“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.
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.
The day I described in my last installment of this series, and the citation I received, were not the end of my former neighbors’ abuse and harassment. But let us rewind a bit.
I had managed to get the male neighbor cited once by a nice young officer who was very sensitive and well trained. The neighbors were outside doing this elaborate, loud play acting…about me. They mocked my disability, accused me of being a “Welfare Queen” — thanks for that Ronald McDonald Reagan. It went on for a while, so I called the police.
I had gotten mostly the same responses from the other officers I met. “He’s got free speech.” 🙄 Yes, freedom of speech. The First Amendment, and the least understood. Folks are fond of saying “Freedom ain’t free.” And I suppose they imagine bravely standing up to tyranny. To me it is basic causality. Sure, you are free to holler insults at your neighbor from your yard, but it does not mean that speech is free of consequences.
We all know there are exceptions to free speech. Usually when words can cause harm: a panic, violence, lies about others, etc. So this bright young cop was fantastic! Finally, right? He came, talked to them, then left but told me to call again if they said anything about race, or threatened me.
Oh, my neighbor obliged. As soon as the cop left, he helpfully shouted at one of my security cams “she’ll wish she were [ducking] dead.” Bam. Harassment and Terroristic Threats.
The day I described last time, with my loud mouth and criminally awesome dance moves, was a week before his hearing on that charge. He had pleaded not guilty. So, when the cops came, the female neighbor and pals went to work!
The next evening, Stanman and I were sitting on our couch, around 10ish. Watching Star Trek: TNG on Netflix. Again in my pajamas. And then this knock. The one you hear in every crime show. The “It’s the police, open up!” knock. I went out onto the porch to talk to them. It all seemed wrong. There were four cops on my stairs. They looked like the SS. Black outfits, all holstered up. One particular future Einsatzgruppen member did the identification thing and told me I had to come with them on a 302 Emergency Commitment Order.
That is when I knew the whole thing was Baloney Sandwich. A 302 is a court order that allows a person who is a physical threat to themselves or others, or cannot take care of themselves to be committed to a mental institution against their will. They are difficult to obtain for the obvious reason that it is a power that could be abused (eh-hem). Normally, a social worker, someone from CRISIS, or a therapist/psychiatrist would initiate or weigh in on this. My therapist was not contacted. Often they are requested by family. And you cannot break into someone’s residence for a 302 unless there is an emergent situation, such as screaming or fighting. We were watching Trek. Mox nix, right?
I had been 302’d once before. I attempted suicide by taking a ton of NyQuil and Benadryl. My Mom and sister found me and took me to the hospital. I came around. I was still free. Not in restraints. But I was so angry, I hissed “I wish you let me die!” at my Mom. My Mom was a social worker, who worked with probation or parolees with mental health, drug/alcohol, or developmental disabilities. All minor offenders, but she knew the system.
Mom looked at the ER doctor and nodded, and then I was restrained. The place I went was more One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest than Girl, Interrupted. But basically, you have 3-5 days to be seen by a doctor and case worker, and have a meeting to judge whether you are still a threat or not. If you are calm, do what they say, and stick to yourself, it is not hard to get out of. You have to be very badly off to be committed in the long term.
So I knew how it worked as well. I knew the mental health system in general. I had been in it since about 19. My female neighbor wrote up something that basically said I had mental health issues and broke things on her lawn. (Because she called our house “the tenants’ house,” remember?)
It was delivered by Officer Einsatzgruppen to a Crisis worker, with access to all of my health records including my current treatment, whom I had never seen before or spoken with, and was a prison secretary to sign. And then the head of the County’s mental health board signed it without seeing or speaking to me either. (I see you Angie Krepps Alvarez! Sharon Harlacher! mwah!😘)
After hemming and hawing for an hour, and mentioning my neighbors on the darned Ring cam in plain sight (shrewd!). Then they broke down our door. Stan had already called 911 because he didn’t think they were real police either. They cuffed Stan, cuffed me, almost let our dog and cat out, and took me to a cruiser. Or some kind of car, it was dark. And I just resolved to stay calm. Losing my temper, being cranky, anything could have led to my actually being committed or jailed.
It is one of the odd consequences of PTSD that in the worst moments I don’t feel much. It seems like I am not me. I am somewhere floating above, or buried deep inside, or watching a movie of a life. So it was with this. I began to go down a thought hole of what may have happened to Stan. I pulled hard out of that downward trajectory. I could not think of anything else but breathing and remaining calm.
The doctors were confused from the beginning as to why I was there. They asked about my neighbors, and I said we had an ongoing dispute but I had no idea why I was in the hospital. And neither did the doctors. They couldn’t even find the legal order to commit me. From the hospital where the thing was written. Why they did not ask for it when I arrived is a question. But by 6am I was in the jeep back home with Stan, who they uncuffed and left to call every hospital looking for me.
We were home as the sun came up, we had a beer and went to bed. When we woke up it had sunk in. The extent of the violation. The broken door. The fact that four cops could be spared to take me to the hospital on a vendetta. But that night our neighbors effectively said, “We can touch you anywhere.” The same chill, creepy, skeevy feeling crept over me as other times with them.
We realized we were not safe in our own house. We couldn’t even call the police. So we packed a few important things, got our dog and cat, and drove to my Great Grandma’s house where family still lived, across the bridge in Lancaster County.
I took a selfie that next day.
The male neighbor changed his plea to guilty (freedom is wasted on him), so I couldn’t give this information as testimony that next Monday. He was fined $50.
So, yeah, that is my story of how far my neighbors and my community went in their hatred of I do not know what. Stan and I spent the next month and half packing and cleaning for dear life. He started looking for new jobs far away. We looked at a couple of states before we decided. But he had to empty his retirement fund to finance this move, start a new job, find a new house, and sell the old.
The funny thing this whole time is that the male neighbor used to sit up by his garage (the better to see me from) and listen to John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” I love that song! Who doesn’t like John Denver? He hung out with muppets!
The irony is that I AM from the country. My sister and I mainly grew up on two different farms in New Jersey. We had lots of acres, and would ramble about with our big white Lab, playing pretend. I collected the eggs. My sister tossed in scratch. We had turkeys. At one point we had a goat. I am a country girl, who spent a chunk of time in cities and abroad, but I am still as outdoorsy as ever.
They hated a phantom of their own imaginings. An idea of me. Not me as I am. And they would have gotten around to hating us for something if their Rottweiler had not have killed my duck.
They took nearly everything I loved: my chicken ladies, my ducks, my gardening, my peace, and they reached right in that house and tried to take my freedom.
So, we left that house at 6pm on New Year’s Eve to the booming of fireworks. Hours later, we checked into this hotel. And here I have been. But it will not be for much longer. I have had some time to process, through these blogs partly.
The harassment continued until we left, with gems like this:
But here is the actual tragedy. While those four cops were busy sending me to the hospital, a bare week later they let a mother of two’s Emergency Protected from Abuse order wait 24 hrs before acting on it. And that night her ex-husband (and ex-cop) kidnapped those little girls. He eventually shot them and himself in a ditch on the side of the road. And that mother has not received any response or justice that I know of since. They had officers enough for me, but not to enough to save that woman’s babies.
I had that sign down after some phone calls. My life has sucked for so long. But things are happening. Soonish. I should have the tools by now to heal and reframe the stories I tell myself, question the words and names used to describe me, maybe that is why I made it out. That same mechanism that kicked in when I was being cuffed and taken to the hospital. Or maybe I am finally letting it sink in that it was them not us. Not me.
Today I appeared to face my female neighbor for a complaint she issued against me. It was interesting. The citing officer had some real hate in her eyes. And I probably could have answered her last question better with an “I don’t know.” But hey, Einstein says no backwards time travel. So I have to get OK with it.
This part of my tale picks up in early November. I woke up one lovely morning and went to take doggo for walkies in my pj’s and robe. My male neighbor got in his truck, drove a few dozen feet, stopped to get a good look at me, rolled down his window, and began with his running commentary on my life.
I had it. After five months of this, I was sick of it. I told him off. Said he was a creep and to quit watching me. Well, every time I went outside, there was the banging and the comments. Finally I just starting hollering kind of like Nicholson at the end of The Shining while he’s hunting down his son to murder him. Upon reflection, the dehumanization of the character of Jack by the Western notion of “The White Man’s Burden” and responsibilities of being a partner and co-parent seems rather appropriate. I did not, however, grab an axe. I pinged an aluminum baseball bat on the concrete.
I had therapy that day. Took a shower. Practiced yoga. Danced to Morrissey. Took some stuff down from the attic (we had already decided to move). Killed an evil old printer Office Space style. It felt kinda good. Like I was Robert DiNero for a minute. Someone who has physical power and a presence that demands respect. Unfortunately, I look like a yappy Chihuahua when I am upset and angry, and my level of respect commanding is set at Rodney Dangerfield.
Then, around 4, the female neighbor came home and started setting up a camera pointed directly at my yard. The male was in the garage. They gave each other a thumbs up when he got the signal from it. I told her off too. Creeps. I could not just live my life in peace. Their hatred was that intense and constant for that long.
I cannot get it myself. Anger is exhausting. And their anger often involved cutting off their nose to spite their face. Destroying their fencing and trees, repeatedly allowing their Rottweiler onto my property where they knew my cameras would see it. And then they would get another fine. The time, the money. For what? Me!?
Well, even though my therapist and I had gone over baiting and not taking the hook. I took the hook that day. Watching and listening to myself from the neighbor’s camera was difficult. It was not my best moment. But she had made me feel so shameful by moving her finger around and myself willingly dancing for her.
She made me feel dirty. But today I got to do a thing I had not done in months. I got to look her in the eye. And my shame melted. This human being was giving false witness to continue to harm a person she had abused. She still hated me.
In the end, they could only prove that I was a loud-mouthed Jersey-girl. So the charge was reduced from “fighting,” and “mooning” (She does not deserve to observe my fine buttocks) to a noise disturbance. Yup. Loud-mouthed Jersey-girl.
The judge seemed fair. My lawyer did well. The little humbling stung at first, but I walked doggo around the hotel. It is warm and sunny today.
I stopped being angry. That female cop, who knows her story? But I can guess at some of my neighbors’. And they are sad. The male cannot think to do anything better than obsessively hate. And she called our house “the tenants” house to puff herself up in front of folks. That is sad. She is sad. He is sad. I am not aware of what that female cop’s major malfunction is. But all these grown people, stuck on hating a nerdy, disabled, 5 foot tall introvert — for I what, I cannot guess — were just sad.
A good hard look at yourself like I had today is uncomfortable. But it was not bad. I felt pity for that person screaming and dancing. I came back inside and did another yoga practice and meditation. And my heart softened towards both myself and all these sad hateful folks. I felt pity for my neighbor. How unhappy must she be?
In the end, it was allowing myself the grace to stumble and fall and allow myself a very human mistake. And also finding the grace to recognize tortured souls. Angry souls. To separate myself from the pain and trauma they inflicted upon me, and see things and people as they are. And open a chink in my heart to “hating the sin, and not the sinner.” I am not ready to forgive fully.
I still have a lot of trauma and pain to work through. But I already could see in my neighbor that she had not moved on, while I had. Not completely, but I physically moved. And she was still stuck in the place she was born. She had never left. I had. My Stan-man and I are in a new town that we love. And we got good news today. Tune in next time to find out what, and follow me to the hospital after the police break into my house, next time on “Jess has a big mouth in type as well as IRL.”🙄😉
– JL ✌🏼💚🖖🏼💐🕺🏻🎸
P.S. You may have already noticed the ads, please let me know if they are too much, or where they should be. Big changes are coming to my blog including: hosting different authors, merch made by friends and family, a #buynothing swap shop, exclusive music and video, the opportunity to access special content, donate, and easier ways to like, share and comment! As the cop said to the glazed donut: stick around.
This is my new minimalist art. Last week it was “The White Album” and White whales, this week it is all about black because it is slimming, “I have that which passeth shew,” ” ’cause black is how I feel on the inside,” and all the reasons cited by Johnny Cash. Pick one.
Last week I took a trip through my first year of trauma informed therapy. This week is more challenging. Looking forward! I say challenging because of all I have gone through — particularly the reason I am still writing from a hotel room — getting run out of town by psychotic neckbeards. But also because I was stuck. Weighted down. Angry, listless, and depressed by turns. I had lost any sense of who I was or was becoming.
A perspicacious woman once told me I was very “intentional.” I am a fan of plans and planning. It is very much like only wearing black. What should I wear? Black. What should I do? Check the plan.
We plan and the gods laugh. I know. I am Greek. And inevitably your black clothes will stop matching as they fade. Last January I had no reason to think I would be living in a hotel room. But I did begin the work of thinking about where I was in life, and where I wanted to be. And, as an unexpected side effect, I added color to my closet.
I wanted to look and feel like myself again. The Pandemic weight upset my self-image. I was depressed. And that made me feel and look old. Even my posture had become hunched. And no amount of black tunic tops was hiding anything as they got scrubby looking and dull.
So I started a mens sana in corpore sano (healthy mind in a healthy body) journey that helped push me to think more about where I was going, and aided me through the unending trauma that was nearly every day since July back at the former [ducking] house. And I got some clothes…with color!
I went back to yoga. I first got into yoga and meditation as a teen when I was reading a lot about The Beatles. I was a good gymnast as a kid. Yoga seemed to come naturally. And I took two semesters of yoga in college with a great teacher. And it worked hand in glove with my anatomy classes (yay art school).
But I really committed last year, and I have done about 669 yoga classes since then. Maybe half were Sun Salutations, but still!
Yoga means “practice.” So you could think of all life as yoga, as practice. And like life, it is not static. Neither is it all “aaaaah.” I curse plenty at the lovely Australian woman on my favorite yoga app. Yoga requires focus. You work with your mind, breath, and body. Even in stillness, your breath moves you, as you hold your mind and body in gentle intention.
That gentle intention is called your “sankalpa,” and it took time me to find. Simply, a sankalpa is a short sentence in the first person, present tense that signifies your reason for any practice, it can be “I keep my floors clean,” “I do not drink alcohol,” or “I bring peace to the world.”
It is both a heartfelt desire and a promise, and it is gentle. I spent a lot of time in meditation and yoga nidra searching for my sankalpa. And it turned out to be very simple. It was as strong and flexible as my body and mind were becoming. And it was always there. But life, past experiences, traumas, hang ups, difficulties of all sorts crusted it over, and I became hardened to even myself.
Through my work in therapy, and the work we did to find the softening of the the body that allows us to truly listen to ourselves, I came to see what I had forgotten. And my journey now consists in continuously bringing my mind back to my sankalpa, what I give myself as a purpose, my heart’s desire, my promise to myself.
Of course, a promise is nothing. Air, pixels, ink in a certain form and order. Unless you honor yourself and the one you make the promise to. In this case, both parties are you. But having a practice, a promise, and are committed, gently, to honoring yourself helps.
Your sankalpa is your own. It is not shared. Please do not ask your yoga class crush, “So, what is your sankalpa?” Protect what is precious, gently.
And you thought the whale post was esoteric! I did go through a change, a shedding of mental, emotional, physical weight. Of crusty old thoughts and feels. And of pilled up black tunic tops with bleach stains.
I have bright pink, purple, and blue yoga tops! Pink walking shoes?! And you cannot go around in yoga pants (now with pockets!) without tennis socks in fun colors. And you know what else? I can still just order five packs of everything from Amazon, and switch out dirty yoga top to clean yoga top of different color! Fancy.
So, after a lot of softening, strengthening, shedding, and clarity seeking: I decided on my sankalpa. And here I am, still in my hotel room, living it now. Practice can only lead to exploring where this will lead me, but I have a general idea, gods willing and the crick don’t rise.
So, that is where I am, and where I am looking to go. The woman who helped lead me here, my therapist of the last year, with whom I have to part ways. In her shining smile and laugh dwelt hundreds of happy fairies. Her gentleness, boundless joy and compassion, and halo of light around her blond hair, made me think of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. And she did possess a light, like the bottled starlight the Elven Lady of Lorien gave to Frodo to light his way when all other lights went out. It is as awake as a plunge into ice water; a diamond reflecting warmth, strength, kindness, and love, gently.
Thank you for everything Haley. Including the homework! I love professional students. I am looking forward to this new stage of my life. I went through an enforced crisis. I know what I can do. And I have every confidence that something is bound to turn up!
Fans and decidedly non-fans of Moby Dick will remember “The Whale Chapter.” Like “The White Album,” that is not its name, but that is what I call it. In Moby Dick, Ishmael takes us on a long, slow ride through cetology, just as the Pequod’s voyage is getting under way. After the lengthy description of all things whale, Ishmael declares a whale a fish. I kind of like it.
My therapist thought it would be helpful to do a look back at our year of working together. After several attempts with markers and pencil and mixed media and my guitar, I decided to write it. That is what I do!
This can be my Whale Chapter from the trauma and tragedy I have been chronicling in my last two posts, and maybe my conclusions will ultimately be wrong! And I will declare a whale a fish. One can never be sure.
Over a year ago, I spoke with my doctor about how normal therapy was not helping. In fact, it began making me worse. Two places in a row had dumped me. One most unceremoniously. That is when I began getting pictures of my brain taken, and was referred to Trauma Informed Therapy.
I looked back in my journal and discovered I was really into Hannibal at the time, and I called my first session “rough.” And it was! You can skip back to my first post on it.
There are two especially difficult pieces. The first is learning to establish and enforce my own boundaries (which may contribute to me living in a hotel room), but also how to be kind and mindful of others’ needs and boundaries as well. It is a difficult trick. I hope I am getting the knack of it. It is kindness.
Also, I learned to really forgive. I know we all have that spiritual ick inside us. That makes us feel shameful or unworthy. We all have it. Love it out of existence. Unclench, soften, breathe, relax right into it. And it will pass. You may even see what a lie it really was.
Have a therapist to guide you back to integration with those pieces that you want cut off. They will check your thoughts, or suggest a different point of view. A good therapist is invaluable. I never like when folks only take pills. That is just to steady the foundation. The work that you rebuild on is the work you put into therapy.
Anyhow, now for whales. I think I’m turning into Bob Geldolf in The Wall living in this hotel room. I even broke a guitar string. Yeh-heh! I can not get either my desktop or laptop online. So I have been doing credit stuff and online apps on my phone. It is not cool man.
I keep busy. I clean the place, practice yoga and guitar, do my work for the day, argue with my dog. Fairly normal. It’s not like I’m dying to get out. I mean, I have zero desire to go out in below freezing weather no matter the lovely backdrop. I would rather be warm and safe.
But, in the end, it is liberating to be able to name and call out your problems. But be careful. You must face it, fighting will take you down with it. Learn it, know it, name it, face it, but you fought that monster once. Do not try that again.
And now I’ve come to the next part of my assignment: figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. Yeah. That is all. Get over my recent traumas, move, restart life with new purpose. Whales are fish. And I’m happy to be back in the USSR, thank you.
Have you ever gotten a pimple that you’ve named after a person or stress? “Oh that? Why that’s ‘Newman.'” (Jerry Seinfeld sneers.)
Well, I have terrible news! There is a way to name, recognize, and work through how your body expresses your emotions. But part of it is called “exercise.”
Let’s rename this. We’ll call it “body awareness.” Does that feel better? Cool.
The abused or traumatized are more likely to live a shorter life. Drugs and alcohol, risky sex and activities, abusive relationships, and severe physical aliments such as heart disease or high blood pressure, are generally what the future looks like for those who don’t get help.
A few years back, a therapist first asked me where I feel my psychic pain in my body. And I knew just what she meant. It’s somewhere between my heart and stomach, about where the rib cage begins. I had never really thought much about it, but she knew to ask about it. Now, in my Trauma Therapy, my therapist has turned me back to focus on that place.
In the meantime, I had gotten back into yoga around the time of the Pandemic and lock downs. And I realized there was a whole bundle of issues hidden within me. Making me — keeping me — feeling utterly powerless and miserable. Which is a sure recipe to whip up a brew of depression and rage.
My new therapist was happy to learn I practiced Body Scans and yoga, and we incorporated a softening body meditation to our sessions. Either at the end of our session or the beginning. And I began to really get a sense of where I was holding myself tightly, or was stiff, even how I was sitting. I am beginning to become familiar with how my feelings are expressing themselves in my body.
And, as my yoga practice deepens, I’m growing to know my body better. What each little knot, weakness, and buldge hold. It’s also taught me I can be strong, flexible, and feel better in my own skin. And it makes me happy, proud of myself, and feel more in control. A sure-fire method to improve my mood and work through anger.
While every other medical tradition from the Romans’ “healthy mind in healthy body” to India’s Ayurvedic medicine recognizes the link between mental and physical health. We in the West see this as an epiphany. At least I did. As do the tons of wellness articles I keep stumbling upon.
But is it really surprising that you’ll feel better mentally if you feel better physically? Or vice versa?
As for me, my therapist helped me see that feeling in my stomach and name it Shame. A shame so crippling that my posture was slouched, my limbs were weak. My ass got, um, assier every moment I sat locked in frozen fear of doing anything because I was sure it would be wrong. So getting my back and core stronger, and opening my chest and shoulders more has become foundational. And I do see and feel the difference in my posture. I’ve both worked on and learned more, but I’ll leave that for another post.
I am beginning, every so gently, to learn to open up in that space where I feel the Shame that cripples me. That locks me in place. That makes me feel stuck, powerless, and pathetic. And that drives my anger. It takes patient, loving practice to soften the pain parts and strengthen the healthy me parts. To learn how to let go of the fear that holds me bound. To trust in myself enough to make a choice to do a thing, and then do it, even for a half an hour yoga session. It gave me some confidence.
I’m not prescribing yoga in particular. Any type of movement makes you aware of your body. Strengthens, unknits, and loosens. I do recommend Body Scans, though. You simply breathe as you notice each part of your body, and what you feel there. This is enough to help let go. And a useful tool for stressful moments.
There are tons of Body Scan meditations on Spotify and YouTube. I recommend trying a few. This guy’s voice sounds like Alan Rickman, and somehow that’s incredibly soothing. But find the one you like. Quiet your mind. Listen to your body. It holds your story, and your future. Hopefully a future without Newman!
*Author’s note: Yoga, exercise, and meditation won’t prevent tumors, or heal them. Maybe figurative ones. But, you know, balance. A little Western Medicine and some ancient wisdom.😉
Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch is a master class in Gaslighting. And as absurd.
Let’s pretend we’ve all lived under Commie rocks in North Korea our entire lives, and look at this famous comedy sketch afresh. See what it can teach us about Gaslighting. Shall we?
If Gaslighting is driving/convincing another person they are insane or cannot trust their own senses, thoughts and feels, then the Shop Keeper (Michael Palin) is the Gaslighter. And the Customer (John Cleese) is the Gaslightee.
Cleese returns to a pet store where he recently purchased a less than alive parrot. Cleese confronts Palin, who is sneaking a smoke behind the register and pretending to close. Cleese stops him, and explains his dead parrot issue. Palin’s Shop Keeper drives Cleese from polite customer to a ranting, shouting maniac, banging the parrot on the counter. All by simply denying that the parrot is, in spite of all proof, dead. A frustrated Cleese leaves after being offered a slug, and Palin moves into a song about wanting to be a transvestite lumber jack.
As the John Cleese in this exchange — no matter what you say, no matter how much you beat that dead parrot — you will never be in the right. And the best you’ll ever get out of this argument is the offer of a slug.
Michael Palin does not care that he sold you a dead parrot, he will do and say anything to convince you the parrot is not dead, drive you crazy trying to prove the parrot is dead, and maybe offer you a slug for your troubles. All he cares about is being a transvestite lumber jack. And, to him, you’re the thing stopping him from that dream of cross-dressing lumber jacking. And he feels no pity in making you pay for his dissatisfaction with his life. It’s YOUR fault!
There’s not much we can do about the parrot death-denying shopkeepers of the world. They will continue to sell dead parrots, and will persecute anyone who calls them out on it. It’s not their fault they never got to be a lumberjack. It’s clearly yours. No matter how much you wish them well in pursuing their Canadian dream. You’re the one annoying them with a dead parrot!
As the unfortunate purchasers of a dead parrot, the best we can do is look for that inner Graham Chapman to show up and declare our situation “entirely too silly.” Listen to that voice! He’s right. It is entirely too silly to lose your mind over a dead parrot. Everyone knows it’s shuffled off its mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. That it is an ex-parrot.
So what can you say to your Shop Keeper? How many times must you beat a dead parrot for someone who does not care whether they sold you a dead parrot to begin with? You don’t. Say nothing. That’s all you can to protect yourself from the crazy-making, Gaslighting Shop Keeper, apart from accepting the slug.
Just remember, it’s not your fault they never became a lumberjack in heels. It’s all too silly to continue. So don’t.
“A Shame Narrative,” my therapist called it. I call it “Ermergerd this is impossible I can’t think about it without getting agita and crying. I should probably wash all the baseboards or nap.” Then I stumbled on the picture above, and I realized I had found a safe way to approach my Shame.
Trauma therapy is beyond what I’ve ever experienced in therapy over about twenty years. It’s good I have that basis in self-knowledge, Mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. But trauma therapy is the big leagues. It’s definitely scary. And it can be draining.
The two most important parts are an empathetic, well-trained therapist, and my desperate desire to manage the constant nightmares and other paralyzing affects of CPTSD on my life.
I won the Irish Sweepstakes in therapists. She pegged me fast. She asked about where I feel my pain in my body. And used my interest in meditation to develop a regular practice of body scans before, and sometimes later in a session. She took the bare pieces of my story, my responses to the scans and stimulus –such as the Pixar short “Float” 🥰😭😭😭😍 — and came up with Shame.
And she’s right. I’m not sure when it started, but I was very young. Possibly under 4. It’s this drop in the heart, and a burning, twisting sense of being powerless, unlovable, and utterly alone in a pitiless, dark, lonely void where no one cares, and I don’t matter at all in this world.
She said, we can use my story of those feelings to help provide a “Portal” to slowly reach through to my trauma. And then I get to write a Trauma Narrative. Huzzah? But the approach makes so much sense because the feelings around those memories are too raw for me to even go near. Even while they break into my daily life as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or my (over or under) reactions to triggers.
But how to approach my Shame? I’ve always felt that, as long as a person experiences real, unconditional love at some early point — through a grandparent, teacher, mentor, etc — then that person will always hold that feeling. And they will have a chance. I’ve had a lot of mentors and teachers in my life, but the first and best was my Dad.
Dad loved mentoring young people. And he had many “adopted” kids. Mainly my cousins and his former students, ending up the Best Man at many marriages (six times in the case of one unlucky-in-love student who called him Dad). He was both professionally succesful, and never lost that bit of 1st Sargeant he learned in the frozen hell of the Korean war. Dad served in Truman’s Desegrated Army. It equipped him with the ability to work with and inspire others of any type. So long as you didn’t play “grab ass.” He questioned his young acolytes and listened, and questioned some more. He was genuinely interested in the thoughts of people, especially young people.
And he had that same interest in me as a growing human being. Usually we’d be doing an activity. Sky watching, driving around following the local grocery stores’ free samples schedule (Dad could usually old-lady-flirt his way to extra samples), and during art lessons. But the best times were fishing, like in the picture above.
I’ve found my way to get to the Shame by viewing my gnawing doubts, fears, anxieties, and self-loathing from the point of view of the girl my Dad saw. Dad dubbed me “Loney.” (Lone-ee) When I look back at myself as Loney, I have more sympathy and compassion for myself. I see the curious, dark eyed girl he saw and loved. And I can cast that into my future that he never saw nor will.
If I view myself as Loney, it’s a step removed from recording Jessica’s feelings of Shame. It’s my way in through that “Portal” described by my therapist. Slowly, the idea is to increase my understanding of and exposure to the most delicate pieces of myself, my experiences, my Shame. But I feel I can do that if I remember Loney and carry my father’s love for Loney in my heart.
It’s never a great day when you have to tell someone you’ve been sodomized. I feel bad saying it in this forum because it may get somebody down. But that’s why I need trauma therapy.
Rarely do we ever become so intimate with anyone that we can say “I was drugged and raped…er, sodomized.” And it’s rarer that the recipient of that info knows what to do with it. Today I met someone I hope knows what to say. It was my first day of trauma therapy.
This entire delve into better treatment for my trauma related injuries and illnesses began with a talk with my PCP. I was frustrated, and considered untreatable by two clinics in a row. Now, mind you, this is in bumblebuck, methtown, USA. I had good treatment at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia. But twenty years of mindfulness and talk and CBT? Sure, I learned a lot, but I needed more.
So, a neurology referral from my PCP for a doctor who deals specifically with domestic and sexual violence seemed ideal. And it did open up new avenues of treatment of both my physical and mental self. Now I have my PT I do at home daily, weekly speech pathology and vision therapy to deal with those pieces. But ideally, my goal was to get in with a trauma therapist.
I finally had my first Zoom session with her today. It was exhausting. Left me tired, shaky, and shaken. Because the sodomy is part of my extended history of trauma, I need to share it. Along with reporting the physical, verbal, and emotional abuses of X, etc.
Even I don’t want to talk about these things. But for the first time I’m approaching therapy honestly. I love to please and charm, but — while it might let me temporarily deal with social situations — it’s not any way to deal with therapy or complicated and difficult subjects.
So I began hard work today. Deal with every abuse, every injury mental or physical, so that maybe I can heal. I cannot survive anymore with my emotions a raw, raging nerve. And boy, believe me I try. I’ve become a yoga addict, I meditate, I keep a journal, I eat healthy. I generally shower. Do my hair. And that takes hours: just to feel normalish and OK.
So, this trauma therapy is a new thing. I’m still not quite recovered from my experience of my session today. And it will occur every week. Along with the speech and vision. And the check-ins with my neurologist’s assistant. As a beautiful heart I know through social media told me, she prays for strength. Wish the Force be with me, friends. This ain’t easy.
You are trapped Now. Now you have no past. Nothing exists before Now. All your life is the inescapable hell of Now. You cannot remember when Now began. Now is with you when you wake. Now continues when you sleep. Now you cannot remember ice cream. Now you cannot remember the ocean. There is no vacation from Now. Now you cannot remember a smile. Now you cannot remember kindness. Now you cannot remember peace. Now you cannot remember love. Now you have no friend. Now is the inescapable foe. Now you cannot recognize the dead from the living. Now you forget which you are. Now you howl to no one. Now there is no one to hear. Now you are forgotten. Now you are utterly alone. Now is deaf. Now is dumb. Now is The Nothing stretching before you. That holds you fixed in its gaping stare. Now is The Nothing behind that pins you pitilessly Here in Now. Now is The Nothing of repeated repetition. Now is The Nothing that seeps into your soul, your being, the marrow of your bones. Now has no meaning. Now you are Nothing. Now has no past. Now has no future. Now never ends.
This is my experience of PTSD. And while the untouched have always struggled or refused to understand what has been called “The Soldiers’ Disease,” “Shellshock,” “Nam Flashbacks,” “Battered Wife Syndrome,” and just as often plain cowardice or an inability to “get over it,” I know this thing exists. I have seen it in films like “The Hurt Locker.” I have read stories of the Roman soldiers attempting to literally bury their heads to escape the slaughter at Cannae. I’ve read of the morphine addiction rampant among veterans of the Civil War. The alcoholic nihilism of Post-WWII Film Noir is rife with it. I have seen the homeless veterans of the countless savageries of war from Vietnam to Afghanistan living on the careless streets of the country they gave their youth for. Heroin, opiates, and alcohol have claimed more soldiers’ lives than any “enemy.” I have watched my Father carry a fly-swatter with him at all times. And when I asked him why bother over a fly, I heard his endless refrain. “Have you ever seen what flies can do to a dead man’s body?” I have heard my Mother tell of how her uncle, who cleared the tunnels at Iwo Jima, and her brother, who was wounded in Vietnam, break into tears at the mention of tunnels and pits and caves. The humor of the TV show M*A*S*H is the humor of the trenches. In Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five,” as the Germans and prisoners emerge from hiding into the rubble of Dresden, a bird challenges the meaning of human suffering with the call “Poo-tee-weet?” And Ahab chased the blind, dumb creature that took his leg and humanity around this circling world, a danger and a warning to all who witnessed his pain and rage. And, of course, there is Tolkien’s Frodo, closest to my heart. The author’s elaborate creation begun in the trenches, and so painful he constructed new languages just to speak of it.
I have never been to war. But I watched my Father wither from a robust, vibrant, keen and caring man into a skeletal mockery from cancer. I endured his final opiate-hazed days when he returned in his mind to Korea, and issued orders to my Mother, my sister, and myself. I remember how we pretended to obey his commands, lifting imaginary boxes of medical supplies that were desperately needed on some godless hill in the Frozen Chosin. That was how he earned his Bronze Star as a logistics Sergeant. Saving men no one remembers from slaughter in a war no one mentions on hill known by a forgotten number.
And I watched my Father die. And I had moments when I looked in the mirror and did not recognize my own image. I stole his drugs to kill my own pain. And when those were gone, ten dollars would buy a bag of mainlined oblivion for a day.
And then there was Him. Dark haired and dark eyed, tragically lost to the romance of the poppy, yet full of artistic promise. I thought I could save Him. But when he exchanged the needle for the bottle, well I wished he were back on dope. He never threw me down the concrete stairs in front of our apartment in the snow, half clothed, front left tooth broken by the gum line. Me with never a cavity. Those beautiful teeth. He never did that when he was on dope. He never pulled me from my bed by ankles and the long hair I will never wear again. Repeatedly pulling me from bed, slamming my face into doorways and tile bathroom floors. Right front tooth shattering with the tile beneath my face as he threw my head again and again and again against the cold surface. He never did that on heroin. I learned not to lock myself in the bathroom.
He’d have a beer or six and a drop of alcohol. And I would see his eyes lose focus. And rage rage RAGE at the world that he felt rejected his genius, and all fell on me. Sometimes I would hide outside. And he would scream and look for me. Sometimes he’d find me. Sometimes I’d sneak back into the apartment when it got quiet. Sometimes he’d wake up and again I’d be torn from bed or the closet or kitchen cabinet under the sink, which was spacious for a girl whose driver’s license says 5′ 1”. Again the beating, the sleeplessness, the bruises. Begging my landlord not to call the cops again. Lying to the police in Spanish somewhere in Central America that by all outward signs was a paradise. The safest, most stable and enduring democracy in Latin America. Full of Pura Vida and 90 year olds who loved to dance. Dinosaurs lived there. And monkeys! Real monkeys in the wild, swinging from tree to tree like one imagines monkeys would do. That I lived in Paradise at this time is probably the reason I am still alive.
But Paradise had a lot of cheap, pure cocaine, and cheaper alcohol. I don’t mind thinking of heroin, or seeing it on TV or in movies or in the news. It has no hold on me. But cocaine. No. When you carefully open tampons and roll your rent money up and hide it in the applicator tubes, then carefully hide the broken seal on the wrapping, and he bangs and berates you until you give it up. When your debit card and credit card are stolen enough that no bank wants your money. When you keep calling out of work. When the makeup can’t hide the bruises from your students, colleagues, or bosses. When you are just tired, and curl in bed with your dog and hordes of benedryl that you keep hidden but ultimately he finds and flushes anyway. When you’ve tried cutting with the razor but cannot. When you stop going to work. When you are unable to move. When you sit with your father-in-law and his “girlfriend” at a Christmas/birthday dinner you have prepared to please the in-laws, as it were, and he, Him, keeps leaving for an hour, two, more. And you sit ashamed before a white-haired, white-toothed, twinkling, blue-eyed Irishman wanted by the FBI and his expensive, young female companion whose tits he paid for. I say, when you sit at that well-prepared table in that company and feel shame burn and twist inside of you: you will feel the same about that “party” drug.
And when you’ve mastered playing ‘possum on the floor while a man with 12 inches and a hundred pounds on you spits venom in your face: worthless, useless, talentless, unfunny, stupid, fat, ugly, friendless, unloved, unloveable, a shame to your father’s memory, and “just like your mother.” It doesn’t matter how untrue those words are, or how tortured your mother has been, when all you are left with is the churning emptiness between your heart and gut. When you hold and rock yourself like a child, and howl like a street dog with a broken leg to no one. To silence. To nothing. When your only recourse is to beg money from your mother, your little sister, again, this time for a plane ticket home. To January in the Northeast. Freezing outside of PHL airport waiting for your mother who brought you a winter a coat. When you have to leave your dog. Your dog! With a man who’s sold your rings and necklaces and has bashed out your teeth. When you’ve been cheated on more times than you care to know. And yet you’ve stayed loyal in word and deed. When you leave him, and run from not your home to not your home. When you are drugged and sodomized by a “gay” couple renting out a room. And even still he chases you. Corners you outside of a drug store and tries to steal your prescription anti-anxiety medication. Hounds you when finally find someone new and good, and have a new apartment, and a job. When he waits where he knows you walk that same dog which you finally rescued, and greets you by saying “I see you’ve chubbed up.” When he uses your social security number to buy six iPhones, and you spend a year trying to fix your credit. I say, when that happens to you, you have experienced war, and it becomes your Now. And it will remain your Now forever. It may ease. It may improve. You may learn to adapt. But you are marked. Touched. Changed forever. As much as Ahab was broken and torn by Moby Dick. As much as Frodo lost his finger, himself, and received his wound that never healed. Your Now becomes and remains that moment you broke. The moment that meaningless, blind, begging, scraping, pitiful, lonely, raging suffering and violence that took the last of what you were. That becomes your Now, and as with Frodo or Ahab, your End.
I’ve been in some sort of therapy or counseling, and on psychiatric medications since I was about nineteen. I had some other troubles in my earlier life, and I don’t speak of them because the man involved is physically/mentally unable to understand what he did. And I’ve been mugged so many times I’ve lost count. But I recently appeared before an adjudicating law judge who began to ask me if there weren’t “some way, some therapy…because it’s been so long…” I wanted to scream at him that there are still Vietnam Vets, men in their sixties and seventies, living in VA shelters because their 18th year is still their Now. That to speak of “getting over it” to me is as monstrous as the French who shot men who would not “go over the top,” or Patton striking a soldier who had followed him from Africa through Italy, and then just broke down.
I don’t want what I have. But every time I wake up in a pool of cold sweat, from another dream in which He has taken all my money, spent it on drugs and booze, is with some other girl. And I am alone. Without a home, wandering the streets in the rain, unloved, unliked, unwanted, forgotten, useless, worthless, trying to navigate my way through mazes of bureaucrats and Nurse Ratcheds just to receive something, anything to help me continue to survive. I know my Now has not changed much. I will carry that weight and wound forever, as Frodo did. I may never find peace in the Shire again. And I will bear my eternal, mad, maniacal rage and pain as Ahab. A constant threat to the peace of those around me. A worry. A burden. Broken. A wary animal ruled by instinct. For if my chest were a cannon, surely such unholy madness as mine would burst from it and take all those who tried my patience with me. Save this blog where I told my tale in public first.
I have not written much lately here. I still struggle with accepting my new Now in my bed in my home. I still worry that I will lose everything. I worry about eviction. About losing utilities. About the time He lost the rent money betting on the Eagles. Who bets on the Eagles?! I horde food in bulk. I know what I can substitute for butter or eggs. And I lose sleep over when I only have one box of buillion or forget to plant or buy or dry parsley. I plant food. I pickle and can food. I carry at least one knife on me at all times. I have rebar wrapped in duct tape, and hatchets and machetes and baseball bats stashed around my house should there be an intruder. And I all of these items have names like The DiNero, or Killary. I can’t be in places with one exit. Ikea is my worst nightmare. I get nervous thinking of going to the supermarket, and rarely use ear phones. I have violent fantasies of taking down hostile men with some sort of Kung-Fu I obviously don’t know. But I know this house and the land it is on. And I know just how many doors I can lock behind me and still have an escape route like a roof. I check locks. I keep my house cold to keep the bills down. I spend hours throwing a pick ax to clear room for food gardens. Tear muscles raking. I diverted a stream with a shovel. I carry my weedwhacker like I’m Ripley or Vasquez or T2 Sarah Conner carried their weapons. I pack my backpack with first aid and mylar blankets and granola and fishing tackle, maps, and at least a liter of water. I purposefully overpack it and hike with it to build my endurance should I need to GET OUT. I instinctively note exits, and seat myself in public so as to have a clear view of the entrance, but behind the way the door swings should I need cover. Should I need to run. I can’t leave my house for long because my lack of a car and money leaves me feeling trapped and vulnerable. I have changed my appearance so as to not look inviting to men, and ensure I look and speak as white as I can with my mainly Mediterranean/Hungarian heritage. I live in the Appalachian foothills, and even if you knew my address, you couldn’t find me even with GPS.
But most of all, I hate my teeth. The bonding is old and beginning to crack on the first broken front tooth. And the bonding on the second tooth stains and needs replacing. And every time I see that stain, I want to put my fist through the mirror and his face. But life has punished him. And I have finally proved the medical necessity of crowns to my insurance, which is Medicaid, of course.
This is my Now. This is how I have adapted. But my family and long-time friend and love SP, and my therapist, have encouraged me to write again. My Mother gave me the money to renew this site and my domain. I was unsure what to write. Until this morning when I woke up more grateful to wake than any day I can recall. I woke up screaming and crying in a pool of sweat as I often do . He had spent all the money on drugs and was hanging out with some chick who was shooting up crack(?). I was living in my usual, lovely but changing cottage, by the landscape that is either near the ocean, or an old mill that has a good fishing spot, which he had destroyed. And the cottage was full of junkies and low lifes he’d brought around. And as I was crying and begging and pleading with him to leave me with something, he laughed at me. Laughed at how pitiful and pathetic I was. So I knew what to blog about today. Because I knew what he was laughing at. Now he had me trapped. This is my Now. This is my lonely path without glory. This is the story of my Neverending Now with PTSD.