PTSD: Therapy Post Update

I was looking up something else and happened to come across one of my older PTSD posts, and then that led to reading a couple others (and here and here).  It’s like reading somebody else’s writing, or reading something I wrote about a different person instead of myself.

Moving to the Philippines is probably not the best idea for most people who are struggling with PTSD, but in my case, moving is my coping mechanism, Asia is my soul-mate, and getting a break from so many triggers which were unavoidable where we lived and aren’t an issue here (American highways, for one, having to drive to go anywhere, for another) was very helpful.  Also, I have access to free EMDR counseling here and I am taking advantage of it and it’s wonderful.

I’m pretty sure my counselor has cried at least twice.  He also told me that he is astonished I never  went so far as to make any kind of suicide plan, let alone follow up.  He’s shocked that, outside of about 3 years in high school when I was black-out drinking on a regular basis, I did not resort to substance abuse, and I quit that cold-turkey my senior year.  All of which he considers incredibly remarkable given the weight and extremity and sheer horror of much of the stuff I’d been dealing with my entire childhood, starting pretty much from a  few weeks after my birth.  Normally, you know, I’m cynical about this stuff and tell myself, “Yeah, but you’re paid to say that stuff.” But, in fact, he is not paid. His income comes from other resources, and he sees clients as part of his mission.  He’s been doing this for at least 20 years.

Through out our weekly sessions there were several episodes where he sat nearly speechless for a couple of minutes, except for shaking his head and saying something like “Wow.  While there are a handful of stories worse than yours I’ve heard, there aren’t many, and this story is right up there with  the worst experiences I have heard in my practice, and I just have to tell you that you should really acknowledge how remarkable it is that you have survived at all, let alone as well as you have.”

When I  shared some of the stuff from this post, he shook his head all over again and pointed out that very probably the depth of it all as well as the recovery time were both complicated, harder, and lengthened by well-intentioned but nevertheless counter-productive and deeply harmful responses framed as attempts to ‘help.’

When we talked about growing up with a psychopath he mostly nodded along in understanding and acceptance but then once or twice abruptly stopped me to blurt out something like, “What? Oh, Good Lord!”  There is something quite affirming about that, because when you grow up with a psychopath your sense of normal, your standard for reality, your ability to measure it on a scale of bad to awful- that is a little warped. A couple of times, Gentle Readers, he blurted out a “What? Good Lord!” to something I hadn’t even though was particularly egregious.  For instance there were things I might say or do that would result in extreme physical and/or emotional abuse one day, but if I managed to play my cards just right, sometimes I could say the same sorts of things in ways that caused my abuser to laugh outloud.  I thought this was weird, but rather clever of me.  My counselor thought this was egregiously warped and disorienting and horrible.    Things I knew were really unpleasant and hard to experience, and I had to think through them and decide I didn’t want to repeat them as a parent myself turn out to be things that normal people don’t ever even have to consider because they are obviously warped and twisted and bizarre and who would do that?

Psychopaths, that’s who.

Things you process as you being complicit in them on at least some level (even though you know in your head you weren’t) are rather shocking to consider in reality.

(I’m reading through this again some nine months later and I’m startled to see how I switched from 1st person to second person, which is a way to put some psychological distance between myself and what I was talkig about, it  and reduces stress and anxiety.  It’s a healthy thing to do, but it revealed to me how stressed I was writing about these things in such a personal way even then.  More on how this helps here and here)

In the dialogue below, ‘Reality’ is often the reasonable, measured voice of my counselor at the time:

Me: “I do have to admit I was a very stubborn and angry child and probably hard to deal with,” I say, without even realizing really the implications of what I am saying.

Reality: “Okay. Might we consider that maybe you had some excellent reasons to be angry and stubborn, so this is not the cause, but the result?  And even insofar as it could be true, could we also consider that possibly that is what saved your life and kept you from choosing suicide or drugs to deal with the aftermath, which is what most people in similar situations end up doing?”

Me: “Isn’t that a kind of low bar?  I didn’t kill myself or do drugs. Yay, me?  It feels like something more should be required for success.”

Reality- “No.  No.  No.  Given your life history, survival is a success. It’s not a low bar.  In fact, the majority of people who grow up with similar experiences don’t manage that bar at all and their coping mechanisms  kill them.”

Me, again, because the self-blame is a hamster wheel: “Okay.  But I mean, I was a really, really stubborn and uncooperative child.  I am sure it was hard.”

Reality:  “Parenting is always hard.  But most parents don’t do that stuff.  And also,  however angry and stubborn you were, you understand we are speaking of a 2 year old being thrown across the room and slammed up against the wall by an adult who weighs ten times more than she did, is about 3 times taller, and who had a moral obligation to nurture said 2 year old.  What level of horrible behaviour from a toddler would you consider justifies picking the kid up and throwing them against the wall? Or beating their dog with a belt in front of them to punish the child for something the child did? or …”*

Me: “Ummm.  I guess I can’t think of any.”

Reality: “You *guess?*  You see how deep this conditioning goes?”

Me: “I know, I know.  It’s just… I know I was really difficult.”
Reality: “We’re talking about things that happened when you were 2 and younger.  Some of them preschool.  Do you think any toddler or preschooler you know is in a position to assess their own personalities?  No.  So who told you that you were so difficult?  Might that person have had a vested interest somehow in making this about you being unusually difficult?”

Me, honestly quite stunned by this insight: “Ohhhh.  I guess you’re right.”

Reality: Of course I’m right.  That’s the thing about reality.


*(that’s all the revelations we can handle today)

So, anyway.  Things are much better. EMDR therapy is wonderful.  I am not going to guilt trip myself for being in survival mode but I don’t need to stay there now.  I am working on “I can accept it when good things happen to me”.

Need to read more about PTSD stuff? Try these:

PTSD: An imbalance between brain’s signaling systems

PTSD in soldiers may be connected to childhood trauma

PTSD and Gut Microbes


PTSD: Self-Talk

Things Not To Say to Somebody with PTSD

Anxiety and the Holidays: Quick Coping Tools


Therapy Stream of Consciousness

Knitting and crochet as therapy:

I don’t write these posts as an exercise in self-justification or pity parties, nor to air the family’s dirty laundry.  I write them because I did not know I had PTSD until I was in my fifties, even though in retrospect, it’s completely obvious.  I want to help others who might be in the same situation.  One of the biggest blessings in my life came this past spring when I happened to meet several real life readers of the blog and two or three different women told me that they had learned they had PTSD and had sought help because of what they read here.

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