Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

Thanksgiving 2020 and CPTSD - Survive Your Family Gathering

November 26, 2020 Ray Erickson Season 1 Episode 4
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
Thanksgiving 2020 and CPTSD - Survive Your Family Gathering
Chapters
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
Thanksgiving 2020 and CPTSD - Survive Your Family Gathering
Nov 26, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Ray Erickson

Today's episode is about Thanksgiving and what that means when you have PTSD. I really wanted to get this episode out to you sooner, but life had different plans for me. Fortunately, I was unencumbered with a social event on this most holy of holy holidays for me. I loved Thanksgiving and still do. Today is the first time I have not had a group meal on Thanksgiving in my life.  First time alone. 

I spent most of the day working on this episode and took a time out to watch the Detroit Lions get their asses kicked by Houston. There is small rant about the Lions in today's episode. Please forgive me, it's a curse from growing up in Michigan.

Please give it a listen and let me know what you think. Also please pass it along if you know someone who you think will benefit from my perspective and experiences with PTSD and C-PTSD. It will be greatly appreciated.

Here are a couple of websites that may be helpful for the holidays.

https://www.beautyafterbruises.org/blog/survivingtheholidays

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/11/28/va-offers-tips-coping-ptsd-during-holiday-season.html

Happy Thanksgiving to you and those you love.

Show Notes Transcript

Today's episode is about Thanksgiving and what that means when you have PTSD. I really wanted to get this episode out to you sooner, but life had different plans for me. Fortunately, I was unencumbered with a social event on this most holy of holy holidays for me. I loved Thanksgiving and still do. Today is the first time I have not had a group meal on Thanksgiving in my life.  First time alone. 

I spent most of the day working on this episode and took a time out to watch the Detroit Lions get their asses kicked by Houston. There is small rant about the Lions in today's episode. Please forgive me, it's a curse from growing up in Michigan.

Please give it a listen and let me know what you think. Also please pass it along if you know someone who you think will benefit from my perspective and experiences with PTSD and C-PTSD. It will be greatly appreciated.

Here are a couple of websites that may be helpful for the holidays.

https://www.beautyafterbruises.org/blog/survivingtheholidays

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/11/28/va-offers-tips-coping-ptsd-during-holiday-season.html

Happy Thanksgiving to you and those you love.

Introduction

Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica where we talk about all things related to Post Traumatic Stress and Complex Post-Traumatic stress which means the content in this podcast can be graphic and if you suffer from PTSD or Complex-PTSD keep in mind you could become triggered. Should that happen, stop the podcast and take care of yourself. If you want to you can come back to it later.

I am the guinea pig here and it is my life I examine on Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. It is my hope that my trials and tribulations, successes and failures will somehow compel you to examine your life and discover your gifts. Socrates exclaimed, “A life unexamined is a life not worth living.” This is a call to action for all of us. 

As a clinical social worker, this was my trade, my vocation. From personal experience, I can tell you, without a doubt that what you don’t know can hurt you. My entire life I have been compelled to support and encourage people to grow, to boldly look within and courageously examine their lives. Shine your light onto those dark space and the solutions you seek will reveal themselves. Please sit down, relax and listen to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica.

Episode 4
Thanksgiving 2020 and PTSD

Welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host Ray Erickson. Today I am talking about Thanksgiving and if you are one of the millions of people who have PTSD or C-PTSD you know how much anxiety you have about this holiday. You may have a good reason so skip this year’s family gathering given the world is in the middle of an unprecedented spike in COVID cases and deaths. The CDC is recommending you stay at home and if you do gather, gather in small groups, wear masks and practice social distancing. Do it for the people you love.

This year, 2020 marks my 69th Thanksgiving and I don’t know about you, but it has been a ver long, strange trip, maybe for you too. Let me first say this, I love Thanksgiving. As a kid I loved the food, the football, the after-dinner naps. I loved the gravy, the overcooked white meat, the mashed potatoes and the dressing. As a kid, it was all about the food and getting 4 days off school. Come to think of it, these are my favorite things about Thanksgiving as an adult.  Hmm…

Everything was delicious and shamefully abundant. This was the one day of the year when we didn’t remind ourselves of the starving children in China. Thanksgiving was a full throttled, pedal to the metal rocket ship into hedonism. We didn’t waste time to share our gratitude, we went straight for the canned cranberries and sweet potatoes. This is what Thanksgiving is about. Glutany, football and not worrying about that extra 10 pounds you always gain by the end of the year. Thanksgiving is the holiday that keeps on giving even when you can’t eat another bite.

I don’t have much faith in the myth of that first Thanksgiving celebration and how it symbolizes a mutually beneficial relationships between the native people, mistakenly called “Indians” and the new, strangely pale people who one day appeared upon the eastern horizon. Thanksgiving gave way to genocide in the decades following this first act of cooperation through war, pestilence, and culture busting. For me these acts are beyond reprehensible. Nevertheless, I love this time of year.

Thanksgiving is one of my top three all-time favorite holidays. It’s a close second to Christmas. It even beat out my birthday so in my world, Thanksgiving has been indelibly etched into my mind as part Norman Rockwell, part Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In our family, there were no Uncle Teddy’s who always offended everyone. No Karen’s who always complained. Everyone got along very well, probably because of the tryptophane in the turkey, the PBR (Papst Blue Ribbon), the Morgan David wine and the whiskey nightcaps. Eventually, the majority of family members fell asleep on the floor with their heads resting comfortably on a throw-pillow while watching one of at least 12 football games on TV. 

Speaking of football, growing up in Michigan includes being cursed to lament the good old days when Bobby Layne led the mighty Lions to the NFL Championship. Here is what Wikipedia said about the Detroit Lions.

The Lions have won four NFL championships. However, their last was in 1957, which gives the club the second-longest NFL championship drought behind the Arizona Cardinals (who last won in 1947). They are one of four current teams and the only NFC team to have not yet played in the Super Bowl.

Talk about sad. My father’s blood was Hawaiian blue and silver. He was a season ticket holder for more than 30 years. A truly dedicated Lions fan he was, therefore, Thanksgiving always came in second. Which meant dinner was put on hold until 5pm, maybe even 6pm, depending on traffic and the amount of celebration or consolation taking place in Detroit that afternoon. One thing we could always depend upon was by the time my father did arrive, he would be two sheets to the wind and looking for his third.  

The meal, of course was ready to eat at a 2pm but kept warm until my father returned from the game.  Meanwhile the 12-16 family members in attendance had plenty of celebrating to do themselves. There was football for the men and the latest local gossip for the women. I grew up in a small-town of 2000 people. Everybody knew everybody’s business and my mother was one of the main hubs for breaking local news. In her tiny salon attached to back of the house my mother styled the blue and silver hair of the local matriarchs and gossiped. As children, my younger brother and I would occasionally try to listen to the chatter that emanated through the wall between my mother’s salon and our kitchen. Mostly it was boring, and I preferred to be outside playing. 

These are very fond memories for me, but now, I know about the darkness in my family. These fond memories preserve a tiny piece of normality in an environment that was scarred by the incestuous secrets that survived in the shadow of my family‘s shame. Secrets that are ferociously protected even to this very day. There is no going back and there are no restorative experiences in an incest family. These families “devour their young” in order to protect themselves against the shame of disclosure. This was the case in my family. Upon learning about the unthinkable abuse my brother perpetrated on his children, possibly many other children, I tried to right the ship, but soon learned I could push only so much before they turned on me like a wounded wild animal trapped in a corner. My last thanksgiving with the family was in 1987. The year I became a social worker.

Forgive me if I keep repeating some things, but some things simply bear repeating. The fond memories I speak to above were forged as a means to protect me from the otherwise unbearable experiences that were too much for my young mind to process.  Instead the terrors buried themselves into my subconscious where they remained until that fateful conversation with my mother and the abuses perpetrated by my brother. Once awakened, the nightmarish possibilities began to seep into my consciousness through a combination of a random thoughts and a corresponding bodily sensation. You know, feelings related to imagined events in your life that feel are true. 

For more than 30 years I have become increasingly conscious of what possibly occurred in my family under the cover of darkness and secrecy. Not that I am asking for these memories to return. I’ll say it again, I do not have any interest in the return of these memories. They are gone and I presume they are gone for good reason. Besides that, I have enough clinical knowledge and understanding to learn from these non-verbal and exquisitely subtle bodily sensations I detect.

I am not passive in this process. Not passive at all. In fact, I repeatedly open that door ever so slightly to get a glimpse, a tiny fragment of the life behind that door. I’m good with a sensual understanding of my history at this time. I don’t see the value of seeking out hidden life experiences. I say, “Let a sleeping dog lay.” I don’t need to recall something that traumatized me to know that it traumatized me. My body knows this and if you listen closely to your body, it will reveal its secrets.

Which brings me back to Thanksgiving. This year, it looks like I will be spending Thanksgiving alone with the Detroit Lions and a New York Steak. Maybe a little rum. This has never happened before. This is the first Thanksgiving in my life where I did not have a group meal, even if it were only my wife and I. In my mind, this is a wonderful opportunity to create my own, modified Thanksgiving ritual. I also know that I will probably feel some strong emotions like I normally do. A holiday like Thanksgiving brings up some strong feelings regardless of your experience. I think this is true for everyone.

Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas holidays and then it’s on to the New Years celebrations. I can’t imagine how quietly the bell will toll this year. How many of you are on your own during the holidays? How many of you have no family to gather up with or your family is toxic, like mine? What are your traditions in lieu of the Norman Rockwell Life Magazine cover? (Google it).

Historically, I have an emotional downturn during this time of year as I am reminded of the fact that I have no family contact. Not with my brother, not with my cousins, not with my nephews and nieces. I have not had any contact with any family member since early 1989. I am dead in their eyes and I´m sure I am better off being dead as far as they are concerned. That acknowledgment of my autonomy is also accompanied by a melancholy and a deep sense of aloneness. Thanksgiving 2020 is going to be a quiet one for quite a few of us. Some of us will Zoom or Skype or Hangout or whatever with distant family during this unique and tragic set of circumstances that exist for everyone around the world regardless of what and who you celebrate. 

What does all of this have to do with C-PTSD you ask? Everything I have shared with you so far today has been influenced by PTSD. Everything that I perceive and express has been touched and at times, tainted by PTSD. And holidays, like Thanksgiving are difficult for those of us living with the aftermath of trauma. This is particularly true for those of us suffering from a life of complex trauma. When there were times in life where there was no escape, not like during a battle. The battle eventually ends, but in abusive families, there may not be a sense of safety each and every day, for months, years, even lifetimes. For many of us, Your Thanksgiving may be like tearing the bandage off all at once, it’s really painful, but this act contains the foundations of healing. Wounds need to be exposed and allowed to breathe as much as they need to be protected.

My brain did an amazing thing for me. It knew I was too fragile to process all that was going on in my family, so it does what all good brains do, it swept the abuse under the rug and replaced it with a TV script where I pretended I was safe and I pretended to be healthy, physically, emotionally and mentally. I wasn’t of course. In fact, I was just the opposite. I was not healthy in any sense of the word. I proved this while living in Idaho.

Idaho is a beautiful state and I had taken up residence there a couple of times. The second time was on the heals of separating from my then first wife. I was sliding down a slippery slope of sexual addiction and binge drinking. I settled down in a little dive bar in Boise, Idaho called the Suds and spent the better part of the next 4 years drinking and drugging inside that bar. There were a lot of good times and I thought I was doing alright, but denial is not just a river in Egypt. By the time I left Idaho I had been arrested 4 times for DUI, driving under the influence. I broke the Suds record by being arrested 3 times in 30 days. Talk about having a thick skull. Two were dropped and I plead no-contest to the third DUI. I paid the fine and was mandated to attend a drug and alcohol education program. Needless to say, I did not take this seriously and frequently attended class after spending the afternoon drinking at the Suds. It is amazing that I passed the class.

It didn’t take long though for that 4th DUI to arrive. It happened, like always, driving home from the Suds, although I believe I was not what I would call drunk (of course). There were two cars on the road, me and the car behind me which turned out to be an Ida county sheriff. The arrest took place on a country road at 1:00 am, a road with a number of axel breaking pot holes which I had learned to avoid by swerving around them. I knew where the potholes were located, but I did not know the car behind me was a policeman.

Not long after my 2nd swerve to avoid a pothole, the cruiser’s lights came on. I was literally less than a quarter mile from my apartment. I pleaded with the officer to leave the car on the side of the road and let me walk home, but he was having nothing to do with it and put me through the sobriety test. I believed at the time I had passed the sobriety check, but my opinion did not matter much, and I was taken to the Ida county jail for the 4th time in 9 months. I was devastated beyond anything I had ever experienced before. The shame and self-loathing almost broke me.

The next day I was released from jail and I walked directly to my job at U-Haul, dressed in the same uniform I had worn the day before, smelling of sweat, day-old alcohol and jail. I said nothing to my boss and he said nothing to me. I was exhausted from having extraordinarily little sleep, no shower and I was severely hung over and hungry. I was thinking, “I have got to move closer to the Suds.” Which I did a couple months later. I found an adequate basement apartment only a few blocks from the Suds Tavern. I could “lip walk” home from the bar. To those of you who don’t know what lip-walking is…it is employed when you are so fucked up that your arms and legs no longer function and the only way to motivate is to pull yourself along the ground with your lips. Seriously.

My job at U-Haul was to answer the phone, assist the customers with completing the contract and make sure they had everything they needed for their move, truck, trailer, blankets, rope, you name it. I enjoyed the job, but the dregs of C-PTSD were my constant companion. Surprisingly my day had gone better than I thought. I was able to get my VW bus out of impound (a 1972 VW Kombi she and I bought in the mid-1970s when we lived on the shores of Lake Pend d'Oreille.)  and I was feeling better after some food and copious amounts of water. 

Then, out of the blue, a car pulls up and parks in front of the U-Haul office and in walked Christine, my ex-wife. I could not believe it. I was stunned and shocked and didn’t know what to say. She and I had not been in contact since the divorce. I left Michigan for Boise, Idaho and she left Montrose, Michigan for Montrose, Colorado where she had been living in. Eventually, I recovered from the shock of seeing Christine, but not the hangover. I managed to get my car back and I survive the day at work. She follows me home, a studio apartment on a potato farm. My bed was in the kitchen, really. She slept on the sofa.

She had come to Boise with love in her heart and a hope that we could get back together. This fantasy was dismantled pretty fast and by the following morning, she decided to return to Colorado. I was left with a headful of confusion, but I felt good about reconnecting with her as friends. I don’t blame her for bailing in the realization of what to her must have been a horror show. I was a mess back in 1983. There are many more stories about my life in the Gem state, but today is about Thanksgiving.

Now that I have said all of that here are my plans for Thanksgiving 2020. I’ll make a nice breakfast, watch football, have a hotdog for lunch, watch more football, BBQ a nice steak for dinner and watch a movie. That is about as exciting as it gets these days. Whatever your plans are for Thanksgiving 2020. Be safe and take care of others by wearing a mask when in public and practice social distancing if you are getting together with friends or family. If you are having a virtual Thanksgiving, don’t worry, there will be plenty of Thanksgivings down the road where you can fall asleep as the Detroit Lions snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.