originally written 16 Sep 2016
It has taken me a long time to begin to understand what having complex ptsd means for me. I was diagnosed with complex ptsd in early 2001 and there were no readily accessible resources or education available in the mainstream, at that time. I didn’t know I could recover, I just knew i was one fucked up unit – with a lot of serious issues.
After my diagnoses in 2001, years passed and I had never really processed what c-ptsd meant for me. In my mind, it meant all the other diagnoses I was given throughout my life. Such as hyper-emotional, chronically depressed or over-anxious. Among other stigmatizing and at times completely debilitating labels, pinned on me to live with and take sole responsibility for. No one ever tried to find out why I was so anxious or hyper-emotional (what I know now to be hyper vigilant). I have had three serious, lasting ptsd episodes in my adult life. From my memory of growing up and my life experience, it is very likely that I had ptsd episodes during childhood and adolescence.
Still, I went on with my search for recovery. To heal the emotional issues I somehow believed I could repair, through strong effort on my part. But never once did I or anyone else do anything to treat the underlying problem of every other problem I hope to resolve in my life; Complex PTSD.
In mid November 2014, an important life event triggered a ptsd episode for me that I wasn’t sure I would make it through. It was a big one that I knew was no joke. The only way I knew how to get through the darkness was to dive deep. It was a terrifying experience that lasted the better part of a year. To be honest, I was not sure I would reach any source of light before I was too far gone. Thankfully some unknown power within me was able to lead me to an internet search engine to type the words, “How to support loved ones with complex ptsd”
Yay internet! At my wits end and ready to give in to the hopelessness and darkness that was consuming me, I found myself landed on Pete Walker’s web site:
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.
This book was a surprise discovery in validation for me. The affects of complex post traumatic stress can be difficult to explain and understand, because it is different for each person affected. As I read excerpts, thoughts and feelings I had experienced but never been able to express, were being articulated for me. Some of the weight of suffering from the feeling of aloneness in the world, was lifted. Suddenly, I could see beyond my self and my own pain. A lot of not great shit happened while I grew up and in my adult-hood too. No doubt I am going to be a bit wrecked while I learn how to name what happened to – yes, happened to – me, and be allowed to get fucking angry about the injustice of some of it.
Listen, I don’t want to deny the past and I don’t want to dwell on it, either. I must say, reading this book helped me also feel validated in my anger; I am angry that I had to leave my parental house-hold at the age of fourteen years old. Unguided, through what I think are some of the most crucial times in brain development for a still developing human. As fucked up as my living situation often was during childhood under custody of my mother, at least one thing was consistent; my brother and I often stayed with family members all over the western provinces at varying times in our young lives. We would always [have] to go back to her.
I loved my mother more than anything, including myself. I adored her and worshipped the ground she walked on. I wanted more than anything for her to love me and show me her love. Sadly, I do not recall ever feeling loved by my mom. The day I left my mother’s care was the day I lost anything that may have remained of my childhood – my innocence and hope for a better future. I didn’t know until recently, that there are ways to recover lost experiences of the past by recreating them in the present. To invite the me of back then, to participate and be integral to the experience. Self determination encouraged.
From Surviving to Thriving came into my awareness in perfect timing. I think reading it at what was “just the beginning” of a ptsd episode for me, was how I was able to go into some seriously dark places within myself during the episode, and come out the other side good enough again. Because Good Enough is exactly what I want and need more of in my life. I recommend everyone who cares about ptsd and complex ptsd, read this book. I urge teachers to read this book especially. I cannot even imagine how many kids are living traumatic lives, trying to also go to and excel in school. All I know is that I was one of those kids and while I did have teachers who noticed something was up with me, at the time, there was nothing any one could do. Domestic abuse laws were very different in the eighties. It was not abnormal to beat the snot out of your kid for talking sass to a parent. It is an asset to have teachers who are aware of post traumatic stress and equipped to support in at least finding resources for students who live in trauma, if nothing more. It takes one person to help a child gain confidence to stop patterns of violence they may have been born into and change their life the first chance they get.
For twelve year old me, that person told me in private, after seeing my mother rap her closed knuckles across the side of my forehead, “You don’t have to let her hit you. You can walk away and as soon as you are brave enough, you should.” I was fourteen years old when I finally told my mother, “No more! You are not allowed to hurt me any more.”
Calming the Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk
Taken directly from the book, “A lack of information combined with misinformation can make it more difficult to avoid acting from your emotional self.” For me, this is everything I have been learning about in theory (and some practise) through working with my ptsd therapist and the books and articles I have been reading, these past couple years. I have been working toward understanding this, for my whole life. That until I can name and assimilate the parts of myself in conflict with functional living, I will not be able to give myself inner peace. As long as I believe nothing will ever be better, it will be so. This book has shown me the difference between feelings and emotions and that not everything is always about me, in a compassionate, kind and informative way. I think everyone who has emotions can benefit from this book in life in general. It is an important tool for the house-hold!
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
I just started reading this book and wow! I am not done yet but already have been validated too many times to count. So much of my anguish is explained within the pages of this incredible resource. Every person would be doing themselves a favour by reading this book and spreading the word. I am familiar with Bessel Van Der Kolk through internet searches and had seen this book online but avoided buying it, until recently. It seems every time I have worked through some important piece of my complex ptsd and have developed my theories about what happened, (that I got the way I am) I pick up a book or article that touches on exactly what I am going through right then.
From what I understand, if I understand correctly, Bessel Van Der Kolk is among psychologists and neuroscientists who see post traumatic stress and accumulated post traumatic stress, as a type of brain injury. Which totally and completely, resonates with my ptsd experiences. There is no doubt in my mind that children who grow up in unresolved, repeated trauma, are very likely suffering injuries to the development of their brains. Things are just wired differently. You will really have to check out The Body Keeps The Score, to get clearer explanations than what I can offer. Brain development is something I think a lot about. I believe repeated trauma through my developmental years is what caused my brain to be wired for too much fight or flight and not enough of regulation and self confidence or healthy attachment. I will keep adding to this list as time goes on.
These are the three most recent books I have read since first beginning my quest for understanding what complex ptsd means for me, personally. I know that many people have ptsd or complex ptsd and I can only speak to my own experience in this topic. Every person has their experience and I encourage self determination for those of us trying to find their way to where ever it is we are going. What works for one person, might not work for another. Let us allow one another to find our own Way, through sharing information. Let us allow one another to take or leave what we share, without trauma dictating that we are insulted or offended that anyone would ever think we need any one else’s input or help.
Let us learn to just say, “no thank you.” When we receive information that we disagree with. It doesn’t have to always be a fight. I tell myself this every day, at least a lot! Haha! I have a long way to go in rewiring my brain processes. I have a brain that is used to feeling in danger constantly. I have a lot of work to do, to undo this terrible injury to my innocent brain. The above books have been a huge help in preparing me for what is going to likely be some of my most challenging emotional and mental work and I have been working toward this since 1989, when I took my first step toward recovery, as a new mother who was terrified to repeat patterns of violence in my family. Now that I know I can stop repeated patterns of violence, I can get on with healing my wounds and learning to accept love and gentleness. My biggest challenge yet! thank you for reading.