Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Keep Trying

I've thought a lot about this post.  It's been two years since it happened...the thing that broke me.  If you're curious as to what that thing was, please know that I won't talk about it.  It's not because of some pathetic Facebook style plea to get people to ask me.  No, I won't put a name to it, because it's irrelevant.  It doesn't matter what that thing is that smashes your chest and leaves you stunned and hollow and lying in pieces.  It doesn't matter because the effects are all the same no matter the cause.  PTSD is PTSD  whether it's experienced by a soldier or an innocent civilian.  For me the long lasting effects after all this time are insomnia, recurrent nightmares, depression, and memory loss.  I've tried to work my way through the five stages of grief, but they're not such clear cut steps as I would like.  For me the final stage, "acceptance"  will never mean being ok with what happened.  But, I have come to accept some things.  I've come to accept that bad things happen and that I will never be the same.  However, I have hope that one day, years from now most likely, I will be alright.  In the mean time, I want to share just a few things that I've learned during my process of healing in the hopes that someone struggling with the same issues of grief and trauma, no matter what the cause, will be able to look at it and say, "I'm so glad, I'm not the only one."
Please, please, bear in mind that I'm not a paid professional at advice giving.  These are just things that have helped me in my journey.

You can't rush things:
If there is one thing I've noticed it's that other people have been ready to move on way before I am.  At first they stopped asking how I'm doing.  Then they seem uncomfortable when I bring it up.  Then, if I'm not careful, they avoid me altogether.  Avoidance is really a pleasant outcome compared to the alternative, which is when people get angry and try to "tough love" me out of what I'm going through.  The best advice I can give here is just to stop talking about this particular subject with these people if you want to keep them in your life, or just stop talking to them if you're ok letting the relationship go.  But then find someone with whom you can always be completely honest.  It may be a counselor or a support group or just a trusted friend.  For me it was a friend who loves me no matter how I'm feeling and a sponsor who knows how to deal with my feelings in an honest and positive way.  Both of these people are in it with me for the long haul and I am so blessed that they are, because I couldn't have made it without them.  You must have some support or you won't make it.  That's the simple truth.

Build a Support System:
You have to talk to someone.  The temptation may be to stuff your feelings down and not think about them so maybe they'll go away.  Maybe you can forget it all if you just don't talk about it or think about it.  No one knows, so it's like it doesn't exist, right?  Wrong.  Do you know what happens when we ignore wounds to our bodies?  Instead of healing they get infected.  They fester and the infection spreads causing more pain and damage than if we had just treated the initial wound.  Find someone you can trust whether it's a friend, support group or counselor.  (Heck, find all three if you can!)  This person or these people should be able to just listen without trying to fix you or your problem, but should also be able to keep you accountable.  Phrases like "you know what you should do..."  or  "well if I were you..." should be off the talking table.  Ultimately no one can tell you how you should feel, especially if they haven't been through what you're going through, but they can say things like  "I've noticed _____.  How are you doing with that?"  or  "I know you're in a bad place today, but I want to remind you of all the progress you've made."  or "You seem different lately, what's going on?"  Those are supportive phrases that open up the conversation in an honest way.  On the other hand.....


Be Careful with the Details:
There are people we just can't trust.  There are people who just won't understand.  And, I know how hard it is when you need someone, anyone, to talk to, but be careful.  I made a very serious mistake in confiding in a person that I thought I could trust.  Even though I specifically said, please don't tell anyone about this, she told everyone, and I mean everyone:  close friends, not-so-close friends, co workers, family, strangers.  Every.  One.  I was so utterly humiliated and when I asked her why she would do that her response was a flippant, "Pfft.  Oh, no one cares about your problems."  I was stunned and reeling, but lesson learned.  I am now very quiet about my life and problems with all but two people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy.   Find such people and hold onto them; people you can trust are more precious than gold.  

Don't accept or assign blame where it isn't due:
One of the first things we want to do is figure out who's to blame or how it could have been prevented/avoided.  At first, counselors and friends alike all seemed to want to blame me in some way.   What could you have done to prevent this?  What signs did you miss?  How is it your fault?  How can you be better now?  I've gone through the events a million times in my mind and when I honestly told each of my counselors I did everything right, I did everything I was supposed to do, told to do to keep this from happening, they didn't believe me at first.  It was only after several weeks in counseling with the man I would see as my counselor the longest said, "you know what, we've been over it and you're right."  He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I don't know why this happened to you, but I am so sorry that it did."
    When preparing to move back to the States, I had to find a new counselor.  I used the internet's version of the yellow pages to find a woman who claimed to live near where I'd be moving and said she had years of experience dealing in my issues.  And, she was willing to get started via video calls so I could transition more smoothly from one country and counselor to the next!  It seemed perfect, dare I say, heaven sent.  It turned out to be anything but.  The first thing she did was try to assign blame.  Although she claimed to have experience dealing with my issue, her words suggested she had no bloody clue what she was talking about.  I gave her three sessions and then I walked.  Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do to walk away from that woman and maybe an outsider would look at it and say, "Well, she gave you the truth and you just didn't like it, so you had to find someone who would tell you what you wanted to hear."
    Here's what actually happened:  I refused to accept blame from her--this stranger who from the very first appointment rushed through each session and spent more time talking than listening.  After  having already spent seven months reliving it all and combing through it every moment of every day I knew the truth:  it wasn't my fault and no matter how good or bad of a person I was, this would have happened anyway.  It is a very sad fact that there are forces beyond our control and no matter how much we try, bad things will always happen.  We can definitely make them happen less, but they will still happen.  If it's your fault, own it and forgive yourself.  If it's not, don't accept the blame--ever.

Be Honest with Yourself:
Tragedy changes us forever.  We may regain something very close to the state of being we had before it struck, but we'll never be the same.  It will take time and a constant struggle to not look back and wish for what's been lost,--but it's gone.  Accept that.  I've spent so much time missing my old self, but she's gone and she will never come back.  I have to let her go.  And, I have to be honest about the changes.  I have to stop and say I'm feeling this way because of what happened, not because I actually think this or that.  Or on the reverse side, if I'm under a lot of stress, I tend to return to that awful day and get swallowed up in the grief, when really it's stress at work or home that's getting me down.  I have to admit that I have triggers now and there are certain things I avoid because of it.  I get triggered by certain things that come up in conversation, television, etc and I used to sit there pretending nothing was wrong and then be a mess for days because of it.  Once I admitted I couldn't handle these things, I started to just get up and leave the room whenever they came up and it has helped tremendously.  One day I might be ready to handle those things, but not now, not yet.

Don't Give Up:
Last year a friend sent me Mandy Harvey's song Try.  Give it a listen if you've got a moment.  For such a simple song, it sums up so many complex feelings in dealing with loss and trauma that I wanted to post some of the lyrics here:  
I don't feel the way I used to
The sky is gray much more than it is blue
But I know one day I'll get through 
And I'll take my place again
If I would try.

Never in my life have I been so numb and wanted to give up like I have during this time.  Never in my life have I wished to so much to just make it all stop.  But, there's always a new day on the way and another bend in the road.  I have to think back to other times in my life when I've been discouraged and ready to give up.  I have to think about all the good things that I would have missed out on if I'd given up back then.  Life is short enough.  So, I'm going to keep going, one day at a time until I get through.  And I hope you will too.  






3 comments

  1. I've commented here before but I'm never sure if you see it. I could have written this post myself. Thank you. Eighteen months ago, I also experienced a huge loss. My husband was a pastor, and in one quick, vindictive decision we lost our home, our ministry, our church, our community, our retirement, our job, our livelihood, our future. There was no communication, no warning, no explanation, no nothing. I love what you say about fault, and confiding, and "tough love" and rushing and everything. Thank you. I really need someone who understands.

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    1. C.S. Lewis said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one." I wish you didn't understand what I'm going through, my friend, because I know that to understand all this means you've been through a lot of pain. But, I'm glad to know there are others on the journey who can walk with me a while. And it does me good to be honest and open and to reach out to others to offer whatever help I can. If you ever need to talk, I am here and will keep all your words in confidence. Use the contact form on the blog if you need to reach out. <3 Hugs!

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  2. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing. *virtual hugs*

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