armor back. I don’t need it to protect me any longer, but it’s a wonderful feeling to look back with pride for how far I’ve come and to also acknowledge all the fabulous ways my mind helped me create a sense of safety during decades of living in fear.

From a hurt child’s object of protection into a practical piece of art, my professional Brookes Robinson wooden bat will continue to provide me with a sense of peace.

 

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

 

 

What Would You Suggest?

I have the privilege of presenting to a  Human Services class at a local college in a couple of weeks.  I’m extremely grateful and also honored to be asked to talk to these students, because some of them may become (or already are) professionals in the mental health field. I’m determined to help destigmatize mental illness, particularly PTSD, by speaking and writing openly about living with this disorder.

I’ll be talking about the definition of PTSD, some common symptoms, how I’m able to live a full, and purposeful life, even though I sometimes still struggle with multiple symptoms, resources, etc.

I’m really excited about two topics that I have been asked to address during my presentation.

  • What to say and/or not to say to someone with PTSD (or mental illness)?
  • How professionals can better help people who they work with? 

I definitely have my ideas, but I thought about how wonderfully interactive and positive the blogging community is when it comes to comments. I would love to know how you would answer these questions. Either of the questions.

Your input is greatly appreciated!

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

A Cloudy Week of PTSD

I want to wrap my myself in a soft comfy blanket and hang out in a room with puppies, feeling the happy, drooling puppy breath that brings smiles from oozing love.

I want to naturally exhale after taking a deep breath, and not having to consciously remind myself to breathe as I come out a flashback, nightmare.

I want to ease the pain in my body that I know is not really there; it’s just remnants, reminders of long ago.

I want to be able to have a conversation with someone and not feel like I’m standing behind a scrim of safety because right now, trust and feeling safe is at a premium.

I have to remember that this week is just a glitch and that sometimes I will find myself feeling like I am sliding into the abyss of symptoms.

I know that even though I am exhausted in mind, body, and spirit this week, I am still (and always will be) mega-tons stronger than any perpetrator that I’ve had the displeasure of encountering.

It’s been a cloudy week of PTSD!

woman-1006100_1920

photo image: pixabay

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

The Gifts of Writing a Memoir, Happy 3rd Birthday Untangled!

Three years ago today, I anxiously waited for my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph to go live on Amazon. What a wonderful, unexpected and humbling three years this has been.

I took a huge risk by writing and publishing my memoir. My entire life was focused on keeping quiet, not telling, protecting those I loved, or who loved me. It took me a long time to understand that by keeping quiet, I was actually protecting the people who hurt me in my life. Writing Untangled was a way to announce in a really big way, that I will not keep quiet any longer.

I literally went from telling no one but my therapist about my past to throwing my arms up, and saying, okay….what the heck, let’s go for it, and tell everyone at once. My husband and children read the book before it was released to the public, but close friends, acquaintances, and long-lost friends learned the truth of my past when they read the book.  Were there big reactions? You bet there were! Of course, they reacted. The biggest reaction was sadness that they didn’t know what was happening at the time, and that helpless feeling that if they knew, they could have helped. I understand that reaction, I would probably have felt the same way upon hearing of a friend’s brutal past. But, they couldn’t have helped me, and it was imperative to my safety that I kept quiet. I used to feel guilty that I somehow hurt my friend’s feelings that I didn’t share my past, but I’ve learned to let go of that.

In the book, I talk about my life and some of the trauma I experienced.  I write about how I repressed my memories and how I managed to raise a family and live a life where I mistakenly convinced myself, that my hidden past had no effect or impact on my life. The last part of the book is what my healing journey looked like at the time. Untangled isn’t about naming names or the horrific specifics of what happened to me. I don’t feel people, especially those of us who have been through trauma need to read and be triggered by another’s specific tales of horror.

I do, however, explain in detail the feelings that went along with being hurt, traumatized, abandoned, neglected. I don’t shy away from feeling words such as fear, emptiness, loneliness, embarrassment, shame, etc.  One of the most humbling gifts I experience from Untangled is when people read the book, and they find it is relatable. The events that happened to me may not be relatable, but the effects, the feelings, the sense of no-self is something that a lot of people experience, or they know and love someone who has experienced those things.

We all have feelings, but we may not all be able to articulate them, we may doubt or judge our feelings, or experience that lonely feeling that no one else could possibly understand this kind of emotional pain. I lived with that terrible alone feeling until three years ago. Now, from the feedback from the readers of Untangled, I know that I am not alone. Admittedly, the validation is a bit of a paradox..I’m so relieved to be validated by relatability and so sad to be validated by relatability.

One of the questions I get asked the most is why did I write my memoir?  At first, I was writing as a way to incorporate another healing tool. For me, using the keyboard as a way to write, instead of using paper and pencil, provided a way to get down my feelings, thoughts, and emotions without becoming overwhelmed. I was taught that for some people, using the keyboard was a way to incorporate bi-lateral stimulation. This method provided a way to create a bit of distance from the subject matter I was writing about. The first gift was while writing, I began to discern the difference between the truth vs my truth. For some, they are the same, but for me, being able to say My truth had a profound and healing impact on me.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. I began to notice that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice. What I discovered was that writing actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found, if I read what I wrote out loud to my therapist, that I WAS speaking the truth. The bonus for me as that He didn’t freak out or go away. The gift of Untangled is that people also don’t freak out and run away. The book has been a tool for conversation.

I am frequently asked if I was afraid for my safety when I released the book?  To be honest, I felt a lot of fear for my safety and took as many precautions as I could, but in the end, I just really wanted to share my story. I wanted to share what it looks like to live through unimaginable circumstances for twenty-plus years, with continued threats to stay silent, and still, be determined to be live not just survive.  I knew that this was my truth, and by publishing my story and continue to talk about the effects of trauma and the resulting PTSD that no one could ever take my past, my truth away from me again.

There are so many gifts from Untangled. The gift of writing, the gift of remembering, the gift of a congruent past, the gift of trying to remove the stigma of living with an illness. I wouldn’t have started writing a blog if I hadn’t written my memoir. I was told that I had to start a blog in order to market a book. I never, in my wildest dreams knew the world of connection that awaited me when I wrote my first post. Not only have I connected with survivors and mental health professionals, but I also have connected with poets, authors, thinkers, travelers, photographers, fun-loving lets blog for the heck of it people all over the world. I’m a better person because of all these connections. There are some people I’ve met that have changed my life. I’m grateful every day for my blog.

Even though I released another book last January, I’m not ready to leave Untangled behind. I’m excited every time someone purchases the book, I wish I could personally thank every person. I don’t ever take it for granted. I love getting good reviews on Amazon, I love hearing the feedback. I hope that the readership continues to grow each month.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I know what my goals are…to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. I didn’t realize that sharing my story with so many people would propel the trajectory of my healing in such a profound and sometimes ineffable way. Never does a day go by that I’m not grateful for the experice.

Happy 3rd birthday, and thank you for reading, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph