Tag Archives: ptsd

Total Recall. Body Scans, Memories, and the Real You

Not that kind of body scan!

1990’s Total Recall, dir Paul Verhoeven is a mind-bending action film by one of the 80s-90s best action directors. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man in the future who works a boring job. He visits a business called Rekall that implants memories of vacations within your mind. Something seems to go wrong in the process, and suddenly Schwarzenegger’s character finds himself living the life of a spy, and on an adventure that has him questioning his own life, and wondering what is real.

I have been going through an admittedly less awesome version of Ahnold’s journey. But I’ve finally figured out some important things about myself. Some I have never connected, but still form the basis of this piece here. Of me.

I have always said I felt like my trauma begins around three or four years old. But I never considered asking why. Why not? I dunno. Traumatic memories are often repressed as a defense. But the only way to heal is to find those memories, see them with compassion, and reintegrate them into your story.

And so I was filling out the childhood section of a life story journal, and the question was what where I lived as a child was like. So, I described what I remembered of this old Swedish built house in South Jersey. The dock on the creek, the black goat that stood on the picnic table and scared me. The endless rows of tall green-leafed tomatoes in our garden. Watching my brother walk the long lane to the school bus from what I guess was standing in my crib, and waiting for him to come back. And then a new thing I had to be very careful with, love and take care of, a sister.

And then I paused because 3 or 4 is when we left that house. I was in a car with my sister. My brother wasn’t coming. Neither was Dad. My parents patched it up after a brief separation, but I guess that was enough to shake the security of a child aware enough that her family was breaking up. That she didn’t understand. She knew that her sister looked helpless and dazed. That Mom cried a lot. That Dad was still there sometimes. That brother was gone. That she wanted everyone to be happy.

I feel ya Maxell tape guy!

That realization blew my hair back. I think I stumbled a bit walking from my porch into the house after writing that. Remembering that. And realizing how much a part of myself still existed exactly in that moment of fear, confusion, and guilt. I felt I ought to do something. That it was my fault somehow. Whatever kids think when parents and families split. And for once, I felt compassion for that little girl. Her and her big smile and bigger cheeks. Piggy tails.

I had a really sour stomach and was depressed for about a week recently. It was in my stomach, and just below. It was where I was holding my pain. I kept thinking something terrible would happen. It already had.

My social media, including this blog, was recently scoured as leverage over Stan. The parties even wanted to tell me or have Stan tell me to take down a post. Well, Stan being wise and self-protective, convinced the individuals concerned that was a poor idea. It felt like being trapped by my evil tickle-uncle who called me “wop,” “greaseball,” “dago,” you get the idea. One day I learned the word “NAZI.” But it was a violation.

And then there was Friday. Was that only just last Friday? The day I realized I had less rights than before. That I was not considered equal under the Constitution. Well, if you’re speaking of the original, we don’t get a mention. Enslaved black males get 3/5ths. But, didn’t Jefferson say something about how one shouldn’t wear his childhood clothes as a man, and so we cannot predict what future needs may arise for the law to address? Anyway, all I know is it hurt.

All those realizations sort of gathered in my stomach, until a body scan meditation found them. Then I was able to drag them out, name them, feel them. But bye-bye!

Leave me alone, I’m only writing.

It was powerlessness. Feeling like I didn’t matter. Worse, my voice didn’t matter. And what is an artist without their instruments? One unhappy tummied artist, I can say that!

But accepting that these things are just kind of there is fine. The memories have less power. The feelings become unknotted. *Mumble mumble* year old me can handle and understand far more than 3 or 4 year old me could. And those feeling don’t need to control me. I have my power. I have my own sense of meaning. I am moving closer to a more authentic me by letting all the monsters out, one by one. It won’t all be so simple. But at least I know this is real life. Right? This is it, huh? For realz? I dunno but here’s OK. The real is OK. I am OK.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ––πŸΌπŸŒˆ

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The Gift of Fear. How Do You Defeat the Ghosts of Evil?

Officer Edwards testifies to the January 6th Committee.

As I watched the January 6th Committee, the ghosts of that day and the year that followed flashed through my mind. The assault that began that day continues to this, replaying itself in my dreams, my waking moments, across the country, and just next door.

I remember watching the towers fall on 9/11. The shock. The fear. The worry for friends. But that day was an assault from beyond the US. Watching the events of January 6th, 2021 unfold in real time was far more terrifying. The barbarians were within the gates, and they were fellow Americans.

What struck me most during Thursday night’s January 6th committee opening statements was Officer Edwards’ testimony. I immediately identified with her because she looks like me. Not physically. I mean her eyes stare like mine. Most people don’t realize that traumatized women do not blubber and weep. Weeping makes you look weak. Crying brings disdain. Instead, we have the hollow look of the veteran with the thousand yard stare.

Watching that woman testify to what she lived through and witnessed on that day — a day she had never trained for or anticipated — a day she should never have been forced to endure sparked flashbacks of my days of fear. Of what I have endured, before January 6th, 2021, and since.

Before my senior year of college, my father died after a long battle with cancer. My world shattered. I wanted to crawl into the grave after him. Living seemed impossible, and death was easy. I chased death for a long time before I had the courage to turn and face life. It came naturally for me to write that journal of an ambivalent Union Soldier. Like Officer Edwards, life had become a war zone.

I had begun trauma therapy by January of 2021. And it was still new and scary. But it was something I needed to do. I also began reading Gavin de Becker’s seminal book The Gift of Fear. De Becker taught me what I wish I had known long before my father’s death, the red flags of violence and abuse. How “sweetness” how gotten women killed and raped, and how listening to their fears and bravery had saved them.

Now, after a year of harassment and being swindled, led on, and used as a punching bag yet again by evil human beings. After abuse reached into my home where I finally had felt safe, after living in a war zone my entire marriage and after. I had developed that stare. I could sense a threat over miles, yards, feet, inches. And I could stare it down.

Yet inside, the pain and brokenness had not disappeared. The anger was still there. It is still here. I want my abusers punished as I want the rioters of January 6th who killed police officers they profess to embrace, and gave Officer Edwards her stare.

There is a reckoning coming. Inside me and without. I don’t know what the result will be. But like so many young people who never should have faced a war zone, I have embraced the warrior I was made to be. And I am reminded of the line in Full Metal Jacket, when Joker asks a helicopter door gunner how he kills women and children. “Easy. You just don’t lead them so much.”

And that is how much pity I have for those who harmed me, who harmed Officer Edwards, who harmed and still mean harm to the innocents of this country, and its fragile democracy. I don’t know if my ex-husband is alive or dead. I don’t care. His death would be a blessing for other women. But I will search down and face the demons that have harmed myself and others, and who do or seek to do harm.

How do you defeat racists, ignorant and evil human beings? Brutes and barbarians without Covid vaccines, type II diabetes, and two brain cells two rub together? Easy. You just don’t feel for them so much.

Save your love for you and yours, for the innocents, for those who never should have experienced the horrors of life. Love your values, hold them tight. Do not become the evil you despise, but fight it with the fear and skills of the warrior you have become.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸ”₯

PS- I have Covid at the moment. I’m fine. All vaxxed up. Stan is negative still.

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Calmer Than Your Are. Losing my Cool, Walter Sobchak, and PTSD.

Me, always.

“No, Walter. You’re not wrong. You’re just an asshole,” The Dude (Jeff Bridges) admits to his bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) in The Cohen Brothers 1998 Noir film meets the end of The California Dream, The Big Lebowski.

I would accept that description of myself. If I also were not wrong and an asshole so often. I get it often enough, but my reactions need help. I am not to the point of pulling a piece in a bowling alley, yet. But my anger response to a perceived wrong, lack of set rules, or disruption is not too far from Walter’s.

Walter is a damaged Vietnam Vet with PTSD. He is divorced, yet still cares for his ex-wife’s dog, and strictly observes Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. He is a man trying to cling to structures with meaning. They ground and reassure him. And when his routines, rituals, and structure gets disrupted, he lashes out as only John Goodman can. Big and loud.

In an early scene we see him casually talking with The Dude, the old hippie, and Donny, their ex-surfer friend, when he screams “OVER THE LINE!” to an offending bowler.

Calm but deadly serious.
To pulling a piece.
To threatening a bowler at gun point.

Walter clings to structures for comfort. His reaction is to overwhelm others by enforcing the rules, at gun point if need be. He even needs to control when his friend Donny speaks and corrects The Dude’s use of an Asian slur. By the end of the film though, we realize that under all that camo and tactical gear is a scared 18 year old kid who lived through “a world of hurt.” In fact, it turns out he is not even Jewish. He converted for his ex-wife.

But it is Walter who quickly realizes the solution to the mystery of the rug that really tied the room together. He even mentions how “Un-Dude” his friend is being for getting hung up on the “ins and outs.” And he goes whole hog in his attempts to help The Dude on his quest. These are all traits of PTSD. The clinging, whether to habits or routines, rules or people. The shit-losing when anything pops its head into his life with an unwelcome thought. And yet he stares down arch-rival bowler, The Jesus, while Dude stammers. And he will mess up a couple of Nihilists who killed your car with a quickness.

His tears at the end signal the restoration of order and peace for him. The Dude needs Walter. But Walter also needs The Dude. Because The Dude is the one man chill enough to give Walter the grace to forgive himself. When Walter apologizes, The Dude says, “Fuck it, man.”

What the movie doesn’t explicitly show, however, is the embarrassment of being Walter. We with PTSD are simply not cool like The Dude. We tend to be rigid, hold ourselves rigidly, follow routines, and construct a framework to hang the point of life on. And that protects us from the scary truth that our suffering was and is pointless. As all suffering is.

The end result is sometimes you just lose your cool and freak out in a diner over the accessibility of a severed toe. Then Pride holds him in that diner seat long after he has embarrassed himself and The Dude.

Embarrassment, shame, self-loathing, or disgust generally fill the calm after the fit has passed. And it is something I have had to face down fiercely as I do my last days to week in this hotel room. All of my life is uncertain right now. All structure is gone. I have formed habits already to keep me sane in this room. But after living in fear and uncertainty for seven months now, I have had my share of outbursts.

But I have come to realize that I do not have to sit in the diner where I embarrassed myself. Walter eventually breaks down in tears, admits how wrong he had been, and apologizes to The Dude, and to Donny posthumously. “Fuck it.” Says The Dude, as they head off into the sunset to the lanes.

Feeling the shame, getting unbent, and apologizing are the keys. And if you are lucky enough, you will have friends who tell you to “Fuck it” and go bowling. I mean, in the end, all that is wrong — and there is plenty to go around in this world — sometimes flips our asshole switch. And it feels awful. Nobody wants to lose their cool. Good thing all those cool Dudes need us as much as The Dude needs Walter. Because we will do anything to get back your goddamn rug that really tied the room together! Eh, fuck it. Let’s roll.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ––πŸΌπŸŒ»

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