The gifts of PTSD – when the outside doesn’t match the inside

Oh, the gifts of PTSD, how they keep on giving! I have been struggling with some of the effects in an arena I never thought I would need to struggle in. One of the twisting curiosities of my PTSD has been how certain things can trigger a reaction that seems on the surface to be completely divorced from the sexual abuse of my growing years. Over time I have refined my bodily reactions so that I can operate in the world in a manner that is similar to most people without drawing suspicion. However, in the circles I run in many of those “most people” characteristics fall away.

One of the things that I have learned to do is to not immediately trust my gut reaction. Because I work with people who deeply trust their intuition which often centers in their gut sometimes my way of dealing with this can be problematic. I do trust my intuition, which is a combination of knowledge, wisdom, self-checks, Etheric Web checks, plus my physical gut reaction. I do not automatically trust my initial physical gut reaction unless I am in a physically dangerous situation meaning I have not negated my absolutely necessary fight or flight response. What I have done is learn how to double check my initial knee-jerk gut reaction. I do this because I learned early not to trust my body and the messages it was sending me because of the abuse and the associated defense mechanisms built up against that abuse.

When a situation triggers an initial strong gut reaction in me I refer to it as my “gut clench” response. I immediately dispel it while I do a quick deep check as to its truthfulness and authenticity. I do this by physically tightening up and giving an energetic push that moves the immediate gut clench reaction away from me. I then do an internal check to discover whether that gut clench is authentic or not. I have honed this skill for years and I do it very quickly. A deep core check and a poke at the Universal energy around me has served me well.

Most of the people that I do deep work with have learned to trust their immediate gut reactions and rightly so. That doesn’t mean that they are never wrong, but it often means that they have a freedom that I do not have with their initial gut reaction. Because I don’t feel I can trust my immediate gut reaction I have tempered my behavior accordingly and do my internal check because of my desire is to respond with my authentic self. This felt like useful way of caring for my own needs in a way that still allowed me to be real and respond to whatever was going on around me. I still believe that this is a useful tool for me as it brings a level of clarity that I would not have if I automatically reacted to my gut clench.

However, it has been brought to my attention that this particular mode of response feels far differently to others that it does to me. Because I work with deeply intuitive people I am also working with their heightened level of energy awareness. In a gut clench response I physically tighten up my body (and I’m guessing I also visually tighten up) and they are noticing. When I’ve been doing my energy push to move the gut reaction away from me so that I can drop down they are feeling that push of energy, too. What I did not know was that this tightening and energy push was being interpreted as resistance against whatever was just said or done. How this resistance translates emotionally to people depends greatly on their own personal filters and/or their filters in that moment.

This has left me in quite a conundrum. How do I maintain and honor my PTSD self-care while also addressing that when I do this it feels very differently to others? Another piece for me is remaining is remaining in the moment, rather than being tossed back into a memory, so in my head I say, “I am here. Now.” Saying that out loud in that moment would mean little to the people around me. For me to remain healthy I need to not drop what has been useful and healthy for me. So what to do? I think I need to tell people that I do this clench-tighten-push thing.  Also, I need to open space where people can comfortably ask me about it when it occurs, without fear of negative consequences. This feels like a good resolution for this conundrum.

I do not wish for my outside to inaccurately reflect my inside and chance being seen as stubbornly resistant, not thinking well of others, inflexible, or as one who can not be stood against without receiving flack. Learning that something I so highly value about myself has been seen and felt in ways that are so troublesome has been exceedingly difficult. Now that I have been made aware I can at least do something to mitigate the effects, which is far better than walking around unaware.

So, lots of interesting things have recently come up for me. A lot of deep reflection, conversing with deity, and some divination tools thrown in for good measure have helped me sort it out. This feels very true to me, the manner in which my outside self was misrepresenting my inside self and what I can do as a viable fix. Both of these pieces feel true. May it be so, May be so, May it be so.

Predators in our community – Monday blogging

There is so much to say and so little coherence in me right now. Recent dredging up of past events because of current ones is not a bad thing if used as an example for how to correctly have conversations going forward about abusers in our community. Getting stuck in the quarreling over that past event is counterproductive and rarely moves that conversation forward.

That doesn’t mean everyone should shut up about it. It means finger pointing backwards in time at those you believe didn’t do enough or did too much when there was no template in place for how to speak of abuse in our community doesn’t promote the conversation we need to have. There was no template for accountability when legal authorities weren’t involved (or yet involved)  and the rehashing of blame only stalls the conversation at the point of the past crisis. Stalled means we stay where we were before we started. It is not useful.

We need to find ways to allow these conversations to occur unhindered by kneejerk reactions as the abuse is happening, as the abuse is being addressed (by community and/or legal authorities), and in the aftermath. The only successful way to allow it is to actually allow it.

That sounds so simple. It is not. It means withholding judgment. Not only withholding judgment about the people who speak up about their abuse, but also withholding judgment about people who initially speak up in support of the abuser in words similar to, “But he couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He’s my friend. I’ve circled with him.”

Withholding judgment is not the same as putting on blinders. Withholding judgment is allowing people to be the humans we all are. “Not in my neighborhood.” “Not in my family.” “Not in my religious community.” This is an initial, self-protective response by those who have not suffered abuse when hearing about a horrific thing. If we are going to have truly open conversations in our community about abuse we need to know going in that initial kneejerk reactions are going to happen. We cannot stop them. (How could we?) We need to move past those very common reactions with grace and put ourselves where we should be – at the side of the victims.

Part of what needs to be put in place is clear appropriate support for the victims who speak up. Part of what needs to be put in place is the acknowledgment that the first step of speaking up isn’t the hard part no matter how much it seems to be. The hard part is standing in your truth while the backlash washes toward you. The abused need to know that the community will stand with them not only when they first speak up, but as a deflection wall around them when the naysayers first cry their disbelief. They need to know we will still be there after the cries have died to whispers to silence. Sometimes the silence after being brave is the most perplexing and disheartening phase to navigate.

I don’t have the perfect template. I don’t have the answers for how to address this enormous task at the level of “all of the community.” I don’t even know that it can be addressed at that large a level or if we have to trust the individual communities to hammer out their own templates. I’m thinking the latter with support from media outlets like popular sane blogs, newsletters, and e’lists.

There is no one perfect way. There are many incorrect ways. Let’s avoid as many of the incorrect ways as we can early in the conversation.

Incorrect (not an exhaustive list):

  • Shushing the victim by saying or implying they are traitors to their community
  • Telling the victim they are wrong or they misunderstood the actions of the abuser
  • Interrupting the abused as they tell their story to ask questions, clarify, whatever. (There is time for that after they have finished speaking.)
  • Derailing the conversation with stories of how “good, kind, well-respected” you have found the accused abuser to be
  • Shaming the victim by telling them what they could have done differently
  • Giving advice before being asked for it
  • Trying to minimize fallout by attempting to control the story and who hears it
  • Diminishing victims by classifying them: “the crazy ex”, “the one always in the center of controversy”, “the mouthy/bitchy one”, “the spotlight whore”. Even if all of those things are true.
  • Allowing your previous beliefs about the victim or abuser to close your ears to their story

Correct (not an exhaustive list):

  • Listen
  • Listen more
  • Listen some more
  • Make eye contact
  • Unfold your arms
  • Straighten your face (Feel eyebrows wanting to go up? Pull them down. Feel a frown coming on? Pull the corners of your lips in line.)
  • Let Love flow out through your core and your eyes
  • If they start panicking about the details of the abuse event urge them to stay in the moment of what they are feeling right now. Details of the abuse do not matter in the moments of first telling. The details will come back later. Support through the enormity of emotion that full realization of abuse brings requires staying in the here and now. (Focusing on remembering details keeps them in the scenery and time of the abuse event. The telling phase needs to stay in the present because that is where you are and the only place you can provide appropriate support.)
  • Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Sit in that discomfort. It is minor compared to the discomfort they are in and if you can sit in it they will feel they can, too.
  • Finally, listen

Years, almost 2 decades now, I have been walking the healing path from (sexual) abuse that began in childhood which was the prevailing form of abuse with me. The above guide works with all categories of abuse. I walked with books, and workbooks, and conversations with other survivors. I walked with the grand idea of trying to initiate a child abuse education program in a religious community. I walked into face-to-face meet ups with survivors. I walked this healing path with many different tools and therapeutic relationships. The most useful, compassionate, and healing part of this path was when I walking with the telling and listening and telling and listening some more. The above partial lists are some of what I’ve learned. I offer them to you. May they be useful.

PTSD, triggers, and deflection

An interesting thing happened on the way to the reply button on Facebook. It was synchronicity at its finest. An article popped up from Patheos about a noted Pagan who had been arrested on child pornography charges. He had moved away (physically and spiritually) from his earlier Pagan tradition, but the headline included “Pagan”.

Now, anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Anyone who has read the details knows how areas intersected with clergy, neighbours, family and the societal structures inherent in the complicity of silence that wrapped itself around those years.

One would think I would be full on bluster championing the cause of shining the light on the pervasive child abuse, holding the perpetrators accountable, and getting the word out. Because that is what I do.

That however is not what I did. Nope, I said “yeah, yeah, bad perp, but what about the privilege in the headline naming him as Pagan!!” *indignant*

Um, what? Yes, I post frequently about privilege. Yes, I have posted at length about post-traumatic effects that linger into adulthood from abuse. Let’s put those on a scale of Justice and see which one carries more weighty baggage in this particular moment. Uh-huh. Yet I went for the privilege slant and rant. The easy out, so to speak.

Here is where that comes up wrong. I posted without research. I responded without noting my triggers. I did it on somebody else’s FB wall. Research would have shown me that the article was from a site that writes about religion and the news sites didn’t mention the religion of the perp at all. Noting my triggers would have stilled my fingers and I would have merely read and posted on my own wall as I usually do. Likely, between the refraining from posting and updating my wall I would have become aware of my deflection and written not about privilege, but why strong spiritual counselors are needed in the Pagan community because 1) people like the man arrested exist in every religious community and 2) the lingering effects of PTSD need to be addressed in an ongoing manner.

Just yesterday I was engaged in an online discussion about the public’s lack of knowledge about the long term consequences of PTSD and why people don’t “just get over it, it happened so long ago.”

And here I was all confident in my ability to manage effects, note triggers as they happen, and go on my merry way. I do indeed manage well and note triggers and hold my reactions until I’m certain they are speaking my present immediate (not past memory) truth. Most of the time. And there’s the rub. Most of the time.

Most of the time is not all of time. It never completely goes away.

The work is ongoing. I will confront and honour the work by continuing it.