Sideways Regression

Mitchell is going to Phoenix today to visit his sister and her husband. He wasn’t going to (because he finally started working on the waist-high weeds in the yard, and was planning to finish it); but, I encouraged him to do so. I reiterated the importance of making family a priority, and pointed out that it would mean a lot to his mom. And after fighting about it for half an hour, he finally agreed to go.

Had he and my mother-in-law invited me to go with them, I would have gladly done so (and was secretly hoping that the invitation would come)… but they didn’t. And while I know this doesn’t mean that they don’t think of me as family, it certainly feels that way. (There’s that goddam disconnect — between knowing and feeling — again. 🤦🏻‍♀️)

When things like this happen, it’s hard not to perceive the distance between my husband and I as growing ever wider. I think, “Why doesn’t he understand that I would like to go too?” And at the same time, I don’t tell him that I’d like to go. Partly, because I want him to ask me on his own; and partly, because I live with the constant fear of being rejected. (i.e. I’d rather not express that I’d like to go and be left behind than to ask to go and be told no.)

He Loves Me in His Own Way

These things don’t happen because Mitch doesn’t love me. He just loves me in his own way, and often makes false assumptions about my needs and desires. I’m almost certain that he thought I’d prefer to have a day to myself, rather than travel to Phoenix in my mother-in-law’s vehicle. (I have a weird thing about riding with other people. I like knowing that I have my own get-away car, should I need it.)

He expresses love in many other ways (versus anticipating what I want)… but most of the time, these expressions come as a direct result of me asking him to fulfill a need and/or desire.

For example, this past week I returned to in-person courses at the university. This meant that I was returning to the scene of a sexual assault that occurred in 1996. The thought of doing so elicited crippling anxiety that almost caused me to drop out of school this semester; but instead of allowing that anxiety to put an end to my career as a student, I asked Mitch if he would take a few days off from work in order to walk me to my classes.

To my surprise, my sometimes-awesome husband didn’t see this as a ridiculous request. He told me that he understood my fear and trepidation, and was more than happy to walk me to class… and he did. He walked me to my classrooms, waited outside while I was in class, and walked me back to the parking garage after.

On the second day, we inadvertently walked right past the spot where I was date raped nearly twenty years ago. My heart did a flip-flop in my chest, and I felt dizzy and weak. When I expressed this to my husband, he immediately apologized and promised that we’d find an alternate route to the building after class… and we did. (And in all honesty, if my brave and caring Mitchell hadn’t been there, I would have either collapsed in the midst of a panic attack, or bolted without going to class.)

All of this was most definitely an expression of love and acceptance on his part; and it’s important for me to hold on to that when days like today occur.

PTSD-Induced Regression

As a result of that second day’s event, however, I started to withdraw into myself. I asked to eat out almost every day over the past week, and requested junk food from the market. I also stopped going to the gym.

Why? Because if I’m fat and undesirable, maybe no one will find me attractive enough to assault. (This is twisted logic. It’s true that I was young with a terrific figure when I was assaulted… but that didn’t warrant or justify the assault. In all actuality, it probably didn’t factor in to my assailant’s train of thought, either. Still… we cope with all kinds of sideways thinking in the ever-lasting aftermath of sexual assault.)

Thus, my weight has probably increased a bit, my acne has flared up, and I’m disgusted with the woman that I see in the mirror.

I’m regressing into the person I used to be, instead of taking further steps towards the person I was becoming… and it’s breaking my heart, rattling my tenuous hold on my sanity, wreaking havoc on my marriage, and causing a free-fall into the rabbit’s hole of a looming depression.

It’s also made me over-sensitive to Mitch’s words and actions. I got angry and yelled at him about the yardwork on Friday night. I’m hurt that he didn’t ask me to go with him to Phoenix today. I’ve been short with my own words, and distant in my communication with my spouse… all because I’m haunted by the past.

I want Mitchell to see how lost and frail I am (without having to point it out) — to understand that I need to be with him right now; and I don’t want to have to say it.

Saying it feels like weakness. Having to say that I need someone feels like being revictimized. Not being asked if I wanted to go today feels like being abandoned (something Borderlines do not deal with well); and it makes me angry and sad.

These emotions are a reaction to my past; but my husband — in the present — is the one paying for the sins of others; and I hate it when that happens. (Which is why I sit here quietly writing about my feelings, responding to my husband in tight-lipped one-word responses, instead of screaming and hollering at Mitch about my hurt.)

Unfortunately, that means that all Mitch perceives is anger. He knows it’s there; and it feels as if I’m angry at him, I’m sure. But I’m not. Anger is just easier than fear. Rage is my armor; but the war I’m fighting is already over… it just feels as if it never ended, and I’m on the battlefield alone — looking to vanquish a foe that is no longer there.

So Can I Win? And How?

The only way to deal with PTSD is to trudge though it. You can mitigate the effects through therapy and self-propelled (positive) action; but it’s always there. Lurking in the background, waiting to pounce on the present.

Getting fat (and yelling at your husband about the weeds) is one way to cope; but it isn’t a healthy way to cope. Instead of empowering myself through action (i.e. going to the gym), it simply fuels the internal fires of self-hatred. This hatred was not inherent at birth; it is a lasting side-effect of sexual assault. An ill-fated response to having pieces of yourself violently stolen, never to return.

After all, isn’t that where rapists truly draw their energy from? Clearly, they must pillage their power from others, because they have none of their own. Realizing that is the first step towards healing — to understand that the brawn those bastards wield is only borrowed. Borrowed from the strength they took from you. And if you’re still standing, they didn’t win… because you had enough left in the reserve of self to survive and carry on.

For me, the how of winning can be found in my pen. For whatever reason, I cannot sort the mess of these emotions through speaking about them… but I can come to terms with the disordered feelings by trying to form them into sentences, paragraphs, posts. (But unfortunately, most of the time I don’t sit down to write about them until my formidable ire has become all-consuming.)

Before writing this, I truly felt anger towards Mitch. It was the yard, and the lack of an invitation that were causing my fury and pain. After writing this, I know that it is the past I am raging against; not my poor, procrastinating, sometimes-oblivious husband.

In the wise words of Randy Atkins:

“If you’re goin’ through hell, keep on going
Don’t slow down
If you’re scared, don’t show it
You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there”

And if I get off my duff, and return to the gym, I’ll be able to outrun that horned, hoof-footed bastard should he come to sense my presence. 😏 And then, I need to offer my sincerest apologies to Mitch. I may not have exploded at him like I normally do; but I certainly haven’t been pleasant to deal with.

Soundtrack: “Going Through Hell” by Randy Atkins

Enough

I read a heartbreaking post this morning entitled “A Never Ending Nightmare” (written by my dear friend Ms. Alana at “Something Worth Fighting For: Life Goes On”).

The sentiment that “I am not enough” is a common theme in the lives of those who have experienced trauma and come out on the other side… which is ironic; because if we’ve managed to survive the horrors of trauma, shouldn’t we feel like warriors versus feeling less than? But sadly, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

When you add mental health disorders on top of trauma, those feelings run even deeper. For me, it’s often a matter of wondering why I can’t curb the behaviors that accompany my mental health issues. “If I weren’t so weak, I could control this shit,” is an internal lie born of external stigmatism.

Hell, there’s even sigma attached to mental health disorders through our health insurance providers — mental health is kept apart from physical health, with a different set of rules and parameters (and often, with separate and more costly co-pays). It’s no wonder we feel “less than” when compared to those who are fortunate enough to escape the pain and isolation of being diagnosed as “mentally ill”.

Then, throw addiction into the mix — an issue that eventually condemns a person to a prison of their own making — and you have the makings of a perfect “I absolutely suck” storm of thinking.

My Limitations Don’t Define Me

It’s taken me a long time to realize that I have very real limitations — both mentally and physically — that other people don’t. It’s taken even longer to come to accept, and honor, those limitations (and I don’t always do it well… it’s hard not to judge yourself in comparison to others).

Mitchell plays an important role in this, because he never judges me (not intentionally, anyway) by what I cannot do. He’s proud of me when I’ve managed to do the simplest of household chores and/or errands; and that makes a huge difference. He’s also the voice of calm reasoning in the midst of my “crazy” episodes.

Just yesterday, I weighed in at the gym and found that I had gained 2.8 lbs. I worked out anyway; but I was distraught by this “failure” (even though my routine is getting easier, and I’ve been able to increase my efforts). Afterwards, I called my husband and broke down into tears.

“What the hell? I’ve been working out five days a week and I’m gaining weight! This is ridiculous. Dr. Taylor’s not going to believe that I’ve made any effort at all to control my weight!”

“Baby, calm down. You look thinner. You’re moving more easily, and you’re accomplishing more outside of the gym. Muscle weighs more than fat, and you’re building muscle. This is going to take time; and you can’t measure everything by the numbers on the scale.”

“How the hell am I supposed to measure then?!”

“You measure by what you’ve accomplished. The rest will work itself out in the end. Trust me. You’re doing an excellent job, Honey.”

I still felt dismayed; but I dusted myself off and tried to get through the rest of the day… something I probably couldn’t have done without Mitch’s support.

This past week, I also went to the grocery store — twice! — after the gym and picked up easy-to-make dinners, so that Mitch wouldn’t have to stop on his way home and try to plan meals; and he was thrilled by this. However, on the second day, I wasn’t able to do much more following said errand. I’d gone to the gym, had run around town in the blistering heat, and was exhausted by the time I got home.

It took real effort to throw myself into the shower; and after that, I was spent. I didn’t get any laundry done… and more importantly, I did not judge myself for this.

It’s important for me to recognize when I’ve done something I wouldn’t/couldn’t normally do, no matter how small… because in doing so, I start to realize what I am capable of doing.

Sure, my capable might not live up to someone else’s capable… but guess what? Someone else is not me, and I am not them. We’re not better or less than one another; we’re just different. (And if we weren’t different, what a boring f*cking place this world would be.)

Reading Between the Lines, When There’s Nothing There

I find that I often read much more into a situation than is actually there.

A while back, after an intense argument between Mitchell and myself, I took out a notebook and wrote down what Mitchell had said in one color of ink, and what I had heard in another.

It turns out that most of what I was angry about was in my own damn head.

Mitch had made a benign comment about me putting something back in the refrigerator incorrectly, and what I had heard was, Are you really this stupid? How many times do I have to tell you how to do something before you get it right?! Jesus, Lady! Get your shit together!

Similarly, if someone looks at me when I’m out in public, I always wonder what in the f*ck they’re thinking. What? You got a problem with me? Bring it! You have no right to judge, Buddy! And in all actuality, they’re probably not thinking anything about me at all.

It’s that internal critic — a symptom of trauma and mental health issues — that makes the external world a hostile place; and I have to remember to try and keep it in check.

I’m Not Broken, I’m a Limited Edition

I have encountered monsters that tried to break me; but they didn’t succeed, because I’m still here. The bastards haunt my dreams because they have lost their power in the waking world… and the nightmares they are a part of are nothing more than an illusion of memory. I vanquished them once, and I will do it again — as many times as I need to — in order to free myself from their spectral grasp.

Sure, my brain might work a lil’ differently as a result of the actions of these monsters… but I am not broken. I’m a limited edition; and that makes me more valuable, not less.

If I have more cracks in the glass than most, that simply means that I have the capability to let more light into the darkness.

I am more than enough… and that “enough” has grown with time, distance, and experience.

And no one has the power to take that away from me… because I do not grant them permission to do so.

Dear Reader, you are enough… just the way you are.

Soundtrack: “Enough” by Delta Goodrem, featuring Gizzle