Tag Archives: #Trauma

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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The (Reframed) Story of My Life. Birthday Edition!

Look at all the pretty candles.

Listen, if I told you half the frustration I’ve felt without the ability to write, you’d wipe that judgy look off my face. There’s no pain so perfect as judging yourself for what you can’t do anything about. (Except for a Grand Marnier hang over.)

Regular readers will remember this gem I wrote about how badly I was beating myself up physically. My hand and wrist are taped up and in a sling now. My RIGHT hand. I am not left handed.

But I still am a writer, even when not writing per se. One of my favorite, exciting and new writing challenges I learned in therapy, where it’s called “reframing the narrative.” A boring example is to ascribe normal, human mistakes or misunderstanding to someone or something that ticked you off or upset you.

A fun reframing is “Aw. Macho man randy Putin can’t go around with his shirt off anymore, his dick is giving out, and that was always suspiciously homoerotic behavior from a homophobe anyway.” It doesn’t negate anyone’s suffering, but it cuts the bad guy down to size. Like the old joke about the German who “knows nutzing!” Or Charlie Chaplin’s rip on Hitler and Nazism as Adenoid Hynkel in The Great Dictator, or M*A*S*H the TV show.

Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin) and Napoloni clash over egos and Italian food.
Alan Alda as Dr. “Hawkeye” Pierce.

So, there I was on my *mumble mumble* birthday, feeling beat up and wiped out. So, of course my brain went immediately to “age.” But, truth be “reframed,” didn’t I actually feel like 5 yr old me who broke her arm skating, lied about it to see Lady and the Tramp, and caused my mother shame when she finally got me to a doctor? Was this much different?

I ended up taking the fishing rod Stan got me for my birthday to the pier and caught a fish on every cast. I even got two at once on my rig. We went together the next day too. And I felt like a kid catching spot and catfish. Just like our dock at one of our old houses when I was a kid.

We had other adventures since, Stan and I. Meanwhile I’ve been reading, and trying to write, even though it’s not helping my hand any. All I can say is speech to text is clunky and not for me.

But I broke through something that has been gnawing at me while in therapy. That is “what’s my next writing project?” My therapist pointed out that I was recounting other people’s tales of themselves, particularly after trauma. That I had written the story of “Survivor Jess.” But who had I become? Or am becoming? Who was Growth and Flourishing Jess? How do I become her? How am a going to reframe this time around? How do I make some story with sense from the senseless?

I turned to one of my first loves as a writer. Kurt Vonnegut. When I first read him as a teen his anti-establishment, absurd world switched my brain on. But, reading his Slaughter House Five, or The Children’s Crusade, this time around I saw a man who had PTSD, trauma. He was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge, and as a POW sheltered in a slaughterhouse during the Allied fire bombing of Dresden. And this was his way to “reframe” his experience.

Like his main character, Billy Pilgrim who has come unstuck in time, perhaps I can find a new way to reflect on my life. Billy wished to share the truth of Time to comfort others. Maybe I can work something out that makes as much sense as thinking a dead person was simply in a bad way at that moment. But in other moments, he just fine, and we can visit those other moments when we like. What’s my grand scheme of “reframing” that might be a comfort or encouragement?

That is what I can do to wipe the judgy look off my face. I can write. Through physical and emotional pain, after the perfect pain of this long Grand Marnier hangover. That bull crap can fertilize my growth.

Wish this Pilgrim luck, and see you again at this point in our orbit around the Sun. “If the accident will.” Til next time, and so on.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ––πŸΌπŸŽΈπŸŽ‰

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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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