Monday, October 17, 2016

Life as a survivor - PTSD and the elections

Well, yes, it happened. This damn presidential election and the news tied to the campaigns triggered something in me that has not happened in a very long time; POST TRAUMATIC EFFING STRESS DISORDER. 

Do I sound bitter? Maybe I am and that is because when you experience an episode of PTSD after many years of not having to deal with the symptoms, it is a slap in the face on just how human and flawed even the strongest of survivors are - a little wake up call. 

One positive in all of this is I knew what was happening to me as it was happening, unlike how I spent most of my life when the flashbacks would immobilize me with fear.

I knew I needed to just let the memories play out and I would be back to myself again. They needed an outlet as the triggers were too many and everywhere I turned.  Knowing this kept me from having a full-fledged panic/anxiety attack. Something I haven't experienced in a very long time now.

Yesterday the PTSD punched me in the gut. I cannot even remember what the specific trigger was, but I am sure it had to deal with the controversy over the sexual assault allegations taking up space everywhere you turn. The other day I was at a local restaurant with my son, and even there one was unable to escape the coverage - it played out on the television above the bar, directly in my line of sight. So, yes, I am sure it has to deal with all of that - the controversy, that and also in about a week I will be facing one of my fears through a project called "Believe in Yourself" - I will write about that in another post. 

I was getting ready to go out with my son and hit up some of the local resale shops in our area. As I was putting on my make-up I felt my breath catch and in my mind I saw the long hallway of the apartment I grew up at in Evanston, IL. Midway down that hallway on one side was a door that opened to a walk-in closet. A closet where my mother kept linens and cleaning supplies, plus whatever else she could pile in there. It was the very closet I would crawl down the hallway to and hide from our neighbor next door when he would appear at our back door by the kitchen. He always knew when I was home alone. Considering back in those days I was often home alone because I was an ill child, in and out of hospitals, he would show up quite a bit. 

The apartment building I grew up in at the time this happened. Upper left apt. on the top floor.
I was nine years old at the time and he was the neighbor I first met through his dog, Kelly - a beautiful German Shepherd. He also had a Great Dane named Duke. He lived with a friend, another male, they were roommates. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Looking back I can now see how skilled of a groomer he was of his victims. Many children lived in our building and I know others met the same fate as I, some of them with deeper scars. 

I don't need to go into the details of the abuse brought upon us children. Those details are not important - it is the aftermath of the crime that is and why I had that flashback. 

When the PTSD hit in my mind's eye all of a sudden I saw that hallway - that kitchen. My body tensed up with fear. I relived that trek to the closet, closing the door behind me..sitting in the dark and waiting until I felt safe to exit my prison. That scene played out over and over. I knew what was happening while it did. My son came into my room, rushing me to get ready - I snapped at him to leave me alone and give me privacy. 

The next thing I knew I was searching out the pictures I found on the internet a while back. They were of the very apartment I had once lived. It is now a condominium and the current owner had it up for sale -the listing had pictures. For some reason, I needed to see those pictures once again. 

"Yup, there's that hallway- just like I remember. There's that closet handle, I can see it. And that kitchen, that old galley style kitchen in the Victorian era apartment building. I remember that built in - and yes, that pantry but I can't see the pantry. It was just off where the sink is. Across from that closet was my bedroom. I remember. I've always remembered this - and it is still all there. I loved that old building. I hate some of the memories I have." - Those were the thoughts playing over and over in my head as I examined the pictures. 

"PTSD. This is PTSD. Yes, this all happened to me and I am okay now. I am fine. The memories are just memories." - I told myself. 

As I talked my way through the flashback and memories my body relaxed and I was no longer frozen in place. I could breathe again. 

The incidents with this pedophile happened nearly 40 years ago. This is what PTSD does to sexual assault survivors, even those of us who have been on the path of healing for decades. The difference today from say even 20 years ago is I know what is happening should a flashback occur. I can work through it without beating myself up and walk away a bit stronger knowing that I no longer carry their guilt-their shame. But, unfortunately, the memories will always be in me. And while that is unfortunate, I have come to terms that this has been part of my path. I know my life has been filled with many experiences, some of them truly amazing - those amazing ones, and the ones yet to come take up more space in my mind than the ones I would rather not remember. At one time in my life, when I was much younger and hurting so terribly from multiple assaults, I was unable to see the good in my life -now I can. 

I finished getting ready and met my son out by the van. He was waiting for me. "I am sorry for snapping at you," I said. "For some reason I had a flashback to my childhood - PTSD, and I needed to work through it." 

"That's okay Mom, I understand - you good now? "

"Yeah, I am  - let's go find some sales!" I replied. 

And that my friends, was the truth! I was good- I was fine.  Too bad we couldn't find any good sales. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My son said I need to go out and speak out - use my voice.

Kyle Roberts-my Baby Boy
This year I am experiencing many changes in my life.
My youngest has graduated from high school and is about to head off out into the world for a career in music.
With him will go his best friend Gabe and also my eldest son Justin. The trio will travel down to Memphis and Kyle will do what he does best.
He will perform the music of his soul...Blues, Jazz and  some Folk music. There will also be some Adult Contemporary. With Kyle, it is wherever his emotions take him.
It is music that will give the listener a glimpse into who he is and the life he has walked these past 18 years.

Justin Roberts- my 1st Baby Boy
I am an extremely proud mother.
I am also a little apprehensive as this is the first time ever I will be separated from my children.
Both at the same time. An empty nester, literally, overnight.

All of this is hitting as some other stressors pile on. God is testing my strength this coming winter and on just about every front.
I feel a little lost. Or, I should say, I've been feeling a little lost.
Our little team is moving on to new endeavors.
Kyle with his music.
Justin with finally being able to live somewhere there's a community of others living freely out at a member of the LGBT community.
He will have a shot at life and love.
And Gabe, he's been part-time member of our team pretty steady now for the past 3 years. He will be testing out his wings.

Being there for them and working as best as I could to keep all fed with a roof over our heads has been my main role in life since August of 2007.
I am not even sure where the time has gone. We've been treading water so hard and long that I am only now starting to realize how tired I am.
What will I do?
Sure I have my job at the paper and yes, that does fill up a lot my time.
However, there is a part of me that feels like there is so much more I need to do.

My boys and I talk just about everything. We have very open and honest communication.
The other day as Kyle and I were driving this topic came up.
First, he made sure to tell me that once he can he would bring me down to them and I would never have to work again.
I love my sons. Hopefully, his path does take off to greatness, but as I told him, I would still need my own purpose.

"Mom, you need to tell your story. You need to become a speaker. Go out and tell it."

My story is also their story, at least it contains their childhood and all the things that happened to us after domestic violence entered our lives on top of all the things that happened to me growing up way too early for any child to experience.

"You sure you want me out there talking about what happened? Everything with your father? Kyle, are you sure? You're going to be out in the public eye now more than ever. Do you want that all connected to you?" I asked.

Kyle responded with, "Mom, it's the truth. It is what happened. It is why we have the lives we do."

"I do dream about completing my #WhenIBecameFree project. But, it's not like I can hop in my car. The damn thing just went to toast."

Yes, once again I have car issues. That has been one of the main barriers I keep running into to complete my project. Kinda hard to leave the county when the car keeps breaking down every month - and now it's for good. The burial at the salvage yard is on the slate for next week.

"I'm leaving you the van. We've discussed it and we decided we can't leave you like this. We're not leaving you without a vehicle. It is decided."

The van is a 1996 Dodge something or other conversion van he recieved in a trade with another musician who has a band. Believe me when I tell you that the van has a story of its own. When he took possession  of the thing it was probably 2 weeks before the odor dissipated and I felt safe using it and not worrying about running into the K9 Unit when I was out and about covering stories for the paper.

Tears welled up in my eyes. It hit me that all these years of work and raising the boys we've been just skirting by.  I felt like we should not have been even having this conversation. That I should have been able to accomplish so much more than I had. There should have been savings, a college fund, and emergency money but there wasn't. Not a penny. I felt guilty that I couldn't write a check out for them to secure a place in Memphis to start out at. I felt like a failure. Mother's guilt but then I turned and looked at Kyle and saw the man my baby boy grew into. He is not only tall and handsome filled with talent but he is also a compassionate human being who in his 18 years has accomplished more than most.  I thought about Justin and all the hurdles he faces every day with not only having special needs but also being openly gay in a rural conservative area. I realized how brave he is. Their childhood and their outcome as young adult men is something to be proud of and it is a story that should be told.

I've told it here and there in the pages of my blog. This journal I've kept since 2008 and allowed strangers to read. I realized it is a compelling story worthy to be told in the entirety. There's a reason we've been given the task to overcome so much. Our little team is quite the spectacle once you get a glimpse into our lives. If you add to the story my friend Steve and how he entered our lives, well, you'd be amazed how surreal and quite frankly amusing it all is.

Kyle and I reminisced about some of those stories, the memories. It wasn't long before we were cracking up. "No one would believe all of this, Kyle." I said.

"Go tell them, Mom."

I've noticed that since we've had that conversation I am finding my voice once again. Each time I use it I do find I come alive and this life I've walked seems to have a meaning and purpose of it's own. Almost like every time Kyle picks up that guitar of his and just plays out the emotions he is feeling, people are drawn to him and the music he creates - There is a reason he is able to do that without being able to read music, no formal lessons, but still can pick up an instrument and play it like he had been trained to do so.

Perhaps this time the timing is right. Maybe this time if I go with the natural flow it all will fall into place.

Maybe my son is right, I need to go out and speak out - use my voice.

Did I mention how proud I am of my sons?

For my sons....

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Safety in Numbers - #WhenIBecameFree

Why do you believe me when I tell you I've been a victim of sexual assault, multiple times? 
What makes my words credible to you? 
Over the years I've laid out my story on the pages of this blog, and up to my recounting the last attack in August of 2007 where I audio recorded the hour-long attack, I have no proof. 
No proof other than my memories I voice. 
So, why do you believe me? 
Why do you believe I was molested at the age of 5 by a 16 yr old neighbor? Or that a veteran of the Vietnam War, also a neighbor, molested me a number of times? 
Why do you believe that also at the age of 9 I was molested by someone extremely close to my family (not blood-related)? 
Then as a teen the boyfriend of the woman I was babysitting for came home drunk and assaulted me....why do you believe me?

Is it because the only one I ever named was my ex-husband - and because I had the proof in an audio file? 
Is that the only assault you believe happened to me? 
The others I would name if I remembered their last names. One of them I will always keep his name a secret out of protection for someone I love.
Do you believe me?
Is it because these assaults were not committed by someone famous? Someone you may have respected? 
Why do you believe me? 
Do you believe me? 

I am a woman on the verge of celebrating my final year of my 40's. Twenty years ago I could never imagine myself speaking of these assaults- my nightmares. They were my secret I carried deep in my soul, the very ones I allowed to eat away at me. Only a few people knew about them - a couple of close friends and my mother. My mother was the first I ever told. Her reaction sent me further into seclusion when at the age of 14 and after a failed suicide attempt I was told never to speak about it again as it would kill my father to know. She went on to say it was disgusting. I was laying in my bed at the time -Trapper John, MD. was on the television. Do you believe me when I tell you that? 

Do you believe me when I tell you after she walked away I curled up into a fetal position curling up next to and as close as I could get to the cold wall of my bedroom in the basement? 

I can tell you tell you that uttering these truths of mine does not come easy. Healing is not a cakewalk. 
I can also tell you that every time I find the courage to speak of my life, doors open for others to own their's and start voicing their stories...all while  I walk my path of healing. 
It is a domino effect of "me too!" 
Much like when you see on the news of someone reporting a high profile person as an abuser - like priests. "Me too!" starts echoing from the flock they once shepherded and survivors step forward.
Do you believe it when it happens? 

Safety in numbers. 

I can tell you that prior to finding their voice a once victim keeps their truth under lock and key out of shame ...guilt...and fear. That fear can represent many things from fear of losing their life, their home, their job, their family, their standing in the community's the main reason....fear they will not be believed. 

It takes seeing, reading and/or hearing someone else speak out. Watching that person's courage play out or hearing that they were not the predator's only victim. The "me too!" domino effect falls into place.  They find that safety in numbers gives them the strength and once that strength starts taking hold they don't care if they are believed. The only thing that matters is the poison they carried deep within has now found a way out. 

Do you believe me?

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