Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

Episode 20: C-PTSD and Grief - The Unrelenting Shadow of Complex Trauma

March 18, 2021 Ray Erickson Episode 20
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
Episode 20: C-PTSD and Grief - The Unrelenting Shadow of Complex Trauma
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 20

C-PTSD and Grief

Grief-The Unrelenting Shadow of Complex Trauma

March 18, 2021

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross brought clarity to the grief process when she identified the 5-Stages of Grief. Regardless of the culture, all grieving people experience these 5 stages. Grief applies not only to human losses, but inanimate objects as well. Let me illustrate how I grieved the loss of my favorite ink pen. It’s not just any pen, it was a perfect pen. I paid a lot of money for that pen and I had that pen for many years. It was more than just a pen. Do you get the idea? I am really attached to this pen. Keep that in mind because people tend to get extremely attached to people. Whether it’s people or pens the stages of grief are there.

Stage 1: Denial: “Where the hell is my pen? I can’t believe it’s not here. I always know where that pen is.” This is denial. “The pen can’t be gone, it’s still here, somewhere. Denial gives a little cushion against the pain of our loss and opens the door to anger.

Stage 2: Anger: “Damnit! Where is that pen? I hate it when I can’t find my pen. I am such an idiot. This really pisses me off!” Here we have anger. Anger at the pen for being lost and anger with myself for losing it. This begins an effort to bargain the loss back.

Stage 3: Bargaining: “I know it has to be around here someplace. Maybe it’s in the kitchen. Is it in my coat pocket?” This is bargaining, with the hope that the loss suddenly shows up. This is fueled by fear that the loss is real. When we can’t bargain the loss back then depression sets in.

Stage 4: Depression: Eventually, I realize my pen is really gone, and I become sad and depressed. “I really miss that pen. It was a really good pen. I feel really bad about losing it.” This is the beginning of letting go and I am preparing myself to accept the loss.

Stage 5: Acceptance: Which brings me to acceptance. This is where all of the pieces of my grief come together and opens me up to life again. In this case, life without my favorite pen. “Today, I’ll buy a new pen.”

The 5 Stages of Grief are a real thing. Test yourself with them. What have you been able to successfully grieve and what are you still struggling with? Perhaps a loss so personal, that it has been impossible to look at until now. Now is the time to grieve. Be proactive and when you find yourself dealing with loss, then remember these five stages of grief. If you nurture yourself through your own grief process, then your load will be lighter, and you won’t keep getting stuck in the past with a bucket full of unresolved grief. 

Here is a brief article that talk directly to grief and Complex PTSD. There are also more resources in the body of the article.

http://thebereavementacademy.com/grieving-complex-ptsd/

Here’s an article that asks 5 questions related to Complex-PTSD and grief. There is some real good information tucked into a short article.

https://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/clinical-intersections/grief-trauma-and-complex-trauma-5-questions-answers-social-workers/

This is a great article if not a bit wordy. Stay with it and you will gain a lot of insight as well as some good practices to explore if you want to go deeper into your grief.

http://pete-walker.com/pdf/GrievingAndComplexPTSD.pdf



Episode 20

C-PTSD and Grief

Grief-The Unrelenting Shadow of Complex Trauma

March 18, 2021

Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host Ray Erickson. It’s March 18, 2021 and today I need to talk about grief. Not just old unresolved grief, but grief tied to the present and the future as well. I know you’all may be getting sick of my weekly whining about my marriage, but I believe I am getting close to a final resolution. There have been no relative conversations which means there has been no progress and I am tired. She flat out refuses to respond to any effort I make. We have no solid ground where we can build a stronger, more intimate relationship. It grieves me so, but I have concluded that I need to pursue a divorce when the time is right. 

Whew! Damn, that’s heavy. I brought up the “D” word. This fills me with anxiety, but I feel it is the inevitable outcome. I am just waiting for my heart to catch up. More fucking grief! God Damnit! I’m sure any competent psychiatrist would advise me against getting divorced. After all, I am not a spring chicken (chicken sound). I may be old, and I may be atypical, but I am not an idiot…most of the time.

Before I can file for a divorce, I need to finalize my permanent residency status in Costa Rica. All I need to do is complete one form, pay $200 and schedule an appointment for 3 months down the road. When I get these steps completed, I will have permanent residency sometime in late June or early July. Then I can pursue the divorce. I hesitate to tell my wife my intention to divorce because, and I hate to say it, she has the power to undermine my residency status and as hard as it is for me to imagine her doing that, the truth is, I don’t know her well enough to know that she would not sabotage my residency. After 12 years, this is a real hard thing to acknowledge. Not talking about this stuff is not my style. I’m usually right up front, right from the git-go and I am not comfortable keeping a secret about a decision I have made. I prefer to announce it right away. 

Meanwhile, I have a perfectly nice place to live for as long as I want to live here. However, I am thinking about leaving Costa Rica and returning to the States. Most people would question my sanity about leaving Costa Rica and yeah, I hear you. There is as good a chance that all of this grief stuff will blow over and I will adjust to life as a happy expat living in a little casita on the side of the hill in Costa Rica. What kind of nut job would give all this up to return to where he came from? It just doesn’t make sense. I would have to agree and that is why I am in no hurry to jump ship anytime soon just because my marriage is on the rocks.

I have a lot of confidence when it comes to adjusting to new circumstances. For much of my adult life I have been thrust into the path of an oncoming new circumstance with all too much regularity. This has always been true. Perhaps one of these days, I will count all of the times I have moved. I think everyone will be surprised by that number. It sounds like fun until I begin to work on it. Then I become overwhelmed with grief. Each one of these relocations has grief deep in its bones. Every time I moved, I left a trail of lost hopes and broken dreams. If you encourage me, maybe I’ll make an episode out of it. 

I don’t think it is only me, but it feels like I have moved thousands of times and there have been so many loses along the way. These moves didn’t always result in a safe and secure experience. Sometimes I jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Silly me. 

All of my knee jerk responses to crises did was create more grief. Grief upon grief. Layers of grief that seem to go on into infinity. There are barely words for the depth of the grief that has been washed up on the shores of my consciousness. It’s hard for me to even conceive of the magnitude of pain and sorrow I have experienced throughout my life. I’m not whining, I am simply stating a fact. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. It’s part of the package when you have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress.

Grief is heavy shit. And humans are not particularly good at grieving. Don’t even get me started on Americans. Here in Latin America grief is worn on the shirtsleeve. You encounter the mourning families parading on foot behind the hearse that carries their fallen loved one. Flowers and bibles are held in their arms and everyone is wearing black. Following the burial, the group gathers at the lost one’s home where the wake continues for a few hours or throughout the night. Regardless, the body is buried within 24 hours. Costa Rica doesn’t waste any time putting you in the ground or cremating you. I have heard the main reason for the rush is because embalming fluid is not used, and you know what happens under those conditions. Ticos seem to be fine with this process.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a very Catholic country. Located prominently, in the center of every Costa Rican town stands a Catholic Church and adjacent to the church is a fútbol field. The bigger the town, the bigger the church and the church oversees much of the culture activities in these communities. I believe this strict Catholic dogma is so interwoven into the people’s lives that Ticos do not fully grieve. Tico funerals are sober events. Little to no alcohol and perhaps a buffet of typical Tico foods. They are generally short and are finished within a few hours when everyone returns home to get on with their busy day-to-day lives.

Ticos don’t spend much public time expressing grief. Sure, everyone cries at a funeral, but funerals seem to be an interruption in the lives of many Ticos. But what do I know? I’m looking at it from the outside and given my extremely limited experience, I’ll just shut up about it right now.

The main reason I came back to Costa Rica was in support of my wife who wanted to be closer to her family. We have been more than five years and leaving Costa Rica would be a monster decision. I have learned over the past 69 years that sometimes; it is best to let an idea marinate for a while. Right now, I’m in the “idea” phase of this decision. There are many things that need to be sorted out and there is much research to do before I can seriously consider going back to the States. It is difficult for me to focus on these things because it triggers my guilt, my shame, and my pain. I don’t want to look at this, but I know I need to. It’s all part of my grief process.

On Tuesday, I finished drafting the letter informing my wife of my desire to divorce and perhaps leave Costa Rica. I have not sent that letter, but writing it put me in a funk. I’m not surprised. I have learned that one of the best ways to treat a funk is to distract myself with something else. So, I took a break and decided to watch a movie, a comedy, of course. Comedies are my go-to genre whenever I feel depressed and writing that letter took a big chunk out of me. I needed something to recharge me. I fired up Netflix and start browsing the comedies and “The School of Rock” caught my eye. I’d seen it before and fortunately for me, it has been long time since I first watched it. Long enough to forget most of the movie.

The School of Rock, rocks not so much with the idea of kids playing heavy metal rock-n-roll, but because of Jack Black’s over the top performance. He gets the kids to buy in with his unconditional regard for each of the children in his class. There is not one moment in that movie where he discourages any of his students. He is either a terrible teacher or a genius teacher who supports and nurtures the hopes and dreams with each student in a way that hits home for that student. I was totally involved with the movie and rode the rollercoaster as if I were in the film. There were so many touching moments when “Ned” was positively affirming his class that I cried big crocodile tears. Not just once, but many times. I laughed, I cried, I sang along. It was wonderful. I had to tell you about it.

I felt so much better after that movie. Even though I knew I was still depressed it lightened the load. I went back for another comedy later on. I need to lighten my load. I’ve been really withdrawn over the past several weeks. Part of me doesn’t mind because I don’t have to deal with people but it’s becoming too comfortable being alone. When I am low on food, I go into town and buy some food, which I did on Monday. Now I don’t have to go anywhere for at least a week, maybe 10 days. But thinking like that is self-defeating and it sabotages my mental health. 

I need to get out and go to Escazú to get the insurance sticker. I need to hit up PriceSmart and AutoMercado to pick up things I only can get there. I have a friend in Santa Ana who just had surgery over a week ago and I haven’t been down to see him. This makes me feel like a terrible friend and besides, getting out into the world is one of the power things I can do to meet the depression head on. Depression makes it easy to just sit here, alone, and lonely, wishing and hoping someone would reach out to me, but that’s not how life works! Life doesn’t come to you; you need to go to life. I’m thinking about doing this trip tomorrow.

Doing nothing is doing something, it just doesn’t get you anywhere. It gets you stuck and keeps you stuck. So, if you have been like me over the past few weeks, then get off your arses and take a walk or something. Which is what I did on Sunday. I took a walk around the farm that I live on. The farm, or finca, as they are called here in Costa Rica is about 20 acres and it really did me a lot of good. That is until I began to itch, and itch and itch. Somehow, I came into contact with a nest of “chiggers” which are tiny blood sucking spider mite type of insects. Apparently, I am allergic to their saliva and my body, midriff and legs are covered with 60-100 red welts that itch like the dickens.

I’ve been taking antihistamines, showering, and using huge amounts of calamine lotion. I now have pink splotches all over my body and they still itch. This is the 3rd full day after the attack of the chiggers and it is driving me mad. Monday morning, I woke up at 4:30 itching all over my body. I was about to go nuts, so I jumped into the shower and scrubbed, and scrubbed and scrubbed to remove as many of those devil-sent microscopic vampires. In a day or two or three the itching will subside, but until then, these damn chiggers are a real bitch. I’ve had them before. It’s getting to be an annual event. Note to self: Put Chiggers on the Costa Rica “bad” list.

Did I say I needed a distraction from the blues? The chiggers are a good example of “be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.” It’s working, that’s for sure. I am not thinking about being depressed, no, I’m too distracted with all the itching that I´ve gone from suicidal thinking to thinking about euthanasia. Someone, please put me out of my misery! This doesn’t help and all the anxiety does is make the bites itch even more. Now I need a distraction from the distraction from depression. Does this kind of stuff happen to you? I hope not, but I venture to say if it isn’t chiggers, it’s something else that temporarily distracts you from your own blue moods. Think about that. How do you distract yourself from feeling anxious and depressed? Some of it will be healthy and some of it won’t be healthy, but if you know what these distractions are, then at least you can choose which distraction you want to be distracted by.

Did I say Complex Post-Traumatic Stress is a bitch? Well, it is, but you already know that. A challenge for all of us who wrestle with this condition is to be grateful that you know what’s going on. For years, I had no idea what was going on. I am grateful that I finally figured it out. Sure, It’s not pretty and sometimes, like you, I make an ass of myself which I feel horrible about but knowing I have C-PTSD is a very powerful position to take. Do you remember when you didn’t know? What kind of hell was that? The world was always in my shit and when it fucked with me enough, I would get triggered and vent all of that frustration, even though I felt terrible afterwards. It feels good and bad at the same time. 

Yeah, triggers suck and C-PTSD sucks, but at least I know what the fuck is going on and now that I know I can do something about it. I can live my life one day at a time. I can feed and care for myself in a loving way. I’m doing this podcast as a loving way to take care of myself. I used to rely upon women to do all the caring for me, but that always failed. Slowly and silently, that person, whom I loved dearly, would slip into the role of my mother. The role of the abandoner. The role of the abuser. Just like the movie Groundhogs Day, it’s deja vu all over again, but unlike the movie there were no happy endings. Only more loss and more grief.

There was never any resolve with my family and there has been little resolution in my past significant relationships. I am not bemoaning my past because that is a victim stance and like I’ve said many times, don’t be a victim, but what’s a guy to do when all of this shape shifting in invisible, and I don’t see it? Then it’s trigger time and our dance cards are punched. The dance begins and the dance continues until all life has been sucked out me, out of my partner, and out of the relationship. Leaving both of us emotionally drained and empty, like seashells washed up on the beach.

This is grief and this is what grief looks like for me. Maybe it looks different for you. It is critical to know how you grieve because if you don’t know how you, as unique individuals, grieve, then you carry a load so heavy it breaks your soul. Humans are made to grieve because life is filled with loss and because life is filled with loss, we grieve. It’s perfectly natural and it is absolutely necessary. Grief is not an event, but a process. There are no time constraints on how long you should or should not grieve. Sure, culture has its influence, even within cultural context grief has no time restraints, but grief does have specific identifying traits. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross brought clarity to the grief process when she identified the 5-Stages of Grief. 

Regardless of the culture, all grieving people experience these 5 stages. Grief applies not only to human losses, but inanimate objects as well. Let me illustrate how I grieved the loss of my favorite ink pen. It’s not just any pen, it was a perfect pen. I paid a lot of money for that pen and I had that pen for many years. It was more than just a pen. Do you get the idea? I am really attached to this pen. Keep that in mind because people tend to get extremely attached to people. Whether it’s people or pens the stages of grief are there.

Stage 1: Denial: “Where the hell is my pen? I can’t believe it’s not here. I always know where that pen is.” This is denial. The pen can’t be gone, it’s still here, somewhere. Denial gives a little cushion against the pain of our loss and opens the door to anger.

Stage 2: Anger: “Damnit! Where is that pen? I hate it when I can’t find my pen. I am such an idiot. This really pisses me off!” Here we have anger. Anger at the pen for being lost and anger with myself for losing it. This begins an effort to bargain the loss back.

Stage 3: Bargaining: “I know it has to be around here someplace. Maybe it’s in the kitchen. Is it in my coat pocket?” This is bargaining, with the hope that the loss suddenly shows up. This is fueled by fear that the loss is real. When we can’t bargain the loss back then depression sets in.

Stage 4: Depression: Eventually, I realize my pen is really gone, and I become sad and depressed. “I really miss that pen. It was a really good pen. I feel really bad about losing it.” This is the beginning of letting go and I am preparing myself to accept the loss.

Stage 5: Acceptance: Which brings me to acceptance. This is where all of the pieces of my grief come together and opens me up to life again. In this case, life without my favorite pen. “Today, I’ll buy a new pen.”

The 5 Stages of Grief are a real thing. Test yourself with them. What have you been able to successfully grieve and what are you still struggling with? Perhaps a loss so personal, that it has been impossible to look at until now. Now is the time to grieve. Be proactive and when you find yourself dealing with loss, then remember these five stages of grief. If you nurture yourself through your own grief process, then your load will be lighter, and you won’t keep getting stuck in the past with a bucket full of unresolved grief. 

By the way, if you think you can do your grieving privately, then you are sadly mistaken. Grief must be shared. It needs to be processed publicly. That doesn’t mean you get on the loud speaker and tell everyone about your grief, no, it means that you have at least one person who can be there for you while you grieve. Someone you trust and someone who listens to you. Someone who doesn’t judge you and you feel like you can be you. If you don’t have such a person to witness your grief, then look for a support group or get grief counseling. The 5 Stages of Grief will definitely impact your grieving process and help you to move through the stages in a way that feels congruent with who you are. 

Grief that has not progressed through the 5 stages has not been fully grieved. You keep feeling it. You could be in Stage 2 one day, then Stage 4 the next day and then back all the way to Stage 1 the day after that. This could go on for a long time. It depends on you, nobody else, only you. Honor yourself when you are with grief and don’t be surprised if today’s topic triggers some of that unresolved grief you are holding onto. You are the only person who knows when you are finished with your grief for any one loss. Don’t let anyone tell you when you should be done grieving. It’s your motherfucking grief, not theirs. You will be done when you are done. For most people that means consciously moving through these 5 stages of grief.

Grief is not for the faint of heart. It’s some of the hardest work you will do in your life. Be patient with yourself but be focused and determined to let go of all of the losses in your life. Knowing you have been carrying around a ton of unresolved grief for years, may be overwhelming for you, but do not despair. Every day you put your needs first is a day you are letting go of grief. Over time, these ungrieved losses add up and before you know it your soul is mortally wounded, and the world looks like a giant piss hole.

But it’s not a piss hole, it’s a reflection of you. Change what you see in the mirror and the mirror will change what it reflects. Self-care and self-love are at the heart of the grieving process. The 5 Stages of grief are a roadmap to a more satisfying life, and you know how satisfying being satisfied feels. You deserve to live your best life, just like I deserve to live my best life and to do that your grief must be complete.

Not many people know this about grief, but there is a wonderful shortcut that will help you let go of the many losses that have occurred throughout your life. Grief is very responsive to grouping similar losses into categories. Once you have these categories identified and you have sorted your losses into these categories, then the 5 Stages of Grief can be used to grieve all of the losses within any specific category. Yeah, you can lump like losses together and treat the group as one loss. This little life hack will definitely economize your grief process.

Grief will not release you until you have taken full responsibility for it. Grief is not any different than your fears, or your hopes or your insecurities. Owning all of this stuff super streamlines your growth and that includes adequately grieving your losses. You have had many losses that you probably have not completely processed and time’s a wastin’.  Be courageous and look directly at your losses and the impact these losses have had on you. Until you do, then your load will be heavy, and I don’t want that for you. Take each day one at a time and don’t be in a hurry. Your grief has its own timeline. Don’t compare yourself to others and take all the time you need. I’ll be here for you.

Thank you all for coming by Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. You have no idea what it means to me that you are taking the time to listen to my fucked-up life. I hope it is helping you. It’s helping me knowing that I could be helping you. If my voice resonates with you then let your voice be heard. If you are listening on a platform that allows you to rate, review or comment, then please indulge yourself. If you have a question, write me an email at [email protected]. I will get back to you right away. Share Out of My Mind in Costa Rica with people you know and ask them to share it with people they know. Help me reach the people who need to hear me. Thank you so much for your involvement and until the next time.

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


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