Monday, November 28, 2005

my name, and more on 12 steps, aa people, and trauma

Another commetn that turned into a post today. Reallynotimportant raised the issue of ptsd and identity in a comment, saying my screen name over-identifies with ptsd, making the ptsd who I am rather than serving as a loose-fitting bundle of descriptions that more or less describe what is going on in my life. I chose the name ptsd guy without much thought. In fact, if I had waited five minutes or a half hour, I would have been traumarama, which I think is kind of funny, instead, but I didn't feel like going and creating a whole new account and so forth. If this blog were my whole identity, I'd be worried about my name...and a whole lot more, but its not. I have put together a pretty regular life, pretty much against all odds. A few people know about the ptsd because I shake badly from it sometimes and they wonder why, but I don't make it a big deal.

Hanging around with what you call normal people instead of people who define their whole lives around their addictions was a big and scary step for me, and the best one I ever took. I don't hang with people who define their lives by what is wrong with them any more and it has made a huge difference. For one thing I stopped being repeatedly re-traumatized, which was sort of a revelation.

One of the tools I picked up in the trauma treatment center I went to was to separate the trauma from me and distinguish between the two. This remains something I have to practice, some days maybe more than others, so I agree with your critique of my chosen name, but the blog is about that part of me and trauma and ptsd have shaped who I am to some extent, so as long as the blog is not all of who I am, its fine I think.

Maybe you are right about it being a 12-step hangover (nice concept) but to me its not all-defining. This blog is where I hope I can work out the parts of me that have been shaped by ptsd. I don't want to say a whole lot more. I don't put all of myself here. I like the anonymity. It allows me a freedom to speak and be spoken to experimentally, without the repercussions of if you knew more about me. Not trying to be mysterious here, but to explain what I put of myself into this blog.

Also, I pretty much hacked on 12 step programs in some of my posts (here, here, and here), but they really did save my life. I am quite ambivalent about them. I was incapable through willpower to quit drinking or using -- I tried that route for five of the most miserable years of my life -- and entering AA, working the steps with fellow addicts and alcoholics is what allowed me to get clean and sober, so I am not really an iconclast about it. It works for what it does, where other stuff fails. I just think that 12 step programs are ill equipped to deal with more than their single purpose. If someone came to me and said they couldn't stop drinking I'd take them to aa -- and probably leave them there:) But it does actually get millions of people sober who were intractably and incurably addicted to alcohol and other drugs. I think it is hard for someone whose willpower works for them to understand what it is like to not have it work. Addicts' willpower utterly fails them and they need something more to get clean. 12 step programs do provide that.

The problem is that when you dry them out, you have a room full of crazy addicts who are ten times as dangerous because they are no longer drugged and think they are the cat's pajamas when they are really incredibly twisted human beings who are fortunate to even be alive. That was not a good situation for me, because I seemed to be able to find the sickest most abusive, manipulative, and insidiously cruel people and choose them for friends.

I think that might be where our ptsd or trauma experiences might be a little different, something I just noticed you mention in another comment (Having a hard time keeping up!). What you have described seems to be a really major once-and-done thing (correct me if I'm wrong here). Mine is a long history of continued traumas, anyone of which might not have been debilitating in itself (but pretty much any of them could have killed me) which combined to make a pretty yukky soup out of my mind and experience. I have a lot less certainty about who I am maybe. I don't know, I am a little uncomfortable making this sort of comparison -- I posted on avoiding the oppression olympics so I don't want to imply that one is better or worse, just different in some ways in our experiences and responses. But at the same time, there is enough going on in common to make for a conversation in which I need to think about things from sometimes new, sometimes different perspectives, something I'm all for.

Anyway, I am being somewhat contradictory but that is how things are, and I guess I'll stick with my ill-chosen name for now. I'll keep what you said in mind though, and if I get around to it or think of a compelling one, maybe I'll change it. Maybe its reallynotimportant:)


  1. ptsd_guy: It seems like your head is together on lots of things and so, the name is not an issue.

    My trauma was a single defining event in some senses. What had gone on in my childhoold definetly contributed to it as did my state of mind at the time - I had chosen to travel abroad, alone, in a foreign country where I did not speak the language in order to get rid of some irrational fears. What then happenned was basically my personal 'worst nightmare' and one of the irrational fears that I had been trying to address. Life really fucks with you sometimes.

    The trauma was then increased by several key things:
    1. The legal systems presumption of my guilt and subsequent treatment.
    2. The legal trial itself and the total disbelief in my story exhibited by many of the key players
    3. The first lawyer I found being at best a poor choice, at worst a lazy crook.
    4. Repeatedly needing to fly back to the country in question to stand trial - 2/3 days round trip plus prep work.
    5. Watching one of my accusers appear on the witness stand and lie about everything and recount events that did not occur - and change his story every time.
    6. Having one of my accusers repeatedly ignore summons to appear - and manage to evade an arrest prior to an enforced appearance.
    7. Having some of the involved parties being quite powerful and so have a strong desire to make this whole thing disappear regardless of the effect on me.

    The first trial (of me) took a year. It should not have got past day 1. My prosecution of the men concerned has already taken the best part of a year with no action so far.

    As to the details. They are 'reallynotimportant'. As to who I am, that also is 'reallynotimportant'.

    I now have a superb lawyer working on my case (who is suitably outraged by the whole thing) plus some powerful interested parties who are on my side plus a supportive family. My lawyer is playing to win and so am I. The rest is 'reallynotimportant'.

  2. Sounds like a nightmare, but thanks for sharing it. There is a morbid curiousity I supppose I share with others to find out what it was that gave us ptsd. Then when I find a little out I am horrified and don't know what to say.

  3. Thank you.

    Part of the issue I have had with this thing is that the normal position of people is just not to believe any of it - it smacks straight into their own belief systems of how the world should be. Including psychiatrists and professionals in other realms.

    To tell someone about it and to be met with denial and disbelief gets to be depressing and can cause self-doubt - "Am I being a drama queen", "Is it really that bad" and so on. Fortunately, with my Zen training I kindof have an objective grasp on reality (I hope) and so can keep a true perspective.

    On one trial day I took with me a couple of family members for support. I never travel to that place alone - just going there tends to freak me out - its getting better though each time I go. I just use my meditation techniques to keep myself calm.

    Anyway, they were in the courtroom watching things unfold. They couldn't understand the language but could read the body language and emotion and so on. I could see that they were tense but they were not aware of it.

    Anyway, the hearing finished that day and we went back to our hotel rooms. When she got back she told me that she just started to shake. The reality had hit her. Before that point she had thought "maybe it's not that bad". After seeing for herself and realising how stressed she felt by the grubby reality of a courtroom and realising that she was this stressed as a spectator then she began to comprehend a little of what I was going through.

  4. I think it is natural to be curious about other people's stories. I know I am. There is also a natural desire to compare one with the other.

    I also know from other people that 12-step groups tend to have an effect where lots of people compare stories and all can rate themselves accordingly.

    When I read some sites like yours, and holly's and others, well I think the mind just fails to comprehend. If I (as part of my zen stuff), contemplate what it would be like to walk in say holly's shoes, then I have no answer. Part of PTSD is that you have been through something that no-one can really relate to.

    It's almost like trying to have a talk along the lines of "If you had the choice of having your leg amputated by either a rusty saw, a grenade or an axe" then which would leave the biggest wound and hurt the most.

    By it's nature PTSD means that you have had a bigger dose of reality than it is (perhaps humanly) possible to cope with.

    So, when I compare my stories with others I realise deep down it is pointless - but the mind still wants to do it.