Breathing Life Into Darkness
If interested, I am selling prints of this HERE (original may also be available)
I do have an important post to share on children, but this time I am focusing on PTSD and my own life, trying to figure out an issue which has stumped me for years. It isn't anything I can research like so many of the other subjects I write about here. It is THE one thing that keeps recovery a bit more illusive than I would like it to be.
Here is my story, briefly:
From 2013 - 2016, my life was under siege. In those years, ten very close people in my life died. It was literally one funeral after another after another ... ending up with "my twin" dying at the end of 2016 suddenly and without warning, without symptoms. When "my twin" died, part of me died too in that I felt like I was "stripped down" to just the barest minimum, a ragged survivor standing on top of a barren hill at night in the freezing cold.
In one of those years there were six surgeries between me and my sweetheart. There was such a total onslaught of other issues and tragedies, and this was compounded by rampant bullying by three people. People like this come out of the woodwork during those times.
There were some successes to add a boost here and there, and helped to survive it all, but the onslaught of continuous tragedy made life pretty unbearable. I thought about suicide in 2014, but there were people dependent on me, so I tried to brush out any suicidal thoughts with self-lectures: "Don't you dare think about that! Just focus on the now and their healing!"
Many survivors of abuse turn to drugs and alcohol. I understand why they do. The temptation to self medicate has to be overwhelming. In fact, most addicts are survivors of war or abuse (not all, but most; there is the exception of the teen who gets addicted under peer pressure, or the child of alcoholic parents who thinks that drinking every day (and large amounts) is normal, or the wife who has a husband who rarely communicates with her, etc). Other than these kinds of cases, hard core addiction is about a lot of hurt people who need help. Unfortunately, a really gripping addiction with chronic abuse or war seems to really activate the suicidal thoughts for a lot of PTSD survivors.
Me? I didn't even take an aspirin (and there is a reason I don't take pills: it is tied to how I was abused). So, the pain was served up raw, and perhaps that is why the symptoms of PTSD could be severe in me.
Anyway, self-lectures were very effective in wiping out the suicidal thoughts. I had learned to self-lecture when I was playing music on big stages to get rid of nerves and the fear of "screwing up." I knew as a musician to stay in the now. When trying to apply those techniques to my present situation, they worked some of the time, but not always. Focusing on the now is all that most people do, and are required to do, right? It is what work is all about, for instance. And I do work much more than the forty hour work week, particularly in light of the fact that I am getting an education too. I write for this blog and a number of others while trying to run a business.
I think one of the reasons why survivors are less able to focus on the now than other people is because of the hypervigilance that comes from being a survivor of abuse, and the PTSD that results from it. We have all been exposed to explosive, emotionally charged, highly unstable changeable abusive people and situations, i.e. walking on eggshells. Any survivor knows that you have to plan and plan and plan around abusers, particularly if you grew up with it, so your head is always in the future, and wrapped up in "performance anxiety". Abusers can go off on you over a look on your face or for what they perceive as your thoughts, even though they haven't heard your thoughts and misinterpret your facial expressions (and not kidding about that). They can abuse you for not executing one of their demands perfectly enough for them. So in reality, there is no winning this, but children especially, won't know this until they grow up and see a therapist.
Indeed, the hypervigilance means not getting into sensitive subjects which might produce rage in them: drinking for alcoholics, criticism for narcissists. For instance, part of walking on eggshells with alcoholics is planning your talking time with them when they are sober (hard to do if they are hard core). With Borderlines walking on eggshells means trying to talk to them when they are in an idealization stage, not in a discard phase (which one can never know, can switch off and on, and swing wildly back and forth, at any minute, and during any conversation, multiple times a day!). With narcissists it is even worse, because they never seem to get sober from their aggrandizement fantasies and constant searching and grasping for narcissistic supply that will make them feel on top of the world again (which, if you know narcissists, the behaviors they insist on from others are impossible, and especially under the seige of abuse and threats they are typically known for). With sociopaths, walking on eggshells is to the point of the absurd ... they are so off the wall with what they expect, so "cleverly" sadistic and game-playing, that it is better to leave them alone -- which, as it turns out, they will want from you anyway: they don't like people. To them all people are stupid, duped and deserve exploiting, insults and degradation. They spend inordinate amounts of time putting people down. To them, people exist to take advantage of, to punish, to lecture at, and arm-twist. If the sociopath feels there is no advantage to him, he believes those people should get out of his way. Sociopaths, more than any other abusive type of personality, believe in the "You brought this upon yourself" phrasing: it is their mantra when it comes to "consequences for behavior", behaviors they expect, but never do themselves, the hypocrites that they are.
Recovering from abuse means taking yourself out of the role that these kinds of people want and insist on, the people-pleasing role, the will-understand-anything-and-excuse-any-abuse docile "nicey-nicey" role.
By the way, shedding this role is hard to do when you have been groomed to people-please from childhood, so if you are determined to shed this role as I was, then be easy on yourself; give it time.
Once I made a really conscious effort to not walk on eggshells, and people-please with abusers who were hurting me, I could live in the moment. And let me tell you, I have never felt so good -- more on that later.
But, wow, was it ever hard to maintain! ... Even when it was the best way to recover from abuse.
So what to do? I hated that I couldn't maintain it. I WAS determined not to obsess over the wrong-doings of others like my father had. I spent time wishing I could have helped to heal him more with the knowledge and practices I had gained after he passed.
I do know that PTSD episodes are involuntary, something my therapist had to drill into me over and over and over again the way that the therapist in Good Will Hunting had to drive into his patient that it wasn't his fault: "It's not your fault, it's not your fault, it's not your fault!" The reason I had to constantly be reminded of that was because I would spend entire days getting angry at myself for not performing a task "just right", for "being stupid", or just for, what I call, "wasted spinning wheels". He would say "Not functioning at top level is expected during PTSD episodes, and since it is involuntary, why get angry at yourself over it? If you cut out the anger at yourself, and treat yourself like you have a bad head cold, you'll get through the episodes better." -- good point!
The thing is, I still wanted to be able to function out in public during these typically 5 - 7 day episodes (bills to pay and work to do, after all!), even if it meant plodding through when PTSD was seizing up my brain. I think those of you who have had PTSD know it is hard to be out in public during episodes because that is when narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths notice you and zero in on you: they can sense PTSD right away in people. PTSD is like sugar to them! You are the love of their life! You are the angel they have always dreamed about who will make their lives a dream!
Or, conversely, your PTSD episode is when the bully at the office decides to lay into you about what a lousy job you are doing, and "how can you be so air-headed and stupid?!!"
Then there are people who you meet who mirror! Oh, no, not mirroring! Hint: that is what narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths do! So mirroring can make a survivor go into anxiety attack mode.
Unfortunately, some of us survivors get to a point where we run from all people who mirror us, a pity since sometimes people genuinely have the same interests and perspectives as we do. Part of having a history of abuse is that we become hypervigilant and on guard about all people.
So, when in public, I would spend my compromised energies on trying to physically appear as confident and happy as possible, as non-prey, with a don't-mess-with-me attitude, all so exhausting, and sometimes forgetting to perform a task that brought me out into the public in the first place (yes, that happens too under PTSD). There's that "performance anxiety" again, taking over every task! So, from discouragement and exhaustion, I would go home and isolate myself the way a lot of PTSD sufferers do. Ack!
But, isolation is a good way to get a lot of work done and do a lot of research! If you aren't addicted to substances, work is often "the other addiction" that survivors fall into.
So how did three bullies "contribute" to my life?
Well, I went through a horrific experience with the alcoholic, "Johnny" that I write briefly about HERE. Basically, it was an hour by hour, and sometimes minute by minute onslaught of rapid-fire verbal and emotional abuses (peppered with phrases like "stupid", "retard", "waste of a human being", "you're nothing", goddamn you", and constant never-ending fault-finding and demands), and occasionally even physical abuse when he was really inebriated. All of it seemed very much linked to drinking, and particularly the amount of drinking. Since the drinking started at ten in the morning, there was rarely a time I wasn't enduring it. If I needed to talk to Johnny, it had to be before ten ... and yes, he was sweet then (but he was also preoccupied with not feeling well: rapid heartbeat, sweating, pins and needles sensations, panic, etc).
Anyone who has studied bullying-with-alcoholism knows that it is impossible to withstand the kind of assault and irrationality I endured without it effecting you emotionally and mentally for a good long while, even when you get away from the alcoholic.
There were people around me doing the usual "Why, oh why, do you stay in a situation like that!?" Don't judge. There are very, very good reasons why I couldn't, and it isn't anything I can discuss here except to say that I believe almost everyone would have done what I did. This had nothing to do with money by the way; it was a safety issue.
I got free of the situation with "Johnny", but it still effected me five months later. I went to a domestic violence therapist where I was diagnosed with severe PTSD and he helped prescribe a number of things for that, and to fashion a letter (a boundary where Johnny and I had to separate, but could resume contact if he ever got sober).
During all of that tragedy and heartbreak, I was bullied severely by two other people too. One was a narcissist and the other a sociopath, though I did not know it at the time. They were married. And yes, this is common: sociopaths are even more attracted to narcissists than they are to folks with PTSD. Why? Sociopaths see the narcissist as a challenge and as a gaslighting/slander comrade. Sociopaths know how to manipulate a narcissist without the narcissist suspecting anything. They know the narc's Achilles heel: that narcissists crumble over criticism and need constant praise and adulation, and neither one of them care if it means hurting other people to obtain that pie-in-the-sky dream (logical people, of course, say: "How are you going to be admired when you hurt others?" -- doy!). Anyway, the sociopath aids in obtaining narcissistic supply, and punishing/abusing those who are acting recalcitrant about giving it. The only thing is, the sociopath's real intention is actually to try to wipe out the narc's support system (sociopaths are anti-social for a reason -- they don't want pesky people around who love or support their narcissist). The way they get rid of the narc's support system is by denigrating and insulting the support system, and behind closed doors trying to get the narcissist to understand that there isn't enough gratitude coming their way from some person in their lives, and then they'll focus on how another person might be overlooking them, and then insist that another is talking behind the narc's back ... this works like a dream in getting the narc paranoid and dependent on the sociopath ... Note: usually the sociopath gets rid of one person at a time so as not to raise suspicion. The narc goes out of their mind about back-stabbers, looking to the sociopath as "a protector" from bad people who don't praise and supply. Indeed sociopaths will make things up about people, constantly create doubt and suspicion, just to get the narcissist feeling threatened and on edge about every single one of the people the sociopath is targeting. The sociopath justifies all of the destruction with lies and strategizing. And yes, this is so common as to be practically expected. It is also very devious! It is not unlike "intrigues at court" (see my post on King Henry the VIIIth).
Not all sociopaths are physically violent, but they are all sadistic. The non-violent sociopaths tend to be from very stable families with no divorce. That is something I did not know, even when I began writing this blog; I thought sociopaths were all violent.
So that was an area of denial for me: "He isn't violent even though he comes close to breaking the law" ... "probably just having a temper tantrum" ... "He'll get over it." Except the temper tantrum (what he termed as "punishment" of me) went on, and on, and on, and on, over years!
How did I find out these people had these personality disorders? Professionals.
Plus the correspondences from N and S and "the professional assessment" of those correspondences.
I had known N (the narc) and S (the sociopath) for a good part of my life. My denial about them persisted for longer than it should have. I kept trying to find a way of belonging, even if on the very edge of periphery. In the beginning I tried to placate, be nice, be helpful, lecture about abuse and why it is wrong, etc, until it dawned on me that they had no intention of listening to a single thing I had to say AT ALL. Also they were obviously getting a rise out of hurting me, ignoring that I was already hurt by other life tragedies. So, there's the sadism. Don't expect empathy from narcissists and sociopaths.
Their reasons for all the sadism were laid out in writing: they kept insisting I was not grateful (there's that "never enough narcissistic supply" again!).
But, denial doesn't last forever, and I was helped by one thing: research about the Cluster B personality disorders, alcoholism and PTSD. The professionals couldn't come right out and say "Person N is a narcissist and person S is a sociopath" because they can't label people unless "officially diagnosed". So the work-around for professionals is to lecture their clients constantly about personality disorders, kind of like drilling it into your head: "it's not your fault, it's not your fault, it's not your fault..." . Say the client reads a correspondence that is obviously cruel and crazy-making. The professional would come back with a phrase like this: "When sociopaths get really charged up they --- and when Narcissists don't get supply they ---". In other words, these professionals would talk about personality disorders without directly saying "Person N is a narcissist and person S is a sociopath." Pretty smart since narcissists and sociopaths don't go to counseling and don't get diagnosed unless they have committed a crime.
It's a way that therapists and investigators tell their clients what is going on. These clients are likely to go home and research narcissism and anti-social personality disorder too, and understand it is "not your fault, it's not your fault, it's not your fault".
I learned to trust in professionals who worked in domestic violence -- heck, they know perpetrators more thoroughly than anyone else; they know the kinds of tricks abusers pull to play the victim and lay all the blame on their targets. When you learn the lexicon of abusers, they are all highly, highly predictable. They almost never become enlightened about anything, so they don't change, and therefor don't change their tactics. They all gaslight and slander, for instance. Just about every word they utter can be interpreted in terms of what their next plan of action will be -- with accuracy!
They all talk about their victims in certain ways that are similar across the board, they make devious "plans" ...
Looking back, I am amazed at how much denial I was in. For instance, for decades person S was obsessed about shooting, gassing, electrifying and trapping wild woodland animals, while I was a vegetarian, and obviously not interested in the topic ("cruel to animals and children" -- textbook Anti-Social behavior -- now why was I not thinking about that?). Every time, without fail, I was at dinner at their house, S was constantly looking at me while discussing his "animal projects" and his views on animals, to see if I was reacting and uncomfortable. The man even had an electric wire right in front of his front door stoop to keep the animals away -- good way to keep people out too, the anti-social dream). Anyway, who does that!? Ew! Sociopaths are odious in that way: the monologues they insist on are kind of like sitting next to a person who loves offending people and enjoys that he drives everyone away.
Anyway, S had no use for me and driving me out was the agenda.
I'm not up for dealing with a sociopath, and neither should anyone, so I accepted it.
I was constantly being encouraged to get police involved by professionals because sociopaths don't respect boundaries, and will justify anything and everything to break them if things aren't going the way they like, so I walked into a police station with all of N's and S's correspondences.
But ... here's the trap that a lot of survivors get into. People who knew them and me were worried about N: health problems and being isolated by S. "Maybe N is .... Maybe you are not looking at the fact that N is ... N is probably not out to hurt you as much as you think ... She still wants to work this out with you, she told me ..." Being an empath and a people-pleaser, I felt obligated, and also fished around to see if N really did want a reconciliation (no, N does not want to work it out, and put it in writing to me, so that's that).
Listening to non-professionals, as I did in the case of listening to parties who knew us both, undoes a lot of the work professionals do, so professional opinions should always come first before others, as I have learned. The shared friends and/or family you have are probably being biased and brainwashed against you in some way, so these opinions are not worth much. Anyway, I found a way to check up on N's emotional well-being and health without having to make a physical appearance. That is definitely the way to go. However, sociopaths don't like you messing with their person in any manner. It drove S bat-shit crazy.
The problem of getting involved, even slightly, for me, was that every time I have anything to do with them, I am plagued with PTSD episodes. I have gotten to a part of my life where I am peaceful, living in the now, forgetting about them (which is what happens), no longer reactive to anything (i.e. calm), waking up with joy in my heart, with terrific friends and our nuclear family and in-laws who have become my world, playing music again in front of audiences, dancing to old records, going hiking -- and wham! PTSD rears up again in the worst way, takes a toll on all of the wonderful things I have built.
One of the reasons I have been neglecting the blog is because it takes me back to those days. Reading about devious minds was triggering me. It is important info, and I know a lot of people are reading what I have to say. Luckily for me, I do not have to write too much more on "the devious minds section", and can instead focus on the "healing section" more.
The other thing I have been doing in my life away from this blog is making a conscious effort to surround myself with empaths. These are the kinds of people I want in my inner circle. In fact, I reached out to one of the most empathetic people I know, who is also a successful artist who focuses on spiritual paintings. Her name is Marina Petro and we are having an art show together and we hope to continue together into other joint ventures.
My mind, even in this work, is not far from my fellow survivors. Bunnies to me are the vulnerable creatures whom I associate children and survivors with. The dove in symbolic language (Jungian primarily) is the spirit, the peace-maker, which many children and survivors are. The dove also sacrifices for the message of peace (it fits, yes?). These are some of the pieces I will show which include both acrylics and watercolors:
Escape with a Blessing
If interested, I am selling prints of this HERE (original may also be available)
If interested, I am selling prints of this piece HERE (original may also be available)
Here is one of Marina'a pieces:
If interested, she is selling prints of this HERE (the original may be for sale too)
While I know that my destiny is to keep speaking to survivors, this is also one way that I can do it (especially since I will be explaining what the pieces mean on the walls of any shows).
I plan on starting a You Tube channel soon too, to focus on strategies for healing from abuse, something that isn't being done a whole lot, except for the usual "how therapy can transform your life from domestic violence victim into joyous survivor". There are so many very good channels on how perpetrators, sociopaths and narcissists behave that I don't think I have much to add to it, so the "healing day-to-day" is where I can contribute something new. Since there is obviously a lot of time between therapy sessions, getting through the days in between sessions is where I think I might be able to help.
I just want to assure my fellow survivors that I have been through a lot of the same things you have been through. I am not here to lecture. I went through all of the pain, suffering and PTSD episodes that you have. I started out, like many of you, in total shock. I couldn't sleep for months. I would be lucky if I got three hours a night. Sound familiar? In the very beginning, I was curled up in the fetal position for a week, sobbing. I had all of same physical symptoms that many survivors of PTSD have: splitting headaches, skipping heartbeats, IBS, achy joints where I felt like I had arthritis in every single one of them, a trashed immune symptom (in fact, I have a post on that coming soon -- again, it just needs edits). The PTSD symptoms were all there too: flashbacks from hell, panic, etc. And the suicidal thoughts as well.
I know, for instance, that 25 percent of children (including adult children) of rejecting parents who give the silent treatment, will commit suicide. Perhaps some of that is because the silent treatments is almost always used in tandem with smear campaigns. The percentage rate may be even higher, perhaps 50 percent, when just underage children are counted (they are not, yet -- only the hospitals and morgues are doing the statistics and they include all age groups). That is a huge problem and totally unacceptable. Changing laws in line with the United Kingdom is where this country needs to be to stem these suicides. Emotional abuse is just as deadly as physical abuse when you take this into account, especially when it comes to parental abuse.
Any psychologist who spends time with abuse survivors will tell you that the recovery from narcissistic abuse or sociopathic abuse is similar to what rape victims go through. It takes one to three years. The new word for this type of abuse is often being referred to now as emotional rape.
I can tell you that the IBS, the sleepless nights, etc all went away. The PTSD episodes went away too.
The thing is, you have to keep vigilant of your health. In my own life, I know that if I exchange just a few words with N and S, I am plagued with PTSD symptoms for days again. I believe this is why survivors feel they have to go completely "no contact" or separate from the abusers and the people around the abuser. Living with PTSD day in and day out is not a "quality life", so many survivors try to forget their abusers. It is no wonder ...
There is a woman I met through a forum who told of her mother who would scream at her in highschool in a car going to an event. The mother would scream, "I hate you! I wish you were never born! I hate the absolute sight of you! You are nothing to me!" and sometimes even swat her. When they got to the event, the mother would see other mothers and switch it all off, hug her daughter, and say how proud she was of her daughter in the most glowing terms imaginable, often over-the-top (people of the forum call this kind of behavior "the bitch switch", a common abuse tactic). The audience of other mothers would say: "It is so nice you have a mother who loves you so much! How lucky you are!" -- imagine the cognitive dissonance, the crazy-making of enduring that just through the formative highschool years, let alone longer than that! Should a daughter endeavor to live a lifetime around a mother like that? Expose her own children to it? Expose a husband and inlaws to it? Invite a mother like that over for Thanksgiving dinner? This is how mother/daughter estrangements happen with non-addicted, non-criminal children -- they rarely happen for other reasons. It is usually ALL about the abuse.
So where do you put people that have invaded your mind because of serious bullying? The answer for me and my life has been to keep trying to graduate them to a more and more peripheral spot in my mind through self-lectures and in trying to be in the now. It doesn't always work, but it always goes in one direction. I went from thinking about the bullies most of the time (during that one year of the six surgeries and two major deaths) down to maybe a fleeting thought a week. They are so far out of the orbit of my world and every day life that I am not effected for the most part. I look at them clinically, especially when there is no contact, the way a psychologist does. Note: this took over three years to achieve this kind of peace.
Those who have survived abuse should feel obligated to help others out of the morass that abuse puts survivors in, in some way, even if it is just a small way (think of it as saving a life from suicide, for instance). "United we stand ..."
Narcissism and Antisocial Personality Disorder are on the rise. In the 1980s narcissism effected just one percent of the population. Many psychologists are saying that by the time Millennials reach retirement age, it may effect as many as 30 percent. Likewise, Anti Social Personality Disorder used to effect 0.17 percent of the population. It is as high as 1.6 percent now. Why is this happening? Dr. Judy Rosenberg believes the rise has to do with "human disconnect" -- i.e. the rise of broken families and blended families, children alienated from parents, step-parents who resent their stepchildren or who overstep their boundaries, divorces, isolation, parents who put themselves first before the children, leaving babies in their cribs unattended, latch-key kids, not being sensitive to children's needs and feelings, ignoring children, leaving children with baby sitters all of the time, harsh punishments, sexual abuse from family members, making children spend inordinate amounts of time in their rooms alone and without social interaction, etc.
This is the subject I'm getting ready to post for the next time.