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.


  1. My God, My Lord. You have answered my prayers. My prayers for "sanity." This post answers so much. I'm going to reread it again and again. You've found so many answers to so many things. Can you believe it? All from "suffering through it" yourself. I hope you turn this all into a book and sell it on Amazon. I for one would buy it and be first in line.

    I'm reading "Heal and Forgive" (books I and II, which says you "do NOT have to forgive") and Healing from Family Rifts (which says rifts are NOT always healed) and I'd say this blog ranks right up there with them. The PTSD is right-on target as well, as that is what I'm going through right now and looking back I can see that's what happens to me and has happened to me over and over again when the triggers are all there and I am re-tramautized, as right now due to my mother's recent death and the evilness of my family of origin... nothing has changed, including me.

    I am hiding at home and trying to get well and "bleeding like a hemophiliac" and never knew how to stop it; the emotional trauma is too great to bear, and then it's over and it's all gone away and I say "what happened to me and why?" and PTSD has got to be in there big time. Thank you, God bless you and may our Higher Powers shine! CT

    P.S. I do believe in a "higher power" but what / who / where it is I have no idea. But prayer for peace and for help really does seem to work, at least in my case. I wish I had this belief a long time ago. When I can remember to pray, in the midst of the worst of times, just asking for help and "putting it in God's Hands" does keep despair at the door, and it doesn't come in. God's light and love does come in because I pray to a God of Love. There are many Gods, and this is the God I chose.

    Enough for now or I'll turn into a post... thank you so much. I'll reread this again and again. It's a lot to digest and it's keeping me alive right now.

    Talk about a "toxic blast from the past:" ANY contact with my family of origin makes me literally ill for years. And wanting to see my mother after almost 25 years was apparently too much even for her. Wicked though she may be, she was the only mother I had even though three others have volunteered and I have to accept their real love here in the present and not grieve for too long for the past, and "what might have been."

    Ah, enough for now. I know I'm not making sense so I will say GOODNIGHT and THANK YOU AGAIN.

    Check out those books I mention on Amazon and think about putting yours there as well. It may well help thousands and save some lives. Sincerely. You can use any of my comments at will, named or not.

    Yours, Catherine Todd

  2. You wrote:

    "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."


  3. Blurb Books:

    Here's a great site that makes books (there's also a few others, so I would check them all out). You don't need something so elaborate, but it came in right after I posted my comment about your turning this blog into a book, so I'm sending it on. Synchronicity?

    Then again, a beautiful book might be just what is called for, all silver and gold, for the likes of us who have SURVIVED, and THRIVED so well. In spite of EVERYTHING!

    I think I will start to write "MY LIFE STORY in pictures and words" and see just what comes out. It would be quite a contrast to all the lies that have been told, and all the lies that (even I) have believed. This might be TRUTH IN THE MAKING, and the making of ME.

    Once again, your blog has brought INSPIRATION and HOPE into a desolate world. How is this possible? Thank you again.

  4. wow. wow. Sorry for writing you so much right now. I'm really trying to process a lot of emotion and I've been reading a lot of stuff about PTSD and seriously you are putting a lot of stuff out there. I have an idea about how insanely difficult it is to do what you are doing.

    I've had some close friends in the NA and AA programs. The taking responsabilty thing really bothered me. The idea of blanket solutions really bother me. No problem has only one solution and no solution is good for all problems.

    I have a great deal of personal frustration with the people who put god where there addiction was. I've seen people go so god crazy that people preferred them as alcoholics. I know that sounds f**** but it's true. Again as an outside my contention has always been that the "hole" needs to be addressed not what is put in it.

    Admittedly not having the hole makes me a very poor person to comment on it. But as a (I would like to believe) practical person, the 12 step program or god or _______ is simply another substitute. the void need to be addressed not filled.

    This may be wildly off topic but my stance and my point of view is, no one is an alcoholic for life the idea that it is a demon constantly waiting behind the door is a real sore spot.

    Convincing a person they are permanently flawed is a load of B.S. saying you will be an alcoholic until the day you die is ridiculous. Utterly totally ridiculous. It's the same as saying hey you are screwed for life so you might as well give in and have a blast on the way out. Seriously.

    That was a serious post. Thanks for the honesty it really gives me hope for my friend. As she is fond of saying "baby-steps".

  5. Catherine,

    I respect your beliefs, but I lost mine, which were similar to yours in many respects, as a result of spiritual abuse, and just for myself, I don't miss them. But I understand firsthand how important they can be. If you caught me at a different place in my life, I would have vociferously argued against the beliefs I hold now!

    As for a book, I like being anonymous...not even my partner or shrink knows where this blog is, and it gives me a freedom to speak without worrying that even a pseudonymous book would prevent. Thanks for saying it though, it makes me feel good about the writing, which is a deep and important part of who I am that I share here.

    It is great that you are trying to understand your PTSD stricken friend and hanging in there with her...that can make such a huge difference over the long haul. I' politely and respectfully disagree on the addiction thing...I stopped and restarted enough to know that moderation with mind altering stuff is not going to work for me. Rather than considering it a flaw, I just take it as a fact of my life, one I am done experimenting with. Not really a flaw, as being clean and sober gives me a little one up in my life. I get a lot of benefits from it and no drawbacks. But I know I couldn't deal with the PTSD until I got into recovery from the substances. Its just that recovery would have been a lot better if I had gotten a good diagnosis and help for the PTSD and begun work on that early in recovery. I think PTSD and addiction go hand in hand for many people both on the way down and the way up.

    Thanks both of you for your insightful and encouraging comments.

  6. p.s. Catherine, sorry to hear about your mom.

  7. Dear CaptChaos and GettingBetter: thanks for your comments. I understand and appreciate them all. I hope, GettingBetter, you DO publish a book at some point. You are an excellent writer and an excellent person, as you show so much more kindness and wisdom that I would (or do) in so many situations... I can tell this just by reading your comments and responses. I for one find that the more I put out *in public* what has happened to me, the stronger I become. I am always scared to death in the beginning, but then I do it anyway et voila! A little while later (days or weeks, perhaps LOL) I find that I have grown *up* a few more inches. No longer the frightened child, but a tiger ready to take on the world! I want to be the Shaolin monk, cool, calm and collected and ready to "pass through" to the other side.

  8. Catherine,

    One thing that helped me a lot was learning that part of trauma is a pain beyond words and that learning to put words to it and turn it into a narrative, a story, is an important way to get better. That is one of the main reasons I write this.

    Thursday, Jul. 2

    All sorrows can be borne if you tell a story about them.

    Karen Blixen

  10. AnonymousJuly 13, 2009

    I found your blog after googling ptsd betrayal. Thank you so much for the validation of its existence.

  11. Somehow I ended up back here after a wonderful Labor Day weekend get-together, and realizing that I had done the right thing by letting go of another old-time toxic relationship that "hit me out of the blue." One from the "old days" that I thought was a friend but really was very negative and critical, and I realized I don't know ANYONE like that anymore as I don't NEED to know ANYONE like that anymore! Now I don't develop "bonds" with people like that and I immediately give them wide berth, so when this "friend" came swinging her baseball bat (with words) I just said "Why?" and "Goodbye." And I meant it. I just finished an incredible book called "Lies My Mother Never Told Me" by Kaylie Jones that just knocked my socks off. Required reading for anyone who has grown up with alcoholism or suffers from it. It's incredible, and comes to many of the same conclusions as this wonderful blog here. I re-read some of your problems with the 12 steps and once again, you voiced exactly my same concerns. Thank you again. You have been a life-savior for putting my confusion into words, clearly on the page, for all to see and reason to believe. Hope you have a wonderful weekend too.

  12. Catherine, as always, thanks for the lovely comments, though I think I'll have to pass on the "life saviour" role...all those nails and stuff...just seems like more pain. Hope your not averse to a little light blasphemy whatever time it is where you are :) I always read through all the comments when I respond to try and make sure I don't just keep saying the same thing, and tonight got a surprise from finding myself and my situation in your comment, which I had read, but not comprehended, previously.

    My mom has kind of lost it. She is in her eighties, and my dad passed away a couple of years ago. She has Parkinson's and is losing her wits and getting delusional. she has said she wants me to come visit, but my partner and other people have contended this is a bad idea, so hearing your results, and the getting messed up for a long time from just a visit, was just what I needed to hear. I was ready to go until I read her attending physician's case study in which she described her successful marriage to my dad and her five perfect kids and one mood disordered, substance abusing abberration on whom she was trying to desperately pin the blame for her current woes (that would be me, even though I am lateley reasonably happy and have not abused any substance for 25 years come late October). That's my job in the family, and I guess I'll just have to do it without my participation. I won't go into the details, but the "successful marriage" was to an abusive drunk who cleaned up under threat of divorce the last few years and became a resentful abusive dry drunk and the five normal ones all have their own issues, including stark raving sanity that makes me look positively healthy, but only from the inside -- all is good looking in!

    And when I avoided my father when he died from cancer, I got letters from long lost relatives whom he had convinced that I was ruining his otherwise perfectly good cancerous death. Very powerful guy I am. One such advisor even had the gall to say I really ought to think this through, as if he had had forty some-odd years to ponder it and I had just done it on a whim instead of vice versa. It is all a bit crazy-making, and tripping across your post reminded me and helpeed strengthen my resolve to let them scapegoat me without my presence. I hope I am not being too detailed, but they always put up a good front, so I am sure no one will recognize them.

    Anyway, thanks for being my what is it? "Life giving savior?" We can all help each other out by talking about stuff but ultimately we get better from this particular ptsd woe it seems --in good part and contingent on a lot of other things going right-- from a tremendous, often unenthusiastic, willing of it ourselves, so don't go giving all the credit away!