Monday, July 06, 2009

god and stuff

Catherine wrote in a comment here, "Does this mean the steps don't work? Does this mean God does not exist?" I tried to answer briefly but it turned into a post.

"God is dead" - Nietzsche
"Nietzsche is dead" - God

I always liked that even if I disagree with the moral of it. I have come to more or less of a truce about spirituality. I have no way of telling whether or not any deity exists other than subjective guessing, which I have seen is often wrong when I do it and when others do it. In fact, the most harmful people in 12 step rooms for me were ones who were convinced they knew and were carrying out "God's will" saying things like "I like to think things happened for a reason" when the reason was that they did it: god as cop out in other words. So I have suspended judgment. If there is one (or more) or not is apparently not my business. My job is to do the best I can with what I have got, and belief in a deity has just not been sustainable for me, though I don't see disbelief as being any more supportable in my own case. In other words, I am not an atheist, I just don't know (which I think is the literal meaning of agnostic, though I am not keen on that label either). I am not one to substitute a faith that god does not exist for a faith that one does. Same goes for faith in science or AA or anything else as the answer to everything too. I don't think the whole world is reducible to the observable, but again, I don't know. I just don't know, and that is fine.

A higher power is a different story, I just don't need to deify it for it to work in my is just the admission that I can't do it all, know it all, be it all, myself. I need others, their perspectives, their help sometimes, their human frailty at others, and mostly their love (that last one is hard to admit and write even now -- trauma has taught me so many times that I must be self-sufficient because I can't trust anyone). Finding a few people I can risk trusting in this regard has changed the everything for me and allowed me to get better even when faith and 12 steps failed me.

I know this is not everyone's path, and I hope I am not going to draw and evangelical types by my stating my lack of belief, but it has worked for me when all else failed and I have some peace of mind, whereas before, for me to believe at all, I would have had to have bought into the idea of a punishing (or very stupid and powerless) god that pretty much wanted me to suffer in order to test me. If so, I failed the test, or maybe I aced it, I don't know, which is the point. If the deity I used to believe in is in fact the case, nothing I can do about it, but I don't have any compelling reason to place my life in the hands of some invisible malevolent-for-my-own-good deity any more. Been there, tried real hard to make it work, results not so good. I have had to find my higher power in people around me, human and imperfect as they (including me) are. That has sometimes worked and sometimes not so much, but it is good enough for me right now.

What does it have to do with PTSD? Well for one thing, many of the tools that self-help have to offer rely on on putting your trust and faith in a deity of some sort, however contrived. Professionals rely on this to some extent too, especially ones who don't have proper training or better tools to offer. Some of the trauma I suffered had to do with spritual abuse of the first order, people invoking a spiritual higher power to gain trust and to then do extremely harmful things that truly f***ed up my life. And it was done as part of my seeking to recover from earlier trauma. So the tools I was supposed to use to get better were turned on me. Talk about having trust issues. Same sort of thing happened, in a related way, with therapists. And the end result was that "very spiritual" people put a big head trip on me, so that I was supposed to (and did for a time) believe that things happened the way they did because of my failures and shortcomings and god's will (constructed in the usual new agey fashion...I never got into church since being raised as a strict Catholic as a child).

This left me in the most forlorn place in my life, worse than the black hole of addiction because there was no addictive pain relief and no reason for any of it that made sense other than that I sucked. Nothing made sense anymore. Everything that I was taught would make me "happy joyous and free" made me miserable...I got the feeling of being some kind of alien, the butt of a joke I did not get, plopped down in a world meant for others that worked for them but not for me. That was the effect of spiritual and emotional abuse I now understand, but it led to a feeling of nearly complete abandonment and years of suicidal depression as I labored under the beliefs I had learned in early recovery.

I won't say too much about how I got through it, but after a suicide attempt that could have been successful, when I chose (a few moments away from not being able to come back), to go to the hospital, I made a very willful decision. They held me at the psyche ward until I promised to be good, that was about all, other than some horrible group work and an attempt to torture me physically in the name of an EEG by sticking an electrode on the end of a tube through my palate and into my nose. But while thereI basically made a decision that if I wanted to kill myself that I would have, that I had my chance and failed even at that, and that I just would not try killing myself to relieve pain any more, no matter what I had to do. This was not easy, because for the next nine years I suffered from ptsd without knowing what it was, getting (mis) treated for whatever this week's malady was with last week's pharmaceutical offering. I walked around suicidal for nine years, figuring that that is how I would live out my life. If I felt so bad I thought I would act out on it, I spoke up, not because I wanted to get better -- I had no such illusions by that point, but because I had promised myself not to and yelping for help was the only way I coulds see not acting out on the desire to stop hurting. The one thing I did right was I kept showing up as best I could. The other thing I did was change my friends and gradually, fitfully, and with much guilt and worry, clear out of 12 step rooms. Finding out about ptsd was like a cover being removed from my eyes. Things that made no sense finally did. That is why I write this blog, on the chance that someone else in the same state as I was might find out what the hell is going on in their life and skip some of the forlorn-ness of it all without checking out permanently.

As for the steps, they work for some people, though not nearly as many as 12 steppers claim, and I see value in them as a way to "clear the wreckage of the past" but they alone were not enough for me. I kept going over the same things, working the steps as well as anyone, and things kept getting worse. The reason was that I was taking responsibility for things that were not mine and stuffing anger because the literature said it was a "dubious luxury we can ill afford." One of the things I heard in 12 step rooms was that if you keep doing the same thing over and expect different results, that's insanity. I finally had to apply that to how the steps (did not) work in my life after a point. PTSD complicated matters and the steps did not and were not designed to help with it. I needed to do something different, but the only solution 12 steps had to offer was more step work. So my short answer to Catherine's question, "Does this mean the steps don't work?" is that they did not work on PTSD for me. A lot of the stuff was simply not my fault, and any attempt to take responsibilty for it just aggravated the problem. I needed to get good and angry, and I did not and still do not have any need to forgive or forget, much less make amends to these people. My life did not fall apart as dire warnings from the literature and the rooms said it would. In fact, getting angry and placing responsibility where it belonged was a true first step toward my ongoing recovery from PTSD and a return from the brink, or maybe over it, of insanity.

This turned into a way heavier post than I intended, but there it is for what it is worth; it is my experience and your mileage may vary.

Friday, March 13, 2009

exploitative folks in 12 step programs and elsewhere

Once again, somebody's comments sparked a post from what started as a simple response. Anon, thanks for your comments on this page and and on the "type A&B" page. In a nutshell, she said thanks for the heads up as she tended to trust 12 step folks blindly and had not realized there were some exploitative types in the rooms.

I really need to tread a fine line...AA and 12 step programs saved my life at one time, but nearly cost it another. I managed to get sober there when I could not under my own steam no matter how hard I tried. I'm forever grateful for that, because it has made the rest of my life possible, painful as parts have been.

That said, the most manipulative, scheming, two faced, fair weather friend type people I have ever met, straight or high, have been in 12 step programs or the addictions recovery field. I had the blind trust anon talks about -- after all, these people had literally saved my life and I knew it! And there are some great, decent, and honest people in AA. There are also used car salesmen (I bought a lemon from a guy who used 12-speak and AA "seniority" to get me to trust him when making a purchase I wished I hadn't), spiritual abusers ("when I f&%*ed you over it was God's will"), therapists ( did anyone ever notice that the word spells "the rapist?" -- just kidding sort of...while several of my therapists were akin to rapists, others I have learned to choose have been remarkably helpful) willing to rip up families to make a few thousand bucks, even to the point of driving the abandoned ones to suicide ("oh she was messed up...good thing he left her when he did!"), and this is before even getting to romantic relationships, where as I said, because of my tendency toward trauma repetition, and never having been around healthy people to know any better, and my blind trust in 12 step folk, I got involved with the sickest most twisted people I have ever met in my life. I'm still trying to sort it out 15-20 years later!

I would never tell anyone to avoid all relationships with recovering people...there are some healthy ones I am sure (plus I'm one!), but tread carefully! Trust slowly and cautiously if at all. Trust is earned and provisional, based on actions not words, and not granted eternally, just for now. Pay attention...don't disregard your common sense and intuition...a major part of my recovery has been to slowly reclaim those things...if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The thing is, I was so needy and vulnerable, even 5-6 years into recovery, that I ignored all this and rather than waiting and going slowly, I dove in and trusted blindly because I did not know how to develop earned trust over time rather than just give it or withhold it arbitrarily. As a result, I got in traumatic relationships again and again (twice in recovery, to be exact) that I am still struggling with much later. They very nearly cost me my life. They did cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost work time when I just could not function because of the results of them. They caused unbearable and completely unnecessary pain and a number of trips to psyche wards and a trauma treatment center. When I have told people the details, they have been amazed that I didn't pick up over this stuff...many just assumed I had. One person I respect a lot, an earth person (i.e., not in 12 step programs) said the last perpetrator was an emotional rapist.

But honestly, I don't know if I could have taken the advice I am giving now, because I was stubborn and thought if I did not get somebody *now* I'd be alone forever. Looking back, I would have been better off alone, but I needed to learn it the hard way I guess. And even today, knowing what I know, I don't know that if I were single and put in the same situation I wouldn't repeat my mistake again. I like to think I have learned better, but I don't know that. I am just glad I am in a healthy non-abusive relationship for a long time and don't have to face that particular weakness in myself.

It is a funny thing...the healthy relationship didn't come with all the drama, risk, and emotional highs -- or lows -- that the sick relationships did, so it took me literally years to figure out that all that drama and ball of hurt I was used to was not an intrinsic part of human relationships! I thought I was missing something and I guess I was. To be honest I missed the rush, just like a drug, but also to be honest, I have learned I certainly don't miss the consequences.

I just have to say, over the few years I have intermittently written this blog, I have been continuously gratified that there are other people who understand. One of the worst parts of my PTSD was thinking I was alone and hopeless and crazy. So thank you to all of you who have commented over the years. You keep me thinking and writing about this stuff, which helps me work stuff through, and I am grateful that something helpful to others has come out of something so insufferable.