Parenting with PTSD

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Friendship

So much has been written about friendship; from the trite to profound, but the truth is we (the human race) are a gregarious species. Our survival is dependent upon living in cooperation with others. Part of that living in cooperation is making and having friends, and that is sometimes easier said than done.

As I have been traveling down this healing path, I have had to ponder the question of friendship more than once. Sometimes, I was trying to discern who was no longer healthy for me, because they fed the fuel of my tendency to be taken advantage of by narcissists. Other times, I was un-friended by those who couldn’t deal with the fact that I was suffering from PTSD, they just couldn’t handle it.

I pondered four questions: What is friendship? How do friendships endure? What’s the difference between an acquaintance and a friend? And how much do we need to protect our hearts from the risks of true friendship?

When I really love someone as a friend I do not protect my heart, because I think to protect my heart means I’m not giving freely of myself. When I commit to a friendship, I share my thoughts, hopes, desires, and secrets without reservation. My friendships are based on honesty. My friends and I know the difference between telling each other what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.

I also believe that a healthy friendship is symmetrical. In other words, both parties are equally committed to the relationship. I’m committed to supporting and encouraging my friends and being there as they grow and change. I’m committed to seeing them through the minutiae of life. And hopefully, I can do that without judgment. The symmetry is, I know my friends will do the same for me. That doesn’t mean that there are times when people need time, and space because of life circumstances, ill health, or whatever life happens to bring, but the underlying commitment is never wavering, no matter how much time passes. A non-spoken loyalty.

I also have people in my lives who are more like acquaintances rather than friends. These are people that I sometimes meet for a meal or activities. They may be a constant person in my life, but I keep them at arm’s length. My conversation may be little more than scratching the surface,  the idea of sharing something intensely personal causes me some anxiety. These are the people I know who are going to be in and out of my life, but they are still just as precious to me. Besides just hanging out and having fun, they may have quite a lesson to teach me along the way. In fact, I have learned numerous lessons from my acquaintances. They tend to look and react to the world through a different lens. And, I kind of like that, it can be interesting.

There have been times when a friend has become more of an acquaintance because over time we grew apart. When that happened, I felt a sense of loss, but I also knew the decision was a healthy one. The opposite has been true too. I have had distant acquaintances that have become a steady and lovely friend; the kind of friend that I can’t imagine not connecting with on a regular basis.

As I found myself dealing with the mental anguish of PTSD, I was consumed with shame. I was ashamed of what I was remembering, my changing financial situation and the roller coaster emotional ride I was a constantly experiencing. I thought my friends would think that I was damaged and ugly and if they discovered the “real me,” they wouldn’t like me anymore. In fact, some people did back out of my life. Perhaps they were really more acquaintances than friends all along. But I can say with unequivocal certainty that my true friends have not run away. In fact, they took many steps closer to me. And because I am more open and authentic I have also made some wonderful new connections in my life.

As I pondered the way I interacted with people in the past, I would say, I behaved more as an acquaintance than a friend. I shut myself off from showing any feeling and wouldn’t let anyone get close to me. I was always the smiling, tell me anything, kind of friend who had no needs, just let me be there for You. Now I have learned to show my vulnerability.

Now, I believe I present myself to the world from a place of honesty. I’m not ashamed that I have PTSD, but I don’t wear a banner across my chest that announces it either. When I have a bad day, I have a bad day, it doesn’t mean I’m a terrible horrible person that no one will want to be around anymore. I know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance and although I love to hang out and have a good time, I am recharged and at my best when I spend time with a true friend.

I have chosen to have very few acquaintances. I value a deeper emotional connection to the true friends I have in my life. My circle of friends has also grown smaller, which I love. The key word here is “chosen.” I thrive on more intimate relationships with those wonderful and beautiful people who have joined me on my journey.  Acquaintances can be fun companions and there for you in times of need. There is nothing wrong with having acquaintances in our lives. However, for me, the time spent engaging in a deep connection is how I keep my cup filled and how I hope I’m able to fill other people’s cup.

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Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

 

Beauty from Broken Pieces

I don’t hide in the shadows any longer. It was a conscious decision, although at the time I didn’t really know what that meant. When my memoir was published,  I went from no one knowing my story to letting the whole world know my story. It’s more than a story, it’s my life, my truth. It’s true that I don’t lay out all the sordid details of my past in my book, and very few people in my life have earned the right to hear all the details, but, I share enough of myself and the resulting struggles I have with PTSD that I’m comfortable with the volume of my voice and that I’m being heard and making some wonderful connections.

I still struggle every day. It’s the way it is for me. Fall is a particularly hard time of year. Now, instead of pretending all is well while feeling like my soul is being crushed into jagged shards, I’m honest with people. I have learned self-compassion. Instead of saying, “I’m fine” coupled with a thinly veiled smile, I say, “I’m triggered, I feel shitty, and I’m trying really hard to stay present.”

No one has shied away from me when I tell them I’m struggling this Fall. They still want to do lunch, meet for coffee, go for walks, and keep engaging.  While hiding in the shadows and always trying to be okay, I was unreachable. I was still social but it was different. I had a thick wall up, and my social circle was different. Aside from a core group of very good friends, I was surrounding myself with people who sometimes bordered on narcissistic. I was attracting those kinds of people because it was comfortable for me. I could navigate that personality. If fed my desire to hide. A funny thing happened when I emerged from the shadows after Untangled was released. The narcissists dropped me like a hot potato. I’m not sure why? But when that happened, it opened the door for some wonderful people who are also starting to emerge or have come from their own shadows to enter my life.

I was having coffee the other day with a friend who is just beginning her journey of openness. It’s tough, especially for someone like her, who is a bubbly, open-hearted, extrovert. She has had an extraordinary struggle in her life. Her truth is real, and it’s shocking, and it’s gut-retching, and it’s her past. My friend, like me, had to repress her past in order to have a life.  Until that sneaky past caught up to her and she knew that if she wanted a fulfilling present and a hopeful future she had to look at these things square in the face and deal with them. I don’t know if she has PTSD, I don’t ask. But I relate to and greatly admire the courage she displays in the face of such turmoil and growth right now.

As we were having coffee, she brought out a package wrapped in netting and a ribbon. It was the beautiful rock that is pictured in this post. Rocks are extremely important to me. I started connecting with them when I was alone and being tortured in a country far from home. I picked up a white rock, put it in my pocket and knew that if I died and no one found me, I at least had a solid connection to something; a rock, the earth. I still have that rock in my jewelry box. Since then, I pick up rocks from everyday random and also wonderous places. I give rocks as gifts and use rocks as an activity when I do creativity workshops.

Coming out of the shadows is still a new way of life, and sometimes it still feels like an enormous risk. I feel broken, mostly from having to live with the symptoms of PTSD, but when I put that beautiful rock, with the pieces of glass, the double spiral beads and felt the solid heft weighing in my palm, I felt overcome with tears of gratitude and connection. Connections are what ground me. I found it was a constant struggle to let people connect to me when I lived in the shadow of fear.

My friend, who had no idea what rocks meant to me, said that she loves to create things from broken glass. She calls it Beauty from Broken Pieces. To me, that is a beautiful mantra for all us. You can’t get through adulthood without having some broken pieces, but we can find some beauty in our shards.

 

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

 

 

Her Present Needed Her Past

The door heaved open exposing

the dark, dusty gloom of the past.

Walking into, and resting in each room

the light began to pour in from all the love she feels in the present.

The past and the present began to live together.

Sometimes contentious, but with a newly learned respect.

Intuitively, she knew her present needed her past so she could learn, change and grow.

As a new season begins, she holds hands with her past, lives in the present, and rests.

 

©Alexis Rose, photographer: Janet Rosauer from the collaboration, If I Could Tell You How it Feels. 

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

I Seek to Feel Content

I have conquered my metaphorical mountain. I kept telling myself I can do it. It was hard. It felt emotionally, spiritually and physically excruciating at times, and I did it.  I asked myself, when I conquer this mountain, have a congruent past and the tools to live with PTSD,  is that when I will feel content?

It’s my goal to live life with my eyes open, to let go of the person I am not, to own my story, to have worked through the torture and come out with a gnarly scar, not a soft scab over an oozing past. I met that goal.  Did I feel content?

I learned to reach out and ask for help when I feel so vulnerable that I can’t move left or right. To ask “will you take my hand and hold on to it until I feel steady enough to walk beside you again, unaided?” When I have done that, I ask myself, do I feel a sense of contentment?

When I accept the changes I have gone through, releasing and gently letting go of the protective barriers because they no longer serve me.  To “just show up” even when I can’t remember how to be okay. To accept that sometimes I won’t be okay. Knowing that I’m safe, and to trust the safety. To let the safety permeate my body, mind & spirit. Is that when I will feel content?

Am I content? Understanding that to feel a sense of contentment is as involuntary as breathing. I don’t have to seek it. I don’t have to be free from the symptoms of PTSD to understand that I’m enough. I was always enough, and that, not only am I okay now, I was always okay. I understand that feelings and emotions are fleeting and impermanent.

Yes, I believe, yes, most days (maybe not all 24 of those hours), but mostly, I am Content.

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Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

How Would You Describe Wisdom?

I think to myself how would I describe wisdom if I were asked? I understand how vague that term has become, but still, if I were asked to define what that word means to me, I would say wisdom is the ability to be present. When possible, to try and take a holistic view of a situation and see it from a well-rounded, compassionate perspective without initial judgment.

Of course, there may be, or have been situations in our lives, where we need to trust that what’s happening is dangerous, listen to our innate wisdom and protect ourselves so we can survive. That’s the beauty of inner wisdom, our survival mechanisms, and I, for one, am grateful every day for the wisdom I employed to survive my past.

The times when people have said to me, “you are wise” it was because I was responding to them in a fully present state. I was listening to what they were saying both verbally and nonverbally. I wasn’t thinking ahead to what I was going to say next, I wasn’t distracted by the noises that were external or internal. I was simply able to hear what they were saying and/or asking and respond in a way that was thoughtful and respectful. And truthfully, sometimes the wisest thing I have said to another person, and to myself is, I’m simply not able to be objective, or helpful. There are still some topics that when placed in front of me, I will react from a purely emotional place. No objectivity, compassion or understanding anywhere in my realm of consciousness. I understand that’s an effect of my trauma.

There are times that I still have to work hard at staying present. There are times when that is one of my most frustrating and biggest challenges. When I’m dealing with flashbacks, and triggers, staying present is often that elusive tool, that I know I have to employ. I think a lot of people, especially those of us who have been through trauma would say that staying present is a constant work in progress. Besides the normal monkey mind we all contend with, I also experience the challenge of climbing out of the vortex’s of the past, that pull me away, sometimes many times a day.

I believe as time goes on, I’m able to be present more often. I notice the birds singing outside the window, the wind gently blowing, the lawn mower of my neighbor, the noise of kids playing at the nearby playground and the sky. I love the sky!  It’s paying attention to the present that keeps me grounded in the wise place where I continue to heal, grow, change and live.

What does wisdom mean to you?

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Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph