Thursday, December 4, 2008

PTSD & Family: How to Heal the Gap, Part 2

More from E. whose story continues to inspire me. In the next stage of talking to her family she specifically told them how to get to know her. Sometimes, our families and friends can become wary of interacting with us. For so long our behaviors have traumatized them and so they’re no longer sure (if they ever were!) how to communicate with us – what to say, when to say it or how we’ll react. Giving them a road map as E. does is tremendously useful in guiding our relationships into a new place.

My 3 children thought this was an amazing idea. They all responded well to my request.

One of them said, "Oh, it's kind of like getting to know your ancestors thing...older people telling their stories..."

“Yep,” I said.

I had written in my request that I would like them to begin to ask me about the things I enjoyed doing as a child: my favorite color, books, hobby, vacation, friends – all these things. As moms we know our children's lives, but unless we encourage our children to ask "us" about ours so they begin to see we are real people "and not just a mother with no life beyond serving their needs" they can stay very self-absorbed without realizing it.

I do plan on discussing the abuse and all, but I know I have to create a balance in the story of my life. I think they actually know more about the trauma than the simple things that were unrelated to the trauma.

Anyways, yesterday was a start and it was the best Thanksgiving of my life. We laughed about me catching fireflies in jars, having aspirations to be a famous ice skater or swimmer, the great name of my first boyfriend.

These stories will round out the picture and do not include the sadness of the abuse. But, it lays the groundwork for discussing the other things that didn't go well in my life while at the same time helping them to see I am not just a victim of incredible trauma.

It will help them understand that when I was out of sorts it was do to circumstances unrelated to them and not their fault as well. It gives them a sense of their "own" history and ancestry as well, which really helps them along their own paths.

I was a bit surprised my kids were so happy when I mentioned this. Go figure. You try a little of this and a little of that. Life is such a game.

I read a spectacular book of fiction once by Matt Ruff: SET THIS HOUSE IN ORDER: A Romance of Souls. It’s about multiple personality disorder. The lead character has a house in his mind where all of his many personalities live. There’s a pulpit in the house; whichever personality is dominant in the moment takes the pulpit, it’s a sort of free for all and things are out of control. The narrator’s goal in the novel is to set his house in order – that is, organize the people in the house so that one person becomes the leader and only he can use the pulpit.

I like this analogy as it applies to our traumatized selves. In PTSD the traumatized self is always on the pulpit in our mind. But the untramatized self haunts the shadows. In healing, the goal is to switch the balance of power so that the untraumatized self assumes the pulpit and the traumatized self shrinks back to the recesses of the house – finds some dark closet on the uppermost floor or down in the basement (or in Ruff’s world: the bottom of a lake) – and takes a very long, very well deserved nap.

E. had a specific list of people (her children) that she wanted to get to know her. Who is on your list of people to reengage in conversation? Who have you decided to invite to get to know the real you – the you who does not/did not have PTSD? That person resides inside you – buried maybe, not on the pulpit maybe, but that other untraumatized self still exists. Inviting others to get to know that self can be a very comfortable and gentle way to coax that self back toward the forefront of who you are.

Set your house in order! Today, make a list of the things you would want someone to ask you so that they get to know the real, untraumatized you.

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