•December 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Kevin Griffin, in his book One Breath At A Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (www.kevingriffin.net), explores the way Buddhism and the Twelve Steps can be used together on the path of recovery.  In discussing the first step he addresses the concept of powerlessness.

I have always struggled with the first step, in part because feeling powerless has been a core issue in my life and development.  As a child, I felt powerless against the force of my father’s rage and verbal abuse.  I started drinking in high school, in part, because I felt powerless to fit in, to be popular and liked by my peers.  This insecurity continued in college and young adulthood.  I had a time of clarity in my 30’s when I went to nursing school and focused all my attention on getting perfect grades and excelling in this new career.  I lived at home and helped my parents by condo sitting when they were traveling.  I got married, became a step-mother to two beautiful girls, and had three children.  When my middle child was three-years-old he was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition.  My mental and physical health collapsed as I tried to grope with this new state of powerlessness.  All the trauma I thought I had stored away came rushing back with terrifying intensity.  I could not fix this, I did not know this disease was hidden in my genetic code, and in my ex-husband’s.  To this day I blame myself for my son’s suffering.  Never had I felt so helpless, so responsible.

I struggled to maintain my sanity and mother my children.  Divorce and financial devastation followed, but my family rescued me.  They picked me up, and my three children, and helped us move to be close to my sister who, with her husband and daughter, became our foundation.  They were there in ways I can never repay.  Still, I continued to feel powerless over the pain that raged through my body and my mind.

I met and married a wonderful man, who took in my children as his own.  Dan, my son with Ataxia-Telangiectasia, was frequently in the hospital for long periods of time which took me away from my other two children.  After a particularly difficult time with him, I started to drink heavily.  At the time I was on narcotics for pain control and anti-anxiety medications for my panic attacks.  Over the next few years I lost both of my parents.  At the urging of my family and out of my own desperation to break out of the cycle of my addictions, I went into rehab and got sober.  I started running, which gave me a natural outlet for my anxiety.  Counseling with an addiction specialist helped and as I rebuilt myself I was able to get a job.  I started drinking beer and was able to consume it responsibly most of the time.  I ran a marathon, started training for triathlons, and there was almost a year where Dan was not in the hospital.

Then, two days before Dan’s 20th birthday, after six hospitalizations between May and September, we learned that Dan would have to choose between coming home with hospice or having a tracheostomy and being dependent on a ventilator.  We were told it was his best chance to come home and stay at home.  I started to drink more often and in greater amounts.  Not all the time, but too often.  I was able to emotionally support Dan and stayed in the hospital with him full-time taking leave from my job.

After weeks of training in how to care for him, we were told that nursing could not be found for our home.  Our only option was to stay in the hospital indefinitely or move Dan into a home with two other individuals with tracheostomy’s and ventilator dependency.  Again, the feeling of powerlessness overwhelmed me and I felt like I was drowning in anguish even as I continued working and trying to be there for Dan.  My drinking once again became out of control.  My sister, my daughter and my husband confronted me and helped me to see that the way I was living was not sustainable.

It has been a week since my last drink.  This morning, listening to Kevin Griffin, I was given a revelation.  He said, “Powerless does not mean helpless.  It does not mean you are a victim.”  Those words resounded in my mind like a depth charge.  Powerless does not mean helpless, it does not mean you are a victim.  I am still absorbing this.  Powerless is not the end of the line, it is not a label of deficiency or lack.  Powerless is the nature of being human,  a condition all of us must face.  We are powerless over the cycle of birth and death, of pleasure and pain.  We are fortunate to sometimes sit on the shore of the ocean, but cannot avoid the waves that crash over us as life unfolds.

I am thankful for this week of sobriety.  It is day to day and I take nothing for granted.  Craving will come and I will use all the tools I can to feel it and let it go.  I am powerless, but I am not helpless.  I am powerless but I am not a victim.  I am powerless and that is a part of this human life.  I am powerless and I am grateful.




•February 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I have a problem with loud noises, especially voices raised in anger.  Having grown up in a house where there was a lot of shouting and yelling in anger, as well as door slamming foot stomping, and  other loud expressons of rage that were unpredictable, I get re-triggered and feel re-traumatized every time anyone goes on a rampage of angry yelling. (children, husband – which isn’t all that often)  It sets off all my old patterns of reacting; first I freeze, then (especially if it involves my kids) I shift into protective Mom mode (if it’s my husband) and/or start  yelling back or trying to be peacemaker.  When it’s my kids I tend to shut down, or quietly ask if that’s the way they want me to treat them.   At times I resort to slamming doors myself, or acting like a three-year-old having a temper tantrum (which is what expressing anger this way seems like to me).

I’ve written in my other blog, and maybe this one too, that I grew up in a house of secrets.  Many things happened that weren’t shared.  I learned to hide in order to avoid detection or draw attention to myself.  My sister Anne has been trying to help me with ideas on how to handle my PTSD lately.  Propanolol is one, a medication that blocks some of the excess (in my case) output of my sympathetic nervous system.  We’ve also talked about EMDR, which seems like more of a pseudo-science, but I would love feedback about EMDR and how it has worked for others.  My dream has been to take training or treatment in The Tara Approach to Healing Shock and Trauma http://www.tara-approach.org/index.html.  I still jump at loud noises, flinch more often than I’d like when touched by people, (especially people who I’ve experienced yelling moments with) and at times am almost agoraphobic.  It seems like something needs to change.  In the past I’ve used alcohol or cigarettes to cope, and neither has been of much help.  Especially since I’m on medications now that preclude it’s use, alcohol hasn’t been an option for quite some time.  I already blame myself for my niece’s smoking, and don’t ever want my kids to smoke, so that’s not an option either.  That’s a good thing, but feeling like a rabbit trapped in a hole isn’t working very well for me either.  I’ve recently discovered a book and invite people who have read it to tell me what they think of it, The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Eron http://www.hsperson.com/.

I talked with my kids last night about the difference between yelling and verbal abuse.  My husband may yell at times, (even I do once in a great while) but he doesn’t attack them; their being and who they are.  That’s the difference between how my Father (who was brought up in an environment where I’m sure he was on the receiving end of some of it) handled anger and my husband does.  I explained that their Step-Dad never yells “you’re stupid” or “you’ll never do anything right”, the soul withering sound bites that stay in a traumatized person’s mind for years, running in a loop like a hamster in it’s wheel – especially if the phrases have been repeated often during childhood.  My husband also apologizes, and is trying to work on his temper.  That didn’t happen for my dear, deceased Dad until he had his first heart attack.  In addition, my husband is paraplegic, has been laid off twice in the past three years, and took on a ready made family at 45-years of age with no former parenting experience.  He’s an incredible person, and the kids don’t feel traumatized, they just don’t like getting yelled at – how many of us do?  (let me know if you are someone who does, I’d love to know what that’s like)

I ask for feedback a lot, and because this blog is a sort of “self-confessional” (and may sound like whining at times) I don’t always hear much back.  I humbly ask those of you who might have a moment to write of your experiences, or point me to your blogs.  I’m learning more and more from those blogs I’m following, and am grateful.  I need to start a blogroll and don’t even know the etiquette of how you ask if that’s okay.  (advice in that area would also be appreciated)  My heart goes out to all the veterans of every war who have come back “shell-shocked”,  the antiquated term for PTSD.  It makes living 20 times harder to cope with when every loud noise seems like a threat, a potentially life-threatening threat.  PTSD also tends to kill intimacy between both the person who experiences it, and the person who lives with them.  As my husband apologized last night, and spoke from his heart about what triggers his outbursts and the ways he’s going to work on not getting triggered, I just felt exhausted and provided a very poor audience as his wife.  It’s projection – I heard the apologies from my Dad for years and it didn’t change anything until he realized the damage it was doing to his own body.  Even then we were never sure when he would “blow up” and despite becoming expert at trying to provide him ways to come back to himself, he was often so ashamed at his own behavior, or remorseful and self-pitying, that often family times were colored permanently with bits and pieces of that darkness.  Home wasn’t a place you went to relax exactly, although when it was just one of us and not all five sibs with spouses and children in tow, he was able to cope much better.  This isn’t a rant against my father, who is now deceased and I miss terribly.  He was a product of his own childhood and the ghosts of our own familial past, our mutated DNA that gave us super-sensitive sympathetic nervous systems. (say that five times fast)  A cousin of my Dad’s has done research and found out that his familial line had a tendency toward high intelligence, creativity, depression and suicide.

Thank you so much for reading, and for your replies.  They mean so much.  May you feel peace, and experience blessings every moment in the little things we so often forget to notice.  The sun is rising in beautiful shades of orange and pink, as the birds greet the morning in song – this was always my Dad’s favorite time of day.  Namaste’.

•January 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I would love to hear from others who have experienced ongoing trauma, how have you learned to make peace?  Not just with the traumatizer, but with yourself?  There is a myth, a family story, that you never refuse your mate regardless of the circumstances.  When you live with someone who is prone to verbal abuse, flirts with physical abuse, and basically acts like a dictator (not my husband, my Father who made up for his short-comings with so many beautiful acts of love) how do you handle it when you go through a situation with a completely different person who none the less causes flashbacks to your original trauma?  I suppose that’s what therapy is for.  It feels like sleeping with the enemy when you haven’t  resolved the issue and you have a rare opportunity for intimacy.  I don’t know how my Mom did it.

My sister gave me a wonderful book that I must recommend to anyone who might read my blog(s).  The last post may have seemed like one big whine, and indeed, I’m not sure my adult self was the one blogging.  Most people lose their tempers from time to time, it’s unfortunate that loud exclamations accompanied by profanity trigger me back to traumas from childhood.  (As a disclaimer, it is important to acknowledge that I’m extremely sensitive, and my husband apologized profusely for his shout of frustration, as well as explaining that it wasn’t directed at me, but rather at having three dogs who track mud everywhere if not cleaned immediately upon entering the house.)  Back to the book recommendation, it’s title is: Wellness Recovery Action Plan and the author is Mary Ellen Copeland.( www.mentalhealthrecovery.com)  This book is helpful to anyone who struggles with triggers, would like to have crisis planning in place, and many more topics.  It is a toolbox for anyone with PTSD, or many other issues.  It’s not easy to confront these issues, but I know there is something on the other side of it that is worth fighting for.  Your self, your happiness, and your connection to spirit whatever that means for you.  Feeling I unfairly painted my mate as a “bad” guy when he is anything but that, I’m looking for redemption I suppose, and resources that can help any of us who are  traumatized.  A program I would love to participate in, (but can’t afford) is the Tara program pioneered by Stephanie Mines.( http://www.tara-approach.org)  There are many recommendations you will find for this program and I highly encourage anyone interested in healing to check it out.  Still feeling lost and down on myself today, I want to offer resources for anyone reading this, and invite (as I did last night) responses to my posts.  How have you made peace with your demons?  If you don’t want to keep carrying the “load” of past baggage, let us know how you do it.  As more veterans come home with major PTSD issues, we certainly need the help.  Thanks, and Namaste‘.


•January 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

You’re a person who has experienced some level of trauma in your life, as I have.  You work hard to get past it, marry people who won’t trigger you, but who you have to take care of.  After two divorces and three children, (including two wonderful step-daughters), you try an online dating service and are swept off your feet by a man who has his own issues that have never really been dealt with because he doesn’t see them as issues.  You had a father who would explode in a violent temper and say cruel things that cut to your soul, because they weren’t about your behavior, they were about you as a person.

Flash forward – it’s a Saturday and your mother-in-law is bringing over a casserole, as she often does.  Generous, and kind with her time.  As she arrives your three muddy dogs keep her from coming all the way into the driveway because they tend to jump and get a bit unruly.  Trying to resolve things as quickly as you can, you bring the dogs in the front door of the house just so she can park and go on with her day.  Your husband , who is disabled,  watches with mounting frustration as you bring the dogs with muddy paws in the front door and one runs over the rug in the living room.  You’re trying to corral the other two, and out of nowhere he yells, “Damnit, Odie just ran across the living room rug with muddy paws!  We live in a sh*t hole!!”  You hear your father’s voice and every voice that has ever told you “you suck”, “you’re not good enough”, you’ll never amount to anything.”  Your mother has previously shamed you (soon after the diagnosis of your 3-yr-old with a fatal condition) that you live in a “pig-sty.”  What do you do?  How do you avoid retraumatization?  I don’t know.

All my lousy ways of dealing with trauma came right back.  Every where I looked in our house I felt shame.  Leaving aside the fact that my husband can’t do many of the things that need to be done to keep the house together, never mind that he forgets to get items that would help keep the house cleaner and only require a click of the mouse on the web.  Just 30 minutes before you were hoping/planning to go on a bike ride with him and two of the dogs, but now all you can feel is hatred.  Hatred not just at him, but at yourself.  We’ve had many therapy sessions together.  He knows my issues, but does he, CAN he, reign in his temper out of love for a damaged person?  No.

All I could do was continue to clean house and try not to repeat  “sh*t hole” too may times.  Your 16-yr-old is trying to make peace, just as you used to do with your parents.  He’s taking your husband’s side, trying to tell you how you are reacting wrongly to what had happened.  Regretfully, you tell him to “shut-up” and unless he’s a licensed therapist, to stop trying to mediate arguments between you and your husband.

Those of you who have had EMDR, or some form of trauma therapy – do you have suggestions?  It’s been a really rough day.  I didn’t go for the bike ride, had no desire to spend alone time with this “monster.”  (who isn’t really a  monster, just the ghost of monster’s past) Numbing myself was the only way I could pretend to be “normal”.  I invite your responses, because I’m really sick of the sporadic, unpredictable flares of temper that are exactly what I grew up with.  Being in fight or flight since before birth has taken an enormous cost on my health, both mental and physical.  I invite your responses.  Namanste’.


•January 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Flashbacks are a part of PTSD.  They are crippling at times. Recently, someone I love rejected me.  It shouldn’t be a big deal, but for some reason I feel deeply wounded and am having flashbacks to all the rejections I’ve ever had.  My first therapist called it “emotional cut-off.”  It feels like a death when it happens, and it was a part of my life growing up.  It went hand in hand with something the same therapist called the “double bind.”  It’s a lose-lose scenario that you can’t get out of, no matter what you do.  Add sporadic bursts of violent anger directed at you with no consistency or  reason you can make sense of, and you’ve got a recipe for hyper-vigilance, fried adrenal glands, and chronic illness.  Mental illness runs in my family, and I take no pride in the fact that at times I’ve also practiced emotional cut-off.    I’m stuck there, or here – I have no doubt it’s part of the reason I don’t practice writing or meditation consistently.  I have certification to teach yoga to heart patients, but I have a lackadaisical practice there too.  You have to be able to live the practice if you’re going to teach it, in my opinion. (I think most yogis would agree)

It seems so much easier (and faster) to numb yourself with chaos, chronic disorganization, and excuses.  Over and over I listen to podcasts and read books by experts that tell you when you finally face the pain, you break through it to find yourself in a better place.  Not that the pain is gone forever, not that you’ll never be depressed or hurt again, but it will get less “sticky.”  You’ll find that you get out of it more easily, and the flashbacks stop having so much power to create negativity in your life.  You have to start though, and stick with it long enough to feel the benefits.  That’s where groups come in.  The sangha in Buddhism.  You take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  The sangha gives you the support you need to stick with your practice.  There have been times in my life when I’ve been able to engage enough to feel more peaceful, less stuck and less anxious.  I can get there again.

May your life be filled with blessings and peace.  Namaste’.


•January 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I had given up on this blog because it didn’t seem to be helping me or anyone else. I also didn’t keep up with it. It keeps haunting me though, especially since my father died. I feel like he branded me when I was still a child, set me on a course that would take me in an endless downward spiral. I was an overly sensitive child, and this brand felt as obvious as Hester’s scarlet “A.”. My son’s diagnosis was further proof that I was bad, without redemption.  I would always be a source of suffering and pain to anyone who crossed my path.

I do not condemn my Dad.  I have four siblings and we are all very different people.  Same parents, different psychological make-up and it’s anyone’s guess how words and actions become a part of you.  My Father was actually the only other adult with me when my son was officially diagnosed.  I think we were both in shock as the doctors listed the limitations that would emerge in his life as he grew.  It breaks my heart to remember how helpless he felt to make this better.  A physician himself, he lived to heal people.  Now, his own daughter was in the deepest psychological pain he’d ever seen her face, and he couldn’t fix it.  Not that he didn’t do his best to try to ease my sorrow.  Away from my Mother, who had always handled the emotional issues in the family and was his soul mate, he was courageous and noble, cooing and rocking his six month old grand-daughter so I could be with her brother during needle sticks, neurological tests, and exhausting days of evaluations and dire predictions.

It was my brain that connected the pieces, deep in the dark foundation I had always feared was my true self.  How had he known?  All the times he’d pointed out my flaws, shown his disgust for me, listed every mistake I’d ever made, he’d been seeing the real me.  This was the beginning of the unraveling of my sanity.  The line from point A to point B was drawn, and it was my son who would have to bear the consequences – irrationality became rational.  My mind, my soul, was on the edge of a black hole whose overwhelming pull would inevitably suck me in, and spit me out forever changed in a universe that was completely foreign to me.   Branded, an alien in an unfamiliar world.  There would be no return trip, but a path has begun emerging to acceptance or something like it.  Those of us shattered by trauma  can find a way to get a piece of our self back here, another shard there, and try to build something resembling a whole person.  It’s a long journey, and each day feels like I’m starting all over again.  The alternative would be to stay shattered, and that is not  an acceptable solution for me.

May you feel peace, and may blessings pour forth to you from places you could never have imagined.  Namaste’.


•October 22, 2011 • 1 Comment

Many of us are both caregivers and survivors of trauma.  It’s a rough road to walk.  Particularly when you are a physically “intact” survivor, and are giving care to a person who is now differently-abled.  Trying to give yourself compassion when you are helping someone who has witnessed horrors unimaginable to the rest of the world, who has had to come face to face with the  reality that humans have the capacity  for unimaginable acts of violence as well as compassion, is tough.  It makes  your issues, whatever they may be, seem pretty lame in comparison.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t just as hard for you to bear.  The mothers weeping at the loss of their sons and husbands, whether physically or mentally.  Wives who wake-up with a fist in their face, with the deadening fear that comes from being threatened by your husband who told you he would be there for your through everything, sickness to death, but now looks like he may be the cause of it.  (or her, there are many female soldiers now who are suffering the same symptoms)   You have to give yourself breaks, have respite, have moments where someone takes care of you.  The consequences to your own physical and mental health from not finding ways to have a break from the person you are caring for are monumental.  This is increased phenomenally when you are a trauma survivor yourself.  Forgive yourself when you want to scream, “who are you?” to the person you pledged your life to, or when you do scream it.  Find a group where you can tell the story of your life, the loss of what you thought it would be and how it has turned out; your love for a country that seems to have turned it’s back on you and your family or even your hatred and resentment toward it.  We’re allowed to feel that here even if it does seem unpatriotic.  Most often it’s just a flash of anger that will pass, and will be more likely to pass if you let it out where you know you can safely do so.  This morning my heart is with all of the caregivers, myself included, who care for war-torn survivors, disabled children, maimed loved ones whose brains may have been scrambled beyond recovery.  The sorrow, anger, guilt, rage,  at what war, or life has dealt you is understandable.  Many of us were never taken care of as children, and had the fantasy that marriage (or a relationship) would finally give us a partner who would care for us as we cared for him/her.  I’m not proud to say there are days when I want to scream, “I’m so sick of being around people who need me!!”  Family members tell me I have a “full plate” but lecture me about taking care of myself.  How do you do that when you’re constantly reminded that your care is so much less important (as far as consequences) than caring for your loved ones?  Whatever you may have done, or not done, forgive yourself.  Human beings are frail and yet we can be as strong as any superhero.  You need respite, caregiver!!  I need it, even if it’s only going to be for surgery and a few days in the hospital.  Needing a break doesn’t make you unpatriotic,  weak, or “bad.”  It just makes you human, in all the glorious and frightful manifestations being human are.  My heart is with you and I wish you peace, rest, and courage for your journey, whatever it may be, and wherever it may lead.  Namaste’.

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