Category Archives: PTSD

Beauty in Breakdown

I am giving you permission to fall apart.

To crumble and drop to your knees.

To cry so hard you can’t catch your breath and your whole body trembles.

I want you to know that it is okay to break and feel like you are losing your mind.

It is okay to feel hopeless.

To hit rock bottom.

To go places so dark and so desperate you feel terrified;

of getting lost there forever.

But forever isn’t a place you can inhabit.

Forever is an illusion.

Forever does not exist.

And even when you feel like you can’t go on and there is no hope,

I promise you that there is.

You are going to pick yourself up off of that floor.

You will find your strength, your hope, your resilience.

Never forget that tomorrow is another day.

But today, you are allowed to break.

There is beauty in breakdown.

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Chrysalis Soup

From National Geographic:

But what goes on inside a pupa? We know that a larva releases enzymes that break down many of its tissues into their constituent proteins. Textbooks will commonly talk about the insect dissolving into a kind of “soup”, but that’s not entirely accurate. Some organs stay intact. Others, like muscles, break down into clumps of cells that can be re-used, like a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks. And some cells create imaginal discs—structures that produce adult body parts. There’s a pair for the antennae, a pair for the eyes, one for each leg and wing, and so on. So if the pupa contains a soup, it’s an organized broth full of chunky bits.

I have decided that at least for the time being, I am something akin to the ‘goo’ or ‘soup’ within a chrysalis.

I am somewhere in between a cute, chubby caterpillar moseying along, and a majestic and magical butterfly, floating and flitting through life. I am a mess of goop safely enclosed inside of my casing. Working on changing, reforming, and basically reinventing myself. When you think about it like this, it becomes a beautiful mess. A mess filled with hope and limitless possibilities. There are no rules; there is no formula. I can emerge from my sticky space as anything I want.

This feels incredibly powerful, and hope bubbles up effervescently inside of my heart.

In retrospect, as I look back on the last year after my divorce, I was in heaps of denial and running to other guys and relationships to ease the grief and the pain I was so terrified of. It wasn’t a conscious choice – my subconscious fear of abandonment was driving my behavior. And that terror of feeling alone and invisible has been a major player for my entire life.

Running. Always running. 

But something has shifted yet again. And I feel as though my body, my very core, is beginning to take shape within my shell. I am finding my strength and my resilience and using them to assemble what will become a new me.

I had a major breakthrough in therapy today.

My entire life has been about running from grief. I did not want to deal with it as a child or as an adult. I was literally hiding from it – thinking I could live my life and avoid feeling forever.

I was dead wrong.

Last year when my husband left, I was thrown into complete emotional chaos. I was slammed with PTSD and grief; full-body-tackled. I was in a state of fight, flight, or freeze for months because my brain perceived my husband leaving as abandonment (it was) – just like it did when my dad died. My system was on overload and I felt helpless and completely out of control. My husband treated me like I was a crazy person and eventually, he left.

I realized in therapy today that, over the course of my life, I have come to view grieving as something you work through, get over, and eventually move on from. Like there is this ‘end game’ or a fixed point on a timeline where you are miraculously all better. As a result of this mindset, I have been literally exhausted – emotionally and physically -because I am still running; this time, to an imaginary finish line. I have become frustrated, impatient, and fed up with myself which is a completely unhealthy mindset to adopt.

I will never ‘get over’ the loss of my father. NEVER. My entire life I have felt incomplete, broken, like I didn’t fit in. I thought I had a hole in the very core of my being. But I realized today that this isn’t true. At all. What I have failed to understand or accept is that even though my dad has been dead since I was 9 years old, his essence, the values and love and validation he instilled in me as a little girl, are still there; inside of my heart. If I accept that he is still a part of me, and always has been, then that hole fills right up.

My entire life I have neglected to incorporate the parts of him that filled me up as a child: the validation, the connection, the love, the care and compassion, the play and the laughter. My belief was that, because he was dead, my development ceased to follow a ‘normal’ path or trajectory and as a result, I was left incomplete.

There is no reason on earth why I cannot access all of those amazing things, those gifts he gave me as a child, now, as an adult. If I can hold onto those things in my heart and in my mind, and know with certainty that he is there (and always has been), then I am not broken. I am whole. I am safe and loved and I always have been. I can channel those things he instilled in me and use them as a source of strength, peace, and resilience. I can keep him in my heart in a protective way that lifts me up and keeps me feeling safe instead of invisible and alone.

And the best part of all of these realizations? All of that love and care and kindness that he gave me, that I am now anchoring to my heart, all of that is coming from within me.

I am reforming. I am changing and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Giving In and Letting Go.

*I wrote this post yesterday; today I am just fine*

I cannot escape grief today. It is sitting on my shoulders and won’t leave me alone.

It keeps whispering in my ear things like:

He left you.

He doesn’t love you.

You are a fuck up.

Your kids are damaged.

This is all your fault.

You aren’t worth it.

I know these thoughts are not true. But my brain is insistent on producing them and I am so utterly exhausted that I don’t have the energy to fight back. I am walking with my arms wide open and my heart wide open, right into the maelstrom. I am letting the current sweep me away because I am too tired to fight against it.

I am not afraid of being swept away by my emotions anymore.

When you have PTSD, you become adept at keeping your emotions in check; it becomes second nature to numb out. Every single feeling is muted – dumbed down. Even happiness feels too scary. Your brain trusts nothing and no one; it is looking for danger everywhere, and for me that danger had always been a fear of feeling my emotions. And never trusting people not to leave and abandon me. I compartmentalized my emotions and my feelings toward the people I love(d) most in this world – my husband and my children, my mother, brother, and my sister. It breaks my heart to know that I unknowingly spent the last 30 plus years living a life of fear, and clinging to the lie that if I felt less, I would be safe.

That is no way to live.

But here’s the thing: I knew what it felt like to love with a reckless abandon that only a little girl who loved her father completely and unconditionally could. And then he dropped dead, right in front of me, and my brain broke.

I NEVER WANTED TO FEEL ANYTHING OR LOVE ANYONE THAT MUCH AGAIN.

EMDR is changing my brain and my life. I am awake, aware, and filled with love and life (and hurt and grief). And though some days are brutal, most days are not. I am learning to trust my emotions, myself, and the people in my life.

I am loved and I am enough.

Typically, when the negative and caustic thoughts pop up, I have been very quick to shut them off. I recognize them as unhealthy and unhelpful. But today, I decided to try something different. I am letting the thoughts come and wash over me; through me. I am releasing myself to the hurt and the grief and embracing a ‘bring-it’ attitude. It feels somehow better than the constant struggle to battle the thoughts away.

To throw up my walls feels exhausting to me now as it is not automatic or second nature any longer.

I am letting them come crumbling down.

For good.

Patience.

Patience.

I seem to have lost mine. Not sure I ever had much to begin with though.

I have been trying to be mindful of that secret inner voice – the unspoken push from my busy brain. It has been sending me messages of:

Should.

Could.

Would.

Those 3 words in all of their variations do so much damage. And I struggle with turning them off; stopping them completely. I can tell them to fuck off when they pop up, but come they may, with or without my consent.

I Should Have known that I had PTSD. I Should Have been better at loving and feeling regardless of my PTSD. I Should Be over this by now. I Should Not be hurting this badly or this often after 8 months. I Should Be more present and mindful. I Should Stop judging my every thought and emotion. I Should Stop waking up with anxiety. I Should Not feel so much, love so much. I Should not be vulnerable.

I Could Have done things differently. I Could have controlled my PTSD-fueled rage (not actually possible). I Could Have no more feelings. I Could Have more patience with myself (absolutely true). I Could Have made better decisions last year.

I Would Be happier with my ex. I Would be loved more if I wasn’t such a weirdo. I Would be happier if I wasn’t alone. I Would Be healing faster if it weren’t for my fucked up broken brain. I Would have more friends if I wasn’t so damn introverted. If I were at all ‘normal’ I Would Be better by now.

Nastiness. All of it. Unhelpful brain doodling (I just coined that phrase and it’s fucking brilliant).

I know that my path is hard. I understand with a beautiful introspective logic that I am exactly where I am supposed to be on said path because how could I be anywhere else?? But I also feel that nagging, incessant nudge of:

I SHOULD BE BETTER BY NOW.

I SHOULD BE OVER IT.

I SHOULD BE THIS, THAT, OTHER.

Not this achy, hurting, uncertain creature who wakes up with a hole in my chest.

Every. Single. Day.

Patience. What does that look like? What does that feel like?

A deep breath. A long overdue sigh. Letting go of the should, could, would. Being present in every moment. Making space for the hurt and the ache and treating them like an old friend, not an unwanted enemy. Allowing myself the tears that still come. Allowing myself to embrace the difficult feelings and not trying to block them; run from them. Giving myself a break from the constant (unspoken) pressure I put on myself to be someone other than I am able to be right now. Thinking gentle thoughts. Loving thoughts. Kind and peaceful thoughts. Embracing the rollercoaster instead of fighting it tooth and nail. Acknowledging that I might not be okay and that that is okay.

I will breathe. I will pull myself back to the present moment.

With patience.

Vulnerability Hangover

*A bit of a rant this morning as I work my way through this latest hurdle*

I have a vulnerability hangover and it’s bad.

I opened myself up completely to someone and let love back into my life and into my heart; slowly and steadily over the past 5 months. I said goodbye to this person and that relationship 2 days ago and now I feel physically ill; sick to my stomach with anxiety and hurt and pain and regret. I want my fucking walls back. I want my suit of impenetrable armor. I want my PTSD-numbed emotional state of mind back. Because this hurts too much and I want OUT.

This is why smart people fear being vulnerable and keep themselves in check.

Boundaries, Amy! Balance!

I’m back on my emotional rollercoaster. Everything feels so raw and so frightening right now. I am feeling more alone than I have in months; questioning my sanity. I went and fell in love. Damnit, what was I thinking??? Once love blossomed in my heart, I dove straight in. Head first and with complete abandon. He held space for my love and intensity with a careful and gentle grace. But then we reached an impasse. I wanted more – I wanted it all – and he couldn’t give me that. This person wants children of his own. I am going to be 43 this year. I have children of my own and I do not want more. There is more to it than that, a lot more, but for me, that is the crux of it.

I guess I don’t understand why my kids and I aren’t enough for this person. We could have made an awesome, funky-type family. I know he wants his own children but he could have found an instant family with the 3 of us. I wanted to walk by his side for the foreseeable future. Meet his more of his friends and his family. Dance, laugh, discuss life, wake-up together, cook, camp, live, love, and explore. I would have been his partner and friend.

Sigh. Fantasy. All of it.

I considered it for a minute (okay, it’s still on my mind); having a baby with this man. What would that be like? It was, and still is, a tantalizing thought. But here’s the thing, as much as I love this guy, and would love to have a life with him, I cannot go through that again. Losing myself, my life, my body, to an infant. The fact is, that somewhere, deep inside of me, that pull to get lost is still there and this absolutely terrifies me.

And this: Maybe I don’t like who I am on love.

Love feels like a drug in my system. I feel like I’m going through withdrawal. Maybe being in love brings out the insecure and codependent me and there is nothing I can do about that. Maybe no amount of therapy can help me to untangle that deeply embedded shit. This relationship brought up all of my insecurities, but only when we were apart. When we were together, everything seemed crystal clear, healthy, grounding, and fucking amazing. I felt like I had balance – seeing him a few times a week, maintaining my friendships and my life outside of that relationship. But then this weird shit kept coming up when I wouldn’t hear from him in between seeing him:

Why didn’t he call? He said he would call! Why didn’t he say hello when he was online? Does he really like me? Does he really want a relationship? Just sex? Who am I if this imagined future with a man I love doesn’t actually exist? What if he says no? What if he finds someone else? What if he fucks someone else and he’s too afraid to tell me? He doesn’t owe me anything. I don’t own him. What if I am alone again? Without that connection that feels so right, so good, and so true? Who am I without that?

Am I still me?

Am I still ok?

What the fuck IS THAT? Why does the fact that someone’s messaging/not messaging or calling/not calling determine my sanity and sense of self/well-being? UGH. Is that just my codependency and sense of self-worth or was it the relationship itself? I really thought that I was complete on my own without this connection. Have I been lying to myself for months? Jesus, that would be fucking scary. I don’t think that is the case. I think I am feeling sad and confused. I am not an insecure person. I never have been.

Or perhaps I am complete and fine with who I am and this is what heartache and romantic confusion feel like. Wanting someone and a life with that person and realizing the hard truth that isn’t possible. Wanting ALL THE THINGS. This is only the second time in my life I have had to deal with heartbreak. The first was when my ex left in October. Every other relationship I have had, I have walked away from and been fine.

Fuck, I wish I knew how to casually date without getting attached.

My sister said it best:

“Well, you’ve never done anything ‘a little bit’ in your life. Go big or go home”.

I wish I had an in-between setting. I don’t know what it is about me that my tendencies lie in black and white, on or off, hot or cold. Where is my gray? I have the ability to love fiercely with all of myself and to alternately shut down and throw up walls of steel. I am working on that last part. I haven’t deleted this person from my life completely – I think that is a good sign. I am tenacious to a fault. When I want something, I get it. I don’t know how to give up. I chose to stop this relationship because it doesn’t have the outcome I desired. I said no to great sex, love and affection, epic 4-hour-long conversations, and lots of laughing.

And now I feel like punching shit. And puking.

I want to have someone in my life. I know that now. A partner. A lover. A friend. A goofball-buddy. Man, I fucking miss those things. I want a connection that runs so deep I feel it in my bones. I have/had that with this new person. In spades. And every fiber of my being is screaming: “WHY CAN’T THAT BE ENOUGH”? And worse: does this mean that I am not worth it? But how could I not be worth it AGAIN? This doesn’t seem possible!! I am worth it. I know that I am. It’s not a question of my worth at all but of life circumstance and a shit deal-breaker of wanting biological offspring. My uterus would probably fall out if I had another baby; I’m completely serious.

My ex has everything he ever wanted. He wanted the girlfriend – to live with her. And now he has that and this amazing life. A full life of love, and family, and friends he inherited with that relationship; a community. He has moved on.

I am literally rebuilding myself and my community from scratch. I am trying to find friends and start over. When the shit hits the proverbial fan, I really have very few people to rely on; who I feel emotionally safe with.

So, what do I have? An empty house I don’t want to live in any longer. No relationship. I have approximately 4 friends. I am exhausted and terrified. I had totally placed all of my hopes and dreams into a relationship that does not exist – something my therapist told me explicitly NOT to do. But the hopes and the fantasies kept coming whether I wanted them to or not. I pictured this person I love living here. Being a dad/role model to the kids. I pictured waking up next to him a thousand times. I had seen a future with him. Glimpses of gardening, keeping bees, laughing, being ridiculous and silly together.

Fuck this feels scary. I completely underestimated how much I was relying on that connection. I still have so much work to do. I don’t want to keep swimming around up in my head but it seems to be what I am doing right now. Trying to be gentle with myself and my emotions as they come. I am trying not to shut down, dissociate, or shame myself for feeling too much, loving too much, hoping too much.

I will not break.

Vulnerability and Expectation

(Trigger warning. Some mildly graphic details of parental death)

There are two themes that keep coming up for me. In my thoughts, conversations, reading, and in my writing.

The first is vulnerability. The second, expectation.

I don’t think the two are in any way connected, but I am certain that they are a part of this puzzle – of life, love, longing, grief, and moving forward through the trauma and the pain.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It’s goddamn amazing. I feel like I am doing the hard work she writes about – being a badass, being vulnerable and present, being my most aware self. And it is hard as fuck. Never in my life have I been faced with such insurmountable challenges. I am literally facing down my demons; and I am winning. She talks about vulnerability and our ‘stories’ (what we believe to be true in our minds) – for me that piece translates to expectations.

My dad died right in front of me when I was 9. He had pneumonia and one of his lungs exploded at home. I watched as my mother scooped vomit out of his mouth and tried to give him CPR. I tried to run out of that hallway where his body had fallen but she made me come back to help her. I was NINE. I watched as his nose turned blue and then a vivid shade of purple. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t getting any oxygen. He was dying. He was dead.

I didn’t want to watch any of that; I had no choice. That memory is seared into my mind like a painting. I have played and replayed that moment over a million times. I have asked myself why he died a million more. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, effectively robbed me of any ability to love fully, feel whole, feel self-worth, and be vulnerable. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, tried to control everything; from my day-to-day life to my relationships. It wanted predictability, safety, and never, ever surprises of any kind.

Guarantees. There are no guarantees; a fact that still pisses me off.

When your brain is hardwired to view everything as a threat, you cannot possibly be vulnerable. It is not an option. My brain was quite literally rewired in that moment of severe trauma. I disassociated from myself for the first time that day. I completely left my body as my mind perceived imminent danger and did what brains do. They fight, flee, or freeze. I didn’t fight – I was not a fighter then. I froze and I fled.

I know that my mother, at age 37, was doing the best that she could. I know that she needed help. There were no cell phones in 1984. I had to call the police. I had to do what she told me. I am a mother now; my son is 9 years old. And I know in my gut that I would never, EVER let him watch someone he loved more than life itself die in front of him. “I’ve got this!”, I’d say. “Go! Get out of here!”, I’d tell him. And I would take care of it. I would absorb all of that terror.

Maybe I am really saying those things to my 9-yr-old self. That little girl needed protecting. She needed saving. I can do that for her now. I can help her. I can hold her hand and we can walk away. My 42-year-old self is in a space of strength and courage that I can tap into. I can take that child and protect her. I can and will heal her. EMDR is saving my life.

What about this expectation piece? I read something the other day that said something to the effect of; “No one has broken your heart, they broke your expectations”. Damn did that to get me. I am still trying to untangle that statement. My ex hurt me; didn’t he? Did he not break my heart? Or did he make selfish choices that I reacted to? Perhaps my hurt and my heartbreak were my own and I needed to react and fall apart so I could reemerge and put myself back together.

He certainly broke all of my expectations around having an intact family and someone to grow old with. What do I do now that the future I expected to have is GONE? The future I expected to have as a little girl with a mother and a father – GONE. Is this the true source of my hurt? The loss of my predictable and planned out future?

If I let go of expectations around love and life, what am I left with? My own shit. My vulnerability (HA! They are connected!). I have to let myself be present in the moment. Right now. Right here. Not a week from now, not 30 years ago, not last year. NOW. Letting go of possible futures with possible endings. When I let go of any and all expectations I might have, I am forcing myself into a state of vulnerability as I am entering into a space where I literally have no control or say in what happens – save my own decisions and the choices that I make.

July 24, 1984. My brain broke that day. My daughter was born on July 24, 2009. Exactly 25 years to the day that her grandfather died. My little girl is a magical creature filled with love, light, and an emotional capacity I marvel at every single damn day.

I cannot predict the future. I do not know what today or tomorrow hold. There are no certainties. There are no guarantees. People die, babies are born, people will leave you, and people will walk into your life seemingly out of the blue. To let go of expectation is to be vulnerable. This is my life goal. I am right here, right now. I am doing the best that I can as I bumble along this winding path on my crazy journey. My heart is opening up for the first time in 33 years. I am completely terrified but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do Not Love Me.

The kids and their dad move into the new house together with the girlfriend this weekend.

This major transition is bringing up some seriously weird emotional shit for me. I know that it is my trauma rearing it’s ugly head in another attempt to shut me off emotionally again. I feel separate from the kids in a way I didn’t think was possible. I feel disconnected and flat – not fully present in reality. I am questioning my want and my very desire to be a mother. I am questioning whether I even want to have custody. What if I just let go and give up? What if I just shut the fucking door and walk away for good? What if I don’t want to feel anything, for anyone, ever again?

I know that these big feelings are coming up in part, because I have met someone. This wonderful, surprise-of-a-guy who blows my mind with his amazingness and his kind heart. I feel myself being vulnerable in ways that truly terrify me. My heart is saying, “GO! GO! GO!” while my mind is screaming, “COMMENCE LOCKDOWN!”.

I know another part of the resentment and confusion I am feeling is due to the fact that the kids are the ONE thing that bind me to my ex. My ex, whom I wish I had never met. The man I spent 17 years of my life with. I wish I could erase him and those 17 years forever. The kids are EXCITED about their new living situation. My heart wants to door-slam them completely for that. But it’s not their fault. It is no one’s fault. It just is.

I am all twisted and turned around with these new emotions. I am trying my best not to judge them, but when they are directly related to my willingness and my ability to parent, they seem inherently WRONG. Mothers should love their children without thinking, worrying, resenting, and shutting-down getting in the way. Mothers should love their children UNCONDITIONALLY. IRREVOCABLY. FOREVER.

Should. Could. Would.

But what if I don’t want to? What if I don’t want to love or be loved by anyone, anymore, ever again? I loved my dad and he dropped dead in front of me. I loved my ex and he ripped out my heart, broke me, and kicked me while I was down. Love feels like a betrayal of my sanity. I know what happens firsthand when you let yourself open up and love with reckless abandon; whether you are 9 years old or 42. You get HURT.

What if I want to go find a cave on a beach somewhere and never return? What if I don’t want to deal with the orthodontist, groceries, feeding, caring, or loving for one more second? What if I don’t want to deal with the emotional repercussions of loving someone again? What if I want to march out of this house, get into my car, and drive straight to the airport? I could board a flight out of this state, out of this country and start over. I could do that. I really truly could.

But I won’t. Because I know that even though these emotions are deeply painful and very hard to bear right now, they will pass. They always do. And when they do, I will walk away knowing myself a bit better. Knowing once again, that my strength lies within me no matter what my mind is trying to tell me. And I will never break again because no one will have control over my life and my emotions to the extent that my ex did. That is the TRUTH.

And I know, of course I know, that I love my kids more than life itself. And that these emotions are okay and they are normal. I also know that I am totally worthy of loving and being loved again. I do not want to go forward in this life for one more second ignoring my feelings, putting them in a box, and erecting walls around my heart. Because that isn’t really living. It is watching life pass you by like you’re some spectator, not an active participant.

I have to learn to let go of this fear and this hurt in healthy ways – not by putting my heart on lockdown. I have to slowly and gently trust that it is okay to love and to be loved by my children, by my family and friends, and by others. Not everyone will break my heart and stomp on it. There are many who will treat it with loving kindness and a tenderness so beautiful that it will be worth the risk. I cannot let myself miss that by living in an emotional cave on an imaginary beach somewhere.

But fuck, it feels so scary. And I wish someone could hold my hand.

Right now.