Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

C-PTSD and Christmas - Hope In a Dark, Dark Year

December 24, 2020 Ray Erickson Season 1 Episode 8
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD and Christmas - Hope In a Dark, Dark Year
Chapters
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD and Christmas - Hope In a Dark, Dark Year
Dec 24, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Ray Erickson

Today, I take on Christmas.  PTSD and C-PTSD have been with me for most of my life, but I didn't know that until about 8 years ago.  This means that most of my holidays have been without the knowledge I have this problem. 
 I grew up in the 1950's in rural, small town, America where life was simple and neighbors were helpful. The economy was roaring and families everywhere were indulging themselves at this time of year. It was an amazing time and place to grow up in. 
 Christmas as a child was magical. My parents went all out on the tree as well as what went under the tree. There were mountains of presents. I kid you not. A lot of people my age can relate to this. It was a fantastic time to be a kid. 
 Life changes when you grow up and for many of my adult years, Christmas was a jolly time, that is if I were in relationship. If I were not in relationship, they were dismal, depressing and painful experiences. 
 Here we go for another round of holiday festivities, although this year is unique because, many of us never made to Christmas because of COVID-19. My heart goes out to those families who have lost a loved one to this terrible pandemic. It also angers me that our government has failed the people so completely and so ingenuously.  

 As usual, here are a few websites that may help you take the edge off this holiday season.
 
 The CPTSD Foundation is a wonderful website and I will probably be posting there links here quite often. Here is a cornucopia of ideas to help you take the edge of this holiday season.

https://cptsdfoundation.org/2018/12/24/surviving-christmas-how-to-turn-a-helliday-into-a-holiday/

Below is a line to one hell of a brave person’s YouTube channel. You need to know that this video shows someone who has taken the road less travelled. I relate so much to what she is saying, even though it is clear that this work takes its toll on her at times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgwUSH2c-Z4

Beauty After Bruises is a fantastic organization and they offer great advice for those of us with traumatic stress in our lives. The article below is chock full of helpful hints to make this year a better than you expected year.

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

Be Courageous, Be Strong, and Be Kind.
I'll catch you later.
Ray

Show Notes Transcript

Today, I take on Christmas.  PTSD and C-PTSD have been with me for most of my life, but I didn't know that until about 8 years ago.  This means that most of my holidays have been without the knowledge I have this problem. 
 I grew up in the 1950's in rural, small town, America where life was simple and neighbors were helpful. The economy was roaring and families everywhere were indulging themselves at this time of year. It was an amazing time and place to grow up in. 
 Christmas as a child was magical. My parents went all out on the tree as well as what went under the tree. There were mountains of presents. I kid you not. A lot of people my age can relate to this. It was a fantastic time to be a kid. 
 Life changes when you grow up and for many of my adult years, Christmas was a jolly time, that is if I were in relationship. If I were not in relationship, they were dismal, depressing and painful experiences. 
 Here we go for another round of holiday festivities, although this year is unique because, many of us never made to Christmas because of COVID-19. My heart goes out to those families who have lost a loved one to this terrible pandemic. It also angers me that our government has failed the people so completely and so ingenuously.  

 As usual, here are a few websites that may help you take the edge off this holiday season.
 
 The CPTSD Foundation is a wonderful website and I will probably be posting there links here quite often. Here is a cornucopia of ideas to help you take the edge of this holiday season.

https://cptsdfoundation.org/2018/12/24/surviving-christmas-how-to-turn-a-helliday-into-a-holiday/

Below is a line to one hell of a brave person’s YouTube channel. You need to know that this video shows someone who has taken the road less travelled. I relate so much to what she is saying, even though it is clear that this work takes its toll on her at times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgwUSH2c-Z4

Beauty After Bruises is a fantastic organization and they offer great advice for those of us with traumatic stress in our lives. The article below is chock full of helpful hints to make this year a better than you expected year.

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

Be Courageous, Be Strong, and Be Kind.
I'll catch you later.
Ray

C-PTSD and Christmas

Holiday Hope in a Dark, Dark Year

 

Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. Merry Christmas everyone. Yeah, I know not all of you are big fans of this once pagan holiday, but for me Christmas, especially when I was a child was a glorious day. Growing up in America during the greatest economic expansion the world has ever known meant that Santa would be busy. 

As a child, Christmas was everything Christmas was supposed to be. It was a giant tree covered with lights and tinsel and fragile glass ornaments expressing our joy to the world. For the Erickson family, image was everything, which meant it was critical for my parents to indulge the children. And they did. Every year we had big trees and mountains of presents along with an abundance of food. My parents scrimped and saved all year long in an ever-increasing tribute to consumerism. At least that’s what I remember. That may not have been the way it was.

From my perspective as a child, this time of year was magical. AND every so often, the weather would cooperate, and we would get a White Christmas, but most of the time the weather was grey, slushy, and miserable. It was Michigan in December. 

My parents went nuts with Christmas. Not so much with outside decorations because they were a real pain in the ass. The tree, however, was always spectacular. Some years we used all blue lights, other years were green lights and some years they were multi-colored lights. Our stairway railing was covered with hundreds of Christmas cards. Everyone loved Bob and Aggie. 

My favorite Christmas movie is A Christmas Story. A film about a typical family, in a typical town, with typical holiday celebrations. Everything about this movie is nostalgic for me, from Ralphie’s obsession for a BB gun to his friend licking the frozen flagpole. I’m saving it for last this year. Over the years I have watched fewer and fewer of these movies. Maybe the magic is gone.

As a child, Christmas was wonderful and my life is filled with wonderful Christmas memories, but over the years, Christmas has taken on other meanings. It is no longer a season of happiness and joy, but it has become a reminder of Christmas’s past. I don’t say this lightly because I have had some wonderful Christmases. I’ve also had some that seemed to be thrust out of the bowels of hell. 

Christmas is different for everyone, but for people with PTSD or C-PTSD it is a gauntlet of real and imagined dangers. It is a mine field where people with trauma are compelled each year to traverse. For most of my life I was shielded from being conscious of this mine field, but that doesn’t mean a landmine never blew up in my face. I stepped on land mines all the time. 

Until I was 40 years old, I was completely unaware of growing up in an incest family. In order to block out that much information, I must have had really sophisticated armor. That armor, as it turned out, was dissociation and because of dissociation along with the role I had in my family effectively blocked negative events from entering my consciousness. 

Dissociation saved me from any negative experience other than failures associated with a normal experience of growing up. What this means is, I don’t remember much conflict in my family, although as a clinician I know that would be impossible, even in healthy family systems. My family was like a Broadway play with all the actors playing their roles perfectly. I consider myself fortunate to not have many of those traumatic memories, but what I have been experiencing more and more often during the Holidays is a real uncomfortable sensation of deep melancholy and emptiness.

Along with this melancholy, comes a tendency to isolate and withdraw from people. Everyone. This pattern, over the years has become more entrenched to the point of almost complete isolation and aloneness. This could be a good thing. I am working on increasing my comfort with solitude. “I need to be on my own for a while.” I told my wife, M. I knew what I was doing, and I knew it would be difficult. But I needed to reconnect with my true self, with my soul and with my purpose in life.  And I needed solitude to do that.

It is not the first time I have been alone during the Holidays. One of the most painful times was seventeen years ago. My lover and partner for 15 years had just broken up with me a couple of months prior. Neither one of us knew I had C-PTSD, but it was there, and it had been there the whole time. It finally pulled us apart when B decided to leave. We didn’t know anything about C-PTSD, and it was too late, even if we did know. She’d had enough. B and I were together for 15 years and like all of my major long-term relationships, C-PTSD became a problem. Not knowing this really complicated things and caused a great deal of suffering for both of us. I’ll keep saying this, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

B was the woman I wanted to spend my life with. We were solid for at least 10 years, then the triggers began to occur. I would become dysregulated and my pain, expressed as outrage, would beat down on her like a hailstorm. Neither of us knew what was happening, but it was terrible for her AND it was terrible for me. I felt horrible about my behavior and the damage I inflicted upon her. I yelled and I begged, like a 6-year-old. In my mind I was never violent or threatening. In fact, just the opposite happened. In my rage and self-righteousness, I provoked her on more than one occasion to attack me, shoving me against the wall with her hands around my throat.

I know anything I say in defense of myself will sound suspicious, but I am not a violent man. Hell, I loved playing football in high school, I didn’t like to hit people. I’m sure that slight hesitation at the point of collision clued my coaches in to just how far I was willing to go for the team. Needless to say, I sat on the bench quite a bit.

I loved B with all my heart, and I saw the two of us living the rest of our lives together. We were in our early 50s, both working professionals and we had a comfortable life with good friends. We owned a lovely home in a lovely neighborhood where I grew veggies in the summertime. Christmas’s with B were some of the most memorable Christmas’s in my life.

Like in my childhood, there were lavish amounts of gifts, not just for each other, but for each of our close friends and because we did not have family in the area, we never travelled on Christmas day. Instead, friends would come by at various times and we would exchange gifts and eat my traditional Christmas pizza. 

I look back on these Christmas’s with a soft sadness knowing now, how the C-PTSD tore at the fabric of our love until there was no more love and she left in the fall of 2003. Even though I was grief stricken, I helped her move, silently hoping there would be some way to salvage this relationship, but that was not going to happen. I saw B only two times after she moved. The first time was to sign the papers for the sale of the house and the second time when I went to her studio to show her the new pickup truck I just bought with the proceeds of the sale.

The damage was too deep, and she was unable or unwilling to continue having contact with me. That is how toxic I had become. This is a very bitter pill to swallow. To know, in your heart that you caused so much pain in another person they could no longer tolerate having contact with you. To this day, I feel overwhelmed with shame. This is not the person I am yet, the damage I inflicted was very real. 

She, of course played a role in our problems. I believe her response stemmed from her experiences growing up in her shame bound family. Perhaps shutting down was the only way she knew to cope with conflict and confusion. Nevertheless, the separation was brutal and selling the house was devastating, but there was no way I could manage it myself. Unable to stop the sale, I acquiesced and found a nice apartment in Midtown, Sacramento and where I would try to pull my life together, again, or so I thought. 

I was not doing well emotionally in my new apartment. Christmas was coming and, in my mind, I needed a beach. Christmas on a beach sounded really nice. In my imagination, this was the cure for what ailed me and my broken heart. But not just any beach. It had to be an exotic beach in a country I have never been to. My ADD brain quickly eliminated Hawaii and Florida because, one, because they were in the US and two, I had been there before. I began to search for some cheap flights to the Caribbean and the only ones available on Christmas Day were to Jamaica.

Jamaica, mon, no problem. So, I booked the flight for Christmas Day. For the next 10 days I would be on a quest for my lost and broken soul. However, what started as an innocent vacation turned into a nightmare and a mad scramble to escape with my life. Or so I thought.  What follows is all true, cross my heart.

Upon landing in Montego Bay, Jamaica I encountered my first problem at the luggage carrousel. I had brought with me my wire art because having the wire available seemed like a good idea at the time. Little did I know that the wire would play a significant role in the drama I experienced later that week. Apparently, the tube I used for my wire and tools did not hold up to airline baggage handler standards and as I slung the tube over my shoulder, the wire spilled out all around me. I found the bottom of the plastic tube had broken.

Not a problem. I asked airport personnel for some tape which they were happy to find for me. After the tube was repaired, I headed off to pick up my rental car which is where I ran into the second problem. Trust me when I say renting a car in Jamaica bears no resemblance to renting a car in the US. The only car available was not the one I specifically asked for, but offered in its place was an old, beat up coup. The tires were bald, and the brakes squealed and felt like they could fail an any moment. As I drove off the lot, I worried the car was not safe and returned to the rental agency to complain. One of the men smiled and offered to drive me, in that car, to my destination, Negril and 7-mile beach. Anxious to get to there, I hesitated but agreed to let him drive and off we went.

I don’t recall the name of this lanky Jamaican man, but he was a lot of fun. We arrived in Negril and he helped me check into the resort. Once settled in we sat at a tiny beach bar where I bought several rounds of Red Stripe beer. I was here, in Jamaica on Christmas Day. I can now begin my new life. That didn’t last long, of course, and fate, along with shortsightedness and poor judgment marched itself into my life, once again.

I wanted to be on the beach, and I wanted simple accommodations and I found it the next day. This resort certainly fit the bill. Its commitment to minimalism was remarkable. My cabin was one of 8 tiny, shed like structures. Two rows of 4 cabins facing each other and a common area between them. I could sit on my little veranda and look out at the beach and the Caribbean Sea. I was in paradise, but so was C-PTSD and remember, at that time, I did not know I had this condition. I blindly trudged on, innocent and unknowing of the dangers that lay along this beautiful white sand beach.

All of the travel advisories for people going to Jamaica urged tourists to stay within the boundaries of their resort and to not wander around alone in areas that are unfamiliar. Jamaica has many problems, and the beaches are a focal point for locals who take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. I was a perfect pigeon and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

I didn’t realize it at the time but bringing the wire to Jamaica was a mistake. I did not know the locals, who survive on the money they earned by selling Jamaican souvenirs and marijuana guarded their territories fiercely. In practically no time they were aware of my presence and it didn’t take more than a few magic wands to be produced before they noticed me. I should have known this when the Jamaican I was bending a Magic Wand for demanded it when I was half finished. When I handed it to him, he turned around and ran away as fast as he could. I didn’t know what to make of that. 

In my ignorance and naivete I was scouting for the possibility of working with locals to produce my wire products to sell to the tourists, but this notion soon became obsolete. As I walked along the waterside, a man approached me and asked me if I wanted a brownie and invited me to join a group of locals to talk about the wire. Eager to seize the opportunity I complied.

I saw no danger in doing this. Talk about flying blind. The man who appeared to be the leader asked me to make him a magic wand, a design I was not familiar with. Normally I don’t do requests unless I am confident, I can do it the first time. But my brain was not in gear and I agreed. After three, embarrassing attempts, I came reasonably close to his design and he offered me a brownie. I thought to myself, “Why not? What could go wrong?”

I soon learned plenty could go wrong. I knew the brownie had pot in it, I could taste that, and I’ve eaten marijuana brownies before and nothing bad happened, but I was not in the US, I was in Jamaica where the locals play hardball. I ate the brownie, we smoked a joint, they helped me score some weed. Then I went back to my cabin to relax for a while. I was getting incredibly high.

I was lying down on the bed of my ramshackle cabin resting when I heard someone outside talking about me. My ears perked up and I listened more closely. When the man mentioned using my wire to eliminate me, my heart began to pound, and I started to get paranoid. Really paranoid. He went on to say they could strangle me with my wire. With my heart pounding, I got off the bed and went outside. Sitting down on my front porch I leaned my chair back on the porch railings and lit a cigarette. The man was tall and slender, like most Jamaican men. He was standing about 30 yards away from me and I could hear every word he spoke. My anxiety shot through the roof and I was paranoid as hell. What the hell was in that brownie?

Anxiety and paranoia are different feelings. I was familiar with anxiety, but not paranoia. Paranoia shows up when you are convinced you in danger. In my paranoid state, it was crystal clear to me that these people wanted me off their beach and they were prepared to kill me if necessary. I sprang from the chair and stumbled back into the cabin where I frantically collected my passport, money and car keys. Leaving everything else behind, I burst out of the room and ran for the car.

Opening the car door, I jumped in and immediately noticed that I was in the passenger seat. Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road. So much for my smooth getaway. I got out of the car, ran around to the driver’s side, climbed in, and started the motor. I gunned the car as I turned right onto the main road of Negril and into oncoming traffic. I narrowly avoided a head on collision as I swerved into the left lane. Then, in my extremely inebriated state, drove off as fast I could in the broken-down rental. 

I was fucked up. I was high as hell and paranoid with all caps and I am driving on the left side of an unfamiliar road in a place I have never been before. It didn’t take long before I crashed into a low seawall and the engine stalled. I got out of the car and the front left tire was flat. Great! Now I’m going to die. These people had to be right behind me. I knew I wasn’t safe, and I looked around. There was a resort across the street. Thank God! I got back into the car and hobbled over to the resort.

Looking around, I saw a security guard and called him over. Now bear in mind, I am really fucked up. I’m higher than I have ever been on a brownie AND I am paranoid as hell. I told the security guard my situation and in like 2 seconds there were 3 Jamaican policemen at my service. I recounted my story to the officers, and I made sure they knew that I ingested something dangerous, like PCP. I told the officers that I don’t know if my story was true or I’m having a psychotic break.

The officers took me at my word and helped me check into the resort where I spent the night with the door to my room wide open while sitting on the balcony waiting for the desperadoes I was convinced would arrive. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

The next morning, I changed the tire. One of the officers returned and we drove back to my cabin, gathered my belongings, and checked out. I thought what to do. Do I stay? Or do I go home? Using my ever so astute problem-solving ability, I opted to stay. Afterall, I was committed to the time and changing flights during the holidays is a real hassle and could be expensive. So, there I was until January2nd. The officer suggested I get a room at the resort across the street, and me, being the idiot I am, said why not. 

From the new resort, I could look across the street and see the house where I had met the leader of this particular gang. I couldn’t go to the beach without walking within earshot of them. They would shout at me wave as I did my best to shrink from their gaze. I was beside myself with self-loathing and shame. It was a terrible week, but the week did end with New Year’s Eve in Jamaica and celebrations were happening all along 7-Mile beach. 

It was a beautiful night and I felt like dancing. Unfortunately, I was a single man in a sea of couples. Plus, over the years, I had become more and more bashful about asking strangers to dance, but the music was good. Reggae of course. I settled into the little beach bar and decided to wait out the night at the bar when a beautiful young woman with milk chocolate skin walked up to me and asked me to dance. What’s a guy going to do?

We dance until the stroke of Midnight and then it became clear to me that I was a mark. This lovely young woman was there to trade sexual favors for cash. Hey, I’m in Jamaica. What’s a guy going to do? We walked back to my room. 

The next morning, I found a tiny label on the floor, like a label from a garment. It read, “Made in Vagina”. Hmm…her calling cards? Who knows? The next day I was off to the airport and back to the grief and sorrow waiting there for me in California.

When I arrived in Sacramento, I returned to an empty apartment in the middle of a dreary Sacramento winter. All of this acting out played a major role in maintaining the toxic levels of shame that kept piling up. I was a mess. I had never felt so rejected and alone in my life. I wished I knew then what I know now.

The point I want to make here is that B and I did our best. It was clear to me that we loved each other as much as any two people could love one another. We had a really good thing going, but the triggers were taking a toll. This loss was devastating for me and I’m sure it was devastating for her. 

I was fortunate. I survived my adventure in Jamaica but being fortunate is not a cure for C-PTSD, nor is it a reliable ally. Yes, I am fortunate to be living on a hillside in the mountains of Costa Rica looking down at the central valley and San José. That indeed sounds like a dream come true, and in many ways, it is a dream come true, but living here alone, at this point in my life, is a hollow satisfaction. 

I am alone, again, for yet another Christmas. I am trying not to fall into a pity party, and I am also conscious of my old pattern of numbing my pain with copious amounts of alcohol. I don’t want to go there for sure. Which means, this Christmas will probably be my soberest Christmas of my adult life. How about that? This year has been the soberest year of my adult life. I literally did not drink from February until November and in the last couple of months I have been mindful of those few days when I did drink. Baking chocolate chip cookies is much more satisfying than waking up with a hangover the next day.

I know there are many of you who cringe at the thought of another family Christmas dinner. I don’t blame you. Family is overrated. This year for me, the strain of C-PTSD, mixed in with a pandemic and sleeping in a tent during the rainy season, then adding a construction project overwhelmed my wife, M, and I. There were frequent triggers and things fell apart. The same patterns were there. They had been there for years and there had been little progress in finding resolution. My life was repeating itself. And it sucked. We were at an impasse and neither one of us were budging.

I was tired of feeling overwhelmed. She was tired of feeling overwhelmed. We needed to step back and examine our lives and decide what we wanted for ourselves and for the relationship. We are not there yet, well, I’m not and I don’t believe she is there either. It is sad for me that she is not living in the house she built. She put so much energy, time, and effort into the construction of this little casita. Instead, she is staying at her son’s small condo in Heredia along with her daughter-in-law, two cats and a very needy miniature poodle. I have no idea how she is doing. We communicate about business, but when I push the conversation in the feeling direction, she becomes silent and does not respond.

I am practicing not letting the lack of response, impact me the way it has in the past. Each time it happens my abandonment buttons get pushed, but I am committed to changing my response to that. I am responsible for my triggers and I need to change my response in order to feel safe enough to fully engage in relationship again. 

It is not just me who gets triggered. M gets triggered when I get triggered. When she is triggered, she is compelled to shut down emotionally or flee. Her triggers are the opposite of my triggers. I know, that for her, not shutting down and staying present when I get triggered is just as terrifying for her as her disappearing is for me. When I need her to stay, she needs to go. I believe talking is the solution and she believes not talking is the solution. I am Yin and she is Yang? How’s that going to work? 

Both of us are responding to vulnerability in polar opposite ways and that is not the end of it. Each of these opposing forces are reinforcing themselves with each fight and flight event. The pattern is clear as a bell for me. I have watched it happen while in the midst of a trigger. I am completely powerless to stop the trigger yet, at the same time I am watching the pattern take place. I’ve watched myself, with deep regret and shame, rant and rave until that excessive energy burns itself off and I collapse into a heap of depression, guilt and shame. It takes a long time to recover.

I want our relationship to work. But for now, I need time away from the pain and sorrow that gets generated when I get triggered. Being on my own is the best thing I can do for both of us right now. I could dig myself a hole and crawl into it or climb into a bottle and forget about life all together, but that is not who I am. I am not a person who gives up on love and a big, big part of me is hopeful that my wife and I can work together and create the restorative experiences we both need. All of the elements of success are there. Meanwhile, here we are in limbo, waiting, maybe like a lot of you, waiting for things to change.

Reunifying is not an easy decision. I am clear on the changes I need to make, and I am clear on the changes I need to see to consider reunification. For me, the road to reunifying requires us to communicate our feelings and intentions with each other clearly. I realize, living with me is not easy for her but, it is not easy for me to live with her either. She and I share the responsibility for our marital problems but us each is 100% responsible for our role in the problem. Who knows, maybe this cross-cultural experiment has run its course. I don’t know, but my heart is open, and I want both of us to feel safe and thrive. As a friend of mine told me, “It’s better the Devil you know, than the Devil you don’t.”

So, here I sit, me and my cat, Don Gato, alone on a hill in a tropical paradise. I’m going on 70 years old and once again, I am on my own at Christmastime. I must be insane! Am I insane? No, I don’t think so.  Hopefully, in my solitude I will reacquaint myself with myself and life will be on the upswing soon. Sharing my story on OOMMCR is part of my healing journey and I hope it is for you too.

Please join me on this magical mystery tour. Heal your life and make your dreams come true. I pledge to you that my stories along with my clinical skills and insights will help you on your own Hero’s journey. Let’s do this together. Together is always better.

Please do what you can to spread the word about OOMMCR. With your engagement you make this podcast better. Don’t hesitate to comment, ask a question, or suggest a way to improve. My email is [email protected]. I’m here and I am not going anywhere. Well, maybe I’ll go to the beach.

As usual, I have provided you with some websites related to today’s topic. I hope they are helpful for those of you who suffer from PTSD or C-PTSD as well as those people who love and care about them. You are not alone out there. May your Christmas be peaceful, calm and filled with love.

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