Tuesday, December 09, 2008

PTSD and the holidays revisited...

Holidays have always been rough for me. A lot of trauma anniversary (pdf) stuff comes between Thanksgiving and New Years for me. I didn't even realize it but my partner pointed out that I always have a hard time with holidays and depression and PTSD symptoms. This year seems better so far. I am in a place I like. I won't be alone. People who traumatized me are far away and not in contact. So maybe things will be ok this year.

Another set of holidays has started, and I need to be aware of anniversary reactions. Awareness and talking about it to the people around me (I wouldn't recommend this unless they understand PTSD and are supportive) have helped reduce the worst of the reactions, as has staying away from my abusers, and unfortunately in my case, my family of origin, who are all mightily invested in not understanding my PTSD, which several of them find pretty threatening.

Why are holidays tough for people with PTSD? Well for one thing, getting in touch with positive feelings can be really difficult, and during the holidays there is a lot of pressure to do just that...be jolly in other words. For another, some holidays a reminders of anniversaries of traumatic events. Anniverseries are proven triggers for PTSD, and they sure were for me. I finally realized I needed to cut off contact with my family of origin -- a drastic step, not for everyone, BTW -- after calling on Thanksgiving and getting off the phone and having a severe flashback. I would have never put the two together because the content of the flashback was not my family, but my partner noticed that this happened regularly with contact with them and around holidays in particular. The "joke" in our family was "OK, we're going to have a good holiday or else, godammit" which was usually followed by some drunken craziness that turned ugly.

For me, controlling whom I am around, and scaling back expectations of jolliness both help a lot.
There is a bit more on how someone with PTSD can cope with the hiolidays in About.com's PTSD section.

Monday, December 08, 2008

toxic relationships

Well, this started as a response to a bunch of comments but turned int my first post in a while, so thanks to the anonymous poster who made the comments referenced below.

anonymous said:
My story was a string of "moderately traumatic" events that left me feeling constantly on edge, ready for betrayal or chaos at any moment, completely in physical and emotional pain for years.
Yes, I know that feeling well, that there is no safe place, the world might give way under foot at any moment. Finding ways of being and places, even imaginary ones, that are safe has been a big part of recovery for me. EMDR, which I have been thinking of writing a post on for a very long time but haven't gotten around to it, was helpful in doing this. I started out with an imaginary safe place, but also learned to trust that loving and supportive network of friends, which has been a challenge, but also tremendously rewarding as far as recovering goes.
anonymous wrote:
The supportive, loving people I have new relationships with don't deserve to deal with my insecurities from the manipulative, destructive people in my toxic past.
I think awareness is a crucial first step. All the toxic people who were in my life surely had their own unaddressed trauma issues, I know this for a fact. I think perpetrators of abuse are traumatized people who feel entitled to take out revenge for their trauma on the world around them. Its their way of dealing with it, but it creates more trauma, passing it along to new people. Most traumatized people won't turn into abusers, but I bet 99.9% of perpetrators come from traumatized backgrounds. Its important to reiterate that this is not a fait accompli.

It is a slippery and seductive slope though. Most traumatized people hold it in til it blows up, which I did, or find constructive ways of dealing with it, which is what I try to do now. But when things blew up, I hurt those around me, the closer and more supportive they were, the more so. I realized this and it was a major incentive to get better so that I would not continue to have the stuff come out sideways and hurt the ones I love and who love me. I can see though, that had I just felt entitled to what I was doing rather than being appalled at it, it would then be but a short drive to perp-dom. So I have understanding, but no tolerance or forgiveness for abusers.

I am grateful for being able to break the cycle in my own life but it has come at great cost. My tendency was to buy into the perpetrator's version of the story and see myself as defective or the source of whatever problems they blamed on me. I promised myself when I was a little kid that I would not do to my kids what was done to me. My latest greatest abuser played into all my fears and insecurities (and ignorance about boundaries!) and after I got totally screwed over, the person convinced me that I was the abusive one (I hesitate to even write this for fear that whoever reads it will side with my abuser too!) by invoking what I had recognized as lies a previous toxic person had accused me of.

The latest, greatest one knew my feelings and insecurities about this because I told her all about them. Rather than realizing "wow, what a sick person, trying to justify her abusive behavior by flinging that stuff at me," I thought "well that's twice in a row...maybe I'm as blind as my parents were to their abusive behavior and just cannot see it." As a result, I decided not to have kids, because I took my childhood promise to myself seriously, and until I could see how it was I was being abusive I would do what it took to make sure I didn't pass it on.

This was my backwards sense of boundaries, where I thought they were to keep me walled off from doing harm from others rather than to protect myself from toxic abusive people. Years later, the person admitted I had not been anything close to abusive and that she made it up to justify her actions, but by then it was too late to start a family and the harm had been done. Because a life of traumatic relationships with everyone from parents to siblings to strangers to lovers, my belief in myself and my own feelings was nil. This is perhaps the greatest thing I have recovered in getting better from PTSD, my trust in myself as a basically good human being. I had to learn what most people learn as children, how to tell what's mine from what's not, and that has made all the difference.