C-PTSD and Being Stuck in the Mud
Not the first time, probably not the last.
August 2, 2021
This week I am talking about being “stuck in the mud”. I’m spinning my wheels and I got no traction. It’s beginning to trouble me. The good news is that doing this podcast is regenerative for me. I know I have been really inconsistent these past couple of months, but I believe I am on the upswing after increasing my Fluoxetine to 40mg/day. This seems like an appropriate dose for the moment. Don’t think that the medication is the only thing that is making a difference. I have had a lot of time to think and thinking I did. I thunk and I thunk and I thunk. Now I’m exhausted from all of the thinking.
Today’s episode: C-PTSD and Stuck in the Mud details these struggles as well as some ideas to break the logjam. I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but the sun is shining and my mood is improving, poco a poco. I am encouraged. If it weren’t for this podcast, I would not be able to say this. I owe much of my improvement, which is marginal at best, to my listeners. You folks who consistently listen to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. You have my heart and my dedication. Now, let me share a few websites that help to put an exclamation point onto this week’s episode.
My friend, the friend, whom I highlighted a couple of weeks ago, recommended a book by Pema Chӧdrӧn, entitled When Things Fall Apart. It is a Buddhist perspective on coming to terms with and resolving life’s most painful moments. Its approach is familiar but the practices she described are revolutionary. Not to mention, they are extremely challenging to undertake.
Michael G. Quirke, LMFT presents a very good article for those of you looking to establish a foundation for your recovery.
Suzanne Jessee, M.A. in Huntington Beach, CA provides another perspective on the 3 stages of C-PTSD recovery.
Mandy Lo of TraumitizedAspie writes an excellent article covering a wide range of trauma information and recovery information. Check it out.
David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor provides some great guidance on how to tread your path of healing. Given the complexity and interpersonal nature of Complex-PTSD, it is critical to be patient and pay attention to the little things.
C-PTSD and Stuck in the Mud
Not the first time, probably not the last.
August 2, 2021
Hello and Welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. This week I need to talk with you about getting stuck in the mud. I need to talk about this because this is where I am at. I’m stuck in the mud, axle deep and I’m not going anywhere fast. Hell, I’d be happy with a little nudge in one direction or another. Instead, I find myself playing the same old tapes over and over again in my head. Something needs to change, and it looks like me who needs to do the changing. The world sure as hell isn’t going to change unless I change. Ain’t that the truth?
Before I get into the mud, I want to thank my sponsor, Out of My Mind Art at www.outofmymindart.com. It’s the Etsy shop where you can get your hands on some real magic. That’s what I need today. I need some magic. I need some help to pull me out of this stinking sinkhole I have been lost in for far too long. Seriously, I have been clinically depressed for the better part of the past 5-6 months, and I am getting darned sick of it. It’s no fun and it feels like, if I don’t do something soon, I could slip, quietly into the void and no one would notice. That’s a little scary for me and it should be for you too if you find yourself at the bottom of a deep hole. You gotta start working your way out of that hole and the only way out is up.
I am not too concerned because, I’ve been in this hole before, and I’ve been stuck in the mud frequently. The good news is, I have a 100% success rate of digging myself out of my self-made purgatory, where I sit, waiting, in my silent pain for the world to be kinder. It just doesn’t seem to be working this time. I am stuck deep man. My friend, the friend who I highlighted a couple of weeks ago, recommended a book by Pema Chӧdrӧn, entitled When Things Fall Apart. It’s a Buddhist perspective on coming to terms with and resolving life’s most painful moments. Its approach is familiar but the practices she described are revolutionary. Not to mention, they are extremely challenging to undertake.
It is not the intent of this podcast to be a book review so if you want to know about the book in more detail and about the author, I have provided a link above and on the episode description page. What have I gained thus far from my reading? So far, the biggest lesson has been to learn new ways to approach meditation. Ways that address the suffering directly, head-to-head, cara-a-cara. It turns out I have been doing it all wrong in the first place. I’m sure changing the way I meditate will have an impact.
Chӧdrӧn encourages her students to breath in the pain, the grief, the sorrow, but not just your pain, grief and sorrow. No, she encourages you to breath in all of the pain, grief, and sorrow of everyone who, at this moment are suffering. I’ve been breathing in “good” and breathing out “bad” for most of my meditating years. I am excited to see how this is going to play out for me. I need to do something, I just can’t sit here treading water forever, I must move myself forward in my life and at 70 years of age, I am feeling a sense of urgency.
Chӧdrӧn goes on to say when you exhale you release all of the healing energy in the universe to each and every one of those suffering individuals. In this way your pain can be put into context with the pain of others, then empathy and compassion take the place of fear and loathing. It sounds like a great payoff if you ask me. So, I’m going to give these methods a spin around the block and see how it goes. Like I said, I need to do something. The depression is really entrenched, and it is beginning to piss me off. I’m getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. You get my drift.
Everyone gets “stuck in the mud” occasionally, but this has been going on for months. I know I have clinical depression, and this adds to my struggle to get out of the “mud”, but I have been depressed before and I have always been able to get to the other side of it. This time it seems particularly strong, and I feel like I am more deeply depressed than ever before. I know this sounds dismal and to a large degree it is dismal, but fortunately I have a place I can go. I can come here, to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica and talk with you about being stuck in the mud. I know you understand, and, you have your own experiences of stuckness. You are my brothers and my sisters when it comes to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. We did not ask to have this happen, but it did, and for many of us we were clueless for many years, in my case, decades, before I figured things out.
Even though I have been a professional psychotherapist for over 20 years, and I have worked in the trenches you might say with perpetrators and survivors of sexual trauma. I got to tell you, “Denial is NOT JUST a river in Egypt. It’s a real-time, real-life experience. When I was in a state of clinical denial, I was engaged in an alternative reality, a reality that is void of any trauma experience and with that comes the cognitive distortions that twisted my thinking into believing it is not me, it’s the rest of the world with the problem.
Now, the world does have its problems, and everyone is suffering to one extent or another, but in my case, denial, kept me safe. It kept me safe from the impact of the childhood trauma that I now know occurred, not just once or twice, but repeatedly, for years. This may have been going on for you as well. A question that pops into mind quite often is “How could a professional psychotherapist not recognize, within themselves, the same tragic story of the clients he worked with and who committed these heinous crimes against children. When you are in denial, true reality does not exist. You could be standing in the middle of a burning house and not know it is on fire.
Now, when I look at the denial I was in, I express gratitude for it. Denial was very successful sheltering me from the realities of my family until at which time I could tolerate the truth. The denial continues as I wrestle with the implications that Complex Post-Traumatic Stress has had on my life, my work, and my relationships. Yes, denial saved me, but it also kept me locked in a Universe that was not real. It was all make-believe and pretending to be well. Well, I wasn’t well. I was and I still am, to a large degree extremely damaged as a result of the abuses and neglect I experienced as a child.
Am I angry about that? Your damn right I am angry. I’m pissed off as hell and right now I am struggling with putting all of this into perspective. I am seeing it being played out in my current relationship failure. Fuck you, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. I am angry I didn’t realize this 30 years ago when I was getting all of the ‘therapy, but I also need to give myself a break, because, for the majority of this time, I was securely wrapped up in my security blanket of denial.
It does no good to be angry with my family. Anyway, they are nearly all dead and gone. The only other survivor being my younger brother, Tom, whom I have not had any contact with for nearly 35 years. My relationship with Tom has always been mixed and even though we shared a room for the majority of our childhoods, we never became close. We tolerated each other and we didn’t get into each other’s way. We kept to ourselves, even though we slept in the same room together for 18 years. We had our roles to play, and these roles were mutually exclusive. Tom’s role as the “lost child” required him to be nearly invisible. Whatever you do, don’t make waves, waves of joy or waves of despair. Tom was neutral, in everything. He quietly graduated high school and later went to work at the same auto factory where our father was the superintendent of the paint department. This was Fisher-Body and the factory employed thousands from the Flint metropolitan area. He did well there, tolerating the boredom and the monotony of factory work. He worked pretty much his entire life in this environment. He could keep his head low and make a good living. He was relatively happy. I think.
Who knows? After the sexual abuse by my brother was revealed, my family took a hard line and killed me off, metaphorically. I ceased to exist in their minds and there was nothing I could do to alter this fate. Fortunately, for me, it worked out to my advantage. Knowledge of my family history of incest started to make more and more sense to me. At the time this was going on I was also employed by an agency called “The Child and Family Institute”, a private nonprofit organization. I was charged with providing a variety of therapies for adolescent sex offenders and their families. I also co-facilitated two groups of adult sex offenders every week.
This was a clinically rich time for me and there was a lot of support within the agency, that is until the Program Director moved on. She was the glue that held everyone together and without her strong support, guidance and leadership, clinicians began to leave. Eventually I found a position working with teens and families at a private psychiatric hospital in the area. This too was a rich and rewarding opportunity for me. It gave me the experience and the supervision I needed to obtain my professional California licensure. I learned a great deal over these 6, clinically enriching years. I learned how to function as a Clinical Social Worker.
I think, in some ways, my work with pedophiles protected me from the pain and grief that I had yet to fully grieve. My experience treating incest families, helped me to empathize with for the struggles that occurred in these families as well as my family, but yet, the denial persisted. Somehow, I was OK. I had miraculously escaped the incestuous nightmare that my family had been. But was I OK? No, I was not OK. I was pretty fucked up and even though I had hundreds of hours of psychotherapy, not once was it suggested that I may have PTSD. I didn’t become conscious of having PTSD until I was in my mid-60’s. A couple of years later, I realized I had Complex Post-Traumatic Stress.
Why didn’t I recognize it before? I don’t know. Perhaps I was not able to see this sad fact until I began to experience emotional triggers, for the third time. And, once again, directed at the very person I loved the most, my lover, my partner, my de facto family. Over the previous 30 years, I have been involved with 3 long-term relationships. One for 15 years, another for 4 years and this last one for 13 years. I really like being in relationship and I clearly function better in a safe and loving relationship, but each of these relationships began to break down under the pressure that was being created by the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress I had been experiencing for most of my life. It’s a real mind-fuck when you first realize that the life you thought you had been living was not the life you lived.
Things got turned upside down and right-side out. The latest casualty being my current marriage. Just like the previous two, my emotional triggers were the primary problem for my partners need to leave. And I can’t blame them. For me it was my abandonment wound from childhood. Each woman lacked the empathy that I needed. I never realized this the entire time I was with the other two loves of my life. I would get triggered, but we had no idea what was going on and it was not pretty. When I am triggered, I become a rage-filled 6-year-year-old boy. I became a six-year-old boy with a master’s degree in social work and 20-plus years’ experience as a psychotherapist. This little boy was and probably is still, quite formidable. I have not been triggered in many months, but I don’t give myself a lot of credit for this because I have not been tested in relationship. I am clear that my marriage is doomed, and I am working through the loss, but what creates anxiety for me is my next relationship. Should I, or shouldn’t I?
I have said it before and I will say it again, my preferred way of being is to be in relationship. Now that I am conscious of all the shit that has happened in my life and my adaptation to these experiences, it makes me extremely anxious even to consider putting myself out there. Maybe you can relate to this. It really does make me nervous, and the available pool of appropriate mates is infinitively small. I am 70 fucking years old for crying out loud. Do I even want to re-engage in an intimate relationship? The short answer to that is a resounding YES!
I am much happier, and I tend to function better when I am in relationship and, I do well in relationship until I stop doing well, which usually takes between 7-10 years for the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress to emerge, but emerge it does and it does the same thing every time. It tears and rips away at the trust and safety of our partnership, until there is nothing left, nothing left but hurt feelings and despair. Do I really want to do this again? Maybe my hopes are that I will die before that fateful turning of the tide. You know, go out at the top, before the ugly starts to creep in. No. Any future partner needs to be knowledgeable about C-PTSD and be empathetic towards the struggles it creates.
This time my eyes are wide open. I am no longer in denial and I am clear that anyone I engage with, at a romantic level will know what has gone on for me and they in turn, will share with me what has gone on with them, after all, trauma may very well be the strongest common experiences for each of us and if there is any question of whether or not we can process these experiences WITH each other, then that is a deal breaker. Both of us then will enter into partnership with our eyes fully open, accepting each other because we have possessed the strength and courage to be open and honest with each other from the beginning. Maybe it will work? Maybe it won’t but living life on my own tends to have more drawbacks than it does benefits.
To start with, I tend to be extremely lonely while at the same time the anxiety I feel is overwhelming, then you top that off with nice deep layer of clinical depression and you have the makings of a big shit sandwich. As troubling as this is I also see, living on my own, as a personal challenge to overcome. Yes, I prefer to be in relationship. That is why I put so much effort into attempts to heal my current marriage, but you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink it. I am coming to terms with this sad reality that “things” are not going to change. As much as I crave for my wife to suddenly become open and honest with her communication, it just is not going to happen. It’s not, and I need to move on.
This has been made more difficult because of the poor communication we have. It can take days to get a response from a message I send her if I get a response at all. I understand where she is coming from in terms of Attachment Style. She has an Avoidant-Dismissive attachment style and I have an Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style. Unless each of us modify our styles, the outlook is not good for the future. So, it is best for me to end this relationship, heal and move forward in my life. Piece of cake? I don’t think so, not if you look at my history.
Yes, I eventually recover from these kinds of losses, but it takes me a long time to get unstuck from the mud and get some traction going forward. I mean years. Once bitten, twice shy. What about thrice bitten? Am I thrust into a state of thrice shy? I hope not. I am currently extremely shy around new people, especially women I find attractive. I don’t trust myself with women. Not that I would be triggered, but because of the long-term prospects of any relationship surviving emotional triggers seems like a fantasy. What I hope for is a restorative experience with people who validate, not dismiss. Support, not resent my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I hope for a true partnership, to be with someone who not only can see me for who I am but can reveal themselves for whom they are. I call it Reciprocal Intimacy. A relationship state where my true self is on display while the other person courageously reveals their own true self. We feel safe and simultaneously we are vulnerable. This is the only way for me.
That will have to wait, I afraid. I cannot afford to make a decision like that in the middle of a crisis. No, first things first. Take care of the crisis, heal from the experience, and grow from it. Only then would I be able to allow myself the degree of vulnerability it will take to create such a safe relationship for myself. No, first I need to work on myself before I subject me, to another human being. It just isn’t right, even though, at times, I am in the depths of the deepest despair I have ever felt. On the other hand, if I am going to suffer, it might as well be in a beautiful setting in a lovely little casita on a hill. And that is where I am right now.
I have thought about selling the little casita on the hill overlooking the central valley of Costa Rica. I have talked with my wife about selling the property and each of us coming out of the deal with some decent cash. But I’m not so sure at the moment, and like I said, decisions like this should not be made in the midst of a clinical depression. It just isn’t good policy. I have explored the possibility of selling and moving back to the Estados Unidos. There are areas of central Oregon that are attractive to me, but there are some serious financial consequences I would face if I were to return to the States.
The cost of living is the biggest challenge. Because we were relatively smart about the design and the construction of this little house, we are not overburdened by a huge mortgage. I can easily afford to live here, maintain my quality of life, and even save some money for future travel. This would not be the case in Oregon or in most of the states where I would consider setting up camp. I would, immediately become one of the poor, seeking government assistance just to survive. This was one of the reasons we decided to leave the States in the first place. I have a really nice little house. There is a spectacular view 24/7/365 that can’t be beat, and it is affordable. I just happen to be 3000 miles away from my home country. That’s all. No big deal. Wrong! It is a big deal. Talk with any expat and they will tell you it is not easy living in a foreign country, a country where only 1 in 5 people speak any level of English.
It is not easy when La Tráfica, the traffic cops, take your licenses plates because you were parked in a yellow zone. There is nothing BUT yellow zones all over town and everyone parks there. All that does is create a real heyday for the traffic police who come into town armed with their ticket book and a screwdriver. It is costly to get your plates out of the Costa Rican bureaucracy. It has happened to me twice, damnit. It’s a big, big hassle and it costs a lot of money. Otherwise, it’s just another day in Central America.
In some ways it would be infinitely easier to live in the US, even with a significant increase in my cost of living. At least most of the people speak English and the US is a better market for Out of My Mind Art. I would be poor, but possibly in a significantly more comfortable space, head wise. Speaking of Out Of My Mind Art, I want to thank the people over there for sponsoring Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I may be biased, but I think every man, woman and child needs a Magic Wand, perhaps more, now than ever before. Check it out at: www.outofmymindart.com. Please, share this link with your friends. We wish all of you a safe and comfortable life.
Well, that is about all I have to say today about getting stuck in the mud and you have done it again. You have wasted another 25-30 minutes listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. I’m your host, Ray Erickson and I am grateful for each and every one of you listeners. Please, if you are listening to OOMMCR on a platform that allows you to rate, review and/or comment, then don’t be shy. Let your voices be heard and if there are any topics you want me to address, then please, share them with me. The best thing is to email me at email@example.com. I will get back to you right away. Thanks again for listening and until next time - Be Courageous. Be Strong. And Be Kind. I’ll catch you later. Bye.