Jul 29, 2015

Be OK With Where You Are

I can't really think of a title for this post right now. Maybe by the end I'll think of one that encapsulates all the free-floating, seemingly unrelated ideas swimming around as I write them down and they coalesce and make sense and point to a theme. I'm grateful for writing. It's a good Urim and Thummim for me. How's that for a confusing, oblique Mormon reference?

I think that recovery comes in layers. For me, the first was numbness. And that lasted for ten years. Next was anxiety. Lots of strong, seemingly rootless emotions would just come and overwhelm and turn the world flat for a while. That was a pretty scary place to be, and I still end up there from time to time as I stumble over "triggers." The nice thing is, eventually you learn to identify those triggers and can move through the anxiety better, knowing that's the source of it. Hopefully eventually one examines the root of these triggers and untangles them to the point where they're not triggers anymore. That's the goal, at any rate. I'm not quite there yet.

The second layer for me was anger. A lot of that anger stems from anger at the source of the trauma, suddenly understanding what happened to me and how it was very not OK, and negotiating feelings of betrayal, disappointment, etc. But it's also frustration with myself, that I don't seem to be functioning emotionally as well as I wish I could.

Some of it is also directed at others, in the present--people who seem to think less of me because I'm not acting cheery and competent, and I'm asking for help. I'm working through this still right now. I think one of the things I struggle most to forgive, in the now, is the attitude that I should be just fine right now because this all happened 13 years ago.

Some don't understand that, actually, that's quite normal for someone who's suffered pretty severe emotional events. People with PTSD are often numb for years, living in the world of adrenaline and reaction as emotion, not feeling much of the currents underneath causing the anxiety and numbness. It's like the heart shuts down and protects itself and doesn't allow the feelings to be felt, until there's a safe place, or a safe enough distance, from the trauma event, and then the mind and heart let it all flood in. Feelings. Forgotten experiences. What a lot of people don't realize, when they say someone who has suffered trauma "should be over it", is that right at that moment, they are working through things they haven't remembered, much less been able to process. *At this moment* the events are actually occurring for the person. The feelings are actually being felt for the first time--grief, fear, disappointment at what was lost. Sadness at what loved ones had to go through. The events are occurring for that person *right now*.

I've also been struggling to forgive another attitude some seem to have. It goes like this: "you're not the only one who's going through pain. What makes you so special?"

It kind of boggles my mind a bit, that attitude. Yes, everyone has pain. That hymn really resonates, "in the quiet heart is hidden sorrows that the eye can't see." As someone who has endured some real heartache and horror in my life, I'm utterly and completely aware that many of the people around me have endured heartache and horror. Their own personal tragedies, and things like depression and anxiety. What I don't understand is the conclusion that some people come to, that because they've had pain, another person doesn't have a right to be in pain. For me, enduring real struggle has made me more aware and more accepting of the pain around me. I don't understand the whole, "We've all had pain, so what makes you so special that you have to struggle, and we have to watch, and you need help?"

I mean, pain is pain. ONe person's pain doesn't minimize another's. One person's recovery doesn't take from another person's recovery. That's like saying that love is limited--if one person gets love and attention it takes from another person's allotted amount. Love isn't like that. The more there is, the more there is, period. And recovery's not like that, either. I think that Love and recovery are just like chocolate. Who doesn't want more chocolate? The more chocolate there is in the world, the better the world gets, right? I enjoy and celebrate all the love, recovery, and chocolate, I see around me.

I mean, each of us struggles with our own burden. I don't feel a need to compare. What's the point of comparing?

Jeffrey had an insight for me yesterday. He said that the type of person who'd say things like that, "We all have pain, you're not the only one, what makes you so special?" And "It's been thirteen years. You should be over that by now," is the type of person who isn't actually addressing their own pain. They resent me asking for help and being vulnerable because they don't feel safe asking for help, or being vulnerable. So they shoulder that burden on their own. And seeing people around them asking for the help they also need, and visibly struggling in a way that they're keeping only inside, is pretty threatening to them.

So my frustration should really be empathy. These people are still stumbling along in the state I endured for a decade. Numb. Anxious. Not able to address it yet.

Instead of being angry, I can feel for them. And hope that eventually they feel safe enough to pass into a less painful stage of recovery.

This kinda leads to the last layer of feeling, which I think I'm passing into right now as I leave anger behind. Grief. Just... sadness. I mean, it was really sad, what happened. I'm sad at what was lost, and sad my baby had to go through it. Sad I had to go through it. Sad my family had to go through it. I'm. Just. Sad.

And that's OK. IT's the feeling at the root of it all. It's something I might carry inside me and have to re-negotiate during my life. Grief is like that... you re-address it as you grow and new understanding of what happened develops. But Sadness is something one can deal with. When you're sad, you accept comfort from your loved ones. You talk to your friends. You cry. These things are vents of emotion--wells of feeling, being allowed to drain and become productive. The emotions above--anxiety and anger--tend to block release, but Sadness... well. The Savior wept. And I can feel the powerful force of the atonement come over me as I work through sadness.

That's where we want to be in the wake of hard stuff. Sad, so that we can eventually be happy. What is that quote from Genesis? Without pain, we don't truly know Joy.

I think I"m going to do a post in a few days about why I'm grateful I've gone through the things I have. What good they've brought into my life.

In the meantime, I guess one message I wanted to bring across is this: comparison is the thief of joy. It's not good to compare your pain to others'. It's not a happy place to compare your recovery to others', either. It's really just best to be where you are, and be Ok with that.


Laura Blackham said...

Lehi said that, I think - if Adam and Eve had stayed in the Garden of Eden, they would not have been truly happy, never knowing any sorrow, or learned true compassion, having never suffered.

PTSD is a strange thing, but it's not something to shy away from. It's okay to be mad, and sad, and otherwise upset about that thing years and years later, so long as it doesn't take over your life. That's what I'm trying to learn, anyway.

Thanks for this post, Sarah. This was really comforting for me to read.

Emma Tank said...

I'm happy to see you posting again. I'm sorry that people aren't responding well when you've been asking for help. I think the other reason that people act like that is because they haven't experienced trauma. Sure, they've felt pain, but they don't understand what it's like to go through mind-blowing, heart-aching, life-destroying trauma. I actually don't really understand what you're going through, but I know the Savior does, and He can help you. I try to be empathetic without judging what I don't understand. Sometimes it's hard to know HOW to help. I'm glad that you're taking the grief process at your own pace. Don't rush it, rely on those around you and on your own inner strength. After all, you're one tough cookie. :)

Debra Samaniego said...

Thank you Sarah!!! I needed to hear this now. I feel lifted up and strengthened to endure my own processes and treat myself with compassion. (I as introduced to the concept of self compassion by Linda Graham, a psychotherapist who spoke at a school counselors conference. I like it. I started reading her book, Bouncing Back and found a lot of helpful things in it.)

Sarah, the sadness! argh. For me, that is the hardest part to sit with & be OK with it. I always want to run from it, push it away, stay busy to keep it at bay, drown it in ice cream, or cover it up with anger. I finally let myself cry more now, but it's difficult to get over cultural "rules" about NOT crying. I'm still working out how to "let Jesus help me carry burdens" or "turn them over to Him", or whatever it is that I'm supposed to do; not sure what people mean when they say things like that.

Hmmmm. Is Jeffery a closet therapist? ;) great insight.

thank you again

Sarah Dunster said...

Diane, grief aches. it's like the bone ache of fever. But it isnt forever <3 And there's relyef, and endorphins, in release. I think what I have learned is, not to be afraid to talk to people about it. Greif requires support.

I'm glad, Laura :) Yes, be patient with yourself.

Rebecca, thank you <3 We all have different paths to who we are supposed to become in this life. You have your grief, I have mine. you hit the nail on the head. The savior. The atonement.

The Weed said...

Such a great post!