Saturday, June 22, 2013

The First Rule of Fight Club

Well, are you still here? Hanging in? Not tired of this whole story yet?

Hmpf. That makes one of us. :/

My chats with Dr. Oz about the various parts in the mix are continuing, and this week we talked about what might be happening in my brain and body now that I've begun to make chinks in the wall large enough to let in the occasional spot of daylight.

In short: the increased demand for full lockdown. My brain is having none of it, giving in to the fog whenever possible, getting irritated at the smallest things, sending the signal over and over to stop, defend, protect, retreat.

Not doing this-- because I am making every effort not to do this-- results in irritation at best, and hopeless overwhelm at worst. Which, as a general way of going through the world, sucks big time.

In Crash Course: A Self-Healing Guide to Auto Accident Trauma and Recovery by Diane Poole Heller, PhD, I am told that this is normal:

"When you begin to work on your feeling of being frozen, you may have a fairly strong reaction. It's typical when freeze response begins to release that you will move into the fight-or-flight response. You may want to run or feel like hitting someone. You might feel violently angry toward the other driver. This violent or intense impulse is natural because of the amount of energy trapped in your nervous system....

Your cognitive brain will try to override your primitive brain. You may feel guilty about expressing anger. (Women tend to have more guilt feelings about anger than men do.) Anger is a natural part of the fight-or-flight response; part of the life-saving system built into our reptilian brain."
According to Heller, this is an important part of boundary-restoration that has to happen in order to process and integrate the traumatic event and release the trauma in the body.

Yeah, okay. I see that. It makes sense, although I'd prefer something a bit less visceral. A signed affidavit of release, perhaps. Or a designated trauma container I can just drop off at the nearest hazmat recycling center. That would be good. There's one not far from my house. I can go right now.

Come on. Please?

Well. Barring that, I guess it's back to boundary-restoration for me.

Step one: anger.

This is much, much, much easier said than done.

I am not an angry person, am not comfortable with anger, and have never-- and I really do mean  never-- experienced a moment of anger about the accident or toward the drunk driver who caused it.

I remember people expecting it, watching for it, but I never had it. I never had much of anything by way of an emotional response, as you'll recall. And as time has passed, it certainly hasn't gotten easier to express anything like anger or sadness, fear or loss.

I mean, that's what PTSD is for, is it not? Insulating oneself from the emotional impact?

Dr. Oz brought this up a long time ago, this idea of having to go through the anger and sadness and mourning for what was lost on the highway that night, and while it does make sense to me, it felt so far away, back then, that it was almost laughable.

Not going to happen, I thought. Not me. Nope. Can't do it.


I still feel like that. On the other hand, it's beginning to dawn on me that the Big Moment I've been hoping for, the climactic breakdown that signals the beginning of the end of the recovery process, is probably down that road. 

Get to the anger, and you get to the rest of it. There's no way forward without going there. 

The difference now is that while I still don't feel  anger, I can sometimes see what it would take to incite it. I can sometimes get a glimpse of an other, an alternative reality in which the accident never happened and I went on to become someone different than who I am now.

I don't want to be someone different, mind you, and that's not really the point. The point is that I can sometimes see where I could grasp a sense of loss about it-- not the loss of any particular thing, but the loss of the possibility for anything other than this. The loss of authorship. The loss of unlimited potential.

Or, looking at it another way, I am sometimes-- more frequently, these days-- aware of how much time, so very much time, I have spent under the control of something other than my best self; my conscious brain; my emotional, feeling self. How much time I have spent in this half-life of mine, held back instead of leaping forward into the world.

My twenties. My thirties. Those decades are gone. I can't do them over. I don't get another crack at it. So much time, wasted. And the longer it takes me to get this stuff sorted, the more time I continue to waste on a life that is less than what it could be.

Lately, I can get pretty close to feeling that as the profound, irrevocable loss that it is.

It doesn't seem like it should take much to muster some anger over that.

But here is where I run into trouble, and in more than one way.

First of all, Heller is right about women and anger, or at least, she's right about this woman. Anger doesn't sit well with me, never has, and after a lifetime of being conditioned away from it, I honestly wouldn't know how to go about it. What does anger look like? How does it feel? How might one find it and wield it with enough effectiveness for the task at hand?

So: we have a constitutional ineptitude with anger in general. Check. Awesome start.

Secondly, I don't really experience my life as a loss. I mean, I went to an outstanding college and graduate school and performed brilliantly; I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country; I won the husband lottery and hit the adorable-child jackpot (and doubled down!); I have a great extended family and close relationships with my three sisters, who I cherish as best friends. I know and love a lot of cool, smart, interesting people and have done rewarding work and been recognized, on occasion, for my talents.

There's not much room for anger, here. I am not suffering, not really. I've taken the ball and run with it, as it were. As it turns out, I am just too optimistic to waste any time getting angry about anything, especially when that anger isn't going to change what's happened or do anything for anyone but me.

Hmmm. That was an interesting thing to have written: The anger is a waste of time if it isn't going to help anyone but me. Didn't know I thought that.

That's a real-time discovery of a flaw in the infrastructure, folks. Foundational beliefs like that are part of the reason that I was susceptible to PTSR. Low spots in the fortress walls where it's easy to mount an attack.


Well, anyway, that brings us rather neatly to reason three that giving into anger is difficult:

If I did...

Considering all of this, considering everything, considering the enormous amount of evidence I've gathered about how much I've been impacted by this, how much has been restricted because of it, how deeply it has infiltrated every inch of my life, how profoundly it has controlled me for so long, if I were to give in to it and let the anger come...

If I did...

What if I couldn't make it stop?

Hello Kate. Sherlock part here.

I wanted to take this opportunity to assert that this thing you're talking about here, this loss of control? THIS IS WHAT WE'VE BEEN WORKING SO HARD TO AVOID!

I mean, for god's sake, are you SERIOUS?! After ALL I'VE DONE FOR YOU?! You think it's been easy, holding this back? You think it's been easy to reroute your every instinct until your instincts supported my agenda on their own? 

You think I've spent the last 22 years holding your shit together just so you could pull it all apart now?! 

You are an idiot.

You are playing with fire, and make no mistake, you WILL get burned.

And if you think I'm giving up without a fight, you've got another thing coming.

So... that keeps happening. Still, after all this time, I am engaged in a war against myself. 

The main difference, I guess, is that my internal enemies now have names. 

The unshakable optimist in me assures me that if we know what they're called, we can find out where they live; and if we find out where they live, we can plan a much more effective attack.

Good luck, idiots, sneers the Sherlock part.

Let's just all go back to our rooms and keep quiet and never bring this up again, whispers the frozen part.

Don't fightsays the Wise Adult. You've all been essential in getting us this far, and we're grateful for everything you've done. But I'm here now, I've got this, and I can take it from here. Your job is done. You can relax a little. I can assure you: everything will be fine.

My unshakable optimist tells me that if I keep putting words in the Wise Adult's mouth, she will begin to speak for herself.

The rest of me sides with Sherlock and Freezy. Shut up. Don't be an idiot. Let's just climb back into our insulated shell and leave well enough alone.

But that ship has sailed, hasn't it? Pandora's box has already been opened, whether I like it or not. So what's a little more? I can handle it.

If I say that often enough, how long do you think it'll be before I believe it? 

Optimist be damned: in the pool, mark me down for NO TIME SOON.

1 comment:

  1. tried to post before and can't remember exactly what I said, but the basic idea was that... a while back you were talking about feeling numb...and that this results in not feeling the feelings one may feel in any given, maybe right now it's not anger, but something else, and the goal is to feel whatever you feel WHEN you feel it, rather than numbing it out. This can result in flood gates opening, sure, or seemingly irrational overreactions, or it could be still underwhelming. But maybe it's the first step. And in taking that risk, there's potential.