Precieved vs Real

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with extremely challenging PTSD symptoms. I have learned how to manage the everyday symptoms that just come with living with this mental health condition by employing a whole lot of tools from my self-care tool-box.

But since the attempted break-in of my home (read about it here: Don’t Open That Door )I have experienced an increase in some very distressing symptoms including; fear, panic, extreme hypervigilance, and sleep disturbances. All of these leave me exhausted, a bit confused, and rather lost at the moment.

So what is happening? Right after the perpetrator was arrested, I felt like I did what I needed to do for my body. I stayed present, I let myself shake, move, sit, shudder. Whatever my body needed to do right after the event, I honored that. I walked outside in the neighborhood so I knew I was safe and that this was My space, not some random thief’s space. I didn’t alter my routine as far as daily living. 

I spoke about the incident with family, friends, neighbors, my acupuncturist, and my therapist. I sought support, and even though this happened in the bright sunshine of the morning, we installed four new security lights. Importantly, I understood how random this was and that I was safe in my house.

About a week after the attempted break-in something felt amiss. I began to have hellacious, screaming nightmares every night. The same nightmare every night; sometimes multiple nightmares in one night. My anxiety is increasing and I notice I’ve become even more hyper-vigilant coupled with full-blown panic attacks or crippling fear.

I began to keep myself tuned in to the part of the house where he tried to break-in and my eating has become a bit disordered. Also, the comforting settling noises of my house have now become a constant ask of, “what was that noise?” These are huge, uncomfortable, and exhausting symptoms. I was totally caught off-guard by them and I could not figure out why after being so purposeful in getting good, solid support after the event that this was happening.

My therapist has been working with me to catch myself with my increasing avoidance behaviors. She is trying to encourage me to take back the parts of my house I’m now avoiding. We’re working on new sleep tools and she is working hard on having me acknowledge the fear, accepting it, hearing it, thanking it, and letting it know we are safe. Good, good things that are helping me find some control, self-compassion, and grounding.

Yesterday I was speaking with another survivor who had similar pervasive trauma like I did. She suggested that I have lived with the perceived threat of my perpetrators coming to hurt me (or insert threat here) for decades and that this attempted break-in with the drama and the intensity around it was indeed a real threat to my safety.

This was a real light-bulb moment for me. Real vs Perceived! It made absolute sense in my mind.

Most people would be upset and a bit traumatized by confronting a person actively trying to break into their house. For me, it had activated all the times in my past that I had felt scared, unsafe, violated, and feared for my life. Days after the event, I spoke with a woman who lived in the senior-living apartment building where he broke-in and vandalized before he came to our house. When  I heard how violent he was, and that he was indeed trying to find a place to hide, in my mind he became even more dangerous to me. A real threat in real life.

I know logically that this person will not be coming back to my house. I know that this was random and not personal, and I know that this triggered an avalanche of PTSD symptoms that had laid dormant for a long time.

All these things are true, and I will find my way back to the middle. But for right now-after all these years of learning and repeating that I’m safe and that my fear was because of a perceived threat, I have now (again) in my life felt the fear of a real threat. This may be a small part of the healing process of the intrusion, but to me it’s an explanation and a jumping-off point for understanding how my mind is working and why I am, again,  working through the oh-so-tangled web of PTSD.

Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

Would you like to be a guest speaker?

I’m involved with a non-profit organization called EmpowerSurvivors that supports survivors of childhood sexual abuse and trauma.

EmpowerSurvivors is a peer-run nonprofit organization operated by survivors of childhood sexual abuse for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

We support survivors through individual peer support meetings, classes, workshops and since the pandemic began, we now offer Zoom meetings on Monday evenings at 6:00 pm central time called, Conversations With Evey & Elizabeth.

These interactive conversations focus on topics of interest to survivors of trauma and sexual abuse, no matter where they are on their healing journey.

Our hope is to periodically have a special guest that will volunteer their time to discuss topics such as childhood sexual abuse, healing trauma, types of therapy, what to expect in therapy, suggestions on how to find good therapists, survivor stories of hope & healing, adverse childhood experiences & resilience, victim laws, mindfulness, grounding, PTSD, mental health diagnosis, healing strategies, etc.

We would love to have professionals and survivors of childhood sexual abuse to lead conversations that help survivors better understand themselves, the healing journey, and subjects pertaining to early childhood sexual abuse and healing.

If you are someone with a heart for survivors, helping others heal, or have a skill set that you would like to share please consider being our guest via Zoom.

Together we can help people find hope & healing.

If you are interested in leading a conversation or have any questions, email Elizabeth Sullivan of EmpowerSurvivors at EmpowerSurvivors@gmail.com

Find out more about EmpowerSurvivors at http://www.empowersurvivors.net/

And of course if you are interested in joining the conversations on Monday evenings via Zoom, you are welcome to log on. All we ask is that you keep your camera on since these support meetings are designed to be interactive.

Conversations with Evey and Elizabeth

The Dirt Underneath My Nails

The bright flowing energy of life
that courses through
those oft talked about chakras
aligning my body, mind, and soul
sometimes feel clogged.

They say it’s normal
to have places that are stuck.
Let’s start there!
Let’s open it up so you can breathe, unfold, flow, feel whole.

But it’s clogged…with dirt.

Those life-force channels
sometimes get mired in the sludge of messages and beliefs
from a long ago past.
Enmeshed in the lies that were told to my soul.

The truth of their lies evidenced in the
dirt underneath my nails.

Wait; This is a triggering time of year
I’m being pulled into a vortex of memory and shame.
Name it
Feel it
Change the narrative
Get help!

My life-force begins to circulate again
with bright colors and free-flowing qi
I feel the power of being in the now ~
the wind, sun, heat and throat clearing water.

Looking down, scanning, grounding
I see the dirt of the earth underneath my nails
and go and wash my hands.
©Alexis Rose, image source, Pixabay

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

 

Don’t Open That Door!

How many scary movies, thrillers, and mysteries have we seen where we find ourselves saying out loud, “don’t open that door!” And then joke because of course, they were always going to open that door, answer the phone, or look under the bed.  Often after we scolded the protagonist, we would add,  “I would never do that!” And then real life happened, and I Opened The Door. 

This past Monday morning at 7:15 with the sun shining brightly, someone was actively trying to break into our house.

I heard a noise and was walking to look out the window, thinking that something was going on across the street. As I was walking towards the window, my dog bolted past me to the locked deck door, where I saw the screen was open and a man was peering in the bedroom window where my husband was sleeping.

It was as if something went primal in me. Without any thought, I unlocked and opened the deck door, went out, and started screaming at this robber. I was yelling, “Who the f**k are you, and What the f**k do you think you’re doing?” I was wild and aggressive, approaching him with so much anger and fear that I didn’t even realize what I was doing. This was not smart for So many reasons.  

First, I opened a locked door and entered a small space where this perpetrator was leering into my house after trying to get into the door. As I’m yelling, I put myself within six inches of him, with the door wide open behind me.  I’m not even 5 feet tall and the only thing I had on at the time was a sleep shirt. No shoes on the snowy, icy deck just me in a t-shirt yelling and becoming more verbally aggressive. I must have scared him because he turned around and started going back down the stairs. He said something to me, and I mom-scolded him, wagging my finger yelling “I’m calling 911.”

I went into the house and called 911. Almost immediately two squad cars pulled up in front of my house. The person was standing there taking off his jacket and dropping all his stolen goods as the police pulled up. Apparently, this person had gone on a robbery spree at some senior-living apartments and the police were down the street when I called 911. I watched him get arrested and taken away.

One of the police officers checked our house and cars and made sure we were ok. I told him how I confronted him, how I just didn’t even think about calling 911 at the moment when I saw him on the deck. I told him that I was so shocked because I acted exactly the opposite of what we are all taught to do and I understood how much danger I put myself and my family in. 

The officer listened and then sternly said to me, “Don’t ever do that again. This guy is so high he doesn’t even know what planet he’s on and that could have turned out very badly.”

I understand that he could have had a weapon, or he could have easily moved me aside and walk through the door that was now wide open which would have put us in a potentially very dangerous situation. I’m so grateful and relieved things turned out okay.

So whoa! The after-effects of that event has been a roller coaster of processing. First, the physical and emotional dump of adrenaline was exhausting and confusing. I made sure on Monday to take lots of walks around my neighborhood so I understood that it’s a safe place to live and that this is the first incident we’ve had in 22 years.

I reached out to people to get some good support. I needed to tell people what happened; to talk about it. I knew my PTSD triggers were activated but didn’t quite know which symptoms or memories were going to come oozing out.

And ooze out they did. Every fear of being hurt again was front and center on Tuesday and Wednesday. That feeling of not being safe anywhere in the world was right there; front and center. My hyper-vigilance, fear, nightmares, anxiety were all front and center for two days after the event. 

Today is three days after the incident. I’ve settled down, we installed 4 more security lights, I’ve received wonderful help processing this with my therapist who had some good ideas and grounding tools for symptom management, and I have wonderful support from friends and family. 

Unlike those first twenty years where there was no support and no resolution, this incident had both. Although still feeling violated, I do hope that person gets the help he needs and perhaps chooses a life of no drugs and no crime.

For me, I learned that I had the capacity to fight-not just flee or freeze. I could never fight any of my perpetrators in my past. It wasn’t an option-ever! It appears now I can and will. There were many lessons on Monday morning, and the ability to fight for my safety was one of the takeaways. But by far,  the biggest lesson I learned is, Don’t Open That Door!!!

photo image: Pexels

Hey Symptoms~Thanks, but I got this!

The past few days during moments of exasperation, I’ve said out loud to myself, “what is wrong with you, just stop it!” In reality, there is nothing wrong with me. I’ve been feeling off, and instead of sitting with the feelings, and letting them surf on through, I’ve been running the other way in a grand state of denial.

There is a saying: “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.” That saying is a simple way for me to understand that try as I might, there are reasons my PTSD symptoms sometimes still have a firm chokehold on me. The list can be long depending on the time of year and triggers.

This time of year represents trigger, after trigger for me. While I can appreciate all the beauty of nature, the long season can be challenging with prolonged symptoms and what can seem like constant symptom management. They don’t just amplify on certain calendar dates, they simmer,  just under my skin in both the Fall and Spring seasons.

I’ve noticed that as I continue to heal I’ve been able to tolerate some of the triggers that in years past, would send me hiding in the house. I’m able to name what the trigger is without flashbacks or much anxiety. But, sometimes my body memories and reptilian mind fight for a seat at the table.

I’m pretty good at accepting, and having compassion for my lizard brain and body responses by telling them, “Thank you for doing what you are meant to do, but we are safe now, and I’ve got this.” Most of the time that works, but sometimes as the skeleton hands of the past slowly edge up my spine and try to pull me down, some deep feelings get stirred up.

If I don’t acknowledge the feelings and sit with them even for a short amount of time, they come out sideways. I get emotional, irritable, and I start demanding an impossible perfection from myself. If I’m not careful those feelings can inadvertently push play on the negative self-talk and doubt.

This morning, when I caught myself again saying, “What’s wrong with you, just stop it” it made me pause. Instead of running to the next distraction, I sat down to reflect, on what was really going on. With reflection, I stopped denying that the change of season is having an effect on me. It’s not me refusing to let go of the past, it’s an internal response to the trauma I survived.

Now that I’ve accepted what is going on, and forgiven myself for how I’ve been feeling, I can say, Hey symptoms, Thanks but I got this!

PTSD

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

Sunday Desperation

That dark-haired little girl
wants to run away to the cliffs surrounding the ocean
washing the dirt from her feet and hands
watching as the dirt bubbles to the surface
emptying the soot from the bottom of the boxes

She wants to be free
free to see the stars, hear the crickets
smell the ocean waves
and listen to the call of the owl and
the songs of the loons

But she’s bent over holding herself in a ball
The pain in her chest, her heart, her biceps
and the hollowness of her soul
writhes in fuzzy fear and loneliness

She’s trying to grab a hand
a metaphorical lifeline
that provides the hope that this walk will not be alone

It’s not dead girl walking
it’s tiger slayer trying, once again
to navigate the world where her past
doesn’t define her

Fear keeps her from asking
the skeleton hands of the past in for tea

Can she ask them in
Can she ask them why they crawl up her spine
and try to pull her down the rope of the past
Can she ask them to release her – to set her free
Does she set them free with a thank you or a f**k you or both

She doesn’t want to fight them anymore ~ She’s tired
She wants to set them on a raft and send them down the river
free
She wants to set both self-doubt, and fear on a leaf
and watch them take flight with the wind
free
Or maybe put it all in a balloon and set it alight
to become stardust

And when that’s done
she’ll sit for a while
breathe, say thank you ~ and rest
free

©Alexis Rose

Behind the Glass

A quick glance to the right
triggered the shiver from the deepest
part of my soul

Like a whisper in the night
bringing memory into focus
I’m stopped in my tracks
and enshrouded
in a dark and heavy fog

A series of photographs
posed, and etched deep inside my mind
play quickly, vividly
like a silent filmstrip
then fades
leaving muted color
and vague felt-sense memory

Lodged behind a scrim
and never completely melting away
I walk along, wondering
what happened on that day
what happened behind the glass when I glanced to the right

Will, it ever be okay
Will, it ever go away


©Alexis Rose; photographer: Janet Rosauer

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

 

 

 

 

Thank-you symptoms, but I’ve got this!

The past few days during moments of exasperation, I’ve said out loud to myself, “You’re being so weird, just stop it!” In reality, I haven’t been weird, I have been feeling off, and instead of sitting with the feelings, and letting them surf on through, I’ve been running the other way in a grand state of denial.

There is a saying: “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.” That saying is a simple way for me to understand that try as I might, there are reasons my PTSD symptoms sometimes still have a firm chokehold on me. The list can be long depending on the time of year and triggers.

Autumn is beautiful and just started here in the Midwest. Blue skies and Vermillion colored trees often coexist with 70 degrees temperatures. This time of year, from late August until it snows represents trigger, after trigger for me. While I can appreciate the wonderful weather, the long season can be challenging with prolonged symptoms and what can seem like constant symptom management. They don’t just amplify on certain calendar dates, they simmer,  just under my skin in both the Fall and Spring seasons.

There are days when the triggers and symptom management leave me exhausted and feeling like I’m a burden to my family and close friends. I spend most of the time finding ways to work on distress tolerance and grounding when the autumn winds blow.

Lately, I have been able to tolerate some of the triggers that in years past, would send me hiding in the house. I noticed I was able to name what the trigger was without flashbacks or much anxiety. That felt great, and I made sure to acknowledge how far I’ve come in my healing journey. But, as the weather has changed and we entered September, my body memories and reptilian mind have been fighting for a seat at the table.

I’m pretty good at accepting, and having compassion for my lizard brain and body responses by telling them, “Thank you for doing what you are meant to do, but we are safe now, and I’ve got this.” Most of the time that works, but sometimes as the skeleton hands of the past slowly edge up my spine and try to pull me down, some deep feelings get stirred up. If I don’t acknowledge the feelings and sit with them even for a short amount of time, they come out sideways. I get emotional, irritable, and I start demanding an impossible perfection from myself. If I’m not careful those feelings can inadvertently push play on the negative self-talk and doubt.

This morning, when I caught myself again saying, “You’re being so weird, just stop it” it made me pause. Instead of running to the next distraction I sat down to reflect, on what was really going on. With reflection, I stopped denying that the change of season is having an effect on me. It’s not me refusing to let go of the past, it’s an internal response to the trauma I survived.

Now that I’ve accepted what is going on, and forgiven myself for how I’ve been feeling, I say to my symptoms, “Thank-you, I see you, and I’ve got this!

PTSD

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

Getting Triggered by the News

I make a conscious effort to be careful about what I read and listen to on the news.  It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes because I’m inherently curious and interested in what is happening in current events around the world. I don’t want to live in a bubble. I want to know what’s happening, I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my own opinions and have thoughtful conversations.

When my symptoms were at their worst, and I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule,” meaning I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens.  That “rule” helped me minimize being triggered at a time when most of my days were spent experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, panic, and fear.

I stayed away from intense news and was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. Most of the time, I watched lots of comedy. Admittedly, there were times when I broke the rule. I sometimes sought out programs with violence that in some way mirrored my own abuse. Or I would pay attention to sensationalized cases in the media that were hard to avoid. Inevitably I would get triggered.

As I began to manage my symptoms and felt some sense of safety the puppy/kitten rule was lifted. Because I had been so careful about what I ingested from media outlets for so long, I developed an avoidance for watching or seeking out certain information because I knew it may be triggering.

Recently, there was a news story that I had done my best to avoid. When it first came out, people were outraged, and then the news cycle changed. I understand why that happens. There is so much out there every day, and each event is shocking and sad, and sometimes incomprehensible.  But because my trauma is sort-of similar to the aforementioned news story, I was on high alert when I scrolled past it. I had a definite curiosity about the details but hadn’t read anything besides the headlines.

Until the other day!

The other day the headline changed and I knew that the very thing I feared when I first heard the story did, in fact, come true. I knew this person would never be convicted.  I felt sick that even with awareness, this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind, will probably continue to exist.

Then I got triggered.

I’m not used to those kinds of triggers any longer. There is plenty for me to navigate in my daily life, and anniversary times of the year, and I thought I was far enough along in my healing journey that I would be okay. But PTSD doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t care that I was just reading an article, and it doesn’t care that this person had absolutely nothing to do with me. I had never heard of him. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is altered because of the trauma I experienced, and my brain and body will go into the memory and protection mode automatically.

After reading the article, I could tell that something was awry in my body/mind/spirit. I could tell things were stirred up in a way that I could spiral down the cycle of panic, fear, and shame. I closed the computer, went to yoga, had lunch with a friend, and remembered that today is a day when I’m fighting the tiger.  Any shame over being triggered dissipated as I repeated my metaphorical mantra of support to myself.

Seeing things written, or in movies, tv, or media can bring a sort of validation. A sense of see? I’m not making this up!  When you are a trauma survivor you look for validation. My trauma seems so “out of the ordinary” that it’s extremely rare that I felt validation. But, my job on my healing journey is knowing that my truth is validation enough.

I suspect there will be other times when I get triggered by the news. The intensity of my response will probably vary depending on what the triggers are, time of year, and the present stressors in my life. I know what to do when the skeleton hands of the past pull at me, and I’m confident that I’ll remember that I will fight the tiger and win.

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

image source:  ashley-batz

Fireworks and PTSD

We are heading into the week of 4th of July.  The holiday lands on a Thursday this year. The firework store billboards are now up, looming huge on the side of the road, and the fireworks-stands seem to pop up out of nowhere in the parking lot of strip malls. Business must be pretty good, because already many, many people are shooting off fireworks and firecrackers at all hours of the day and night.

I understand the fun and enjoyment some people may have from setting off fireworks. Although there are many legal fireworks for sale in the state where I live, there is a never-ending supply of both legal and illegal varieties lying in wait for the excited revelers to buy just across our state-line. There you can purchase the big ones, the percussion of which shakes the houses in the neighborhood.

We have become accustomed to many of our local county fairs shooting off a fireworks display at the end of the night before they close down for the day. But over the last few years, people are shooting them off at random times during the day, and the night. Sometimes at midnight or later, we will hear a loud percussive blast coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. Just one, loud blast that jolts you from sleep, and can cause great distress for animals, and young children.

Unfortunately for some of our combat veterans, the random fireworks/firecrackers going off can be extremely anxiety provoking and be triggering. For some vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, that string of firecrackers may sound like automatic weapons fire, and the big explosions may sound like the IEDs that threatened so many of their lives.

Flashbacks are a horrible reliving of past traumatic events. When you are setting off these illegal fireworks, chances are there is someone hearing them who are struggling with their combat-related trauma.  If you are unable to resist the urge to set-off those huge explosions, then please consider driving out somewhere that is less populated.

For many dogs, the sounds reverberating off the other houses can often make them disoriented and traumatized.  Their stress level becomes unbearable and some of our animals run away or get lost. There are numerous stories about the many dogs winding up in shelters, especially during the days right before and after the 4th of July.

If this is happening in your neighborhood, try talking to your neighbors who are setting off the big ones, or write them a letter. Often people don’t know that they may be causing harming to some of our vets, scaring our little children, or making our animals shake with fear.

In many neighborhoods where I live, the 4th of July has gone from, the ooh and ahh of fireworks displays at the local parks, to almost every house having their own sunup to sundown fireworks/firecrackers celebrations.

People who suffer from PTSD, (whether it is combat-induced or trauma-related) will try to do what they can to take care of themselves over the next week. Typically, I would escape to the secluded boundary waters canoe area for four days, coming back after the 4th. This year, I need to stay home and care for my dog who is becoming more and more agoraphobic the past few weeks with the increasing lighting of firecrackers at all hours of the day and night.

Please be courteous when setting off your fireworks and firecrackers at your home. Be thoughtful not only of our veterans but also the small children, the elderly, pets, and others who may suffer from illness and startle easily.

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