All the things undone and all that I am actually doing

I need to write but I also really, really, really want to sew today. So I’m going to keep this short.

I’m behind in every aspect of my life. And, yes, I’m disabled AND still have active C-PTSD, but (AND) I feel like I should be able to get caught up and be on top of everything. I can feel my head getting fuzzy as I write this. A sign that I’m expressing something that comes from a cognitive distortion. It’s not hard for me to identify it as a need to be perfect to protect myself from shame, blame and harm.

Up until things started to truly fall apart a few years ago, I ran myself ragged staying on top of every little thing. I worked two jobs while going to school for my undergrad in psychology. Then I was a new first-time mom while working on my graduate degree. I was also married to an alcoholic who rarely came home before 5am and did very little to help around the house. After I got my masters degree I left that husband, moved across the country with my 2 year old and very little money. Somehow I kept it all together.

Then I met my most recent partner (now ex-husband) and we started a life together in which I worked, cared for my first child, and did most of the housework and cooking. Over the next few years we had two children and my health began to decline. I was put on bedrest multiple times. During my pregnancies, once with acute hepatitis, and once with hyponatremia and hypochloremia. And all the while I was having uncontrolled seizures, as well as increasing anxiety, depression and the occasional mild psychosis. Looking back, it’s so easy to see what a ginormous mess I was.

I was 46 when my latest breakdown happened. After I’d been in therapy with my current therapist for a while, I slowly began to realize that I had to let go of my overachieving perfectionism. Maybe I developed it because I thought if I were a good girl, the best girl, then my dad wouldn’t come to me at night and hurt me. Maybe my mother would be proud of me and believe I was safe, and then my dirty secret would be safe and she wouldn’t be in harms way from my father’s threat. Certainly, being so accomplished gave me something to be proud of and to believe in. But it also served as a buffer between what I wanted my life to be like and the truth, which was that I was terribly, awfully fucked up by the multiple abuses I’d experienced during the first 22 years of my life.

So I let go over and over again and then some more. And here I am, my house a mess, laundry overflowing, the dog’s yard uncleaned, junk on my front porch, bills unpaid and a pile of mandalas I’ve colored while ignoring all the things I “should” have been doing.

I can hear inner judgment about all those undone things.

And yet, it is work untangling all the lies, shame, pain and secrets that exist within when you were abused as a child. While those chores and life tasks were left undone, I’ve been working my ass off processing and coming to know my alters and making room for them in my life. And though I’m certainly not an all star mother right now, I do still have 3 kids that I feed, shelter, nurture and guide. Those are no easy tasks.

This post is a bit chaotic. Certainly not one of my more eloquent ones. I just needed to write down and acknowledge my feelings about all the things hanging over my head. And all the things I am doing that aren’t necessarily so easily seen.

Learning to accept the extent of the damage done

I haven’t written in a while. I’m exhausted all the time. It’s probably a combination of the work I’m doing in therapy and my fibromyalgia. I think it’s easier to underestimate how much energy the processing takes than to fully accept how deeply, deeply fucked up I am on every level. I’m not trying to be down on myself, just being honest about the extent of the damage done by my father and others like him.

It’s not like I get to do the work of healing in a safe and comfortable void where I can dedicate all of myself to it all the time. I have my younger two kids every other week and they are still doing school from home because of the pandemic and my country’s shit response to it. And it’s only been 3 weeks since my neighborhood grocery store was attacked by a gunman who murdered 10 people. My therapist reminded me that most people without trauma experience at least 30 days of acute stress after something like that.

Everyone in my family had planned to be at that shopping center that day. My ex and all 3 of my kids were planning to get ice cream there at the time the shooting occurred but my boys didn’t want to walk so far so they cancelled their plans. My eldest’s partner was going to shop there, had a ‘feeling’ and decided to put it off. And I ended up ordering groceries for delivery so I’d have energy for something other than shopping. I’m grateful none of us were there AND I know that at least one of us is there several days each week so I also feel a kind of shock from accepting that such a terrible thing could easily touch our lives. And, of course, I sort of knew two of the people who were murdered so I’m grieving.

Oh, and last weekend my eldest, their partner and I all made an eight hour round trip to get our COVID vaccine in southern Colorado. I spent the next 6 days dealing with side effects. I can’t imagine what the second dose will be like!I won’t have the boys next time and we’re planning to have the house somewhat clean and all the food we’ll need so we don’t have any chores to do.

Living with and processing my trauma is a full time job. I’m beginning to work on accepting that. Anything that happens beyond basic safety and feeding my family puts me over the edge. I told my therapist last week that I was thinking of taking two self-care days this week, instead of the usual one. She suggested I take three. Seemed like overkill when she said it but now that I’m beginning day two, I realize one more day is exactly what I need. If anyone needs me I’ll be in my bed watching something on my computer, sitting on the patio in the sun, coloring mandalas or lying on my floor putting together my new TAZ puzzle. Sending love out to all y’all survivors. Do what you gotta do to recover and stay safe.

My experience of Complex PTSD (part 1)

I am a forty-eight year old survivor of incest (and multiple other abuses) with complex PTSD. You probably already know what PTSD is but when you add the complex to that it means that the abuse was prolonged and very likely included more than one perpetrator. When PTSD is complex several symptoms are added to the list of what survivors experience. This may include: lack of emotion regulation, changes in consciousness (dissociation), negative self-perception, difficulty with relationships, distorted perception of abuser/s, and somatic symptoms that may include chronic illness.

‘Recovery’ can take years or a lifetime and doesn’t generally resolve the effects of trauma completely; more often, survivors learn over time to live with and accept some symptoms. Take me, for example. I’ve been in and out of therapy my entire adult life and have been doing intensive trauma informed therapy for the past year and a half and I’m just now living in a body that’s in a mostly regulated state about two thirds of the time. That’s a tremendous shift and I’ve worked so hard to achieve it, but the one third of the time I spend in a disregulated state is still a living hell. I’m just better at tolerating, surviving and moving through it.

I don’t want to speak for others with C-PTSD so I’ll try to address my own experience with healing without making generalizations. There are as many unique manifestations of trauma as there are trauma survivors.

Since my ex-husband and I separated in January, I’ve been inhabiting my own space and working ceaselessly to learn self-care so I can feel more grounded and experience peace and joy more often. As a child living in a home with a father who was both raping me and an unpredictable alcoholic, the self-care I learned was very different from what my friends without an abusive parent were learning. I will never forget going to a new friend’s house for a sleepover and watching her wash her face over the sink and splashing water about everywhere. It had never occurred to me to wash my face and I certainly wouldn’t have left water all over the counter.

I was having to learn skills to survive and I didn’t recognize that until years later. While my friends were learning to co-regulate & self-regulate, I was learning hyper-vigilance. This meant that rather than blocking everything else out as I played, I actively listened to the tones of the voices around me, the force used to close a door (was it casual, slightly amped up or aggressive?), the vibration feet made as an adult walked towards my room (soft and sneaky, sleepy or unrhythmic and pounding, By the time I was 5 or 6, I could read sounds and vibrations to determine whether I was in danger and, if I was, how much.

I’m finally at a place in my life in which I spend very little time in the heightened, all hands on deck, state. Even so, as I began thinking about what I learned growing up as a result of my trauma, I felt my stomach sink into that wriggly place, arm pits begin to sweat and my hands start to quiver just a bit. My memory is most certainly linked to the part of my nervous system that is active when I experience hypervigilance. I also recognize that being able to be aware of my physical state and experience is another accomplishment I’ve made. It still feels messy and super uncomfortable but it’s part of integrating my trauma and the work of recovery.