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.