I have experienced something, but I am not sure what.
I have spent the past few years trying to re-regulate my dysregulated nervous system, thanks to my shrink, Gabor Mate, Pete Walker, and the Crappy Childhood Fairy. Lots of tears and meditation. Now, something has happened–or perhaps I should say, nothing has happened.
The incessant rumble of infantile terror seems to have stopped. Not everything stops my breath.
What do I feel? Emptiness. It is questionable whether or not that is actually good, but I can say that it is a million times better than unending fear. I look inside and don’t feel anything. This might be the feeling that everyone is trying to avoid with various addictions. But it is such an improvement that I don’t care.
This is not the same as meaning or purpose, but I feel like I am wrapping things up, dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s. I don’t know why.
I am not freaking out and that is good enough.
I might be quoting this book forever. This book is not simply interesting; it is important. I believe every healthcare provider, teacher, psychotherapist, and even daycare worker should read its contents. So not going to happen. Like the Adverse Childhood Experiences study of the 1990s that should have revolutionized healthcare and didn’t even cause a blip on the radar, the impact of this book will likely be close to zero.
Mate’s premise is scientifically sound (even beyond dispute): early childhood experiences, including in utero, shape the very anatomy and functioning of our nervous systems permanently. But, of course, there is backlash. When people understand the implications of his views, they are horrified. He wrote an article in 2006 saying that babies should not have to cry themselves to sleep. One reader of the article was indignant:
“One of them was priceless: ‘The article is nothing more than prefrontal lobe BS. There is no way an infant’s brain patterns are permanently psychologically damaged at such a young age. There is no way your prefrontal cortex will permanently adopt patterns that will translate into adulthood. No way. If that would be the case, then the last 3 generations to rule this earth (boomers, pre-boomers, Generation X) would have all been emotionally unstable and plagued with psychological issues.’ ‘Well, then,’ I thought to myself, ‘I rest my case.'” (p. 171, the Myth of Normal)
This person wrongly thought they were contradicting Mate’s sound scientific opinion, while in reality they were actually proving it. Apparently, this person lived in a cave. I cannot imagine trying to defend the mentally unstable “leaders” of today.
When basic human needs are not met, and you multiply this over billions of people, what you get is what you see–utter social and political chaos. As my friends at school always liked to say, “Good luck with that.”
I have a habit of doing this to myself: skipping steps and missing very important points.
In my last post, I mentioned getting Brene Brown’s book, Atlas of the Heart. I felt judged because I have gotten out of the family and am not interested in restarting those “relationships.” Even though getting out is a simple choosing of my sanity over social convention, I felt like Brown would disapprove when I looked at an advanced chapter.
Reality check: read the introduction!
“When people are being hateful or cruel or just being assholes, they’re showing us exactly what they’re afraid of. Understanding their motivation doesn’t make their behavior less difficult to bear, but it does give us choices. And subjecting ourselves to that behavior by choice doesn’t make us tough–it’s a sign of our lack of self-worth….[S]ometimes, even when the pain takes your breath away, you have to let the people you love experience the consequences of their own behavior. That one really hurts.” (p. xix)
Her words reflect my entire life philosophy. They could have been taken out of any Al-Anon meeting.
That’s what I do to myself: I skip steps and then miss what I need. I have always been able to advance faster than most intellectually. But then it is easy to miss the point and the support that I need that is available.
But I am 55 years old now. The time to skip steps is over. I am currently trying to catch up all the various parts of me to the same level. I have a lot of time to make up and I don’t know that I have it. None of us knows if we have it.
Brown’s book is not about family systems. It is about giving language to the terrain of emotions. She considers herself both the topographer and the traveler. Giving emotions a nuanced vocabulary helps to connect the different parts of the brain, parts that I know Gabor Mate would agree get disconnected in trauma. That is a worthy endeavor.
A few weeks ago was my birthday. About a week before that, my mom sent me something in the mail. The envelope was thick and had no return address, as if I was incapable of recognizing her printing. I pitched it in the dumpster in the parking lot of my apartment complex. After the past year, that was exceptionally freeing. I spoke to my shrink. The following day, I felt like something had shifted, but I didn’t know what.
This past week, I got another “bill” from this weird company claiming that I owed them almost three thousand dollars from the accident from last year. I have already contacted my insurance adjustor and he said he had not received a claim from them and suggested that they were scammers. Getting an unpaid “bill” of that size made my heart stop, again. I will contact my adjustor again and I might contact the appropriate regulatory agency. I don’t want a legitimate bill to go unpaid, but my latest letter to them made it clear I need proof that they have submitted the bill to State Farm (my car insurance) first. I gave them the claim number and everything. Any legitimate health care provider should get paid by them and BC/BS of Michigan, and I will pay the balance after the insurances have paid their amounts first. I pay my bills, but I am a widow and scammers are after me all the time.
I know I have made huge emotional progress because that stepping-on-my-chest feeling was so dramatic and I instantly realized that I used to feel like that all the time. Twenty-four/7/365. That was my usual mode of being. I suddenly felt compassion for the young adult that was me, trying to deal with Barry, supporting his sobriety, dealing with my family, school, and/or work. I truly used to live like that, in a continual state of emotional overwhelm. My nervous system has been seriously re-regulated. I give the credit to Crappy Childhood Fairy, my shrink, Pete Walker, and Gabor Mate. Nobody should ever have to live like that routinely. The tools are out there.
But I digress, maybe. Part of the reason the scammer issue is so crystal clear to me is because of this shift I have undergone. I have been doing a lot of meditating lately. I have known something has changed, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. This is what it feels like: a lifetime of momentum has come to a grinding halt. That pushing, pushing, pushing feeling has, uh, ended. Gone. With absolutely nothing to replace it. I have stopped feeding the engine of the barreling train. Without me or my family fueling the motor, it has puttered to a stop. Without my family in the equation, what I put my energy into is strictly my choice. And I am unwilling to fuel the drama.
I believe that I always performed two roles in the family: 1) I am the person my mother could always freely disapprove of and 2) I acted as a buffer between her and her self-destructing sons (as a distraction). My brothers could do anything and we should should all have compassion on them because they have had it so hard. However, when I would do anything one one-millionth as bad as anything they did, I should have known better and how dare I. And we all know Cindy has emotional problems. Without me as a scapegoat, my mother is probably going nuts. I believe that the letter or whatever she sent was her desperate attempt to restart the family karmic train, with me as the emotional dumping ground for her toxic waste. Now there is no distraction. Everything she sends at me rebounds back onto her. Not. My. Problem. Freedom for me.
But still, I don’t know what to do. Is this what normal (non-traumatized) people feel like? I feel lost. Perhaps I have self-esteem now. I’m not sure. All I am sure of is that my former motivation of internal rumbling terror has relented. Fear maybe drives 10% of my choices, whereas it drove 100% of my choices in the past. Part of me feels like, if I died tonight, I finally have some peace. This is what I have been working towards my entire life.
I just received The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate. It is a frickin’ tome. Of course, it is amazing so far. I hope I have something to offer the world in terms of creating a more trauma-friendly world. I also received Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown. I peeked ahead and feel judged because I have cut off my family. But I would rather feel judged than to resume those toxic relationships. Not all relationships are worth investing in. My physical and emotional health are worth more to me than any relationship. Period.
As I was watching the PBS show “Facing Suicide”, major issues popped out at me, issues not directly addressed by the show.
I have spent most of my life without a huge will to live and even attempted suicide as a teen-ager. As a widow, I see two distinct types of suicide. Type one: life is too much for me, good bye. Type two: I want to be reunited with my departed loved one (“I’m coming, hon”). The show did not talk at all about type two, which might be viral in a community. The community of Arlee, Montana was highlighted, but it made me wonder if some of them were simply trying to join their friends who had killed themselves. As a teen, I felt alone. Perhaps some of the suicides there finally felt like they weren’t alone.
One issue that I have lived is the question of what exactly counts as suicide. If someone has cancer and refuses a treatment that might buy them five more years, does that count as suicide? Also, I remember, in my twenties, thinking seriously about driving off a particular bridge. My vehicle pulled to the right. If I let go of the wheel, would that have counted? As if that weren’t enough, I have brothers dying of cirrhosis. When you are doing a behavior, like drinking or using drugs, that is killing your body and continue that behavior steadfastly, how is that not suicide? Somehow, I suspect that that does not get counted in the statistics. The 47,000 suicides that do get counted in the United States seem ridiculously low. It seems artificially narrow, like the unemployment statistics that only count those people that are not students and are actively looking for work. Broke students desperate for employment don’t get counted and neither do the people that have simply given up looking for gainful employment. Hence, my suspicion of statistics.
My other cynicism comes from our culture defining pretty much everything now as a “mental health problem.” For example, someone is having a panic attack because they are being evicted. I am suggesting that an anti-depressant is not a relevant solution. What is the answer? Housing. We are taking these massive systemic issues and trying to define them on an individual level. Epic fail. All the access to mental health resources in the world will not begin to address these issues. I see simplistic attempts to address complex, trauma-related problems as having a zero percent chance of succeeding.
I just ordered Gabor Mate’s new book The Myth of Normal. I am so excited. Perhaps he can inject some sanity into the conversation. The show was not bad, just the bare-bones beginning of the conversation.
I am taking the weekend off from work, but not of my own free will.
A few weeks ago, I got a cold. Runny nose, some chest congestions, nothing terribly noteworthy, but a little repulsive. I was at work, nose running, coughing in front of customers. It occurred to me that I could have bubonic plague and not be sent home sick. For a couple weeks, I did little else but work and sleep. It was “back to school time” and the store was packed. I have never seen anything like that. Customers ran us out of boys’ clothes in particular. But I felt like I was improving.
This past Tuesday, I had lunch with a friend for my birthday. It was fabulous at a pulled-pork restaurant. I worked later that day and closed. I opened the next morning, with little sleep in between. When I left work, I felt beyond bad. I was achy. A headache that I thought could be a migraine. My friend from lunch called to tell me she had tested positive for Covid. Then work called and told me not to come in on Thursday because they were trying to reduce payroll. I tried to act disappointed, but I don’t think I succeeded. I was jubilant. I took a shot of Nyquil and went to bed.
Friday, my friend with Covid (who is taking time off from her retail job) grilled me about my symptoms and when they started. She thought I may have given it to her. I said it was doubtful that I gave it to her as she came up positive the very next day after our only face-to-face contact in months. She told me to get tested. I thought about it. There were only two possible outcomes: negative and life goes back to normal or positive and I take a few days off from work. I made my lunch, just in case I was negative, feeling better after having gotten some good rest.
I got in my car to go get the Covid test, turned the key, and…nothing. Not a sound. I called work and told them that I was going to get a Covid test but didn’t even get that far. “My car won’t start and I’m not sure you would want me there anyhow. I am taking Sunday off, but will return on Monday.” I can walk to work. This is precisely why I moved to this end of town.
The tow guy arrives. He says, “What is it doing?” I replied, “Absolutely nothing.” “Let me try something,” he says. He pops my hood, goes to his truck, gets something, hooks it up to my engine, turns the key, and magically my car starts. My jaw drops. WTF? He said it was probably the battery or alternator, something like that.
Sooooo…….In other words, I likely do not need another car, just a new battery/alternator. I have officially driven my health into the ditch. I have not taken sufficient care of myself. I knew I had gone off the rails when I was more than a little enthused at the prospect of testing positive for Covid and being forced to take time off. God, karma, life, or whatever decided for me to take this weekend off. I am doing so involuntarily. I need to do this at my own behest, not get forced into it. Or it could get truly ugly next time.