Checking up on Rage

The pandemic, this house, my room have all become the container in which I am doing this recovery work. I want. I need, to make sense of it, to understand how the bad things that happened to me formed me into the person I am now. I need to see the story of my life all laid out before me so I can gain the wisdom it has to offer and feel emotionally invested in my present, as well as my future.

I know that some recovery philosophies suggest that the survivor leave behind their story but to me, story is everything. When I was a small child I learned that I could create stories in which to live and feel, for a short time, safe from my father and nurtured by my mother. In stories, my own as well as the ones I read and watched, the protagonist escapes capture, creates her own justice, and becomes someone wise and whole. I will hold tight to my own story as long as I am still reaching for wisdom and wholeness because it is only from within my story that I can put things to right.

Right now, much of my story is about rage. The rage I am beginning to touch and the seemingly endless rage I have yet to touch. It was almost a year ago that I began to experience rage and I wrote about it in this post: Rage.
I want to tear everything down. And since the self-loathing was born from the hands of men, it’s their world I want to pull down. I would see everything they’ve ever touched turned to dust.
At the time it felt shocking to discover that I carried such a deep desire to destroy. I gave it some space and then tucked it away again until recently. Now it only sleeps lightly under the surface and when it arises I can identify why it has reared its wild and furious head. It still unnerves me a bit. It goes so deep and exists in such a vast space that I fear it could overtake me, drive me to do something I’ll regret, if I allow it the agency it desires in my life. I’m trying to figure out what to do with it when it comes up.

I bought a punching bag and some gloves and for a while they just sat, unused, in my room. I was afraid to let the rage have space. One day while I was practicing yoga, I dissociated and try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself back. I wanted so badly to come back. Suddenly, the rage was there. Furious at my abusers for fucking me up so badly that I still lose control over my ability to stay present. I was shaking with the rage as I crawled towards the gloves, put them on and approached the punching bag. I was crying as I started punching it and then there was nothing but the rage. I saw my father’s face in the bag and I punched it over and over again until I was on the floor sobbing and present again.

This morning I finished watching the series, Black Sails. It’s a fictional portrayal of the struggle for control of Nassau Bay between pirates and the English government. (As I said at the beginning of this post, Story is the most powerful way I have of making sense of my own experience. I eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) I began watching it with the notion that it would be entertaining and historically interesting but soon realized it goes much deeper than that. The pirates are fighting for agency over their own lives, freedom from a tyrannical England. It’s almost impossible to discern who the hero of the story is because, well, pirates. I promise, I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen it and want to keep reading this post.

During the final episode there is a moment, for me the most important moment of the whole series, in which two of the pirates are in confrontation over the direction of their efforts. One speaks about the loss of a loved one, feeling the need to make sense out of it by battling ever harder against English rule. And then recognizing something beneath those desires and speaking to it. He says:
It was rage. And it just wanted to see the world burn.
He acknowledges the injustices they have all suffered under English society and rule. He owns his experience of deep rage. And he chooses to move through the rage without causing the world to burn. Because he also wants to live a life in which he can find meaning and joy. I had to pause the show at this point because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see through my glasses. And I wanted to process what he’d said. The rage didn’t dictate his path, he did.


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.