Tag Archives: trauma

Thoughts from a Dark Valley: Lenience as Trauma Response.

In these quiet, internet-free days, I continue to discover things about my past and myself that I have been avoiding.

I have determined that my desire to be free of jealousy or possessiveness, both on the giving and receiving ends, is as much a trauma response as hyper-independence is.

I have always wondered what makes some people deeply jealous and possessive. Some men will say they are protecting their partner from all the bad men out there. It seems they are protecting what they see as a possession that can be taken because they fear they aren’t good/strong enough to keep it. I don’t know how most women come by their jealousy, but I suspect it isn’t terribly different reasoning regarding the rationale vs. the truth.

To be fair, in the early years, I had my own jealous fits. In time, however, I became secure in the love of my spouse. I got angry at hypocrisy; when expectations, like no lunches in groups including the opposite sex or no drinks after work, only applied to one of us, but I never feared he would cheat on me.

Obviously, there are experiences that engender this insecurity other than just personal feelings of inferiority. Surely, insecurity is often a trauma response. I’ve examined again and again where my own insecurities come from and I don’t wish to delve into those events from youth and first marriage in this entry. Suffice it to say, I do understand insecurities and still have my own.

Nonetheless, when I look back over the decades and see just how much damage all this “protection” has done to my self esteem, my ability to function in social settings, and my trust in men, I wish I had been more aware of the real dangers of jealousy. More accurately, I wish I’d listened when the experts said, “jealousy is a toxic trait.”

That toxicity isn’t as simple as causing strife in a relationship or even the painful destruction of a relationship. It can be, when it does the kind of emotional damage it did to me over decades, real trauma in the form of complex-PTSD. *

I understand that trauma and c-PTSD more each day relative to hyper-independence and lenience. My desire to be free of any incumbrance of jealousy or possessiveness in a future relationship, to go so far as to tell a love interest , “hey, do whatever you want, just use protection,” and mean it, is also a trauma response. It is not out of some sort of virtue or feigned equanimity that I would tell a man, “I won’t get jealous or possessive. I won’t demand utter fidelity in a relationship.”** It is because deeply ingrained insecurity was used on me in so many painful and unnecessary ways (deliberately or otherwise) to drive me into a cave of isolation through self-hatred and fear.

I will NEVER allow anyone to do that to me again nor will I be the partner doing that to anyone else.

It’s a sort of partners’ version of the abused child who, upon growing up and having their own children, becomes excessively lenient with their own children.

Likely as not, it spells disaster for me and future relationships. It already interfered with one. Many American men expect to be able to do whatever they please, (“men are programmed to have as many partners as possible” goes the story) but their women damn well better be pure as the driven snow. If I tell a potential partner that he can do as he pleases, he will likely hear, as one man said to me, that I want to “sleep with five hundred men.”

I have no such desire. I would like the sometime partnership of one loving and decent man who doesn’t seek to own me.

Otherwise, I will never allow a man to dictate my behavior again, either through insecurity or insults like the above, ridiculous “500 men” comment.

This is me, for now. Perhaps in time, I will balance the trauma response with something more socially acceptable, but for now, the barest hint of jealousy, and it’s concomitant behaviors, dominance and withdrawal of respect, will send me running.

*This is not a self-diagnosis. Qualified mental health care personnel have made this determination and always should be consulted.

**To be clear, I respect and admire fidelity and I would expect it in myself if in a long-term relationship. I simply refuse to demand it or have it demanded of me.

Shadowlands: Recognizing Abandonment Trauma

I am once again in a river valley shadowland. Sunlight filters in barely; Internet, not at all. Rather than being able to walk two blocks to check in with family, I would have to drive six or seven miles.

So, I didn’t even unhitch. Not out of laziness, mind you. Hitching and unhitching have become an enjoyable part of the process. They are like the pen and paper prep of writing a letter; not productive but necessary and oddly enjoyable.

No, I didn’t unhitch because my last time in such a place frightened me with how despondent I became in such utter isolation. I had people around me, but the sense of not having family and friends in the glass rectangle in my hands was suffocating. I was disturbed enough by this second round of connectivity blackout, that I thought, “If it gets really bad again, I will just leave. I’ll forfeit the night’s fee and get on the road, in the dark if I have to, and find a Walmart somewhere that allows me to park and reconnect with loved ones.

This isn’t addiction (no doubt, that is an issue for me) but it is dependence. The fear of losing contact with my friends and family has been a recurring nightmare since my thirties — since I began to be isolated from them quite literally.

It’s a common theme in people’s nightmares but for me it became pathological; I would dream of trying to call my mother and not being able to get through despite dozens of attempts and methods. From not being able to get “bars” on my phone to not being able to make the rotary dial turn properly to having an operator tell me no such number existed, my mother was unreachable in these stressful dreams. I would awaken near tears and sometimes raging.

At the time, I blamed my physical distance from her which I considered the fault of my parents and sibling. After her death, of course, I blamed the loss of her and my grief for these nightmares.

Now, I also blame the man I was married to, whose expectations of my behavior and his feelings about family (“family is overrated” was a favorite quip of his) kept me from pushing for travel to see my loved ones.

So this, like so many, frankly pathological, responses I have to what might just be annoyances to others, stems from a sort of slow, death-by-a-thousand-cuts trauma.

I lost decades with loved ones, with potential friends, and with places and things I loved (the Texas Hill Country, swimming). I gave those things up to be the good wife who did everything to keep him happy (translation: to minimize stress level in the home). That loss now means any separation, any risk of “never again,” frightens me.

I am sure this has played into a relationship I had as well—the Wrong man’s breadcrumbs calmed me immeasurably even though they were just that. Just knowing he was “out there” and had not completely abandoned me, gave me peace.

I am sure, in a twisted way, this fear also kept me in the marriage at least ten years longer than was reasonable. My husband was my family and only truly present friend after my daughter left. Who else would have me and how would I survive? I dare not lose my one connection. In other words, by the time I knew things were not right, I was emotionally bonded in a way that transcended the love relationship and became a pathological need for connection.

So, I had nightmares.

In addition to the phone call nightmares, I had nightmares that my husband was leaving me, literally abandoning me in parking lots as he drove off laughing. This was how much damage had been done to my psyche.

In real life, he assured me regularly that he wouldn’t leave. However, I had already been abandoned emotionally as far as my subconscious was concerned. If I didn’t behave as he wished, then he most certainly would abandon me physically. If I tried to be independent, if I insisted on seeing family by myself, if I pursued a career again that put me in contact with other men, if I made friends outside his circle, or if I “peacocked,” as he called it, by wearing or doing anything he deemed attention getting — all these were reasons, he implied, that gave him the right to abandon me.

But by year twenty-eight, I was exhausted. I was tired of wanting to die. I was tired of being apart from my family. I was tired of locking myself in bedrooms when strangers came over. I was tired of wearing virtual sacks and constant gray and brown. I was tired of carrying the weight of his expectations.

I have not dreamed the telephone nightmare or the abandonment nightmare since I left. I dream, instead, that I am with him again and he is “putting his foot down” again and I am so tired—again.

Still, nightmares or not, the anxiety of alone does not spare me in these beautiful but isolated places.

These two days have been easier, if only because it is two days, not five. I have not been careful about my choices for setting down for the night in one park or another. Once I get out of this valley and can look more closely at the coming weeks, I will be more cautious. A week without connection, is five days too long.

Perhaps, it will be slightly easier to have finally come to understand the cause of my fear. If the fear is based in “complex trauma,” that is a rational response, even though the fear itself is irrational. That recognition may allow me further and faster healing.

Just a pretty image on a positive note. Prunus sp.

The Thing: Compartments, Poetry, and Brain Soup

My ex always said he could compartmentalize his thoughts. This allowed him to set aside external stresses and go about his day. It allowed him to simply close his eyes and sleep at night within seconds. Another man recently expressed this to me, as well, in reference to his own daily stresses and trauma.

I used to think it was just a way to excuse not showing concern for others or not consider my feelings in conflicts, but probably it is a real thing. Some people can just shut off parts of their life or mind and focus on the less emotional tasks at hand.

I can’t. I have a mind that is the opposite of compartmented. If something gets in there—if something worries me, hurts me, or even brings me great joy—it saturates everything I think and do. I will think about that concern, hurt, or joy throughout my day, whether it be personal, political, or spiritual. As I wash dishes, fold laundry, walk the dog, work, attempt to sleep: every task is bathed in a soup of “but what about this thing that is pressing on or filling my spirit?”

I don’t know if this is the bane of the writer or if this is what makes writers, painters, etc., turn to their craft in the first place. I only know that, try as I might, I can’t set aside these thoughts. They turn into words. For some writers they turn into voices or characters. Lately, they have spilled onto the page or screen as poems in a vain (both meanings) effort to rid the mush that is my brain of these racing, raging, craving thoughts.

Poetry thus has become a highly selfish exercise for me. I might spend days honing a single poem of a few lines, not because I care what others think, but because it must express exactly what I am trying to communicate. I don’t care if you understand what I have written. I care that what I have written completely expresses the bath of hot confusion in which my brain is swimming.

If I write:
“This love is—lacuna”

I didn’t write “this love is an empty space” because I don’t mean it is an empty space.

I meant, “this love is an empty space, a hole in my bones, holes in my every tissue.” Lacuna.

Bone structure. Bone tissue close-up. Osteoporosis.

If someone has to look up “lacuna,” I don’t care.

If they don’t want to look it up, I don’t care.

I am not writing my poetry to please others. I am not writing my poetry to make the world a safer place for readers of poetry. If I’m lucky enough to reach anyone, that’s lovely. But that’s not my goal.

I am writing my poetry because I have no lacunae in my brain. I have no spaces or compartments to stash how I feel about someone or something. I can’t simply lock those things away and go on with my day. The closest I come to that is when I’ve had a couple of beers and, even then, it’s all I can do not to crawl inside myself and think of the thing that is in there, whatever that thing may be.

I sometimes envy the two men mentioned above and anyone else who puts the events of their lives in neat, little boxes while they function seemingly normally.

But, sometimes I wonder what will happen if all their neat boxes suddenly break open.