Archive for the ‘PTSd’ Category



*written July 2013
I did something amazing. I was in Boston to meet a friend and I went home. I went back to the place it all started, where I experienced so much pain. I knew I was ready. I knew I needed to do it alone. I’ve struggled so much to retrieve memories of my youth that were not traumatic – I couldn’t find images, feelings, laughter from so many years while I felt imprisoned behind the gated doors and windows. I was scared to meet up with that sad little girl crying on the stoop, but I went. I marched right up the street from the station. I took a picture of my old school and remembered Molly asking my why Malik always looked up my skirt in the coat room in Kindergarten (I replied, “I think it’s because I can read.”) I remembered running down the street to Caroline’s house where her mom made cookies and we were allowed to lick the bowl. I remembered roller skating the day Ronald Reagan was shot. I took a picture of the Mackie school yard where I smoked my first cigarette behind a dumpster. I got a little scared as I approached the block my old house was on – I walked on the far side of the street and pondered it from there for a few minutes. I knew I was strong enough. I knew I was ready. That little girl wasn’t crying anymore. Alison Meridith can go f*ck herself – I *do* have friends. People *do* like me. I’m happy. I’m healing. I’m intact. I’m integrated. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been… so why was I so scared of an old brick house with bars on the door and windows?

I took a deep breath and wandered down the block. I realized just how busy the street was where I used to run across four lanes of traffic to get my mother’s newspaper three blocks down. I don’t remember how old I was, but I know the Sunday Globe was almost too heavy for me to carry. I remember it was scary. Nearly as scary as crossing the same street to catch the T to school in first grade – my mother never got up in the morning, so I usually missed the school bus and had to get there on the city bus. Those places were so big… I used to be so small. There was a lovely little shop on the corner – a building I remember burning in an apparent arson when I was a girl – so I thought I’d find something to mark the occasion. I discovered a sweet card intended for a newborn, and I realized that is what this day was – a rebirth. I decided to mark the occasion with a gift to myself and bought the card and a cheap bangle bracelet. I steeled myself for the next step and walked back up the block to my old house.

The magnolia my mother planted the year I was born has grown almost to the third floor. The bars were still there but there was the sweetest little dog asleep in the dining room window who perked right up as I stood there to take a picture. I was weeping the most cleansing tears. The little girl wasn’t there anymore. She’s happy now. She’s healing. She’s whole. I felt like an honest to god grownup, ready to move on and live life without that sad little girl hanging off my skirt. I scanned the house looking for traces of my old world when a young man came out of the house to smoke on the stoop. I had a lovely conversation with him about the house that belongs to his family now. I don’t know if he noticed the tears behind my glasses and sweat.

I called my boyfriend and texted my therapist to let them know what I had done. It felt amazing. I was released. I was liberated. I am free.

I wept all the way back to Copley Square then proceeded to recount the experience to a dear friend I spent the day with. We went into my old church and chatted with the receptionist before going into the sanctuary to say a prayer of thanks. I’m not really a praying kind of girl, but this day was extraordinary, and that church was as much my home as any other place – I found real sanctuary there for many years. My gratitude fills me. My liberation is like this incredible gift I never dreamed I’d receive although I write that with the knowledge that this is no gift. This was hard-fought and hard-won. I busted my ass to get this far. I worked like a beast to battle demons and ghosts, misunderstanding, sanctimony, judgement, rejection, loss… I won.

I know I’m not done yet. I have plenty of work left to do and there will be ups and downs for sure, but I’ve made tremendous strides and I’m pretty freaking proud of how far I’ve come.


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Will I ever stop chasing the little girl I was? I wish I could stop her from feeling all the hurt, change her path so she might find an easier way. I guess it isn’t up to me. All I can do is work to heal the woman she has become.

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I feel like I’m on the verge of something dangerous.  I’m so conflicted about the possibility of my therapy ending that a huge part of me just wants to throw in the towel now.  My therapist said she wouldn’t leave me in the lurch – she said she’d take me on as a pro-bono client if we couldn’t get approved for additional sessions.  I am grateful for that, but I still feel so much uncertainty about it.  Maybe I’m just scared because things got tough and this is an easy out?  I am scared.  I’m scared to continue, I’m scared to stop, I’m scared to move.

I saw an old friend last night.  We were best friends in high school and I haven’t seen him in nearly ten years.  The last time I saw him was in the weeks surrounding the death of my foster mother (who was also a very dear friend and mother-figure to him).  We keep in touch on facebook, but it is all very superficial.  I feel like he is someone who really knows me.  Someone who knew me before I became all the different characters I’ve played in my life.  Someone who knows the person I”d like to rediscover.

We met at the bar, because his visit was short and he was under a lot of pressure to visit too many people, so he just said to everyone – meet me at the bar Wednesday night if you want to see me.  I was agonizing about whether to go or not.  I loathe social interactions in general, and showing up at the local bar felt like a LOT of pressure for me.  I worried that there would be people there I don’t get along with – people I used to know who never really liked me and vice versa…  I drank a beer before I left home and put on some eyeliner and mascara for armor and steeled myself for the worst.  I couldn’t bring myself to pull in the parking lot.  I drove past and parked at the drugstore for a few minutes while I made up my mind to go back.  Eventually, I did.  I’m glad I did.  The first ones there were his aunt and cousins and a friend from high school that I didn’t hate.  I knew most of them from childhood, so it was more comfortable than I had feared.  His mom and more cousins came in and I was buffered by people that felt like family, so it was ok.  His Ma was asking who one girl was and I replied “you know her, one of the twins with the dad who was principal and smacked the kids around?”   Oops.  I have a pretty big voice.  Everyone shushed me, and if the girl overheard, she had the grace not to acknowledge it.  It was a pretty big deal back in the day – he ended up being prosecuted for it years later but when we were in school it was the norm.

My gaffe wasn’t quite as bad as his cousin K’s… my friend, K and I went out to smoke a cigarette and ran into one of their distant cousins that he didn’t immediately recognize.  He was in his twenties, very gaunt, pretty grungy and missing most of his teeth.  They went through the obligatory “oh, you’re so-and-so’s boy” and figured it out before too long.  Then K pipes up “what happened to your teeth?”  In these parts, there are a lot of skinny young people with no teeth… methamphetamine abuse is rampant.  Alternately, you see people who have suddenly gained 80lbs… those are the ones who are on methadone for the prescription opiate abuse that was lately replaced with meth as the drug of choice.  My friend was mortified.  I just laughed… I mean, hey, it is their family… if you can’t be up front with your own kin, then what?

I drank two more beers and was feeling pretty good.  We told embarrassing stories from yesteryear and had some laughs.  My friend asked me to come hang out as his motel room for a while, confessing that I was the one he really wanted to see anyway.  It was strange.  I always used to be the one with my shit together – he was the basket case.  He was always drinking or smoking too much, getting his heart broken and crashing his car.  I was always the one picking up the pieces and making things right.  Now he has a steady job, gets along well with his family and has a great house and two dogs and two cats.  He couldn’t understand how things had gotten so bad for me.   We had no secrets back then, so he has always known about the abuse, but the way we talked about it then, it was normal.  It was just par for the course that shitty things had happened to us.  He said that looking back he could see I used to have disproportionate reactions to things – it all makes more sense to him now with the understanding of PTSD.  He used to get such a kick out of my exaggerated startle response and laughed his ass off surprising me and making me shriek.

What puzzled him is that I looked so normal.  He said that just looking at me he would never know that anything was wrong.  I think that is pretty significant – I mean, I’ve worked a lifetime to behave as if every thing is okay… I’m a pro at it.  He couldn’t understand that the evening going “well” for me meant that I spent it sitting on my hands with my heart pounding out of my chest.  That I agonized over every word that came out of my mouth and beat myself up, second-guessing every turn of phrase.  He couldn’t see how my stomach lurched whenever I caught anyone’s eye or how I panicked when someone spoke to me – so consumed with fear of responding appropriately that I barely caught everything they said.

And that’s when things are going *WELL*.  I didn’t run screaming from the room.  I didn’t burst out sobbing.  I didn’t scream at anyone or let slip any of the colorful adjectives I was using to describe them in my mind.  I didn’t vomit, fart or shit myself, so the evening was a success.

Today I’m paying the price.  Three beers, three cigarettes and staying out until 11 might as well have been a three day bender…  I had to get up early and get my son to his first driver’s ed class and take the truck to the garage.  The good news is that the repair was $150 less than expected.  The bad news is that the tires are worn down to the wires, it needs an alignment, most of the undercarriage looks like flaky pastry because the rust is so bad, the brakes are shot, the brake lines are rusted, the vacuum hose is broken, the oxygen sensor wire has been chewed by a mouse and there is a hole in the floor big enough to pass a hand through…  Oh, and it probably won’t pass inspection.


So, I’m panicked and overwhelmed and nervous and agitated and hung over and tired and angry and frustrated and confused and annoyed and just plain wiped out.  And I don’t know what to do.

I should be grateful that my mechanic is a sweet, honest man (and my ex) who genuinely cares about my safety and well-being.  I should be happy that the old heap is all paid for and even runs at all.  I should be thrilled that he made my son’s day by offering to sell him a 1984 VW for $100.  I am actually excited about the idea of him having the old car to work on and rebuild.  It will be a great learning experience for him and the car is old and simple enough for him to do the work himself.  He’ll be that much more inclined to take care of it and feel good about it if he does it himself.  I am less excited about the colossal task of cleaning out the garage to make room for the car…

I think things will be okay.  I think I’ll get it figured out.  I think I need a good night’s sleep.

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I was pretty vague in my post yesterday about the EMDR session.  I got a phone call on the way home from the school that my older boy had been in trouble on the bus again, so I was pretty distracted, but just wanted to jot down what happened to keep it fresh in my memory.  I’d like to take some time to process what I think the significance and common theme is.

It was a different session than the first time, but it was not less successful.  We started with the same target memory of sitting in my bathrobe looking out the window unable to get up and get in the shower.  The overwhelming feeling is helplessness and sadness.  I feel so stuck.  I know that I should get in the shower for all the most reasonable reasons, but I just don’t.  It is like there is something bigger than me holding me back from taking care of myself.

I told my therapist how intense the campaign was in my mind to suppress the memories and discredit myself, so we anticipated that it would affect the treatment.  When I closed my eyes and began this time, it was different.  It was less like I was experiencing memories and more like I was viewing images as if on a screen – step one in distancing myself, I guess.  There was no sound to the images, the soundtrack came from the propaganda campaign telling me with each successive image that there was  no significance, I was just making stuff up, I was doing it wrong, it was stupid.  I was stupid.  I  was drawn to the first image of the kind woman’s profile.  Her paper thin cheek drooped softly onto some vibrant wrap, framed by her wavy, light hair.  Her profile was similar to the well-known optical illusion of an old lady who can also be seen as a young lady.  There was something very familiar about her and I felt that she had something important to say, but the propaganda campaign (PC) kept pulling my away and degrading me for searching for meaning where there was none.  The space around her was also familiar, but nothing was really clear but the wrinkles on her cheek and the kindness in her eye as she turned to me.  I felt like I should try to draw her.

I subsequently flipped to a painting that a dear friend painted for me in the psych hospital.  Meeting him was like being introduced to part of my soul in a male body.  He *knew* me instantly.  We sang opera together, painted and exchanged snarky comments about our surroundings.  He painted a fun young woman in a hat, strolling down a street with echoes of a turn of the century French movie poster.  It felt like me as I wanted to be.

That image changed to a large square, divided diagonally in black and white which slowly became illuminated from the bottom left corner with red light.  The red light grew stronger and morphed into an angel.  The wings grew together to become a vivid red flower in the style of Georgia O’Keefe.  (I’ll leave you to imagine the derisive comments the PC made about how absurd I was to be having vagina imagery… oooh, this must be deep!  angels and flowers and bloody vaginas… I felt like such a fool.)  This shifted quickly to the moment of my younger son’s birth which I described yesterday.  This is where the images gain recognizable significance.

I was bombarded with intense, bloody images.  The first was an old woman’s face, wreathed in blood – bleeding from the neck.  It was not an image I recognize or remember.  Images followed of two situations where I helped injured strangers.

The first was an older man who appeared to be homeless.  I can’t remember exactly when or where this happened.  In my memories, the street looks like Boston, but for that to be the case, I would have had to be very young – at the most 14 years old.  I know it was a city and in the US, so it had to be either Boston or Pittsburgh when I was in college, but I’m leaning toward Boston.  I know it was before cell phones.  The man had fallen on the corner and was near a light post, partly in the street.  He was bleeding from the face and nose.  He was disoriented and smelled like alcohol.  People were just walking past him, averting their gazes.  I know that I stopped and spoke to him.  I tried to help him sit up, but he was big and confused.  A young man stopped, then and helped me.  We got him to sit on the curb and asked him if he was okay, where he was hurt, etc.  He wasn’t very coherent, but it was clear that he needed medical attention.  A policeman arrived then.  We told him the man needed an ambulance.  He scoffed.  He tried to explain to me that the man was a drunk and he was just going to fall down again.  There wasn’t any sense in helping him.  I was appalled.  I feel so sad remembering it.  So what if he was drunk?  He was injured.  He was bleeding.  He needed someone to help.  The officer finally agreed to call for help and I went on my merry way.

The next memory was from a few years ago.  I was on my way to work with my ex, S.  We saw a woman coming down the hill opposite us on a bicycle, then as she approached the metal bridge, she just disappeared from view.  We rounded the curve and stopped to find her sprawled on the bridge.  It was an old bridge, the surface was a metal grid, with holes about two inches square.  She had slipped and was thrown from the bike.  She was lying on her side with her long dark hair covering her face.  I spoke to her and touched her shoulder.  She rolled to her back and I saw her face as her hair fell away.  Her cheek and lip were cut in a perfect angle, like a cookie cutter had been pressed into her face.  I could see the fat and muscle under the skin.  There was a lot of blood.  She was mumbling in Spanish.  I could understand something about a child, something about a phone.  She wanted me to call someone.  She was saying numbers.  She said no hospital.  No police.  There is a big seasonal migrant worker community here – I wondered if she might be undocumented.  She was scared.  I tried to comfort her and keep her from moving while S. called for help.  He blocked the lane of traffic with his truck and another man stopped in the other direction and they kept cars moving.  She would shake and cry when cars went past – just feet away on the narrow little bridge.  It made a terrifying noise.  We call them singing bridges for the hum they make when cars go over them, but crouching there with her, it sounded more like a scream.  I asked S. for a cloth, something clean and he brought me a pile of paper napkins.  I pressed them to her face carefully to keep the wound together.  I hoped it would be better than nothing.  I was calm.  I just kept talking to her.  Telling her it was going to be okay.  I told her she would be taken care of.  I don’t know if she understood me, but I don’t think she believed me.  She was terrified.  She felt helpless and hopeless.  She moaned.  The ambulance came after an eternity.  They didn’t really want to hear what I had to say.  They said they’d figure it all out at the hospital.  I tried to tell them she was scared.

My knees were bruised from kneeling on the rough metal bridge.  I had blood on my clothes.  I stood up, lit a cigarette, got back in the truck and went to work.  I spent the day deadheading day lilies for a rich old lady because old ladies don’t like dead things.

I wanted to help those people.  I don’t know if I really did.  They still seemed helpless.  They still seemed like victims.  Like there were bigger things than them that were beyond their control.  I think that is the underlying theme.

Even the image of birth – it was a moment of powerlessness and inevitability.  I was there, I wanted to make a difference, but I couldn’t really change anything.  There were forces bigger than me that would keep things moving in a direction I couldn’t shift.  When I am depressed, resignation overwhelms me.  I drown in the feeling that I can’t change anything – that things are moving forward whether I want them to or not.

I feel good right now.  I have for a couple of weeks.  My body is lighter, I sit straighter, my head is clear.  I still feel upset and overwhelmed at times, but it doesn’t envelop me like a fog – it just is.  I feel such disdain for the person I was a few weeks back.  I don’t understand how I could *let* myself be paralyzed like that.  It feels like it was a different person.  At the same time, I know what that feeling is and I know I could sooner order a paraplegic to just walk out of her chair than to tell myself to just snap out of it when I am that bad.  I can’t imagine feeling so low, but I can’t shake the fear that it could hit again at any time.  It feels like something bigger than me that I can’t control that will keep moving forward no matter what I try to do to help.

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Yesterday was tough.  I was pretty overwhelmed with fear and panic about starting to deal with the breadth of my childhood trauma in this blog and in therapy.  I have to remember that some of my emotional reactions are stuck in second grade.  I managed to make it to therapy today and we continued the EMDR after we spoke a bit about my fears.  I recognize that it is not an easy process and the panic is part of it.  I’ve worked so hard to compartmentalize the abuse for so long and have been so successful at it that my brain is working overtime to stuff everything back in the moment it gets dragged out.

Today’s session was strange.  I was really stuck in my head on thoughts that I was doing it wrong.  The instant I thought of something I would react with a negative – that doesn’t mean anything, that’s stupid, you’re just making stuff up… it was rough.  I did have a very strong image of a woman.  I’m pretty sure it is someone I’ve known, but I couldn’t place a name, only a very tender, wise face and long, light, wavy hair.  The colors around her were familiar.  I was seeing a big square divided diagonally into black and white, then one corner started shining red.  The red light filled the image, then became an angelic figure, then a Georgia O’Keefe-esque flower which quickly shifted to a moment when I was giving birth to my younger son.

There was a moment in childbirth when I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed.  I genuinely felt like I couldn’t continue the labor.  I begged the doctor to make it stop.  I felt so utterly and completely helpless.  I was certain that I could not go on, yet there was no possibility of doing anything other than going on.   I couldn’t stop.  There were forces beyond my control dictating what was happening.  I could sooner order a volcano to stop erupting than stop giving birth at that moment.  Apparently, this moment is known as transition and happens to every woman – it doesn’t last long.

I also had memories of the playground at the Bancroft School I attended in Kindergarten and first grade.  Then I was sitting in a window in second grade, watching the playground and looking at green beans growing in styrofoam cups on the windowsill.  Then I thought of ice cream.  Then I was bombarded with bloody images.  An old lady bleeding from the neck, the homeless man who had fallen in the street that I helped once, the lady who fell on the bridge and split open her face…  I dropped the little paddles and opened my eyes and said I thought we should stop.

We took some time to process.  My therapist thinks I’m really strong.  She said I have plenty of experiences which could result in a PTSD reaction, even without considering the abuse.  I felt so strange afterward.  I had this huge lightness in my belly, like something needed to come up and out.  Not nausea, just a fullness.  I took a walk and stopped on the way home for an ice cream cone.  Chocolate/vanilla twist with chocolate jimmies – I think the rainbow ones taste like soap.

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any more than I want to be my diagnoses.  This journey is so wild – like a country road in frost heave season, I’m cruising along when I suddenly hit a bump that sends me flying in the air, coffee spilling and barely maintaining control of my course.  This is why I applied for disability.  I knew I needed time to heal – time that I could focus on my treatment and deal with the hard work of getting better.  Nevermind just how bad things had gotten and how incapable I was of holding a job…  But here I am.  This is my time to heal and get treatment and really work on finding a way to get back to a life where I can provide for my children and give back to society.  I have to believe that that day will come.

The sun is out.  This time of year is usually productive and relatively asymptomatic for me, so what better time to dive in and address the toughest issues in therapy?  Because I’m scared.

I’m 38 years old and I’m still scared of the people who abused me.  I’m scared to talk about what happened to me.  I’m scared that they might find out I’ve told.  I’m scared they will try to discredit me.  I’m even afraid I might not be telling the truth.  I battle this constant campaign in my mind, reminding me that I’m dramatic, I’m a liar, I can’t be trusted, I just want attention, I just want to hurt them, I just can’t admit that it was really my fault.  I made them do bad things to me.  I deserved what happened because I am a bad person.  I’m a bad girl.  I only got what was coming to me.

How do I fight that?  I close my eyes and doubt what I’ve just seen.  I have to open my eyes again to make sure the sky is still blue.

I have a hard time trusting my feelings.  I have a hard time trusting who I am.  I read back a few weeks and wonder who was that girl who couldn’t get out of her own tracks?  I don’t even feel like the same person.  But how close is it?  Is it inevitable that I’ll be back in bed?  Will it be today, tomorrow, next week?  Will I be able to wake up again?

I am suddenly terrified that I made this blog public to my friends and family.  What if they are reading it.  Will they believe me?  Will they talk about this?  Will this cause problems for others in my family?   I’m in a panic.  I want to cover my tracks.  I don’t want to go out.  I don’t want to answer my phone.  What have I done?

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No one wants to smell like garlic – in America, “garlic eaters” is a long-standing insult with implications of poverty, lack of sophistication and people who are not *normal*.  But I love garlic.  I eat garlic all the time.  I don’t think it reflects on my social standing, financial status or education.  I just like garlic.  I’m typing away with fingers that carry the lingering smell of garlic having prepared spaghetti sauce to simmer.  The smell is wafting through the house with echoes of comfort and warmth – not judgment and shame.

As a side note – I went to the grocery store the other day, armed with my mother’s gift card.  I decided to indulge myself.  I bought a set of bamboo cooking spoons and spatulas to replace those that the dog has managed to find and chew up, I picked up some expensive moisturizer, brand-name Q-tips, and a very special indulgence… a $12.99 garlic press.  It is magnificent.  It has heavy red-rubber gripped handles on a shiny steel body.  Best of all, on the reverse side, there is a red plastic prickly pad that reminds me of those funny building blocks I had when I was a kid.  You flip the press backwards, and the little prongs fit neatly into all the holes to push out any remaining garlic!  For readers who don’t use a garlic press – there is little more annoying than trying to gouge dried garlic out of those little holes to clean it…  So I have a fancy-schmancy new garlic press, and I love it!

But I still have smelly garlic fingers.  Should I be ashamed?  Does this make me a “garlic eater”?  What if I said I was mentally ill?  Should I be ashamed of that.  What if I said I was a victim of child abuse?  or worse, a victim of incest.

Yep.  That’s not one you want to put on a badge and wear proudly.  I was able to “come-out” about my mental illness.  I decided to challenge the stigma and deny the shame.  Let my friends carry the discomfort if they couldn’t avoid it, but I wanted to shed the heavy shell of shame I wore, hiding my situation.  While mental illness carries more than its share of stigma, there are public efforts to change that.  There has been a lot of advocacy to change the cultural views of mental illness over the years.  That can’t really be said for incest.

I cringe just writing the word.  This is the part of the PTSD that I really struggle to admit to – even to myself.  I know that I need to address it in therapy, but it absolutely terrifies me.  The feelings around child sexual abuse are SO complicated, conflicting and complex (and maybe a touch redundant 😉 that I can barely wrap my brain around them enough to think about it, never mind start talking about it in therapy.

I might encourage others to bare their scars, but I recognize that scars can be deep and strange and represent so many things.   Sometimes they say “Hey, I’m a freak!”,  sometimes they say “Don’t ask, you don’t want to know”, sometimes, they are best left covered.  For me, baring my scars says that this shame is not mine to carry.  I have mental illness, but I am not mentally ill.  I was a victim of sexual abuse – I am not a sexual abuser.  I am who I am with all my warts and scars – a complicated, confused and creative individual who loves and hurts and breathes.  Just like you *normal* folks.

I was feeling pretty sunny and optimistic this morning when I commented on Gemma’s post – but it got me thinking that scars are more complicated than I thought.

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