Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

C-PTSD and Life - Not a Breakdown But a Breakthrough

December 10, 2020 Ray Erickson Season 1 Episode 6
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD and Life - Not a Breakdown But a Breakthrough
Chapters
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD and Life - Not a Breakdown But a Breakthrough
Dec 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Ray Erickson

I want to start off right away and let you know I am continually working on sound quality. It is of the utmost importance. With each episode I am learning and improving. For the moment, this is the best I can do and you will need to put up with an occasional 'pop' or 'crackle'.  Thanks for your patience.

Today's episode digs into my experiences in Idaho, specifically the pending court date  following my 4th arrest for DUI. My attorney advised me to pick a place to go and get out of Idaho or be facing at least a year in jail. I was "chronic". I wasn't getting it. And I was a danger to others.

I talk about moving to California in June, 1975 and again in  February, 1984 and how the legal problems in Idaho paved the way for me to become a social worker, going into private practice, writing books and training parents and professionals. None of it would have happened if I weren't so fucked in my early 30's.

Maybe you have been there, maybe you haven't. Either way, optimism and gratitude have played a key role in my life. The dark times of Idaho is but one example of the many times I have crashed and burned only to rise again. like a Phoenix, out of the ashes.

This episode is testimony to power of resilience and perseverance. This was not a pretty picture, but whose life runs like a well-oiled machine? Certainly not mine. And I doubt yours does either. We are all in this together. So, you might as well embrace your humanity, warts and all.

Here's a couple of websites that may be helpful when you are emerging out of the darkness in your life.

Make sure you are sitting down because the CPTSD Foundation goes directly to the heart of C-PTSD. If you don't want to look in the mirror, then don't read it. If you are courageous, you will see the truth and get the help you need.
https://cptsdfoundation.org/2019/04/26/the-difficult-road-to-intimacy-living-with-complex-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

This article is from the  Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders and it stresses the relationship between optimism and resilience. Something we can all use nowadays.
https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/resilience-optimism-trauma-response/

Stewart Collins  takes an academic look at Social Workers, Positive Emotions and Optimism. It is long and, yes, it is a research project and no, I haven't read the whole thing yet, but it is bookmarked and I will get to it right away. 
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09503150701728186




Show Notes Transcript

I want to start off right away and let you know I am continually working on sound quality. It is of the utmost importance. With each episode I am learning and improving. For the moment, this is the best I can do and you will need to put up with an occasional 'pop' or 'crackle'.  Thanks for your patience.

Today's episode digs into my experiences in Idaho, specifically the pending court date  following my 4th arrest for DUI. My attorney advised me to pick a place to go and get out of Idaho or be facing at least a year in jail. I was "chronic". I wasn't getting it. And I was a danger to others.

I talk about moving to California in June, 1975 and again in  February, 1984 and how the legal problems in Idaho paved the way for me to become a social worker, going into private practice, writing books and training parents and professionals. None of it would have happened if I weren't so fucked in my early 30's.

Maybe you have been there, maybe you haven't. Either way, optimism and gratitude have played a key role in my life. The dark times of Idaho is but one example of the many times I have crashed and burned only to rise again. like a Phoenix, out of the ashes.

This episode is testimony to power of resilience and perseverance. This was not a pretty picture, but whose life runs like a well-oiled machine? Certainly not mine. And I doubt yours does either. We are all in this together. So, you might as well embrace your humanity, warts and all.

Here's a couple of websites that may be helpful when you are emerging out of the darkness in your life.

Make sure you are sitting down because the CPTSD Foundation goes directly to the heart of C-PTSD. If you don't want to look in the mirror, then don't read it. If you are courageous, you will see the truth and get the help you need.
https://cptsdfoundation.org/2019/04/26/the-difficult-road-to-intimacy-living-with-complex-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

This article is from the  Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders and it stresses the relationship between optimism and resilience. Something we can all use nowadays.
https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/resilience-optimism-trauma-response/

Stewart Collins  takes an academic look at Social Workers, Positive Emotions and Optimism. It is long and, yes, it is a research project and no, I haven't read the whole thing yet, but it is bookmarked and I will get to it right away. 
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09503150701728186




C-PTSD and Life

Crash and Burn - Repeat If Necessary

December 10, 2020

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

Before I get started, I need to tell you something. The Navedades have arrived in Grifo Alto, Costa Rica. These are seasonal winds that hurl themselves out of the East every December and boy is it windy out there today. I’m telling you this because at times the wind is blowing so hard it causes my metal roof to vibrate and it sounds like a jackhammer. Hopefully, it will not be too much of a problem. With that said, let’s begin. 

Today, I want to talk with you about life and how C-PTSD has woven itself into the fibers of my day-to-day experiences. I think about this a lot and I am guessing those of you who are dealing with PTSD or C-PTSD think a lot about it as well.

Getting triggered and the damage it causes is always on my mind. Most of my triggers occur in the context of close and intimate relationships, a primary relationship like my wife. Conflicts with others rarely results in getting triggered. Triggers take an otherwise perfectly fine situation and turn it into a battleground where I am emotionally out of control, dysregulated. This means I need to be prepared for moments when I get triggered. Although right now and for the near future, I am on my own, so the likelihood of being triggered is greatly reduced. Not having a significant other in my environment to play the role of antagonist helps me to feel safe. I need to feel safe in order to get a handle on regulating my emotional response to distressful moments. 

With time, experience and practice I have gotten better at controlling my responses and reducing the likelihood of becoming triggered. I know I can’t control much at all in life. I can only get better at responding well to whatever life throws at me. It has taken decades to even get a handhold on my triggers and I still don’t have them completely under control. But as time goes on, I am less and less anxious about getting triggered and driving away the people I love. My amygdala never takes a day off.

The anxiety is always there just below the surface. I may look all calm, cool and collected, but on the inside, I am vibrating, literally. It takes a ton of energy to keep my affect congruent with what is actually going on around me and it takes even more energy to conceal from others just how vulnerable I feel. It is a very sophisticated defense mechanism, starting in early childhood and fine-tuning it over the next 60+ years. I wish I had this trigger thing down, but I just learned I had PTSD in 2014 and I learned I had C-PTSD in 2019 so in some ways I am relatively new to being conscious of the conditions I have lived with for the majority of my life.

For me, life has a way of coming at you sideways, frontwards, backwards, and when you are least expecting it. Most people can maneuver through their particular maze relatively smoothly. They can accept and make use of interpersonal cues and societal rules in ways that benefit them, and they grow, and they become robust and they bloom. 

However, people with PTSD or C-PTSD enter their respective mazes as if a tiger awaits them around every turn, where they know from experience, at any moment, without warning and out of the blue, disaster will strike. We know, without a doubt, that the other shoe will drop, it always does. We just don’t know when and where; so, we become hypervigilant. Hypervigilance puts a tremendous strain on our operating systems; as a group, people with PTSD, C-PTSD and other anxiety disorders are prone to chronic health conditions like, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome and my constant companion, acid reflux.

On top of that many of us with PTSD or C-PTSD will do anything to reduce anxiety, even when we have no idea anxiety is a problem. Throughout my life I have used cannabis, alcohol, and other drugs in an unconscious effort to lower the anxiety I never knew I had. I just know I was stressed out nearly every day. This went on for decades, I didn’t know I was seeking relief. I didn’t know I was self-medicating. I thought I was having fun. Which I was, most of the time, but this behavior has caused me plenty of trouble too. I try to be gentle with myself and move beyond any regret I may have for the stupid life decisions I have made. I try to be kind to myself because I know that without these bonehead decisions, I would not be here today, talking with you. 

I am sitting here on a hillside overlooking the Central Valley of Costa Rica because of all the shit I have been through, not in spite of it. My mother would say, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” So, along with the bitter comes the sweet. Such is life. I can’t explain it, although I know what it means for me. I don’t know how, given the spider’s nest I grew up in, somehow, I turned out to be optimistic about life. I try to live as if my glass is half-full and I always try to see the positive in any situation. My life has reflected this belief. There have been lots of ups and lots of downs, but mostly, my life has been on an overall positive trend.

Last week I talked briefly about my legal problems in Idaho in the early 1980’s and I ended this story with my 4th arrest for DUI. What I did not share with you last time was the advice of my lawyer, who was also a patron of the Suds Tavern. He represented most of the DUI cases out of that bar and the advice he dolled out to me was this, “Ray, I think it is a good idea for you to handle this case from out of state.” I knew right away what he was suggesting. Get the fuck out of Idaho if I didn’t want to go to jail for at least a year. 

Naturally, the possibility of doing prison time did not appeal to me so I took his advice to heart. Now, what the fuck am I going to do? I knew he was right. I had to leave. It was not the first time I packed everything up and headed off in search of a brighter future. And it won’t be my last.

Idaho is a beautiful state and the people there are friendly, like in the Midwest, but overall, there was way too much cowboy in the air for me. The U-Haul job I had would easily transfer to anywhere. It was fucking U-Haul for crying out loud. I could go anywhere in the country and work for U-Haul. But that is not what I wanted to do. I was tired of wearing those baby-shit brown uniforms, I was bored with answering the telephone, filling out forms and smiling at everyone who walked through the door. I needed a change, a real change, but what the hell would that be?

I thought about the first time I arrived in Idaho in 1975. Christine and I were living in Michigan, between teaching jobs and we needed some adventure. So why not move to Idaho? I had an old High School chum who was living there. I built a plywood cartop carrier and tied it down to our 1972 Chevy Vega and we stuffed it to the gills with everything we owned and headed west with our sights set on Boise, Idaho. We were young, dumb, and madly in love. Just like every other 20-something in America we were excited to embark on this grand journey. It was the biggest adventure of our young lives.

About halfway through Nebraska we began to scout the horizon above the endless plains in our nation’s heartland, hoping to catch our first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. Neither one of us had been beyond the tri-state area of Michigan-Indiana-Ohio. Oh wait, I did go to Washington D.C with my classmates on our Senor Trip. Most of that trip was spent sitting on a school bus for endless hours. I had never been so far from home. I remember it being hot, humid and my feet hurt from all of the walking around looking at monuments. Not a lot of fun for me. After all the monuments were seen we said goodbye to DC and boarded that rickety old bus and its uncomfortable seats where most of us slept for the better part of the journey home. 

Meanwhile, Christine and I were somewhere in Wyoming when we first saw the Rocky Mountains, presenting themselves as a thin ribbon at the edge of the horizon where the heatwaves coming off the pavement made them appear surreal, like a mirage. The closer we got, the bigger the mountains became, revealing themselves, their glory, and their splendor. After what had seemed like forever, we began our accent to the continental divide.

Our little Chevy Vega managed well across the great plains, but when it came to climbing the I-80 corridor, the little 4 banger really began to struggle. Even though we were crawling up the mountain at a snail’s pace, we were not discouraged. A little nervous perhaps, but hopeful, and positive. Neither one of us had been close to anything like real mountains and it didn’t matter how slowly we trudged up that pass, this was a grand adventure. As the Vega churned and chugged its way slowly up the mountain, we stayed to the right and watched every kind of automobile, truck and big rig imaginable pass us by. We may have been slow, but we were making progress and it was not long before we reached the summit. We did it! There we were, standing at the continental divide at an altitude of 7000 feet with the Great Basin to the east and to the west, California, and the Pacific Ocean. 

We were relieved and grateful to be going downhill when the weather began to change. The wind howled, and snow began to fall and fall and fall. Before long, we were in whiteout conditions and slowly inching our way down the mountain. Luckily growing up in Michigan provided a lot of practice driving in snowy conditions and we were not too concerned until we heard a loud thump underneath the car. We looked at each other, each thinking the same thing, “What the fuck was that?” but there were no changes in how the car handled. We decided to forge ahead as opposed to stopping and getting out in a fucking blizzard and risking frostbite. 

As we continued down the winding 4-lane highway the snowfall lightened up and the driving conditions changed from a snow-covered freeway to an icy-slushy mess. This is when I noticed the gas gage was showing a quarter tank of fuel. We should have at least ¾ of a tank of gas. How the hell could this be happening? Then I remembered. That loud thump we heard about an hour ago must have punctured the gas tank and we had been losing gasoline ever since then. This caused our anxiety to shoot through the roof, but our innocence and our youth kept our spirts high. Don’t forget, I’m an optimist. I carefully minimized the use of the accelerator unless it was absolutely necessary and 20 minutes later, we hobbled into the tiny desert town of Wamsutta, Wy. 

We turned into the first service station we came upon, the Wamsutta Conoco. As the mechanic motioned for us to drive into the garage, the engine sputtered and spurted and then died. We were out of gas. We couldn’t believe it. We had made it off the mountain alive! Both of us exhaled a giant sigh of relief. This is where optimism pays off. While we ate lunch, the garage repaired the gas tank, and we were back on the road in a couple of hours. Our spirts could not have been higher. Four hours later we entered the Gem state, drove North for another 2 hours to Boise where we settled into a nice little house on the north side of town where we tried to set roots, but the roots never took. 

My second sojourn to Idaho in the early 1980’s began with the end of my marriage to Christine and ended at the Sud’s Tavern, after my 4th arrest for DUI. Even though Boise is a college town, The Sud’s Tavern was inhabited by working class folks who carried their struggles on their shoulders, along with a kind heart and a bottle of beer. Leaving Boise meant leaving this adopted “family” although none of those relationships at the Suds, could be called close. Nevertheless, it was still difficult for me, emotionally, to leave this group of people whom I had gotten to know over the past 4 years. Idaho and the Suds, in particular, had become a dark place with several regulars committing suicide over the past 9 months. I needed to get away from this bar. Far away.

In order to do this, I needed a car. My 1972 VW Kombi microbus was dead in front of my tiny basement apartment located a few blocks from the Suds. In my opinion, the bus was undrivable and unsellable, so I abandoned it on the street. For the last four years I drove that bus while under the influence and as a result I had turned it into a big pile of scrap metal dead on the side of the road, like a rotting carcass of roadkill. Fortunately, one of the Suds regulars, Cowboy Bill, sold me his 1969 Pontiac Bonneville for $900. I packed it to the gills with everything I owned and set out for California with $500 in my pocket.

I moved to Sacramento not just to avoid going to jail, although that was the main reason. I also moved to California with high hopes of getting into graduate school and become a social worker. It felt right for me. With a Master of Social Work along with clinical licensure, I could go into private practice and not have to work for anyone. I could be autonomous. This became my new dream, my new quest.

My decision to study social work stemmed from my experiences at a psychiatric hospital in Boise back in 1975. Intermountain Hospital needed a teacher, so I applied. They did not hire me as the teacher because I did not have a multi-subject credential, but they offered a job as a Psychiatric Technician. It turned out the PT job was a perfect fit for me. My primary responsibility was to hang out with the teenage patients and be available to them if they wanted to talk. It was like I was getting paid to play. I loved the job and I loved working with these kids who were hospitalized for up to 3 months or until their insurance coverage was exhausted. This practice was later exposed as an insurance scam by the private for-profit psychiatric hospitals.

This short experience of working with teenagers in a mental health setting revolutionized my perspective. I never realized I could work with teenagers outside of the education field. I fell in love with emotionally disturbed teens and because of this experience, I decided to move to Sacramento and pursue a Master of Social Work degree at California State University. I specialized in working with children and families which provided me with the education and clinical skills I needed to work with emotionally disturbed teens and their families. 

Meanwhile, the 1969 Bonneville I bought from Cowboy Bill powered its way through the Nevada desert. I felt lucky so I stopped at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Reno where I was not lucky, losing $90 of the $500 in my pocket. Deeply disturbed at myself, I kicked my butt for the remaining 90 miles to Sacramento where I found a fleabag downtown hotel to stay while I looked for a job and a permanent place to live. The next day I called an ad in the Sacramento Bee to rent a room and an old woman answered the phone. I explained to her why I was calling, and she told me I can move in right away because I was the first person to call. Imagine doing business that way today.

She was a kind-hearted woman in her 80´s and living alone, so she rented a couple of the bedrooms in her Fair Oaks home. The room was fine, and I had full use of the kitchen and pool and the rent was cheap, so I moved in and began to look for work. I focused on residential treatment facilities because I wanted to work with emotionally disturbed teenagers. It was not long before I landed a job at the Sacramento Children’s Home. The Children’s Home began as an orphanage over 100 years prior and was considered to be the crème de la crème of residential treatment for abused and abandoned children. It was a great place to get experience and training.

I’ve always been fortunate in these ways. I’ve always found another place to live and I’ve always been able to find a job. That could be, in part, because I’ve always pursued work in traditionally female dominated professions and these professions were eager to hire men. Because of this bias, I was never out of work for an extended period of time. Restaurants and schools were always interested in hiring males. I knew I had an advantage because of being a male. I am grateful but somewhat guilt ridden as well.

This is how I landed in California after doing everything in my power to fuck up my life in Idaho. Somehow, some way, I landed on my feet once again. Like the Phoenix, I rose from the ashes of disaster to be reborn again. Life sure does have a way of making its point. All of this insight is based on hindsight of course and time has eroded some of the sharp edges from these painful and traumatic experiences, but I am, and I have always been fortunate, regardless of the knucklehead decisions I make and the piles of shit I step in. This has been a pattern in my life, and I would bet the future holds even more adventures for me. Hopefully, they will be fun adventures.

Thus, my career in mental health was born out of the complete collapse of my own mental health. I am grateful, that I acknowledge the mess I was in and determined to correct my course. The changes I needed to make did not come easy. First, I had to fail again. I had to fail at finding another bar in Sacramento like The Suds where I could set up my tent and move in. Fortunately, there was nothing like the Suds in Sacramento, so I was unable to replicate the drinking environment that existed in Idaho. Lucky me because that was the one thing that kept me from going down the same path in California. 

I was now safe in California. I had a place to live, I had a job and I was not going to jail. I pleaded no contest to my 4th DUI, paid a $350 fine and was put on 6 months’ probation. Without a watering hole for me to fall into, this was easy to do. That is, until my girlfriend whom I thought was still in Boise showed up in Sacramento with our dog and moved into my bedroom. The presence of Dianne and RD (for Ray and Dianne) was too much for the old woman. It was stressing her out. She knew we didn’t have any money and gave us $500 to move out. With that money, we found a tiny duplex in a rundown part of Sacramento in a tiny rundown complex, with 8 single story, one-bedroom duplexes. The price was right, and our dog would be OK. There was a fenced in back yard which made it perfect for us. One month later, that kind-hearted old woman died.

I didn’t expect Dianne to show up as soon as she did, but it was what it was, and I rolled with it. She got a job bartending and I worked at the Children’s Home and took pre-requisite classes at Sacramento Community College. We were happy, but C-PTSD would have nothing to with any happy feelings and soon there was trouble in paradise. 

Dianne was another big love of mine. She is funny, smart, and resourceful, but along with her and the dog came a few things I needed to escape from when I left Idaho. Leaving Idaho also meant leaving Dianne and our plan was for her to move to Sacramento eventually, not a month later. But she did and we settled into the duplex which worked out really well for us as long as our relationship was working. There was a lot of baggage to get over between Dianne and I and we quickly fell into old, destructive patterns of drinking and drugging. I knew I couldn’t live like this if I wanted to turn my life around and we agreed, mutually, to go our separate ways. There is much more to the saga of Dianne and Ray and their amazing dog RD, but let’s save that for another episode.

So, where was I? Ah…Life. Life is what happens while you are busy making plans. I stayed at that little duplex throughout my graduate studies, graduating with a 3.88 GPA and my MSW degree in the spring of 1987. I cannot say enough about being resilient, flexible, and determined to reach your goals. Moving to Sacramento kept me out of jail. Jail was not a good place for me, and I did not need to experience it to know that. The drunk tanks I occupied on 4 occasions during those dismal days in Idaho were enough for me. I now refer to this chapter of my life as the Dark Times. 

California worked out for me, professionally. I was able to pursue everything I wanted to pursue as a social worker. I didn’t know then I had C-PTSD and I’d had it for most of my life. I have been flying blind, not knowing of the sexual violence in my family, not knowing I had C-PTSD but for some reason I chose to go into social work when I escaped the darkness in Idaho. I thought I chose Social Work because it was a very flexible degree with a lot of opportunity in a wide range of settings. All of this attracted me to the field. But little did I know that social work would become the bridge between the person I pretended to be for survival and the person I really am where I can thrive.

For the next 30 years, I practiced social work, wrote a book for parents of teens, and lived a moderately successful life in Sacramento. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t turmoil. One does not escape turmoil when PTSD or C-PTSD are in the picture. Especially if you are not aware of or you deny having these problems. Like I said I was flying blind and pretending to be a healthy human being. It was only a matter of time before that façade broke down. 

My intention with Out of My Mind in Costa Rica is to be a storyteller. I want my stories to inspire and motivate you. The only truly valuable resource I have now are my experiences and the lessons I learned while on my own Hero’s Journey. When I sit down to write, I start with an idea, an experience or a memory and I never really know what twists and turns I will take. I just start writing and let the words flow. Then I go back and edit and edit and edit.  For me there is something organic about this approach and hopefully after copious amounts of editing I will end up with a product that not only interests you, but inspires you to take that next step, whatever it is.

I approach the topics on Out of My Mind in Costa Rica this way because it allows me to access flow, that dissociated state of being where nothing exist besides me and my words. Also, I don’t like outlining things. I know I need to make friends with outlines because it will tighten up my writing, but now, I just want to write, so that’s what I do. I get what I get, for better or worse. I hope the stories I tell about life and living with C-PTSD resonate with you and nudge you forward in your healing. I want you to keep on keeping on, because when you remain focused, resilient and persevere for a better life, you are alive. 

As usual I have given you some websites that I think will be helpful for your own healing and resurgence into the life that you have always wanted for yourself. It’s there and it’s closer than you think.

Be Courageous. Be Strong. Be Kind. I’ll catch you later. Bye.