Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love - When a Trauma Response is Good

December 03, 2020 Ray Erickson Season 1 Episode 5
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love - When a Trauma Response is Good
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Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love - When a Trauma Response is Good
Dec 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 5
Ray Erickson

Today I talk about C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love. These episodes are more of a 25 minute rant than a coherent, organized lesson on life. I'm still working on my story-telling skills and each new episode represents my best effort to improve my content and improve the production quality as well. It's probably not good to apologize the first thing in the description. I'm not saying it isn't interesting, I just sort of ramble about, but I think I am able to tie everything in even if that thing isn't part of the title. You be the judge.

Much of the episode is about dissociation and how this amazing brain thing  saved me from years of painful, heartbreaking memories. It probably saved me from the developmental and learning problems as well, because it is well documented how child abuse and neglect impact the physical, mental and emotional growth of children.

Dissociation snatched me out of my encestuous family and placed me in a TV family, the Cleavers where I acted out a composite of Theodore (the Beaver) and his older brother Wally. Their parents, Ward and June Cleaver naturally replaced my original parents and fortunately for me I lived in an idyllic small midwestern town, just like the Cleavers.

Thanks to me dissociating, I was spared the painful memories of abuse perpetrated by my paternal grandfather and my older brother. All of these memories are safely tucked away in my subconscious where, I hope they remain forever.

As the Hero Child of this family, I was not wired to remember negative events. I could only remember the good stuff about my family. In this way I kept the secret of incest without even knowing it was a secret. My brain ROCKS!

As usual, here are a couple of websites I found while doing research that I think will be helpful for those of you who are afflicted by PTSD and C-PTSD.  You may need to copy and paste the links below. Sorry about that. I'm working on it.

https://cptsdfoundation.org/category/dissociation-and-cptsd/ 

https://www.brightquest.com/blog/complex-ptsd-and-romantic-relationships-healing-trauma-together-through-treatment/

https://brickelandassociates.com/dissociation-from-trauma/

Be Courageous. Be Strong. Be Kind

I'll catch you later.


Show Notes Transcript

Today I talk about C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love. These episodes are more of a 25 minute rant than a coherent, organized lesson on life. I'm still working on my story-telling skills and each new episode represents my best effort to improve my content and improve the production quality as well. It's probably not good to apologize the first thing in the description. I'm not saying it isn't interesting, I just sort of ramble about, but I think I am able to tie everything in even if that thing isn't part of the title. You be the judge.

Much of the episode is about dissociation and how this amazing brain thing  saved me from years of painful, heartbreaking memories. It probably saved me from the developmental and learning problems as well, because it is well documented how child abuse and neglect impact the physical, mental and emotional growth of children.

Dissociation snatched me out of my encestuous family and placed me in a TV family, the Cleavers where I acted out a composite of Theodore (the Beaver) and his older brother Wally. Their parents, Ward and June Cleaver naturally replaced my original parents and fortunately for me I lived in an idyllic small midwestern town, just like the Cleavers.

Thanks to me dissociating, I was spared the painful memories of abuse perpetrated by my paternal grandfather and my older brother. All of these memories are safely tucked away in my subconscious where, I hope they remain forever.

As the Hero Child of this family, I was not wired to remember negative events. I could only remember the good stuff about my family. In this way I kept the secret of incest without even knowing it was a secret. My brain ROCKS!

As usual, here are a couple of websites I found while doing research that I think will be helpful for those of you who are afflicted by PTSD and C-PTSD.  You may need to copy and paste the links below. Sorry about that. I'm working on it.

https://cptsdfoundation.org/category/dissociation-and-cptsd/ 

https://www.brightquest.com/blog/complex-ptsd-and-romantic-relationships-healing-trauma-together-through-treatment/

https://brickelandassociates.com/dissociation-from-trauma/

Be Courageous. Be Strong. Be Kind

I'll catch you later.


C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love; Thanks a Lot Mom and Dad
December 3, 2020

Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host Ray Erickson.

Today I am taking on a really tough subject, C-PTSD, Dissociation and Love. I’m begining today episode with a confession. I’m a romantic. I am frequently touched by the things I experience. I’m an emotional guy. I cry watching tearjerker movies and even commercials. And when I love, I love deeply and completely. Probably too deep for my own good. Every woman I ever loved, I loved them completely, fully committed and without reservation. Maybe I should look at that. 

When it comes to love, C-PTSD, often referred to as Childhood Post Traumatic Stress, distorts your perception of reality. This is because of traumas that took place in childhood usually involving a primary caregiver.  In my case the primary caregiver was my mother, and I was six years old. Love was not a noun or a verb in my family. In fact, the word rarely got used. Nor was there much affection. Our family wasn’t very touchy-feely. Sure, there were hugs and high fives, but touch was not a daily experience growing up. I never realized this was a deficit until recently. I love hugs. Long, luxurious hugs that last just a little bit too long for most people. 

My parents, however, did their best to teach us how to be good people, but they could not acknowledge the abandonments and abuse. I believe, in spite of their tremendous shortcomings, they had good hearts and good intentions. Unfortunately, they crumbled under the weight of the family incest and the mountains of intergenerational shame they carried. My parents, although good people, consciously kept alive and actively participated in keeping the sexual abuse a secret. Their neglect allowed my brother to not only abuse my younger brother and me but go on to abuse his children as well and who knows how many other children before he died. I say good riddance. The world is better off without that motherfucker.

I don’t have a lot of childhood memories to rely upon and at times, I envy people who can recount with exquisite detail, stories from their childhoods. I have stories too, but they are, for the most part, 2 dimensional, like a television screen. For me stories from my childhood present themselves as if I were seeing them through a fog. A thick, dense fog where at first you cannot see anything, then slowly as your eyes adjust, the image comes into view. First, like a ghost appearing at the end of dark hallway, then gradually becoming clearer, but never quite revealing its true details. 

Writing and recording my stories is helping me to add more depth to my self-concept and it helps me realize that I haven’t fucked up all that badly. Maybe it could help you too.

With that in mind, please bear with me as distill these vague, but incredibly powerful memories into a form that you connect and identify with. I know, if told properly, my stories will become a narrative for your own healing. 

Here’s another confession. The stories I share on Out of My Mind in Costa Rica are not completely true, but they are not completely false either. With most of my adult memories I have direct and complete recall of the details, but for childhood memories, not so much. However in my gut, my place of knowing, I have learned that what my body recalls is more than likely, a true experience. 

My memory is no better or worse anyone else’s, but not everyone dissociates an entire childhood? It is this dissociation that throws a monkey wrench into the works. When you are not there, it is really hard to describe what happened. Disassociation is another one of your brain’s tools to keep you from becoming overwhelmed to the point where the brain can no longer do its job and you die. So it steps in, cancels the program and takes you away, then deposits you in a safe place, psychologically speaking until the storm has passed.

The brain does this to protect you.  Your brain wouldn’t do this if it were not absolutely necessary because the brain needs your memories. The brain uses memories to build models so it can better predict the future. The better the models, the more likely your brain will keep you alive when you need it to. 

What I am saying here is because of dissociation, there are a lot of blank spaces in my memory. So, in order to build MY models about my life, I need to take creative license to fill in those blank spaces and shed light onto the dark recesses of my mind. My stories are a blend of truth, what I called facts according to me, along with imagination and bodily sensations. 

What that means is the stories I share are the closest thing to my truth as I can get. They are a combination of raw data and guided intuition where I ask myself the question, “Could this possibly have happened?” and I meditate on it. In this meditation, my mind may wander for a long time, but eventually I begin to experience a sensation that “feels” like it could be the truth, or it is bullshit. 

I play with this version of the memory for days, weeks and sometimes months before I accept or deny the possibility that any particular memory represents a real experience in my life. 

You know that human memory is particularly porous, and I don’t deny this. Ask my wife about my memory. I would bet that many of my childhood stories I share with others, is probably 50% truth and 50% bullshit. Creative license. When I do settle into a scenario, I do so because I am convinced that there is at least a 90% chance it represents a genuine experience.

It was not until my early 60’s that I realized I had PTSD. I knew I had ADD or attention deficit disorder. I knew that for a long time, but when I realized I had PTSD it was a milestone in my life. Finally, now I know what has been going on beneath the surface for most of my life. 

At the time, I had no idea I had C-PTSD since I childhood, but eventually, after decades of struggling with love and relationships, major pieces fell together. This didn’t make my life more bearable overnight, but it did lead to even more research and curiosity. Learning I had PTSD explained a lot about what had been going on throughout my life, but it did not explain it all. There was something missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until 2-3 years ago.

I began reading articles about another form of PTSD, Complex-PTSD and it intrigued me. The more I explored, the more I could relate to the syndrome and the clearer the picture became. I had C-PTSD. This blew my mind. At first, I thought, “Noooo, that doesn’t apply to me.” Then with further introspection and time the traits of C-PTSD became clearer and clearer, the way memories appear when they are first released by the subconscious.

I believe the vast majority of my memories of sexual abuse are still safely locked down in my subconscious and with good fortune, I won’t have to recall more of those memories than I need to grow and heal from these forgotten abuses. Some people are not so fortunate and remember the gory details. They have suffered immeasurably throughout their lives from the memories of their abuse. They wake up at night, sweating and heart palpating only to recognize that they are safe, in their bed, but it’s impossible to go back to sleep.

These tortured souls have not felt the peace of mind that traumatic amnesia provides for those of us who dissociated during those overwhelmingly stressful moments. I realized over the past few years that I may have disassociated the vast majority of my adolescence and a good chunk of my middle adulthood This is really weird for me. 

My brain made the decision to dissociate and I was completely unaware that it was happening. I am eternally grateful for this action my brain took because it kept me safe from having to consciously live my life with memories of the abuse. Thank you, brain. I will gladly give up little bits of reality to avoid the pain, sorrow and grief associated with these experiences. Instead, I lived in a Leave It To Beaver world and the world complied. That topic alone is another episode or two or three.

What I am trying to say here is that the lives of people who have developed C-PTSD are complicated and it took time for us to get to where we are now and, unfortunately, there is no magic wand I can wave to make it all go away and replace it with a life where I was safe. Please don’t think I am wallowing in a pity pond; you can rest assured I am not feeling sorry for myself. Maybe a little, but you would too.

As a psychotherapist, I worked with both kinds of survivors. I worked with people who remembered every detail of every moment of every assault and I have worked with people, like me who remember little. This latter group came into therapy because they were being confronted with memories and doubt about their lives. 

There are no words for the amount of damage chronically abusive family environments have upon children, but this silent tragedy impacts every household and every family in America. There is not one family in America that is not impacted by child sexual abuse. It’s a big fucking problem in the states. Don’t get me started.

Let’s talk about love.

Here’s what I learned about love while growing up in my family. (Silence for 15 seconds) Yup, that about sums it up for me. Nada, nothing, goose egg. I learn how to survive, but I learned nothing about love.

My parents never fought. Not once. Never. Even Ward and June Cleaver disagreed at times. It is important to note that my role in the family was the “Hero Child”. Therefore, all of my memories are good memories. I had no bad memories. My older brother was the “Scapegoat” and his memories were probably all bad and my younger brother was the “Lost Child” I have no idea what his memories were like. We all played our role like our lives depended upon it, which it did. I was the second born and this was fortunate because I got the luck of the draw and become the Hero Child of the family. This role had many perks that were not available to Scapegoat Children or Lost Children.

I got all of the good stuff my family had to offer and like a good Hero Child, I sucked it up. I lived, slept, ate, and drank goodness. I was so good; I can hardly look back without cringing. In fact, here’s the sad part of this role, I was and still am terrified of making mistakes. I had to be perfect, I was terrified about what would happen if I messed up, but I couldn’t be perfect. I could just be Ray, someone who is very much an imperfect human being. I tried. I tried really hard.

Dissociation created a world for me that was safe, a world where I could play. In fact, it was my job in the family to play. In my dissociated state, I lived in a Leave It To Beaver world where big problems, like sexual abuse never happened and no matter how big your mistake was you were greeted with warmth, understanding, acceptance and appropriate discipline. Talk about a fantasy world. But this was the world I grew up in and my little hometown was a perfect setting to pretend I was safe and to not worry about bad things happening.

This fantasy dominated my life until I learned about my family’s incestuous ways and the fog, slowly rose, and drifted out my life. I never learned how to love. I learned how to please. I always imagined love as it was portrayed in the movies and talk about a sucker. I was a real sucker for love. I fell easily and madly in love. I had all the symptoms of a heroin addict. Once I hit that drug, I couldn’t get enough of it. I am not talking about sex here. Sex did not exist for me as an adolescent and if and when I even got close to a sexual encounter, I ran away as fast and as far as I could. This did not help my love life and in hurt others as well.

Like all the children in our community, we learned about sex on the street. Oh, sure the school district made a vain effort to provide what was called “Sex Education”, but everyone thought it was bullshit. Instead we relied upon our only truly reliable resource, each other. We figured it out using our adolescent brains along with assistance from our fathers’ Playboy magazine collections. How many of you remember the first time you ejaculated? I don’t think I am alone here. 

Since I was raised as a sitcom child, my fantasies of love were just as sterile and whitewashed as the fictional towns where the Cleavers lived…Springdale, XX. It was anywhere USA. My love fantasies also included the 3bdrm/2ba home with attached 2-car garage in the suburbs. The 2.3 children never materialized in my fantasies nor my life which is yet another episode, but I must remain focused here.

Through the miracle of dissociation, I created a perfect childhood for me that I used as my springboard into adulthood where I continued to be a Hero Child who is terrified of making mistakes and addicted to pleasing people. 

Humans in love make many mistakes. I have made giant mistakes in the name of love and no doubt I will make more mistakes in the future. BUT I am banking on my newfound awareness to help me to step back and get perspective before I go running and jumping into the deep end of the pool. As a backpacker, I learned to look closely into a lake before diving in headfirst. With a little more consciousness, maybe, just maybe I will take the time to look into it twice when it comes to love. 

At this very moment I am testing my faith. I am on my own, by my own choice for the first time, ever. Usually I am the dump-ee, not the dump-er, so this feels really strange for me, but it also feels familiar to me. Either way, Dump-ee or Dump-er I end up on my own. Each approach has its own form of suffering and self-doubt. But the big difference for me is this; I am choosing to be on my own. I made the decision to separate. For me this is huge.

Yeah, I know, what kind of 69-year-old man would choose to live alone when he could live with a woman whom he loves and who loves him? The short answer to that question is “Ghosts”. Ghosts of relationships past, the ghost of my mother and the collective ghosts of my family. The long answer is more complicated and involves the narcissistic wound I’ve had since childhood. 

I learned while studying attachment theory that I have an Anxious Attachment Style and I am fatally attracted to women who have developed an Avoidant Attachment Style. I know opposites attract, but these attachment styles do not mix well.

When I contemplate the relationships I have had, I now recognize that every one of these intelligent, kind-hearted, and sweet women had Avoidant Attachment Styles. Each one manifested their attachment style in ways that were completely unique to them and reflected their core personality and values. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were doomed before we began. Until a few years ago, my wife and I did not know I had PTSD or C-PTSD. All we knew was that it was bad and getting worse every month until, finally, the entropy exceeded the gravity and the relationship died. This has been a consistent pattern for me in relationships.

My wife and I have strongly imbedded and opposing attachment styles that are playing themselves out. I had thought AND hoped that knowing I had PTSD and C-PTSD would help us address the problems that we were having. This belief gave me hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, there could be a restorative experience in this relationship, but the tide of opposing styles was too strong for our marriage to survive if we stayed together. We both knew something had to change.

So, here we are. Separated with each of us not knowing how to tread this new territory. I am grateful that she acknowledged my need for solitude and gracefully went to stay with her son. She is a wonderful person.

If you are resonating with any of this, then make sure you take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat properly and move your body. Take time to contemplate your purpose in life. If you too are singing the co-dependent blues, then do something about it. Love yourself back into being. Identify limits and boundaries and maintain them. Just because you could not control what happened to you as a kid, doesn’t mean you can’t do something right now to change your life.

If you are depressed, reach out to someone. If you are anxious, take a walk in the woods. Ground yourself. Get out of your head. You are important to this world. You have unique gifts that only you can give. Besides, what do you have to lose? 

I am fortunate to have been the lone recipient in my family to receive a relatively sunny outlook on life. I am unabashedly Optimist and this trait has come to my aid on many occasions. The recent separation from my wife is now the primary focus for my optimism. I am not necessarily optimistic about finding solutions to our problems, but I am optimistic about re-setting my bio-psycho-emotional circuitry and I will regain control of my life. 

By producing Out of My Mind in Costa Rica I am violating the cardinal rule of abusive families. The don’t talk rule. I am breaking that rule and talking about the abuse and its impact.  You can too. In fact, you must speak out if you want to heal. Be courageous, be strong and be kind.  As always, I have links in the episode description to help you along the way. Check them out and thanks for listening. 

Love yourself and please be safe. I’ll catch you later. Bye.