Friday, August 03, 2007

a loving and supportive network of friends

In a comment to this post, anonymous wrote:
also maybe you just haven't found the right support group yet. There's nothing like sharing with others who have endured similar experiences

This is true, sharing with others who have been there, or who have other ways of understanding, is a tremendous help. If you look through the rest of the blog, you will see that my recovery has come a long way. I do have a lot of support but it is not formalized in a "group" right now and that is fine with me. What I do have is a loving and supportive network of friends and family of choice. Groups have served their purpose in my recovery, and I have done them in several different forms and may do more if I see an opportunity to get better by doing so.

But groups have also been fraught experiences for me. I've said enough elsewhere on 12 step approaches, but even in therapeutic groups, the nature of a lot of my trauma and its manifestations is often threatening to other male group members' sense of their own masculinity and they have often gone out of their way to not identify with me, distancing themselves as much as possible. From what I gather this is their issue, not mine, but I'm not there to have them play out their idea of what a man is by being hostile to me or undermining my sense of who I am and what I have been through. Its counterproductive and whatever the opposite of affirming is.

Here is what I do have though, a loving and supportive network of friends and family of choice. Most untraumatized people grow up with the family part and develop the friends part as a matter of course. I had to spend decades to learn how to do it, and it had to be with a new family of my own creation, not my family of origin. I was able to manage this by reaching out to people as people, not as alcoholics, drug addicts, or trauma survivors.. Some had some of these issues mind you, but I reached a point in my life where that no longer needed to be the primary basis for a relationship.

When the PTSD came on hard, I involuntarily had to lean on this network for all it was worth, and these friends and family were there for me and came through for me in ways that my family of origin and my old frineds, both as an active addict and as a person recovering within the frame of the twelve steps, did not. What I like to think is that I had gotten well enough to operate in the world of "earth people" -- normal folks, in other words -- as one of them, instead of identifying as an addict or a victim or a survivor first and foremost. One of the goals of recovery is to reintegrate into society as a useful member, and over the course of many years that is what I have done. I'm just a person among people. Like everyone, I've got my own unique history, and I act in some particular ways...for example, not drinking or drugging. But I am more or less just a regular person, as long as I take care of myself.

So anyway, when doing EMDR, I was having difficulty facing some of the trauma yet it was intruding in my life in the form of flashbacks, seizure-like things, hypervigilance, and a host of other things. We did what is called installing resources, and the resource that I came up with was to think of my firends as a literal net, holding me up and protecting me from falling when I could not do so myself. This resource or whatever has helped me immensely, and my earth-friends have come through for me again and again to the point where I don't have to rely on that net anymore. It is good to know it is there though. Actually, it kind of reminds me of the end of Harry Potter (spoiler alert) where he goes and faces the evil Voldemort alone sort of, but with the sort of mental company of supportive and loving friends and family that carry him through things he did not believe himself capable of. Even when the are not there they are there.

Perhaps that image...a literal net made up of supportive and loving friends and one that will help others get through the trying times of PTSD like it did me. It was not a cure, and it did not make it easier or less painful, but it did enable me to get better and to face some pretty horrific stuff to know I wasn't -- and still am not -- in it alone.

Monday, July 09, 2007

More on Type A & B addicts, 12 steps, and trauma

This was originally a response to some comments to "ptsd, AA, and different types of addicts" that grew too long, so it became a post. If you're curious, or want to try and convince me that my experience is wrong ;^), you can read more about my thoughts on PTSD and 12-step programs, the Christian basis of AA's "spirituality", and why I finally decided, after 17 years, to leave 12 step approaches, a difficult decision.

anonymous at 9:17 pm said:
I believe that AA can help anyone to sobriety and a life worth living.

Oh dear, the type A AAs have found us :)
...There ARE AA members experienced with PTSD. Value your own recovery enough to seek them out.

Indeed, during the seventeen years I attended AA I did find some people who knew personally what PTSD was and they were a tremendous help. I also met a lot of crazy people who thought because their way of doing things wasn't working for me that I was doing something wrong...kind of like you are here.
If it were easy, EVERYONE would be sober and sane.
a little condescension to help you endear yourself to us struggling misguided fools who don't do things your way....
... But sobriety and life are worth the effort. ...Find the people in AA who relate to who you are and where you've been. They are there.
Translation for type Bs: You are doing it wrong if you are not doing it my (anonymous's) way -- oops, I mean, the AA way, and you're not sober or sane unless you go through AA. Thanks, but no thanks. Been there done that. That is what the post explains if you could see through the haze a bit. If you go by the slogans, I might suggest "live and let live" to the anonymous poster here...Things only got saner and better for me after I left AA. That seems to be threatening somehow, and of course the type A response is that I didn't do it right. Well excuse my French, but fuck that. I've now been sober over 22 years, the last five without AA. I got a lot out of AA and gave a lot back, but it became more harm than help, to the point that my worst days sober were as bad or worse than the low points of my addiction, which included homelessness, hallucinations, lot's of "lucky to have lived through that"s, and lots of drug induced emotional and physical injury, so I left. Mind you, I wouldn't trade those awfullest sober days in for the druggy ones -- I learned a lot of hard-bought things about people and --I can't think of anything else to call it...sickness just doesn't capture the true extent -- evil from the hard times of my sobriety.

If I remember right, and I do, the definition of insanity I learned in AA was "to keep repeating the same things over and expect different results." Working things through the aa way became exactly this form of insanity. At a certain point the aa way...steps, spirituality, constant meetings, the whole thing that I was doing with the best of them...just wasn't working, again and again, no matter how hard I tried or how close I hewed to the big book and the rooms.

Maybe I'll drink tomorrow. I saw plenty of twenty and thirty year AA-ers go out and drink too. I plan on staying clean and sober, as I value the life it has granted me immensely now that I have been able to stay clear of the craziness and harm I encountered in AA. If it works for you, well bless you, go forth....I probably would have sided with you the first 5, 10, or 15 years I was sober. I was wrong, and I humbly submit that you are too if you think AA is a one stop shop with the answers for everyone's recovery. Open yer mind a little, please.

the next anonymous said:
But to say that the person with PTSD is .."almost exclusively harming themselves..." is denial at its greatest. It takes courage to ask for help.

Just for clarity sake, that quote within the quote is from another commentator, not something I said, though I said something similar. I agree with the wife of the PTSD sufferer, and I am sure my own partner would too, as she endured a lot of agony in supporting me through the worst of my PTSD. I am forever grateful for that...It has taught me what love really is in many ways, so if you are truly supporting the recovery -- and recovery can happen -- of a PTSD-er, well then props to you! Its a huge task and takes a lot of love and understanding.

I was referring, and I think the commentator was too, to the sort of perverse tendency Type Bs have of trying to make amends to their perpetrators. In my case that included members of my family. They are the ones who are in denial, not me. And to live as they would have me would kill me, quite literally, and they would rather see that than see what they did. I just stay far away now, which is sad, but I have developed a wonderful family of choice and made a life for myself with room for all of who I am.

When I was in the worst stages of my addiction, and my recovery, I isolated like the commentator, and any pain I caused my perpetrators was probably from pangs of guilt more than anything else. I managed to keep everyone else away from me. I didn't have anyone because I didn't think I was worth anything to anyone, and created a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I stopped drinking and drugging, this left me real vulnerable to a particular type of misanthropic, often charlatan, type of person who can be found in or around any AA anywhere (I had home groups in four different cities over the years). Mind you, I'm not saying all AA is like that, just that all AA attracts such people, and they prey on people like I was. I've seen it many times and experienced it more than once before I wised up. These types took some people's lives to get what they wanted and almost got mine. Maybe someday I'll tell that story here, but I try to keep things general so more people can relate and also so as to remain anonymous myself.

Anyway, there was no wife or partner or significant other in my addiction because I thought I was too fucked up to be with anyone -- and I mostly was. Type Bs tend to blame themselves and take on the violence and anger of others as their own. This has ...ummm....negative effects on one's social skills and attractiveness to others. This is what I had to learn to reject and get angry at in order to get better, that the guilt and shame I felt were not mine, but belonged to others, and I would imagine that the commentator was trying to express something similar. I am sure if he or she had people in his or her life, they were affected as you say, but some of us clear everyone out for their own good to protect them from what awful people we have been taught by our perpetrators to believe that we are. Realizing that was a lie, and dumping the evil others had dumped on me in a safe and non-abusive way were key to getting to a place where I could let people in and have real relationships. I could have gone to AA for eternity and I would never have learned what I needed there.