Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fourth of July 2017: A Time of Political Turmoil and Uncertainty for Mental Health Services

By the end of this day, I will have lived through 78 Fourth of July holidays, some more fun than others and some more eventful than others.  When I was a kid living in Longview, Washington, a lumber mill town, I delighted in the annual parade, orange popsicles with juice that ran down my chin, and the huge evening fireworks display over Lake Sacajawea that ended with Uncle Sam and the American flag.  As a young parent, I took joy in providing my own children with some of the Fourth-of-July fun I enjoyed in my own childhood.  So how do I feel about my life this Fourth of July in 2017?

Frankly, I'm scared!  My fear has nothing to do with the holiday itself but has everything to do with our nation's present political climate and attitude towards the issue of providing mental health help for folks who need it.  I'm lucky, incredibly lucky.  For once, being old has been a huge advantage for me: when I decided to do whatever I needed to do to alleviate my PTSD symptoms, I discovered that Medicare would pay 80% of my psychologist's bills and that my Medicare supplement would pay the rest.  After paying my deductible for the year, I could have the peace of mind resulting from knowing that the cost of my therapy would be completely covered!  I could fully devote my energy to alleviating my C-PTSD symptoms and not worry about the expense.

But now, what now?  Mental health care for millions of citizens under age sixty-five and not eligible for Medicare is on the line in Congress right now, right this day. Included among these millions of citizens are probably thousands of citizens who are battling the symptoms of Complex PTSD, many of whom have not received a diagnosis and are unaware of what it is they are battling.  They may be suffering symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, and symptoms of DID, including loss of time, and they may be self-medicating themselves with street drugs or alcohol in their attempt to feel better.  Right now, under the present government health insurance system, people can, under optimum conditions, go to a public clinic to see a psychologist or psychiatrist to get a diagnosis.  Chances are, they could also get a minimal amount of therapy.  I know that in my state, Washington, people can go to community clinics for this help. 

I also know, though, that if money to support these community clinics becomes scarce or nonexistent, many people with undiagnosed Complex PTSD or even "simple" PTSD will be lost in the shuffle, unable to connect with a competent and effective source of help.  Resources in the community clinics in my state may be stretched so thinly that covering basic physical ailments of patients may be difficult, and people with mental health issues may receive little to no care.  Yes, right now the future looks grim for those who need competent help dealing with mental health issues. 

So if the worst happens, if funding dries up for people who need and seek mental health help and who don't have the funds or the private insurance to afford this help, then what?  Frankly, I don't know.  At best, maybe private foundations will step in to fund mental health clinics; at worst, clinics will close and help will disappear.  People suffering symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD will, in that case, need to figure out how best to survive.  Those who act out and cause social problems may be put into holding tanks of some sort.  That's the worst possible scenario I can imagine.  I just don't know what the answer might be when it comes to future mental health care.  What I do know is that contacting our senators and representatives and letting them know how we feel about this matter is absolutely essential!










Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Postscript to "Breaking Free":

You may wonder why, in "Breaking Free," I made just one brief reference to trauma symptoms related to abuse.  While the symptoms of Complex PTSD have been part of my life until recently, I did not discuss them in the essay because the thrust of the essay is to show why and how I was able to move from being a victim to being a survivor.  I feel that discussing Complex PTSD in the same essay would be a distraction and would not be helpful to those who may want to focus on my description of how I stopped the violence in my home and survived to shape my  life and make it what I wanted it to be. 

This morning, as I thought about this essay and about Complex PTSD and its symptoms, I realized that for most of my seventy-seven years, I have lived two lives--my "outer" life that has been visible to everyone and my "inner" life that has contained my struggle to prevent the C-PTSD symptoms from rendering me nonfunctional.  For the most part, I have been able to keep the two lives from interfering with each other, but I understand now how much energy that has taken and how spending the energy on that has caused me to miss out on some aspects of life that bring joy to many people. 

For example, socializing has always been difficult for me because social interactions often have triggered my Complex PTSD responses. Thus, I have avoided many interactions that might have been fun and interesting simply because I was afraid I might be triggered and then behave badly.  In one instance of this, I was enjoying my cup of coffee after the church service one Sunday in the mid-1990s when the husband of a good friend came up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder.  Before I could think, I automatically tried to deck the man and spewed a string of curse words that would make a sailor turn pale.  The shocked parishioners had no idea why I did that, nor did I.  I ran from the church and was so mortified that I never went back.  I missed attending church and singing in the choir, but I didn't miss the experience enough to return.  My shame was more than I could bear, and I felt like the lepers I had read about in Sunday School when I was a little girl--a person to avoid at all times. 

Now that I have alleviated my symptoms, however, and have learned how to understand and manage myself when I am in a triggering situation, I have the inner energy to find more joy in life.  I have written over one hundred posts for this blog, many of which are on the topic of the process I went through to heal my PTSD to the point where I have been able to stop therapy.  if you are interested in this topic, please read my earlier posts.  Best wishes! 


Monday, February 8, 2016

Breaking Free: How I Was Taught to Be a Victim and, With God's Help, Learned to Be a Survivor


            Like perhaps some of you reading this or listening to my story, I was abused as a child and abused as a wife.  I separated from my husband of twenty years in 1981, finalized my divorce in 1983, and for the past thirty-some years I have been trying to make sense of the first forty-two years of my life.  In addition to making sense of my past, I have been telling my story so that others who are also struggling to make sense of their own abusive pasts may find information and insights that will help them do so.  In this essay, I focus on the one aspect of my story which I believe may be most helpful to the reader or listener, the process by which I left behind the role of victim and took upon myself the role of survivor.
Part I: “Just the way life was”
For many of us in my generation, our mothers taught us whatever social skills we possessed.  Our mothers also, perhaps unwittingly, carefully taught us their own attitudes and views regarding relationships, gender roles, and acceptable social interactions.  Unfortunately, to my mother, the victimization of females, be they children or adults, was “just the way life was.”   

When I look back into my early childhood, I remember the hushed, euphemism-filled discussions as my mother and her bridge-playing friends ate their eggless wartime chocolate cake, drank their brew of chicory and coffee from Spode cups, and tried to keep me from understanding what they were saying.  Granted, I didn’t understand specifically what they were talking about at the time, but what they didn’t know was that the tape recorder in my head was busy recording and filing memories of their conversations for future reference.
As a very young child, listening during the card games and the breaks for refreshment, I didn’t remember words so much as I remembered the atmosphere, the shadowed and dark tones of women’s voices as they uttered words such as “divorcee” and “adultery.”  Even though I didn’t know what the words themselves meant, I knew that any woman who was a divorcee or an adulteress was a bad, bad woman.  I don’t recall overhearing anything negative about the male role in relationships, maybe because the bridge club women accepted the prevailing social truth of their time and socio-economic class: women had no power, and wives could only accept their situations and do their best to deal with whatever men dished out.  Men fought in the war, men brought home the paycheck, and women depended on men for their existence. No, the bridge club ladies didn’t solve any social problems, but their conversations over dessert certainly helped shape my own attitudes, including a belief that women were powerless and men could do whatever they wanted to women and get away with it. 
As I was growing up, I regarded my mother as a more independent thinker than many of her peers.  She had worn slacks rather than dresses most of her life and had begun to smoke while still in her teens, during the 1920s.  She was also an atheist.  When I was a girl, I saw her as having broken from the societal chains of her time.  Indeed, she made clear to me that I need not feel limited by my gender in my choice of career or course of study when I was a college student.  As a teenager, I remember considering myself lucky that I had a mother who appeared more liberated than the mothers of some of my friends.  After all, she didn’t expect me to be a home economics teacher or a nun when I grew up.   

The image I had of my mother took a shocking 180-degree turn, however, the day in 1981 when I told her I had reported my husband for sexually abusing our daughter.  In response to my words, she said, “Well, she must have seduced him.”  I suddenly realized, then, that a part of my mother was rooted in the era in which some people saw women as being completely responsible for their own victimization.  Later, after I had a chance to reflect and remember, other bits of evidence to support this came to me.  Her response in the early 1950s to the local newspaper’s story of a young woman’s rape was, “I’m sure she asked for it.”  In telling me a brief story about being “felt up” when she was a girl, she ended by saying, “That was what men did.  I should have known better.”   

To my mother, then, men were off the hook for their sexual misbehavior, and females, including my mother and including young girls, were totally to blame for any sexual abuses they suffered at the hands of males.  Blame the victim!  For not being smart enough to have avoided the situation?  For having been born female?  For what?  She died in 1995, and I never asked her those questions. 

I knew then, after talking to my mother in 1981, why she had never taught me how not to be a victim.  Being female and being a victim were synonymous in her mind, and she never progressed in her thinking  beyond that concept.  She couldn’t have taught me to be any different from herself in that respect because she didn’t know how to be different, and even if she had the knowledge, the subject of sexual abuse was typically off-limits between mothers and daughters in the 1940s and 1950s.  The existence of domestic violence or abuse of any sort was a social best-kept secret, one which no public agency, including the police department in my home town, was willing to discuss.   

Part II:  My heart speaks the truth 

Looking back, I recognize the horrendous neglect and abuse I endured as a child and later as a wife, and yet, because I was not taught to recognize abuse for what it was, I did not see myself as a victim.  This, despite my having been sexually violated by the neighbor woman and her grown son when I was four years old.  I never told my mother about this because I knew she would blame me and spank me.  As a result, I lived with the secret for almost forty years, suffering all the time from the symptoms arising from unhealed psychological trauma.   

I was not actively sexually abused In my childhood home; however, abuse presented itself in many other forms.  The physical abuse, the neglect, the put-downs, and the yelling were just “the way life was” for children in my household who were unfortunate enough to have been born female.  Later, when I was a wife and mother, the name-calling, yelling, and sexual battering my husband dished out to me were simply a continuation of “the way life was.”  Only when I walked in on my husband in the act of molesting our daughter that April day in 1981 was I finally shocked into seeing that “the way life was” was a lie and recognizing the roles of my parents and my husband and society in general in perpetuating that lie.   

At that moment in April of 1981, when I witnessed my daughter being victimized, I acknowledged and accepted what I had learned in Sunday School in the 1940s and had known in my heart all my life: Nobody, male or female, deserves to be cast in the role of victim. Even I did not deserve to be victimized.  I credit my Sunday School teachers for teaching this to me by example and by intentional instruction.  My Sunday School teachers were always kind to me, never yelled at me, never hurt me, and were always glad to see me.  They hugged me, gave me cookies, and smiled at me.  They loved me, and I loved them.  They taught me that God loved me no matter what. In my child mind I figured that even if my parents didn’t love me, at least God and my Sunday School teachers did, and if they loved me, then there must be something about me worth loving.   

Yes, just as a beautiful flower may grow unnoticed beneath the topsoil until it suddenly comes to full bloom and makes its presence known, so did that lesson I learned in Sunday School so long ago suddenly make itself known and guide me in the direction I knew I needed to go. 

Part II:  With God’s guidance . . .   

The evening of Thursday, April 9th, 1981, had begun very much as most Thursday evenings in our home had begun.  After my husband, our young teenage daughter, and I had eaten dinner, I cleared the table and then put some clothes into the washer.  My husband did some chores outside and then came in to check on our daughter’s homework.  At some point, he and our daughter went into the tv room, sat on our sagging old couch, and began watching a program.  I continued to work in the kitchen and do laundry.   

Later, I loaded clothes from the dryer into a basket and decided to join the rest of my family to watch television. As I stepped over the threshold of the family room, however, I froze.  Although the light in the room was off, the flickering of the tv screen caught the terror in my daughter’s eyes and the guilt on my husband’s face as they abruptly sat up.  At that moment, I felt as if all my bodily functions stopped and I was suspended in time, frozen.  My instincts told me to stay out of that room, and I backed into the hall.  I was not sure what was happening, but I knew that evil was there in that room, and I needed to get out and away.   

Stunned, I walked into the dimly lit kitchen, sat at the table, and automatically began folding clothes.  Later, my daughter trudged silently up the stairs to her room, and my husband went outside to work in the barn.  I followed my daughter and helped her get ready for bed.  I said nothing about the incident to either of them at the time because I needed some time to figure out what I had seen and how I would deal with the situation. I knew, however, that from that point on, I would not leave my daughter alone at any time with her father.  Before I took any action based on what I had witnessed in the family room, though, I needed to talk to my daughter without my husband being present.   

The next day, Friday, I had no opportunity to talk to my daughter by herself because my husband came home early, before she came home from school, and did not let either of us out of his sight.  On Saturday morning, however, he decided after breakfast to dig post holes in our pasture.  He tried to get our daughter to go with him, but I insisted that she had chores to do in the house, and he didn’t force the issue.   

After my husband had headed for the field and I was convinced he would be gone a while, I sat with my daughter at our kitchen table and questioned her as gently as I could without revealing the chaos and anxiety wracking my psyche. 

“What is your daddy doing to you?” I asked her, hoping she would tell me something other than the truth.  I knew what I had seen, but I was hoping with all my heart that I had drawn the wrong conclusions. 

At first, my daughter would not look me in the eyes and would not answer my question.  To reassure her, I took her hands in mine and told her what I had seen.  Then she talked to me.  

“Daddy told me that if I told you, you would be jealous and wouldn’t love me anymore,” she sobbed. 

“Did you believe him?”  I asked. 

“Yes,” she replied quietly, eyes downcast. 

“Well, I’m not jealous, and I do love you.  Do you believe that?”  I responded, holding her in my arms. 

“Yes, I believe that now, but Daddy made me believe everything he told me.  He said he was doing those things to me because he cared about me and wanted to help me learn about men,” she replied, a note of doubt in her voice.  Looking back, I remember wondering how my husband could possibly have come up with such an innocent and innocuous seeming justification for an act of pure evil.  Years later, I learned that these very same words were often used by child molesters in their attempts to gain their victims’ trust.   

“After we got back from Germany—that’s when he started,” she volunteered.  We had returned to our small town in Washington State from our two-year residence in West Berlin, Germany, in August of 1978.  Our daughter was eleven years old then and beginning to show signs of entering puberty.   

“Was I at home when he did those things to you?”  I couldn’t recall any times when my husband had behaved in any way that made me even the slightest bit suspicious when he was alone with our daughter.  But, then, the idea that any father would sexually victimize his own child had never entered my head.  Incest was simply a topic that was beyond my ken, and even later, after I had reported my husband, I still had difficulty believing the reality of incest in my own home.   

On Sunday, my daughter and I went to church for the Palm Sunday service, and then after I had prepared a big dinner, I took her to a movie in the afternoon. Then, when we got home, my daughter and I ate, and she went to bed.  I stayed up to make sure that my husband stayed away from her room, and I made sure he was sound asleep before I went to bed on the couch in the tv room.   

On Monday, after my husband had gone to work and my daughter had gone to school, I called a social worker and told her what had happened.  She wanted to report the incident immediately, but I told her I wanted to confront my husband when he came home from work that evening and report him myself.  She told me that if I did not call her by ten on Tuesday morning, she would report him.  I agreed and assured her that I would protect my daughter. 

My husband came home around eight that Monday evening of April 13th.  I was not certain how I would handle the situation.  What would I say?  What would I do?  Would he become violent and grab one of his guns and shoot us?  There was that possibility.  He had a pistol and two rifles in his closet in our bedroom, and he was an experienced hunter and marksman.  Did I have the courage to confront him?    

All these thoughts raced through my mind like electricity through a hot wire, and along with the thoughts erupted an anger the intensity of which I did not know I was capable.  All I could think of was the fact that this man, this selfish, selfish man, took advantage of a little girl who needed him to be a dad and not a lover.  As the anger and the adrenalin coursed through my body, I struggled to control my rage, knowing that the only quality that separated me from murderers behind bars was my self control.  And then, as my husband came through the back door, I felt an amazing peace settle over me as if somebody had draped a soft, warm shawl over my shoulders and had lightly laid a hand on my hair.  “Perhaps this is the ‘peace that passeth understanding’ I had learned about in church, God’s peace,” I remember thinking.    

At that moment and in that room, I sensed God’s presence and I thought I heard somebody weeping softly.  I knew then that I could do nothing less than confront my husband and report him to the police.  As I walked from the front room into the kitchen to meet my husband, I was calm and my voice was strong.  I quietly took my husband’s hand and invited him to come into the living room and sit on the couch with me.  

After we had sat down, I looked him in the eye and gently said, “I know what you have been doing to our daughter.”  At those words, he began to sob.  He repeated over and over, “Don’t turn me in.  I don’t want to go to jail.  Let me stay here.”  I told him that staying in our home would not be possible because I knew the abuse had gone on for several years and I could not trust him to suddenly stop the abuse.  He pleaded with me, asking me if he could stay on the condition that I shadow him all the time to make sure he did not abuse our daughter again.  I told him that neither she nor I would live under those conditions and that I was going to report his behavior to the police immediately.    

When he realized that I was serious about calling the police, he played on my sympathy, saying that he had a compulsion and his behavior was beyond his control.  Did I really want to turn him in when he had a sickness and couldn’t help what he did?  I told him that what he wanted made no difference to me; I had to protect our daughter from further harm.  Later, when he was taking his bath, I called the police. 

The police officer who took my call did not seem to feel that the situation I described was an emergency, and he told me that in the morning an officer would come to our home and arrest my husband.  My daughter, her father, and I would be sleeping under the same roof one more night.  The thought of spending another night with my husband terrified me and also disgusted me, but I had nowhere to go with my daughter to spend the night—not enough money of my own to rent a motel room and no family nearby.  There also was no room at what was left of the under-funded county women’s shelter.  

By this time it was nine at night, so I had no choice but to keep watch through the night once more. I checked on my daughter upstairs and told her to stay in her room and I would protect her.  Then I waited with her until I knew my husband was asleep before I settled into my makeshift bed on the television room couch.   

Shortly after my daughter left for school on Tuesday morning, April 14th, a police car arrived, and two officers came into our home, cuffed my husband, and took him to the station.  He was gone for a short time and then returned home to pack some of his clothes and a few other belongings.  He said nothing, and I didn’t ask him any questions.  I was relieved to see him leave.   

When my daughter returned from school, I told her that she and I would be living together in our house and that she no longer needed to worry about her father making advances toward her.  She was relieved at that news, but she also blamed herself for her father’s leaving our home. To make matters more complicated, she was angry at me, also, because I had called the police and had turned him in.  She knew that what her father had done was wrong, but at the same time, she blamed herself and me for the breakup of our family.  I knew then that not only did my husband need mental health help but that my daughter and I needed help, also.  My daughter was thirteen, and I suspected that she and I had some rough years ahead of us!  
 
The next day, Wednesday, April 15th, my daughter and I were called to the police station so that she could give her account of what had happened.

At three o’clock we were ushered into what I can only surmise was an interrogation room, a starkly bare room containing four straight-back wooden chairs, a small wooden table, and a shaded light bulb that hung down from the ceiling.  I remember wondering at the time if we were going to be treated like suspects.  I soon knew the answer to my question. 

My daughter was interviewed twice that afternoon, each time by a uniformed male police detective.  Prior to the first interview, the detective apologized for his defective tape recorder, and during his interview he used the failure of the recorder as justification for repeating certain questions.  I realized later that his recorder probably was not truly defective, but in asking my daughter to repeat her replies, he was trying to see if she gave consistent answers.  This was his way of determining whether or not she was telling the truth.  The questions themselves were direct—“What did  your daddy do to you?  How many times per week did he do this?  Did you like it?”—and often she could only sob in response.  Her crying frustrated the detectives and caused them to put pressure on her to be more cooperative.  Finally, after more than an hour of being interrogated, the police told us we could go home and that a detective would visit us soon to have her sign a written copy of her interview.  

As we left the police station, I wondered to myself why I had not been interviewed.  After all, I had witnessed the abuse, and I had reported my husband’s behavior.  Why had nobody talked to me and asked for specific information regarding what I had seen?  I could only assume that for some reason my testimony was deemed irrelevant.  Strange, I thought.  Strange, also, that my husband had been interviewed on Tuesday but my daughter, the victim, had not been interviewed until the next day, Wednesday.  

Easter Sunday came and went.  As I walked to work on Easter Monday, I reflected on the fact that unlike many women who find themselves suddenly single parents, I was fortunate because I had a job.  My job was not full time, but at least I had a stable financial base—or so I thought.  I had no reason to believe otherwise.  Shortly after I arrived at work that day, however, I realized that my financial stability was not as secure as I had thought:  My boss let me know that he was retiring and closing his office.   He was sorry that I would be left without employment, but since he had been paying into the unemployment fund, he knew I would qualify for unemployment benefits.  He also told me he would give me two months’ pay as severance pay.  To give him credit, he was generous and he truly was sorry I would be out of work.  As I left the office that day, however, I felt as if somebody had pulled the plug in a giant bathtub and I was being swept down the drain and into the sewer.   

The days of that week ground slowly by, and my daughter and I waited for the police to come by with the statement for her to sign.  She became increasingly nervous and irritable because ever since she had been interviewed by the police, she was afraid of law enforcement officers.  At first, I couldn’t understand why the police were taking so long to bring her the statement, but I discovered later that the police were watching our house at night to see if I was letting my husband into the bedroom through the window.  In other words, they had not brought the paper to my daughter because they first wanted to make sure I was not in collusion with my husband.  This did not make sense to me.  If I had been in collusion with my husband, then why would I have turned him in?  Surely, if he and I had been in collusion and I had reported him, he would have retaliated by reporting me. No, nothing about our situation made much sense to my daughter or to me.  She and I simply wanted to put the whole criminal case behind us and get on with our lives.   

Finally, on the Friday after Easter a police car drove up to our house, and an officer brought us the papers.  My daughter and I read them, and she signed them.  Now, surely, our lives could take an upward swing, and we could establish a rhythm for our lives and move on.  

Part III:  A Gift from God 

Despite having my moments of pessimism, I am, basically, an optimist.  This trait possibly has saved my life, for even at the darkest times I have, like Pollyanna, managed to find a ray of light, hope, to help me avoid dropping into the pits of depression.  I also am firm in my religious faith, and suicide has never been an option I have seriously considered because I believe I have no right to take my own life.  My life is a God-given gift, and it is up to me to use my gift responsibly for the benefit of others and myself.  That is my belief.   

Thus, in 1981, keeping this belief in mind and no longer being subject to the opinions or demands of any earthly “significant other,” I did what I wanted and needed to do--pulled on my “big girl panties” and decided to face the future.  In the process of facing the future, I began to truly appreciate my God-given gift of life with all its possibilities and opportunities.  But first, before I could do anything about my future, put my gift to work, and find those opportunities, I needed a reason to get up in the morning and a plan to keep me functional.   

Of course, I was now a single parent, solely responsible for helping my daughter deal with the aftermath of her father’s behavior and also for guiding her through her teenage years.  I needed to get up in the morning and function effectively for her sake.  However, I also was responsible for taking care of myself because after my daughter was on her own and the child support and unemployment checks stopped, I would need to prepare myself for a career, one that I truly enjoyed and that would, I hoped, provide a small pension in addition to my Social Security retirement check.  This, I knew, was a tall order, but I knew it was a goal I could accomplish if I planned carefully.   

So one day in May, I sat down at my kitchen table with paper and pencil and made my plan.  First, my daughter and I had enough money coming in to provide the basics of a roof over our heads and money to cover the utility bills.  Food and clothing?  Those two items were more problematic, but between my garden and the food bank, we had food to eat.  And thanks to my daughter’s Godmother, my daughter had a few nice articles of clothing.  We bought other clothing at the thrift store.  My husband was required by the court to pay for our therapy, so we did not have to worry about that.  The fact that he had pled guilty to molesting our daughter and was on probation also meant that I was assured of getting the child support and my small maintenance check on time each month.  Thus, materially, we were in pretty good shape.  I, however, needed to come up with a plan for my days now that I was unemployed, and I needed to look ahead and decide upon a career direction.   

Looking back, now, I can see once again the hand of God in my life, for I decided to volunteer at the Salvation Army and at Green Hill.  Both these volunteer jobs helped give me references for the position I applied for at Centralia Community College a few years later. The Salvation Army was happy to have my help in their food bank, and I worked there two days per week.  I enjoyed the work.  Bagging powdered milk and flour were messy jobs, but they were simple.  Those jobs and the others I did at the Salvation Army were low-stress, and as I worked, I could think about my future.  The staff members were friendly and seemed to enjoy my company, and I liked being with them.  Even though I received no pay for my work, I made friends, gained satisfaction from completing my simple tasks, and felt good because I knew that what I was doing was helping people survive hard times.  In addition, my daughter and I were in effect adopted by the Salvation Army captain and his family.  This new friendship took away some of the isolation and the pain I felt from being shunned by my own mother and by my husband’s family.   

My other major volunteer project, tutoring a teenager who was spending time in a juvenile offender facility, kept me busy on two of the days when I was not working at the Salvation Army.  In the process of trying to help the young man with his reading, I discovered that he was severely dyslexic and was reading sentences backward.  I did my best to help him, but because I had no training in the area of special education and helping people with learning disabilities, I could not do much for him.  However, in telling his counselor about my discovery, I may have helped him more than I was aware at the time. At least, I hoped that was the case. 

With looking for work, volunteering, raising my daughter, attending therapy sessions, and attending church on Sundays, I was busy every day and had good reason to get out of bed each morning.  I believe that what helped me avoid depression and, possibly, bypass an inherited family tendency toward alcoholism was the structure I had put in place to give me reasons for getting out of bed and to force me to try new activities and interact with people I would not have otherwise met.    

Finally, in 1983, my search for employment paid off.  I saw a notice in the local paper stating that the community college was hiring people to work part time in the learning center.  The work involved one-on-one contact with students who were earning their GEDs and their high school completion certificates.  Since I had a variety of teaching experiences behind me, including working with adults who wanted to learn English, I thought I might have a chance, so I applied.  I went through the interview process and was hired.  Granted, the job was not full time, but that did not matter to me.  Any money coming in was welcome, and I wanted the experience the work would give me.  Perhaps later I could get more hours, I told myself.  In the meantime, I had a job that I knew I would enjoy.  One step at a time.   

About the same time I began working at the college, my daughter was beginning to see possibilities for her own life.  After school, she helped the neighbor by cleaning out the horse stalls in her stable.  In exchange, the neighbor taught her how to ride.  That summer my daughter worked in a federal teen employment program and earned the money to buy herself a horse, which the neighbor boarded for her.  From then on, my daughter was occupied after school and on weekends caring for her horse and mucking out stalls of all the horses in the stable.  She also met other girls her age who had horses and formed new friendships, some of which she still has today, some thirty years later.    

Having a horse to care for and ride gave my daughter a sense of purpose, something she desperately had needed since our family structure had changed so dramatically.  As a result, I believe, of tending her horse and working for the neighbor, she began the process of reclaiming her life and finding a direction for herself.   

And then one spring Sunday in 1985, I knelt at the communion rail at St. John’s Episcopal Church and asked God’s blessing on a decision I had made:  My work at the Centralia College Phoenix Center was so satisfying and made me feel so happy that I decided to attend graduate school to prepare myself for a career in teaching remedial writing to adults who were, as I was, trying to find a new direction for their lives.  As I left the communion rail, I felt in my heart that God had blessed my decision.   

When I returned home that day, I told my daughter about my decision and let her know that I would not leave her until she and I agreed that she was ready and able to live her life without my guidance.  She was excited at the prospect of living on her own, and together we planned that I would sell the house, we would move into separate apartments, and then we would live apart for a year before I left for school.  During that year, I would be available to help her adapt to life on her own and to the responsibilities of maintaining her own household.  As long as she stayed in school, the child support check would pay for her rent and utilities.  I could help her with groceries and clothing.  Without having a house to maintain, I would be free for that year to save some money and would have the time to do the paperwork required for admission into graduate school.   

Thus, by 1986 my daughter and I each had a sense of direction, and we knew we had a bit of time to get used to this new direction.  I sold the house and put what little profit I made into covering move-in expenses for my daughter and me.  By fall of 1987, I began my graduate program at WSU, and my daughter began working full time and earning her high school certificate at the community college.   

By 1991, I had earned two graduate degrees and was working full time at Walla Walla Community College.  I enjoyed my work, earned enough money to maintain myself and help my daughter, and I had a retirement fund.  In 2003 I was old enough to draw my Social Security and draw a small annuity check from my teacher’s pension each month to supplement my Social Security, so I retired, eager to discover what other tasks God had in mind for me.   

Part V: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6 KJV) 

For His Sake…
I am but one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do, I ought to do.
What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.
Lord, what will you have me do?

A couple of days ago, as I was thinking about how I would conclude this essay, the words of this prayer I learned in the 1940s drifted back to me.  Actually, the prayer is the motto of the Junior Daughters of the King, an Episcopal order for girls which I belonged to from the time I was about seven years old until I started high school and thoughts of other matters claimed my attention.  Upon remembering this prayer, I understood, at least in part, why I have never given up on life and why I have maintained a spirit of hope even in my darkest hours:  I have always known in my heart that God put me here for a purpose and that I had lessons to learn and lessons to share with others.  How could I fulfill my purpose if I gave up on life?   

And now that I am coming to the natural end of my life, I also understand why I have written this essay and others:  They are my way of sharing what I have learned in this life, my gift to the pool of human wisdom, and my way of fulfilling my purpose.   

Stopping the domestic violence in my home did not ensure that my daughter and I have lived “happily ever after.”  We haven’t.  We have both experienced many bumps in the road between 1981 and the present.  However, after breaking free from the violence in our home and gaining the confidence to direct our own lives, we have been able to live relatively free from the fear that paralyzes and enslaves those who are cast in the role of victim and who are too scared to act and think for themselves—too frightened to even know their purposes much less fulfill them. 

Toward the goal of freeing those who are fettered by the chains of domestic violence, I offer this prayer:
 

A Prayer for Victims and Survivors
of Abuse and Domestic Violence

 

Oh Lord, You hold a special place in Your heart for little children; please hear this prayer. We ask that You grant us the strength, courage, and powers of discernment necessary to protect and cherish any Little Ones we encounter who are in need of our help. We ask, too, that you grant us the insight to know how to give comfort and help to those who are no longer children but whose hearts and souls suffer the pain of childhood abuse each day they live.

For all the innocent little children who are at this moment being victimized—

May God’s hands hold your souls, shield them from evil, and keep them pure;

May God’s beauty and strength flow into your bodies and take away your pain and your shame;

May God’s peace form a blanket around your minds and shield you from the horror, chaos, and confusion that accompany exploitation and violation of innocence.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

For all the people who as innocent children were victimized and who now
struggle to reclaim their souls, their bodies, and their minds—

May God’s firm hands stop you from harming yourselves or others;
May God’s eyes give you vision to see your true and innocent selves;
May God’s ears enable you to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit;
May God’s feet move you gently and steadily on His Path.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all those who are presently being violated and exploited and who are living in fear for their lives and the lives of their children—

May God’s gift of clear vision help you see through the fog of denial and deceit;
May God’s gift of courage enable you to stop the process of evil before it consumes you and those whom you love;
May God’s gift of discernment allow you to recognize the forces of good;
May God’s gift of tears help you mourn that which is worthy of being mourned;
May God’s gift of love enable you to know that you are beloved, unblemished, and cherished children of God, forgiven and blessed inheritors of His kingdom.
 

Oh, God, please hear our prayers for victims and survivors of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We ask that you help these people find bright new lives that are free from the tarnish of abuse. We ask, also, that in times of weakness and trial, you send your angels to comfort them and give them strength.

We ask this in the name of Your beloved Son, Jesus, and in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Theotokos, the ever-loving Mother of the motherless.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Update: Two Years After Leaving Active Therapy for Complex PTSD

Dear Readers,
I thought you might like an update along about now on how my life is going two years after stopping active therapy sessions.  In short, although I could possibly have stopped therapy two or three years after I began in about 2009, I'm SO glad I went for the "whole guacamole" and stayed with therapy until I was truly ready to leave! 

First, for those of you who have not followed my blog from the beginning, I'll give you a bit of background.  Like many of you who were abused as children and then transitioned into an abusive relationship after finishing school, I spent the first forty-two years of my life living with the symptoms of PTSD--the flashbacks, the space-outs, the derealization and depersonalization, the nightmares, and all the rest of the miserable physical and psychic sensations.  Because my abuse spanned so many years, I developed what is termed "Complex PTSD."  Simply put, I had all the symptoms of PTSD and then some! 

I had to fight my symptoms just to live an ordinary and unremarkable life, and  my goal as a child and during my 20-year marriage was to keep a low profile and not be identified as being any different from anyone else.  I knew I had a problem, but I also knew that the smartest thing I could do was make sure nobody figured that out.  If you have ever seen the film "The Snake Pit," you undoubtedly understand why I was afraid to tell anyone what was happening inside my head.  The world of psychiatric "cures" prior to the 1980s was a world I wanted to avoid.  Finally, however, in 1981, the stress of living in a domestic situation filled with abuses pushed me to the point where I knew I had to find help, and I did that.  My first therapist knew nothing about Complex PTSD, but she somehow intuited how best to help me. 

We worked together for about four years before she retired.  During that time, I caught my former husband in the act of molesting our daughter, reported him to the police, and got a divorce.  Thus, I left behind the role of victim and went ahead with my life as a survivor.  My therapist had faith in my ability to shape a new life for myself, a life I chose, wanted, and enjoyed.  Nobody previously had shown me that kind of support, and I thrived!  I found work at the local community college, earned two graduate degrees, and taught writing in a community college for thirteen years.  When I retired in 2003, I felt as if I had accomplished what I had wanted to accomplish in my life, and I was happy.  Since retiring, I have been poor in financial resources but rich in rewarding experiences, the most important of these rewarding experiences being that of healing my Complex PTSD to the point where I seldom experience symptoms and am able to enjoy my life--warts and all! 

I mentioned in the first paragraph that I could have stopped therapy after two years, and that is true because in two years' time I managed to reduce my PTSD symptoms to the point where I was able to leave my apartment without fear of having a flashback or experiencing other major symptoms.  However, I felt that my symptoms, were merely in remission because I had not actually dealt with their roots.  I wanted to do the work needed to heal whatever caused the symptoms, and I did not want to find myself returning to therapy in a few years because I had not done the work I needed to do in the first place.  So I continued in therapy for a total of five years, and I'm glad I did! 

The year now is 2016;  I have not been in active therapy for about two years, and I'm fine.  I have ups and downs like everyone else, but I can handle my life.  Once in a while I overreact to situations that other people seem to take in stride, but I know what's going on; I know that I'm overreacting and can forgive myself for that and just continue on.  My head is relatively clear, and I no longer have horrendous flashbacks and the other symptoms that formerly clouded my thinking. 

I like my life now.  In 2013, I relocated from a major city to a small town in rural Washington State where I had lived during the 1970s and 1980s, and I'm enjoying the more laidback lifestyle.  I do a lot of volunteer work now, and I push for causes that are dear to me such as supporting public transportation in an area where most folks have several cars per household and don't understand why anyone would possibly need a bus.  I also help in a classroom at the local community college, the school where I found my inspiration to start my teaching career so long ago.  I administer the senior commodities program here at my housing complex.  And then, for fun, I sing in a church choir!  Finally, in my free time, I write letters to the editor when moved to do so, write essays, and attend relevant and interesting public events. 

If I were still battling PTSD symptoms, I probably would not be doing any of these activities because the day-to-day struggle with symptoms takes so much energy and leaves little room in the mind for other thoughts.  I'm glad I decided to continue in therapy after my PTSD symptoms faded because I seem to be able to deal with the ups and downs of life just fine now, at least as well as anyone else.  That's good enough for me!  I wish the same for you! 



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dancing With the Spirit

 
(This post has a religious theme and is not about therapy or recovering from C-PTSD.  Now that I no longer am working in therapy and no longer am suffering the misery of PTSD symptoms, I am free to write about other aspects of my life.  As Braveheart said, "Freedom!"  It's wonderful! Recovery from C-PTSD is possible and amazing!)
 
Icon of Christ, written in 2013
 
Throughout the seventy-six years of my life on earth, I have been aware, as I have danced my dance of life, that I have not been dancing solo.  From the time the first notes sent my feet moving to the beat of my life, the Holy Spirit has been my faithful and attentive partner in this joyful, exciting, and sometimes excruciatingly painful dance.  “But how could you know this?” you might ask.  All I can say is, “I’ve known.”  If I hadn’t known, I probably would not be here today, reading this essay to you.

The fact is that I was not supposed to have begun this dance.  My parents were young schoolteachers in Longview, Washington, in the days when teachers could lose their jobs if they were married.  They certainly were not allowed to start families!  Thus, I arrived into the world and began my dance unbidden. As I skipped and bounced to the music of my life those first years, I knew I was unwelcome, but that didn’t matter because I knew I wasn’t alone.  I sensed the presence of an other, a companion, a partner who was with me and would remain with me so long as I continued to dance.  And this partner was glad I had been born!

At times during my childhood, the tempo of my dance slowed, sometimes almost stopping, but my partner and I always found reason to keep dancing. Entering Sunday school at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview was one of those reasons.  Although my parents were atheists and made no effort to nurture my spiritual development, they allowed family friends to take me to Sunday school. My Sunday school teachers welcomed me, and I looked forward to coloring pictures of Jesus with little children on his lap, talking to my friends, and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I believed that Jesus truly did love me, and I happily imagined myself sitting on his lap like the children in the pictures.

When I was four, my parents allowed their friends to have me baptized, and then when I was thirteen, I was confirmed by Bishop Stephen Bayne.  The tempo of my dance accelerated to reflect the joy I felt at taking on the responsibility for the Christian aspect of my spiritual development, but I was still unable to name my dance partner. In Sunday school and during church services, I had heard a lot about God and Jesus but not much about the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost, later renamed the Holy Spirit, was there, however, my faithful dance partner.  Again, I sensed the Spirit’s presence and was comforted even though I did not know my comforter’s name.

In addition to pondering the matter of my dance companion’s identity, I pondered other matters such as the meaning of the expression “in God’s time,” the concept of Eternity, and, most puzzling of all, the matter of saints, both upper-case saints such as St. Paul and St. Winifred, and lower-case saints such as the lower-case saints mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed that I recited most Sundays and mentioned also in that quaint song written by Lesbia Scott that I sang each All Saints’ Day, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”  Each time I sang that song about the lower-case saints, I became more determined to lead the sort of life that would allow me to “be one, too.”  I wasn’t certain as to what I had to do to become one of those lower-case saints found in such ordinary places as shops or “at tea,” but I knew in my heart that trying to be a “good person” would be a starting point.  I was not sure, though, exactly what I had to do to be a “good person,” but I hoped that one day even that question would be answered.

Since my parents refused to discuss religion, I was left to ponder the questions on my own—or so I thought. I did not know that my dance partner was also my Counselor and would, by and by, give me clarity of insight so that I could answer my own questions just as that same Counselor led me to crucial insights as I danced through my life. And then on a Sunday in 2007, at a time in my life when I had long since abandoned my search for answers to the questions of my childhood, the Holy Spirit answered these questions in a manner and at a time completely unexpected.

In 2007 I was living in Sherwood, Oregon. There was no Episcopal congregation in Sherwood, so since St. Francis Roman Catholic Church was an easy walk from my apartment, I attended that church.  Mass at St. Francis was much as it was in the Episcopal churches I’d attended, and I had no problem following the liturgy. I felt somewhat out of my element, though, simply because I was not allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  Thus, after a few months of faithful attendance, I became fed up with this situation, and I talked to the priest about becoming a Catholic.  I told him I wanted to participate fully in the Mass, and I realized I could do that only if I became a Roman Catholic. The priest, being a Jesuit and somewhat liberal in his theology, read my spiritual autobiography and set a date to admit me to the Church.  Thus it was that I became a Roman Catholic and settled into the Roman Catholic way of worship.

Usually, I attended Mass on Sunday morning rather than on Saturday night, and I always tried to find a seat where I could see the sunshine, whatever sunshine there was.  St. Francis church had a new, rounded sanctuary with a high ceiling in which skylights had been installed.  Whatever sunshine was available beamed down through these skylights, and each Sunday I was drawn to a seat under the center skylight.

Often, during the homily or sermon, I let my mind wander and travel in whatever direction it chose.  As I sat that Sunday morning, mind drifting into a quiet place of no thought, I became aware that the sun’s light, which had at first appeared to me as one soft beam, had separated into three beams of intense gold.  Caught up in these three shafts of gold floated an infinite number of tiny, moving, shining particles. Dust specks? Certainly. But dust specks of a vibrancy and glow I had never before beheld.

At first, I did not know what to make of this vision.  I had sat in this same place many times, but I had never before seen the soft shaft of light separate into three intense beams nor had I seen the shining specks moving, vibrant, suspended in the light.  And then I understood—these three intense shafts of golden light and the infinite number of tiny, glowing specks were all parts of a message to me from God, conveyed to me by my companion, Counselor and dance partner, the Holy Spirit.  The message and the answer had taken a while to reach me, but I knew then that God’s time and human time are not the same.

As I beheld those golden beams, I became aware that I beheld Eternity.  At that moment, I clearly sensed and understood the nature of God’s time or, as some might say, the nature of the Universe’s time.  In this time, the past, the present, and the future are one.  Our time may move from minute to minute, hour to hour, marching from life to death, but in the Universe as with God, time is different, and we mortals cannot devise instruments capable of measuring this different time. Furthermore, I understood that all those glowing, moving little particles were the souls who had gone before me, the souls of those in the present, and the souls of those who will exist in the future—all saints of God. And then I understood that if I but let myself be guided by my precious Counselor, “there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.” (verse two, “Saints of God.”)

Lesbia Scott had gotten it right, and now I understood.  I understood, too, that those three sunbeams of gold had brought me a precious gift, a message of comfort, a sign that I need not be afraid of death or of failure or of human frailty, a sign that my wonderful Comforter, Counselor, and dance companion was with me still and would remain until I no longer danced my life’s dance.

As I walked home after Mass that day, I reflected upon the third verse of Lesbia Scott’s song, especially upon the words “. . . for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one, too.”

“How lucky and how loved I am!” I said to myself.

They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still;
 The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. 

(“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” verse three, by Lesbia Scott, 1898-1986.)