Exercising My Positive Traits

The PTSDHow and when did you show determination?

I showed determination when I made the decision to go to therapy and for once tell a psychiatrist the whole truth. I showed determination when I made the decision to buy a workbook for post-traumatic stress disorder and put myself through cognitive behavioral therapy. I showed determination when I decided to make a blog out of my journey so that I would become accountable to someone other than myself. I showed determination when I decided that I wanted to use my story and my journey to help others. I hope to continue showing determination a little bit everyday.

How and when did you show your will to continue to struggle and to eventually succeed?

I’m showing my will everyday, little by little. I’m getting up in the morning. I’m brushing my teeth and washing my hair. I’m trying not to revert back to old habits. I’m trying not to lock it down again, get pissed, and just walk around angry all the time, ignoring my past. I’m also trying not to become overwhelmed and depressed by it all and let it break me down. I’m continuing on this personal journey. I’m struggling, but I’m doing more of what I love and I’m feeling as though happiness is looming just around the corner if I only reach for it.

How and when did your faith help you, particularly faith in yourself and your support system?

I believe my faith has helped me survive my life. When I was younger it was my faith in God that helped me make it through. Then as I grew older, I had less faith in religion, and more faith in love. I began to believe that somewhere there was someone who would love me past my pain. I was always the princess waiting to be saved by the prince. I no longer need or want a prince to save me. I just want someone who’ll hold my hand while I save myself. My true friends have really stepped up in this respect. They are amazing human beings and I am so lucky to have them.

How and when did you show courage?

When I stood between my Mother and my brother, I showed courage. Every time I protected him I showed courage. I remember a time when my Mother was chasing us around the house with my Father’s belt. We couldn’t get away fast enough. My brother and I tried to hide in a corner beside the stairs. Our Mother found us. She began hitting us with the belt and when Zach began crying, I pushed him into the corner behind me. It’s a very fuzzy memory, but I believe that it happened this way. When our youngest brother asked Zach about our Mother, and how it was when we were little, Zach has said that I protected him. I’m not sure how often I actually managed to spare him, but I know I tried and that it was courageous.

How and when did you take personal responsibility for meeting your needs (including your need for safety) during your traumatic experiences?

I remember my Mother coming after me when I was little, I’d try to get away or hide. When I got to high school, I would push furniture in front of door. When I began driving, I would park my car on Folly Beach. I’d live in my car for weeks at a time before I’d finally go back home. It seemed safer to sleep in the Beetle than in my house. Honestly, it still feels that way most of the time.

How and when did you exhibit your personal creativity?

I’ve always been creative. I was singing in chorus by age two, dancing ballet and tap by age three, and drawing and painting by age four. By the time I got to high school, I was in honors chorus and honors drama. I competed and succeeded in making both All-County and All-State choir two years in a row. I was also involved in a theatrical youth company after school and on weekends. I was in many shows. My bedroom walls were collaged and painted and ever changing. I would put songs lyrics everywhere. When I went away to college it was more of the same. It wasn’t until I really gave it all up and moved back home that I really began to suffer. Despite all I’ve been through, music, theatre, art, it was always my release. When I succumbed to the pressures of life, when I quit, I had no where to put all my emotions. I felt so broken, so sad, so angry, but suddenly I had no where to put it. I’ve begun doing theatre again after a nearly five year absence. It has been the best decision I’ve made thus far on my road to recovery.

How and when did you show your resilience?

My resilience has been proven time and again as I refuse to give up. I go through hurricanes. I can’t always handle everything. In the past I’ve fallen apart completely or shut down completely. However, I rage against tempests. I swim against the current. I try not to let the waves take me away. I try not to drown. I swim.

How and when did you use your intuition?

I’m just now beginning to really use my intuition to try to remember what happened to me. There are so many blank spaces. Many memories come in patches. I have to rely on my instincts, on my gut feelings.  There are chunks here and there where I am able to remember events completely, the rest is a blur that I’m still trying to sort out. I am hopeful that through therapy, both on my own, and with a professional, I will eventually be able to fill the blank spaces.

How and when were you able to maintain any optimism?

I feel as though I am very optimistic, but it comes in short waves. It’s as though the ocean is kissing the shoreline and there I am running trying to catch it. I try to hold on to hope just as I try to catch the waves, but it is constantly eluding me. Sometimes optimism and hope wash over my feet as does the ocean, and in those moments I can feel the sun rise. I can see the horizon.

How and when were you able to use any physical strength?

I’ve used physical strength over the years both against attacks and to attack my Mother. I am thankful for what physical strength I have. However, I am terrified of what is capable when I feel threatened and adrenaline begins coursing through my body. I’m really not very strong, but it doesn’t take much for me to feel as though my life is in danger. In those (now rare) situations, I know I will do whatever I must to survive and that is terrifying.

What did completing this exercise tell you about your strengths?

Mostly it reinforced that I am determined, courageous, and ready to do whatever necessary, and use whatever skills I possess to overcome my trauma.

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Covered in SUDS

The PTSDThe SUDS scale is a way to communicate to yourself and others how much distress you are experiencing. The scale consists of 11 points, from zero to ten, from least to most distress. It is important that you assign your own measures to this scale. This scale has been adapted from the work of Smyth (1999). The scale goes as follows…

I am completely relaxed, with no distress. I may be deep in sleep.

1 I am very relaxed. I may be awake but dozing off.

I am awake but feel no tension.

I feel a little bit of tension; it keeps my attention from wandering.

4 I am feeling some mild distress, apprehension, fear, or anxiety, and body tension.

My distress is somewhat unpleasant but I can still tolerate it. (I am looking at a spiderweb with a huge spider in it, but it is several feet away and the spider can’t jump that distance.)

I am feeling moderate distress and unpleasant feelings. I have some worry and apprehension.

My body tension now is substantial and unpleasant, though I can still tolerate it and can think clearly.

I am feeling a great deal of distress with high levels of fear, anxiety, worry. I can’t tolerate this level of distress for very long.

The distress is so great that it is impacting my thinking. I just can’t think straight.

10 I am in extreme distress. I am totally filled with panic and I have extreme tension throughout my body. This is the worst possible fear and anxiety I could ever imagine. It is so great that I just can’t think at all.

Safety Assessment

The_PTSD_Workbook_Simple_Effective_Techniques_for_Overcoming_Traumatic_Stress_Symptoms-73727

These are just a few of the questions pulled from the safety assessment within my PTSD workbook. There are quite a few more, but these were the ones that I felt most worth sharing. I want others to know how I am doing while I go through this process and what steps I am taking to ensure my safety within myself.

Will you have a safe place in which to do this work?

Thus far I’ve been working all over the place on the fly. The most important thing I’ve found is that I need to either be alone with silence or surrounded by people and white noise to focus enough, think concisely, and get my thoughts and emotions across. When I returned home from work today I threw on sweats, hopped in bed, and was going to begin blogging, but my internet at home sucks and my Father wasn’t there, so I decided to switch up locations. Today I am coming to you from ye ole’ coffee house, aka Starbucks. Lol. The white noise of the coffee machines, everyone chatting, kids laughing, other writers typing away, it has all helped my focus. Though, honestly, it has been somewhat difficult to control my emotional response to the work. There have been several times when I felt on the brink of tears and held back.

How will you protect yourself from your own strong feelings and thoughts that come up when you’re doing the work, particularly if those feelings and thoughts feel harmful to you?

Thus far I have cried quite a bit, way more than usual. I have smoked quite a bit, but no more than usual really. I have found that it is best to find distraction upon completion of the work. Driving is not a good idea, as I become unsafe when overly emotional. What has helped the most thus far is to watch a tv show or a movie, just get into another world for a bit, zone out. Later, when I’m feeling less emotionally charged, less panic, I can reflect upon my work. Generally, once my feelings have dispersed I feel lighter having done the work and especially having put it out there. It makes me feel better knowing that my story is out, that others might read it, and perhaps that they might feel less alone. I like to re-read my pieces over and over again, as the reflection of it all reminds me that my trauma is real. I have not dreamed it. It helps dispel any dissassociation I experience.

What can you do to contain any harmful beliefs or actions and prevent them from taking over and hurting you?

I generally ignore the thoughts in my head, or I light a cigarette. I’d like to start writing down all the harmful beliefs and thoughts that cross my mind. I think to put the thought to paper would make it more real. Then I can write an affirmation in response. I need to slowly deprogram these thoughts from my mind. I need to replace all these ideas of self-harm with positive thoughts, or at least with thoughts that validify what I’m going through and the emotions I’m experiencing.

My Sense of Safety

The_PTSD_Workbook_Simple_Effective_Techniques_for_Overcoming_Traumatic_Stress_Symptoms-73727How safe is your environment? Is your home safe?

I live in an apartment above my parent’s garage. My Mother is the antagonist in my life. Upstairs the apartment is relatively safe, however, I’ve seen what can happen anywhere in my home. She attacked me downstairs in my kitchen. My Father pulled her off of me. When he is home it is easier, but there are many instances where she is home and he is not. It is hard to feel safe anywhere in my home.

What makes you feel safe physically when you are alone? With others? In different situations?

I feel safest when there are infallible locks on doors and windows, there are curtains hanging in front of every window. I feel safest when barricaded in a room. I generally am able to block out certain feelings around others. I am able to mask fear. I often feel safe when out and about on my own or with friends, however I also am very aware of my surroundings. I am very aware that at any minute someone could pull out a gun and lay the place to waste. I think despite the situation, there is definitely an undercurrent of fear that runs through me on the daily.

Are those with whom you live or interact safe? If they are, what makes the setting and those persons safe? If they are not, what makes them unsafe?

I don’t feel that anyone I live with is truly safe, with the exception of my youngest brother. I can’t recall my father ever physically attacking me, short of one time when he hit me across the legs once with an extension cord before storming away. Granted, I had just called the cops on my parents. I was seventeen and it was bad. Despite my Father not being physically violent, he can be very terrifying. When I was particularly rebellious during my teen years, we would get into screaming matches and he would chase me and get up in my face. Sometimes he’d be screaming and he’d be in such close proximity that spit would fly at me with every word. Of course, my Father is also the one who has saved me from my Mother. She’s a piece of work. My Mother is very physically abusive. The key is not to let her pin you to the ground. If she gets you on the ground you are done for. My Father and I have as successful a relationship as I believe possible at this point, despite my intense resentment. I don’t really fear him, so much as look to him to save me from my Mother. She is the person I avoid at all costs. My younger brother Zach can get scary like my Father, but he would never lay a hand on me. I protected him from as much as possible when we were children. My youngest brother Reed hasn’t gotten scary yet. He isn’t angry enough to be scary. I hope dearly that he doesn’t grown up to be angry. I don’t believe he will, as he hasn’t grown up quite the way Zach and I did. By the time Reed came along, he was guaranteed a certain amount of protection, between me, Zach, and my Father.

If you are not safe in your home, what can you do about it?

I want to save some money and install heavy deadbolts that my parents don’t have keys for. Granted, I doubt that would go over very well. I did this to my room in the house in high school. My Mother reacted by taking the door off the hinges. I’d always pushed furniture against doors for protection. I can remember doing it as soon as I was strong enough. My Mother would break down the door to beat us. When she took my door, I suddenly had to have a piece of furniture against it always to reserve any protection at all. Honestly, ideally working through my post traumatic stress can make me strong enough to move out of here again, this time for good. I’ve issues with safety and I’m scared no matter where I go, but if I can just work through this, perhaps someday I’ll have the chance at living a relatively normal existence. Whatever normal is…

How can you (and how do you) protect yourself?

I keep my shoulders up, stay braced, stay vigilant. I avoid my Mother at all costs. Though we live within yards of each other, at this point I believe it has been three or four months since we’ve spoken. We see each other coming and going occasionally, sometimes she chooses to verbally attack me. This is her baiting me. She’s hoping I’ll fire back. This is how many of our intense fights have begun over the years. I’ve learned to tune her out. When she baits me I usually manage not to speak, but simply ignore her and walk away.

How successful are your self-protective attempts?

Though I still live in constant fear, it has been three and a half years since she has physically attacked me. That time was the closest she ever came to ending my life. I believe she would have had my Father not pulled her off of me. I do plan on telling that story. I’ll get there eventually, but I’m not there yet. It’s been about two years since she last baited me and I responded. A verbal fight began, then when she came at me, I asked her to make me bleed. I told her to go ahead and do her worst because this time I was going to the cops and they’d be more likely to believe me if she made me bleed. She gave a manic little laugh, but then backed away with fear in her eyes. As aforementioned, I called the cops a few times in high school, but I always bailed out before they got there. When they arrived my Mother would tell them to find me and put me in jail, while my Father would explain that it was just a simple fight between my Mother and I, that it would resolve itself. The last time she attacked me was the worst, perhaps of my entire life. She nearly killed me and I believe she knows that, otherwise the physical attacks would not have come to such a sudden halt. I believe she terrified herself that night.

When are you safest?

I am safest when I’m locked in my bedroom and my Father is home. I am safest when I’m not there.

When do you feel safest?

Honestly, the safest I’ve ever felt has been with a man who I’ve had a complicated relationship with for years. He is taller and more broad-shouldered than my Father. He is very strong. He has also known abuse and understands what it feels like. I’ve felt safest with him. However, he is not here. It is complicated. Regardless, I realize that depending on someone else to feel safe is an issue which I need to resolve. It is difficult for me, because I can’t remember feeling safe. I’m sure there was a time, there had to be, but if there was I cannot recall it. Despite this, I want to reach a point where I feel safe within myself and on my own. I expect I’ll be paranoid my entire life. However, I hope for better.

How can you protect yourself when you are with people you do not know?

Honestly, I rarely put myself in situations involving possible stranger danger. I don’t do one-night stands. I don’t pick up men at clubs. I internet stalk new people relentlessly before I’m ever alone with them in private. When meeting new people, usually friends of friends, I am definitely very distrusting. I’m not quite sure whether to put that as a win or lose quality. It protects me, but it also makes it harder for people to get to know me. Honestly though, I believe under the right circumstances anyone is capable of murder and this does create a somewhat level playing field whether I know a person or not.

What do your answers to these questions tell you about your sense of safety?

My sense of safety is kind of screwy? It’s hard for me to know just what to do to improve my sense of safety since my issues follow me wherever I go. Would it be helpful to move out of my house? Yes, of course, however to where, with whom? As aforementioned I’ve incredible trust issues. The instability that I’ve witnessed in my Mother over the years leads me to believe that anywhere, at anytime, with anyone, my life could be in danger. I’ve seen her go from zero to sixty in point five seconds. Laughter, joy, happiness becomes sadness, weeping, becomes anger, and physical violence. It’s an unending loop. It’s a dysfunctional movie reel that just keeps on spinning. I am afraid of that in others because I’ve experienced it with her and because I’ve felt the scary depths of my own emotions at being threatened. I am holding on to hope that therapy, blogging, community, and these exercises will help me feel truly safe again.

Statements of Disbelief of Trauma

The_PTSD_Workbook_Simple_Effective_Techniques_for_Overcoming_Traumatic_Stress_Symptoms-73727   Steps I have worked through 

1. I believe that whatever happened to me in the past was of no consequence or that nothing actually happened at all.

2. I believe something terrible happened to me and I am not just imagining it.

3. I am aware at some level that I am a trauma survivor.

4. I am aware that I am a trauma survivor and I choose life over self-inflicted death.

5. I am aware that I am a trauma survivor and I am ready to deal with my feelings of being damaged goods, unworthy of love.

6. I am angry that I am a trauma survivor.

7. I feel rage toward the perpetrator of the trauma that happened to me (including God and other people or forces)

8. I have discussed my traumatic experiences with support persons not in my family.

9. I have discussed my traumatic experiences with members of my family.

10. I have re-experienced at least some of what happened to me during the traumatic events and have begun to deal with my feelings.

These are only some of the statements of disbelief that I was traumatized that I have completely worked through or begun to work through. There are many more that I’m yet unable to conquer. However, I am aware of my trauma and I’m working on it and trying not to minimize it. I’m beginning to understand the deep levels on which it has affected me. I’m beginning to understand how this works. I’m beginning to slowly accept this process.

My Trauma Related Beliefs

The_PTSD_Workbook_Simple_Effective_Techniques_for_Overcoming_Traumatic_Stress_Symptoms-73727Belief #9

I don’t believe that I have to live up to obligations-I think it’s okay to say “I forgot” or just ignore what I’m supposed to do.

Situations in which this belief determines my actions:

I have definitely demonstrated this behavior, though I believe it pertains mostly to my attempts at higher education. I’ve done this for years and years whenever I’ve attempted college. I take on the responsibility of courses, then when I make a mistake, I’m late to class, I’ve a low grade on one test, etc… I feel so ashamed, embarrassed, and defeated that I just start ignoring it. I honestly think it ties back to the abuse I went through when it came to school. As early as kindergarten my Mother would make me sit on her bed with my homework. I remember whenever I had to study for a spelling test, she would give me the test and all the words I missed, she would then make me write five times each. Then she’d give me the test again and all the words I missed, she would make me write ten times. It would go on like this until she could give me the test and I’d spell all the words correctly. When I close my eyes to think about it I can still smell the lead. I feel the pencil in my hand, after awhile it would begin hurting my fingers. I would get tired and I would start to whine or cry. But I couldn’t leave her room until I spelled all the words correctly. If I came home from school with a test grade of less than 100, she would get disappointed and then angry that she’d spent all that time studying with me and I’d still missed a word or two. Sometimes she would cuss me out, call me stupid, etc… By the time I got to high school, this was the routine. My Mother locked me in her bedroom closet most of freshman year. She made me sit in there and study. She refused to let me out until I was done. Then she would proofread all my work. Sophomore year we’d moved into a house without a walk in closet, unluckily this meant I had to sit on her bedroom floor and do my work with her a foot away. By the time senior year came around we were having brutal physical altercations. I was skipping school constantly. I was failing everything. I was sleeping in my car half the time, then finally I moved in with another family member for a bit, though that didn’t last. I felt homeless. No one wanted me. No wonder I followed my boyfriend off to college. I had to escape. It went well for a semester. I took sixteen credit hours, had my own dorm room, starred in “The Fantastics”, worked at the college library, and made a 3.5 GPA that semester. I believe the rush of freedom drove me in the beginning. But it turns out my demons have followed me everywhere I’ve ever run away to. I haven’t finished college. I doubt I ever will. It makes me insane. I’m never good enough. I’m always having panic attacks and crying. Just typing it right now I’m having trouble breathing and I’m tearing up. I can just hear her screaming at me over and over again that I’m not good enough. I have flashes of having my books thrown at me, though I’m not sure if that happened… I avoid this obligation I believe because I still associate it with the trauma surrounding it. I’m not really sure at this point if college is something I still want, or ever really wanted, or if it was just my ticket out of here. If I did want it though, I’d definitely have to get to a place where it didn’t hurt this way, I didn’t have so many flashbacks, panic attacks, triggers, etc… or at least I knew how to cope and not ignore or avoid all the work that comes with taking classes. Honestly, I like to idealize my first semester away in college, since I did so well and all. But truthfully, I was manic. I was so stressed that my hair was falling out. I would break down sobbing in my then-boyfriend’s arms at least once a week. I had no idea then that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress. I think the musical I starred in that semester kept me sane. I could just go to rehearsals after classes, then after work each day and immediately slip into character and pretend I was someone else. I’ve always been pretty method when it comes to acting. I think that semester was such a success because I became sweet, mild-mannered, albeit a bit thrill-seeking, Louisa. I could flit around campus and pretend to be her, which clearly helped with classes because she was very optimistic and saw the world through rose-colored glasses most the time. That next semester I was low. So low that I didn’t even try out for the next production they were casting. I was the props mistress and then also inherited the role of stage manager. But, that didn’t lend to my disappearing as someone else, so much as disappearing backstage. That semester, along with the next, I scraped by with a couple completed courses, but most I had failed. My shining 3.5 GPA, was suddenly down to a 3.0. I broke up with my boyfriend. I told myself that I was coming home to face my problems, really I was afraid to be alone at college out of state. I moved back in with my parents. I was drunk for a couple years. Suddenly I fell in love, deeply in love, it was serious. I tried a semester at our local technical college. When I wasn’t in classes, I was nannying. Somewhere in the middle I was taking a week off to go visit my love as we’d become long-distance. I wasn’t doing my best, but I wasn’t doing too poorly that semester either. Then he ended it and my heart truly broke for the first time. I couldn’t get out of bed. He had been my way out, my light at the end of the tunnel, he had been the one. My driving force, the purpose that I’d found in my life was gone just as suddenly as he’d appeared. I quit. After nearly six months wallowing in bed, I got up and began working full-time. Though I hopped through several jobs, it went on like this for several years, work… work… work… I didn’t attempt college again until recently, just this past semester. I was failing miserably. I couldn’t make myself do the work. I dropped everything. I’m now even further in debt than I was before. I also wasted my Grandmother’s money for the second time, according to her the third, since the first time I went to college it was on bonds that she’d given me that were cashed in. They barely paid for that first semester, then came the loans. My Father has been paying those off for me the past several years. I’ve wasted everyone’s money, but I’ve mostly wasted my own time when I could’ve been facing my demons, going to therapy and getting help. If my father weren’t paying 100 dollars on my student loans each month, perhaps he would just give me that to go to therapy. Though he shouldn’t have to give me anything. I’m the one who is twenty-five and can’t find a decent job and can’t stick with anything and can’t support myself and don’t know how to survive on my own and how not to constantly break down. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know about college. I just know if I’m going to have a chance to undertake any obligations, to succeed at anything in life, to get better, to move past this, I have to go through it all again. I have to complete this workbook. I have to read everything I can find on post-traumatic stress disorder. I have to continue blogging about it because this is my only release and I have to hope that my honesty will help others. I have to work through what I can on my own and then I have to find a way to afford therapy so that a professional can help me. I have to find the job stability and the strength to move out of my parents house again and this time to stay out, away from the person who has abused me and tormented me and made my life so damn difficult. I have to accept obligations daily, if only for myself. I have to get up, brush my teeth, wash my face, and live my life for me beyond all this suffering. There has to be more to my life than this. I have to learn to see a future for myself so that I can begin taking on obligations that will help get me to where I so desperately want to and need to be. Wherever that place is, I hope it’s far away from here.

My Trauma Related Beliefs

The_PTSD_Workbook_Simple_Effective_Techniques_for_Overcoming_Traumatic_Stress_Symptoms-73727Belief #5

I am unwilling to do something that is disagreeable to me.

Situations in which this belief determines my actions:

Life is fucking hard. I feel entitled, because of what I’ve been through. It is harder sometimes for me to make myself move and do things that would make me happy in the long run. It’s difficult for me to see the bigger picture and know that if I work hard everyday, things can change and get better. I feel so defeated by experience. I have to push myself hard everyday to get past this. I have to make myself do things. I have to, because I don’t wanna wake up ten years from now feeling like I do today, like if I had just pushed harder, things could be different. I have to push myself.