Saturday, July 28, 2012

Back to Earth

So. Where was I?

Oh, that's right. High.

The stories of T and the drugs are so inextricably linked that by this point in both stories, it's impossible to tell them separately. My memories of both also feel the same way: anxious, uncomfortable, angry, desperate. So I'll wrap them both up together. 

In honor of the Olympics, which open in London today, we'll call this post the story of my back handspring double full dismount. 

By the time T and I had been together for five years, nearly all of my energy was spent on keeping up appearances. It's hard to describe the state I was in-- I didn't understand it then because I refused to think about it even for a second, as if that would somehow prevent my world from crumbling around me. 

And I don't understand it now, because I can't imagine ever allowing myself to be that helpless.

I did, though. I did allow it. It was as if that relationship had erased my personality and will, and left me an empty shell. I second-guessed everything I was going to say before I said it, which lead to second-guessing every thought, whether I'd intended to share it or not. In my effort to censor my words to prevent T from lashing out, it became my habit to censor my private thoughts, as well. 

I wasn't just keeping up appearances for others. I was doing it for myself, as well. I kept myself from even thinking about anything that would jeopardize the illusion of control I had over my life.

This kept me from focusing on the pain I was in, which was helpful in the short run, but it also prevented me from making any kind of escape plan, which was what I really needed to do. I couldn't. I couldn't go there. I'd spent such a long time keeping real-time awareness of my feelings at bay, I didn't even know how to access them anymore. It had become something that happened instinctively, at the pre-cognitive level. 

It was as if my reptilian brain, still convinced I was under threat (and correctly so, as it turns out), was short-circuiting my emotional reactions and throwing up defenses instead: shut down all but the most essential systems and GET THROUGH THIS.

PTSR: it's not just a reaction. It's a lifestyle!

I wonder now if any of this would have happened-- if my relationship with T would have progressed beyond the first volley of insults-- if I'd been stuck in the fight or flight stage of the fight/flight/freeze/submit response, instead of freeze or submit. Obviously, being stuck in those phases create a multitude of problems of their own, and if I'd avoided T, surely some other monster would have stepped in to take his place.

Because that's the way I see this now: the problem wasn't T, per se, it was PTSR and the way it had embedded itself so deeply in my neurological functions that it prevented me from making choices I would otherwise have made. It made me focus on the wrong things, unable to be proactive. Stuck in an endless danger loop, I had somehow lost my ability to act, where emotions were concerned, and could only react, react, react.

One of those reactions was my interest in cocaine. It smoothed things out, pushed the demons away, made the world seem less threatening, more fun. It was a blessed relief from the overwhelming tension of holding everything back in my day-to-day life. It was the only escape I had.

That's what scares me the most when I look back at that time. As Dr. Oz says, a drug only resonates with you like that if it's filling a need. Cocaine was filling a need for me that was even more profound than I thought it was. I thought I was just in a bad relationship. I didn't know I was fighting my own brain chemistry. I didn't know my body was already at war with itself, and cocaine was helping to lessen the pain it was causing-- and would be causing even if I weren't in the relationship. 

I didn't know the extent of the risk I was taking. I didn't know how dangerous the game really was.

So. Five years in now, still partying regularly, and noticing that it took more and more coke to get us high. A gram between us no longer did it. No longer came close. Two grams. Three. An 8-ball became a single night's supply for T and me, and even that wasn't getting the job done consistently as the stuff we got was often heavily cut with diluting substances. Vitamin E powder. Hell, baby powder for all I know. Whatever it was, it often made it hard to get a decent high.

Remember when I described the stages you go through coming down from an amphetamine high? One of the first phases you hit, when you've still got the drugs in your system but you're beginning to lose the euphoric high, is a really uncomfortable, anxious, irritable state. The first hint of this, at a party, is the signal that it's time for a bump to get you back into the fun zone. When the party's over, this stage is the hardest one to get through- the high is so close, so sharply absent, so regretfully faded, so easy to get back with just a little bit more, come on, just a little, just a little bit longer!

Well. You go through that stage on the way up, too. It's just that usually, you do another line before that anxious feeling kicks in, and you skip it entirely on your way to euphoria.

Unless, as I learned in that fifth year, the drugs you have aren't quite strong enough--or plentiful enough-- to get you there. 

In that case, you don't really get "high" anymore. You only get as far as "pissed off," the thrill and confidence of a coke-induced glow replaced by desperate anxiety and an uncomfortably-pounding heart.

Getting high became a crap-shoot, that year, whether because of the quality of the drugs we were buying or our elevated tolerance, I don't know. Probably a bit of both. Whatever the reason, it was getting harder for me to escape anymore, and as a result, it got harder to avoid facing the reality of my situation.

I still did it. But cracks began to form in my fragile facade. The tension within was becoming unbearable. Despite my efforts to hide the truth from myself, it began to bubble up into my consciousness: you have to leave him. You have to get out. It was harder and harder to push that thought away. 

I wish I could say that I came to my senses and dumped T, but I don't think I was capable of that at the time. I could barely take a step without permission by then. Instead, somehow, I started to turn off my inner censor.

I started saying things I knew would surprise T, or put him off. I started saying things that would force his hand, force him to make a decision about our relationship that I didn't feel strong enough to make. Things like I want to be married in the next few years. I want to have children. I want to know I'm on the road toward those things. 

I cringe at the memory. Don't mistake me: I knew I wasn't tempting him, or setting down an ultimatum. I knew what he would choose, in the end. It's just excruciating to remember myself being that passive-aggressive. I remember that it seemed like the only way to get my own power back: to force him to show his hand. I wanted to hear him say it. I wanted him to take responsibility for something. I wanted him to have to do something, instead of sliding by, using me, staying above it all while I scrambled to keep things together.

I hated him by then, and I didn't want to let him off the hook. I let myself believe that dumping him would be a gift to him, and he'd be able to get out unscathed. I don't know if that was true or not. I do know that it also, conveniently, allowed me to stay passive, even in this. I told myself I was taking the reins, but I think I was really just too afraid to make the first move.

I didn't do anything else. I just spoke my mind a little more often, small bits of truth, little shards of reality. This is how I'd like to see myself. This is what I want. This is what I need. I said them out loud.  And I waited. 

I noticed him looking at me out of the corner of his eye, sometimes, confused. I saw him frown to himself more often. I saw him notice. He didn't speak up, though. So I waited some more.

And then, one night, I snapped. It was late, we were in bed, and he was sleeping next to me. And snoring. I tried nudging him to get him to turn over, wiggling the mattress a bit, and nothing worked. 

So I opened my mouth and shouted, "SHUT UP!"

He jolted awake, said incredulously, "Did you just yell at me?!" and then stormed out of bed to sleep on the couch.

I slept like a baby that night.

The next night, he came to me and said, with satisfying hesitance, "I think... I think... it would be... better... for our relationship... if I... um...if I... moved out."

And I swear to god, I didn't miss a beat. My silent tongue unlocked itself, and I said, out loud, one more truth: "I think it would be best if we broke up and didn't see each other anymore."

He blinked. "What?"

I stared back at him, calm, calm. Finally, calm. "We should break up."

"That's not what I'm saying," he said.

."I know," I said.

In the movie version of this moment, I would have laughed then, and shown him to the door of the apartment, my apartment, my first apartment that was all my own before he moved in, never on the lease, using me for the space I would give him, knowing I'd give him all he could take.

Instead, I went to sleep, and he didn't move out then, or the next day, or the next week, or for three more months after that. I thought I'd made him take a position, once and for all. He immediately lobbed the ball back into my court. I finally saw, after all that time and damage, that he was more of a coward than I was.

It took three months, but the end did come. The end of both stories happened at once: we went to a birthday party for T's cousin, who was turning 21. We'd had our ubiquitous 8-ball of coke, and despite doing most of it in a very short time, it hadn't done much but make me irritated and snappish and miserable.

T dragged me along from bar to bar, buying drinks for his cousin at every stop, pouring more alcohol down that kid's throat than I'd ever seen anyone drink in one night. It stopped being funny an hour into the night. It started to get disturbing when others joined in, buying him shot after shot, beer after beer, and he just kept drinking them, one after the other, while T and the others crowded around him, shouting encouragements.

I pulled T aside and told him to stop. "This is dangerous," I told him. "You're going to give him alcohol poisoning. He could die from this. I'm not kidding, you guys could kill him. And none of you are sober enough to get him to the hospital."

T looked at me with utter contempt and told me to stop ruining the night for him.

Shortly after that, T's cousin took one last drink, and then threw up all over the floor of the bar, over and over, sending patrons running for the door.

T thought this was hilarious. And that, I realized, was that. I was finally, unflinchingly DONE.

I went outside, got in a cab, and went home to finish the angsty come-down process on my own. I hit the worst of it just as I was settling on the couch in the dark, and I lay there for a while, waiting it out.

This was a terrible time for reflection on a major life transition, but that was what I did, and in my most hopeless moment, I thought, fleetingly, of just giving up.

This wasn't an unfamiliar thought, but it had never been a serious one. That night, though, something new happened. I thought it would be easier to just end it all rather than go through one more day, and instead of shrugging that idea off and moving on, I lingered there for a while.

You could do this.

You could do it, if you wanted to.

You could do it right now.

I realized with a jolt that this was more than a passing thought. Right here, right now, there are at least three ways you could do it within 10 feet of you. You could stand up and walk into the next room and get a knife. You could open the window and jump. You could wrap a belt around your neck. There are probably pills somewhere, pills you could take, and take, and take.

You could do this. Right now. You could do this.

It was no longer an abstraction, it was real. It was here. It was possible. If I just sat up, then stood up, then moved forward, I could be there within seconds, I could make this happen and then I could rest, and it would all... just... be... over.

And then, on the heels of that sudden certainty came a new one, just as real, just as true, just as possible: 

No. I want to live.

The next day, I told T to get out. Two days later, he was gone.

I've never touched cocaine again.

And I have never, for one second, missed either one.

Whew. I'm glad that's done. I'll tie up the loose ends into a nice little bow for you in my next post, and I also have some more crazy synchronicity to tell you about that has lead me to a resource you may be able to use too, even if you don't have PTSR. Thanks for sticking with me on this dark road. I don't know about you, but I'll be glad to get back to the light for a while. 

Leave a comment, if you can spare a moment. I want to hear what you have to say, even if you don't think it will matter. It will. It does. If you're reading along, you're on this journey with me, and your thoughts count. I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quick Update: New Additions!

Hello to my regular readers, and welcome to new readers who have found this blog through the SCIRE PTSD Research page on Facebook!

I know I owe you the second half of the story I began in the last post, and it is on its way, but in the meantime, I wanted to point out the new tab at the top of this page: PTSD/PTSR Resources.

I'm starting a collection there of all the resources that are helping me on this journey, and I encourage you to suggest any books, workshops, or therapies that you know of or have used yourselves in your own struggle with trauma.

Thank you for your patience-- I know I left you hanging last time and I'll resolve that little cliffhanger very soon.

The problem, I think, is that this therapy is working, and I am beginning to feel my feelings more strongly, which throws my PTSR and avoidance defenses into overdrive and kicks my depression up a few notches, which in turn makes it really difficult to continue doing the things that make the recovery work, like writing and thinking and feeling. 

So. I'm getting better, which is making everything worse. If that's not an apt summary of PTSR recovery, I don't know what is.

Hold tight, friends. I am pushing myself to keep going. It's always immediately better when I do. I will get that post up as soon as I can.