Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

This is my annual “got triggered by the Halloween store” blog entry. I guess I will keep writing it until my 11-year-old son is grown.

My son gets annoyed with me every year that I will not let him buy, or even try on, any costume with a black hood. No exceptions. Non-negotiable. Of course, in his 11-year-old mind, the black-hooded costumes are the scariest and “coolest,” and as an adolescent, he is looking for any way he can to prove that he is no longer a “little kid.”

He placed one hooded mask on his head briefly, and I felt a sharp pain across my head. His friend wanted to try one on, and just that knowledge sent more shooting pains through my head. I told the friend that my son would have to let her know how the costume looks because seeing children in black hooded robes makes me sick.

Last night, I have flashback nightmares. I reenacted one of my more heinous memories. I could feel and hear the same sensations I experienced when the event actually happened, and I jolted awake pouring sweat with my heart pounding. I eventually went back to sleep but continued having nightmares. I gave up at 4:30 a.m.

Photo credit: Microsoft

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I was doing completely OK until late Saturday morning. My son’s friend spent the night, and I picked up some breakfast for the boys at a local restaurant. As it turned out, the restaurant gave us the wrong side dish for my son, and he got angry with me. I don’t know what it was about that interaction, but I was suddenly SLAMMED with Mother’s Day grief.

I am trying to focus on the positive – that I only got triggered the day before Mother’s Day instead of weeks ahead of time. As a friend pointed out, I typically start wigging out sometime in April, and that didn’t happen in this year. In fact, I was in a great mood while driving out to pick up the food from the fast food restaurant. However, once I was slammed, I was slammed hard.

I spent half of Saturday and all day Sunday fighting off tears. That’s one of the challenges of Mother’s Day – because it is supposed to be celebrating me, I don’t really have the option of blowing off my family to go grieve. I did it in subtle ways, such as taking a Sunday afternoon nap (something I rarely do) so I could have some alone time. I spent the weekend feeling like I had a heavy pit in my stomach – the grief was so heavy.

I just woke up on Monday morning, so it’s too early to say how much residue I still have to deal with. At the moment, I am still feeling depressed with little energy. At least the “holiday” is over, so hopefully I just need to recover from the weekend.

I was able to be objective enough to recognize the progress in only being slammed for half a day before Mother’s Day instead of going through that pain for weeks. I was also objective enough to recognize that this is temporary. That being said, it’s no wonder I have battled my weight (eating to “stuff down” the pain) and questioned my sanity throughout my life. Having to live with the weight of that pain is nearly unbearable.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Although Mother’s Day is this weekend, I have been doing surprisingly well. I typically wig out at this time of year because of all of the abuse inflicted by my mother. I wrestle with whether to buy her a Mother’s Day card, and I typically get sick along with having panic attacks. I usually take a lot of Xanax to get through this time of year.

This year is finally different. I am not saying that I am 100% “over” the Mother’s Day thing, but I am much improved. I have taken no Xanax other than to help with insomnia while I was traveling last weekend. (I have trouble sleeping whenever I travel, doubly so when I have to share a room with anyone.) It has not even occurred to me to think about Mother’s Day with respect to my mother. No, I am not getting her a card, and it never even occurred to me to question whether I should. For the first time ever, my focus for Mother’s Day has been on myself – I have fun family plans for Sunday.

That being said, I know I am not 100% “over” Mother’s Day because I have been sick. My acid reflux has been bad enough over the last two weeks for me to visit my doctor – again – and go on a two-week sample of prescription-strength medication – again – which so far is not working. I have also scheduled an appointment with a GI later in the month because I am sooo ready to resolve this issue. I also had my annual illness, although this time it was as stomach virus that only lasted about 12 hours (thank goodness).

For those of you who are struggling with Mother’s Day this year, perhaps I can give you a small chuckle. Years ago, I posted on isurvive.org that I was struggling with finding an appropriate Mother’s Day card to send to my mother/abuser. At that point in my healing, I did not see the choice of not sending a card as an option. I was angry that all of the cards in the store were mushy and related ideas that I did not feel or want to convey.

Members at isurvive started creating their own custom Mother’s Day cards for me to visualize sending. While several were clever, my favorite was this one:

Happy Mother’s Day.
Thanks for the PTSD.
Couldn’t have gotten it without you.

~isurvive member (wish I could remember which one!)

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Thanksgiving was Hard

I went into Thanksgiving with low expectations and also feeling a bit relieved to have something to do after the in-laws left. The in-laws always come for exactly 70 minutes and then peel out as quickly as they can. I decided to view Thanksgiving as a large meal rather than a holiday or event. I am glad I did this because I just rolled my eyes when each in-law “forgot” something and left as soon as they arrived, causing us to have to “hold” the meal while they attended to their respective “I forgots.”

A friend invited my son and me over to her house for Thanksgiving after our own, so my son, who is an only child, got to play with other children on Thanksgiving for the first time EVER! He was in heaven, which was a blessing to me as well. I am so grateful he got to have that fun time on the holiday.

Thanksgiving was painful for me, though. The one at my house was nothing but people eating and complimenting the food. There was no emotional intimacy whatsoever – no sharing stories, talking about what we are thankful for, or really anything to distinguish this meal from any other meal other than the elaborate feast.

The Thanksgiving at my friend’s house was wonderful, which just drove home the emptiness of my own. Both sets of in-law were there and (gasp!) stayed long than 70 minutes. They each shared one thing they were thankful for. They shared family stories going back to the great-grandmothers. There was lively conversation and laughter. They didn’t rush through eating so they could peel out and nap – they lingered, which is what I always thought Thanksgiving was supposed to be like.

We ate off the great-grandmother’s dishes. There was a sense of connectivity that I don’t have in my life. My father is dead, and my mother is momster. I only have one living grandparent, and while I know she loves me “in her own way” (which is the only way I was ever loved as a child), there’s no real bond.

My son and I left after three hours, and the Thanksgiving celebration was still going strong. I felt an overwhelming need to cry but didn’t want to do it in front of my kid. When we got home, I thought hub’s feeling would be hurt that we had been gone for four hours (my friend’s house is a 30-minute drive), but he seemed disappointed that we were home so quickly.

I haven’t felt such as strong urge to drink since I stopped drinking in July. I resisted solely because I didn’t want to extend the feelings of sadness. I tried to let myself feel the sadness and then gave myself some relief with Xanax at bedtime.

I had very disturbing dreams. The Thanksgiving friend took me to my house, and every room was covered in animal urine or feces from dogs, a lion, and a third animal I don’t remember. I got more and more upset as I walked room to room and saw the excrement everywhere. Half of my bedroom’s carpet was thoroughly soaked in dog urine. I was so overwhelmed, not knowing where to start, that I just shut down. I laid down and was dissociated in my dream.

My other close friend thought I was having a nightmare and whispered in my ear, “You are not alone, and you are loved.” That was exactly what I needed to hear, and I reacted by releasing the emotions. I was still asleep and starting moaning/wailing (can’t think of the right word – releasing very deep emotions in a guttural way), which made her think she did something wrong, so she left. That upset me even more because I needed to let it out, but I didn’t want to be abandoned in the filth.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Getting through Thanksgiving

PhotobucketHow is everyone doing with the holidays upon us? I am doing surprisingly well, all things considered.

So far, things have been hard, which is usual for me, but I am finding that I am dusting myself off and fighting back much more effectively this year than in prior years. Of course, the big challenge for me is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I am just grateful that I have gotten this far in one piece.

I am trying to do a better job using my tools to get me through the difficult times. I actually got a massage last week (that is HUGE for me!!), which helped work many of the knots out of my shoulders. Just the sheer act of setting aside time for myself – doing something that was just for me – was HUGE in helping me feel better.

I am gradually moving toward trying to have a more manageable schedule. This has been a year of unbalance for me. I have been working far too hard and reaping too few results (earned a lot less money this year despite putting in more hours). The internal intensity toward work seems to be calming down, thank goodness. I am doing better about taking a full hour lunch break and doing other things just for myself, such as going to see the new Twilight movie last weekend. Doing little kindnesses for myself seems to help with my emotional state.

A friend has invited my son and me to come over to her house for Thanksgiving once we are finished with our own. My family (just five of us – hub, child, and in-laws) will eat at 1:00, and the in-laws will be out the door within 70 minutes. (Yes, I have timed them.) That leaves all afternoon of my son and me feeling bored while hub naps, so the two of us are going to have a second Thanksgiving at a friend’s house.

Beyond that, we don’t really have plans for the weekend, and I am OK with that … which is weird for me. I usually freak out if I don’t have plans, but I am OK. I have some ideas of things my son and I can do together – decorate for Christmas, trim the tree, go to the zoo, etc. We’ll get through it.

I am sticking with my formula of only uplifting or non-melancholy music, no alcohol, working out at the gym, decent amount of sleep, and down time for me. All of this seems to be helping.

One more thing – I will be taking the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving. I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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Party (c) Lynda BernhardtDoes anyone else get triggered by your birthday? I don’t think I have blogged about this topic because I don’t want to reveal when my birthday is, and I typically only think about this topic near my birthday. However, a conversation with a friend over the weekend reminded me how difficult my birthday is for me every year, so I thought I would write about it today.

My birthday falls during a challenging time of the year for me. For those of you who have read my blog for a full year, you know that (sadly) covers a large portion of the year. Because my birthday happens to fall near another time of year that is triggering for me, it is difficult for me to determine how much of the triggering comes directly from my birthday itself and how much is the cumulative effect from other triggers.

Regardless, my birthday is always a difficult day for me. I would prefer to stay curled up in my bed under the covers and sleep through the day. I feel “off” the entire day. I feel like I am being put in a spotlight that I don’t want shining on me. In my head, I appreciate that I have a lot of people in my offline life who care about me and want to celebrate with me. In my heart, I just wish I could hide and not hear “happy birthday” all day. I put on my “game face” and do my best acting on my birthday, pretending that I am OK when I just want to disappear.

I am not sure why I react that way. Perhaps it is because a birthday ties into the connection with your mother, a connection I don’t want to think about. Perhaps I suffered ritual abuse on my birthday – certainly a possibility.

Despite all of my parents’ failings, they always celebrated my birthday. I got a birthday cake each year along with presents. I have no conscious memories of my parents (or anyone else) being cruel to me on my birthday. I cannot explain why I loathe it so much, only that I do.

My aversion to my birthday does not tie into aging. I am actually happy to grow a year older. Each year that I age, feel less like a potential victim. The older I get, the less “attractive” I am to predators. So, my issues are not tied into fears of getting older or of being one year closer to the grave.

I don’t know why my birthday bothers me so much, only that it does.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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A reader asked me to discuss the topic of dealing with parents where one is confrontational and the other is passive. This reader was specifically interested in this topic with Father’s Day coming up. Because Mother’s Day is my big “go crazy” day, I often forget that Father’s Day is extremely painful for many of my readers. Hopefully, this blog entry will be helpful for those of you who have to deal with this dynamic.

The reader talked about a family dynamic that I have seen in other abusive and/or dysfunctional households. One parent is confrontational while the other parent is passive, letting the confrontational parent steamroll the adult child. The adult child struggles with where to place the anger, sometimes finding herself even angrier at the passive parent than the confrontational parent.

I have had to wrestle with this dynamic myself in a couple of relationships. With my own parents, my mother abused me while my father didn’t do enough to stop it. I went through a phase of being angrier with him than with my mother/abuser because it was his job to stop the abuse, but he didn’t (or at least not enough). My in-laws had a similar dynamic, where my mother-in-law would get all worked up about something, and my father-in-law would not intervene even though he disagreed with her. In both situations, I felt anger that the “sane” parent would not step in and protect me.

If you are dealing with this dynamic, you first need to recognize that this dynamic is triggering you. The wounded little boy or girl inside feels betrayed and angry at one parent for not intervening with the abuse or dysfunction of the confrontational parent. Try treating the wounded child inside as you would any other abused child. Comfort her. Tell her that she is now safe and that you love her. Also, tell her that **you** will be the one to intervene this time.

The second step is to set and enforce boundaries. The passive parent is not going to step it up, so you need to be the advocate for your wounded inner child. You need to be the one to tell the confrontational parent to knock it off or you will leave. Period. If you give a confrontational person a verbal “punch in the face,” the confrontation will stop. Walking out is always an option.

The third step is to cut yourself some slack if you don’t handle things perfectly. Keep in mind that your confrontational parent knows what buttons to push because he or she installed them. Until you are able to dismantle the buttons, you will stay vulnerable to doing your part of the “dance.” The parent will say X, and you will react by doing Y simply because that is how you were “programmed” to react. Any steps you take toward dismantling the dance will go a long way toward healing.

One final tip – Before I got strong enough to remove myself from dysfunctional family get-togethers with my in-laws, I used humor to get myself through them. For example, whenever my mother-in-law would say a particular phrase, I would “do a shot” in my head and then imagine how drunk I would be if I was really drinking. This helped me to step outside of the “dance” and see the dysfunction for what it was.

This change is not going to happen overnight, but any step you take toward standing up for your inner child and refusing to participate in the “dance” with your confrontational parent is a positive step along your healing journey.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I know I have a good 350 days or so to prepare, but I really want to know what I can do differently to make Christmas bearable when it rolls around again. Now that the holidays are over, I am starting to feel more like myself and much less “crazy.” However, the holidays were a different story.

My offline friends assure me that I did much better this past Christmas than I did the year before. One pointed out that I was triggered from October 1 through the New Year in 2009, which is true. However, I felt every minute of the two weeks of triggering in 2010, and I really have no desire to relive that experience for Christmas 2011. So, my question is what proactive steps can I take to make Christmas more bearable this year?

I cannot even tell you with certainty what triggers me about Christmas, which might be part of the problem. I can tell you that I have very few memories of Christmas throughout my childhood (through age 23!!). I have always remembered having Christmas dinner at my grandparents’ house, but they did not move to our city until I was nine or ten. Those memories are only with my sister, cousins, and grandparents – I have none of my parents, even though I know they were there. After my father died, my mother had a rift with my grandparents (his parents), and we stopped going to their house for Christmas. All of those Christmases are blank. I remember things **around** Christmas, such as my sister and me going to see Godfather III when it premiered on Christmas Day, but I have no memories at all of being with my mother.

Through flashbacks, I have recovered a terrible memory of abuse by S & L (my most sadistic abusers) abusing me in front of their Christmas tree. However, I wonder if there is more that I have yet to remember because it doesn’t seem like that one incident of abuse would account for 23 years of “lost” Christmas memories as well as my intense triggering that continues even after so many years of therapy and healing.

I was really freaked out when I recognized that I had “lost” my memories of Christmas when I was 23 years old. I had just gotten engaged and was sad that my fiancé and I were going to spend Christmas apart. I remember getting angry with my sister for leaving me alone with my mother on Christmas Day, and I cried and felt really hollow and sad. I have memories around that time, such as going to try on wedding gowns and visiting a gym to work out, but I have no memories at all of Christmas. I have consistent memories of Christmas beginning the next year, when I was married and spent each Christmas at my in-laws’ house.

Clearly I have more work to do on this, but I don’t even know where to start. I guess I will remember when I am ready. I am sure it will be a doozy.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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It looks like I survived the holidays again. I wonder if I will ever reach a place where this fact is not a complete surprise to me. I have been surviving the holiday season for over four decades, but, in the moment, each holiday season seems like the one that will finally break me.

From the outside, this holiday season had much less drama and should not have rocked me in the way that it did. If you consider that I had to see my mother/abuser combined with a cancer scare during the holidays in 2009 and dealt with my mother-in-law’s sudden passing during the holidays in 2008, the holidays for 2010 had a lot less going on. No big drama happened in 2010. Nevertheless, I was still completely triggered and wigged out, so much so that parts of the holidays are a blur because I was so dissociated. I was either drinking wine or popping Xanax for a good portion of the holidays. I went through half a bottle of wine myself on Christmas Day and awoke with a bad cold on the 26th. I suspect that the dehydration of drinking so much wine didn’t help with trying to fight off a cold.

I spent most of the holidays either on the verge of a panic attack, feeling suicidally depressed, or sick. From the outside, there was no external cause for any of this. From the inside, the holidays were simply unbearable.

One big problem was really seeing the dysfunction on both sides of my family. My sister’s family (her and her children) are dysfunctional in one way, and my husband’s family (him, his father, and his brother) are dysfunctional in a completely different way. Each one’s version of dysfunction is glaringly obvious to the other, which magnified both sets of dysfunction to the point that it was nearly unbearable. I love all of them, but the dysfunction (especially when in contact with each other) was enough to make me want to claw my way out of my own skin.

Then there is my son, who is growing up seeing all of this dysfunction. I try to provide him with the healthiest environment that I can, keeping in mind that I can only provide as “sane” of an environment for him as I can manage for myself. I felt so badly about “checking out” on him through dissociation, but I simply was not strong enough. He says he had a great holiday other than Christmas Day (long story – part of why I went through half a bottle of wine myself), but I worry about how much of this dysfunction will be passed along to him. (I have money to pay for his therapy in adulthood!)

I wish I could figure out a way to make the holidays more bearable for next year. I hate feeling like I am crawling into a foxhole every December when the holidays roll around. I get so incredibly triggered, and I have yet to find a formula that works to make it bearable. I just keep reminding myself that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and I try to believe that I won’t always feel this out of control and miserable. There has to be a better way, but I have yet to figure out how to get there.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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I hope all of you mean it that my “downer” posts are as helpful as my inspiring ones, but I am simply not in an “inspiring” place right now. My offline friends are trying to be encouraging, reminding me that I got triggered on October 1 last year and pretty much stayed triggered until mid-January. I didn’t kick off this year until right before Thanksgiving, but it feels unending right now.

I just want to have a good old-fashioned cry, but I haven’t been able to get the privacy to do it. It feels like if I risk letting a little out, emotions are going to explode out of me. That would be okay if I could get one friggin’ moment to myself, but I have had hub or child with me just about every single second for almost three weeks, and on the rare occasions that they haven’t been right there, I have either been sick or frantically preparing for that job interview.

Hub is pretty much perpetually depressed, but he also pulled his back, which is making it even worse. So, he is a downer. My son is making up for being so sick by being extra hyper these days (he has ADHD), which is wearing me out. And now even the dog has a swollen paw, which I am  treating with meds from the vet. It’s like it just doesn’t end.

The thing is that I know in my head that my problems are not that big of a deal compared to what so many other people are going through at this time of year. I talked with a woman today whose husband was laid off right before the holidays – that’s got to be incredibly stressful. My husband has a secure job. My part-time job is going very well. We can pay our bills (although our health care costs are killing us), we have a roof over our heads, etc.

And yet, even knowing that I am blessed with all of these things simply is not quieting the wounded little girl inside. All she can see is that the holidays are here, and that means that all of her positive influences and support are going to abandon her while they tend to their families and holiday hoopla. It happens every year. Group gatherings (book clubs, Bible studies, etc.) go on hiatus. Play groups get canceled. People are too busy to do the things they enjoy year round. I don’t understand this because I spend my time throughout the year in a way that works for me. Why on earth would I want to stop seeing my friends and doing the things I love doing just because there are Christmas lights everywhere?

And I know this is going to sound really stupid, but the little girl inside even feels abandoned by fictional characters! Even the TV shows I enjoy go on hiatus at this time of year and are replaced by never-ending, sickly-sweet “family is what matters” propaganda movies. You know what? My family SUCKS! My issue is not a lack of appreciation for my family – My problem is that they abused me during the holidays. They cut me off from anything positive (school, friends, etc.) and left me to their insanity 24/7. That is what the holidays mean to me.

Believe it or not, I am writing all of this on my maximum-prescribed Xanax dosage. So, you can imagine the level of anxiety I am experiencing right now without it!

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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