Hey readers, I apologize for missing my Wednesday post this week, but I’d like to call your attention to the article I was busy working on instead.
When I was pregnant and on methadone, I was caught in the Front Range Flood. Well, not caught in it per se, I was just outside of it, but my clinic closed and I couldn’t get to the one that was designated to courtesy dose us. You can read more about it in the article, but it is truly horrifying how unprepared many methadone facilities are for ensuring continuity of care. Unprepared is not even the right word; there are actually plenty of protocols in place, as I learned while researching this piece, but many programs and hospitals choose to turn patients away. It’s unfair, and unconscionable. Imagine going through the worst disaster of your life, and also being in intense opiate withdrawal? You can read it here.
Let’s also remember that while all of this has been going on, massive flooding has been destroying parts of Southeast Asia. More than 1,000 people have died, far higher than the death toll from Harvey.They deserve our care and attention too.
I’m glad that my blog is equipped to have outbound links open in separate windows, because I also don’t want you to miss this guest post from Author Brandi Kennedy. She’s a fiction writer and a poet besides a blogger, and it shows in the beauty of her narration, but the subject is deeply troubling. Despite my own traumatic experiences, I never cease to be shocked by the capacity for pain and cruelty this world holds. I’m glad the assignment I’m writing this weekend focuses on human kindness instead, but for now..let’s read Brandi’s story of recovery through writing and mindfulness.
Author Brandi Kennedy was a survivor before she knew she was a warrior. Through her love of reading, she found temporary escape from the abuse that was an ever-present part of her childhood; through writing, she’s found healing and renewed life. These days, Brandi is a romance novelist and mental health and lifestyle blogger who spends her moments writing her way toward her dreams. Through self-expression, the courage to share honestly, and the desire to weave words into the very magic she once used as escape, Brandi is learning to embrace life as an Undaunted Woman – and hoping to welcome others along on the ride. Read her full bio here.
An Author’s Search For Trauma Recovery Through Writing
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My first memory involves a trauma I can’t even explain.
In it, I’m outside my own body, disconnected – watching myself as if I were a cartoon on a TV screen. A waif of a girl, with giant blue eyes and unkempt hair, walking into the living room in a nightgown, looking around in silence at the destruction. I couldn’t have been more than four years old. As a kindergartner, I suffered a traumatic and life-threatening accident that left me with scar tissue, lack of sensitivity, and impaired function at the site of my injury. I healed for the most part, but what I survived in the years to follow set me up for a lifetime of grief–I made choices I wouldn’t have made if I had known better, and acted out in ways I was still too young then to understand.
Childhood Abuse Came From All Sides
Eventually my divorced parents both remarried – and they both remarried badly. My stepfather was a violent gang member familiar with drugs and prison life. He was abusive in ways that have left my entire family living with the scars over twenty years after his arrest and imprisonment. My stepmother suffered from multiple mental illnesses, for which she would often stop treatments and end up in psychosis, locked in a mental ward for rest and re-evaluation.
When she was medicated, she despised me but would sometimes pretend not to – I acted out and was a difficult child, suffering already from the physical and psychological effects of various abuses, and she hated both my closeness with my father, and the way my needs competed with those of her daughter, who was close to my age. When she was unstable, she lost the ability to even pretend to tolerate me. She attacked me physically many times. I still have flashbacks from that period in my life.
My step-parents are both dead now, and yet they haunt me.
That was a tumultuous time in my life, during which I also turned away multiple attempts at sexual molestation. Fortunately for me, this person eventually took my multiple “no’s” for what they were; back then, I was relieved to know that person found release elsewhere, apart from me – now, I live with the guilt of feeling that another child suffered…because of me. There are no reassurances that ease this, despite my therapist’s best efforts.
Abuse Changed My Mind, Body, and Life
The depth of my struggle to cope with the abuse I suffered eventually had a serious impact on my body and my health. I developed chronic health problems that are still largely unexplained, problems which opened me up to embarrassment from my family, humiliation in front of my peers, and shame that still affects me to this day. When I showed up to school one day covered in bruises, the police were called and the court system became involved. I spent a year in a group home full of dysfunctional teenagers because as sad as it was, it was the safest place for me to be. I was in fourth grade.
Over the years, I chose relationships with abusers, and I chose “friends” who weren’t really friends. I pushed away people who cared about me, and I had no idea what a functional relationship of any kind should look like. I witnessed a suicide attempt gone wrong. Close relatives abandoned me.
I mistreated myself, allowed others to mistreat and disrespect me – and while I did manage to set boundaries, I rarely ever defended myself. I gained a ton of weight, stopped going to doctors unless desperation forced me, avoided socialization other than with people I already knew, and attempted to just make it through each day. Until I broke.
Rock Bottom Helped Me Find Motivation to Pursue Recovery
The first time I figured out a good way to commit suicide without my kids having to know it for what it was … that was the day I knew I needed to change things. Because if I didn’t, my children would grow up without a mother. For years, I had been aware of my issues with anxiety and depression, as well as the ways those issues complicated my daily life. But complication for me wasn’t the same as devastation for my daughters, so I straightened out my insurance, and within a few months I started looking for a therapist.
With therapy, I’m slightly more under control. My anxiety is something I can recognize for what it is, and I’m more able to recognize when I need to give myself a “mental health day” to relax or recover from stress or trigger episodes. But without it? Well, let’s just say I’m thankful to have found coping mechanisms that work for me – one of which, obviously, is writing.
Writing Brought Me Peace, The Same Way Reading Once Helped Me Escape
The last five years have been full of writing for me, from journals to poems to blog posts and even novels. Through my writing, I’ve been able to find not only a sense of understanding and compassion for myself, but also a way to share my stories in ways that might be helpful to others. I’m a long way from okay, and I know PTSD isn’t something that can ever be healed … but I’m so thankful for the things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met through my writing.
Writing was how I first began to explore PTSD before I even knew it was what I had. I’ve written an orphan, a rape survivor, a victim of what was at the time referred to as PTSD-by-proxy, and an alcoholic. I’ve written a victim of domestic abuse, a break-in survivor. I’ve even written grief trauma.
But where writing has helped me most is on my blog – where I can express freely and learn to be okay with what I’m living with, where I can explore coping mechanisms, share them if they help me, and hopefully watch as what I share helps to lend courage and grit to women only beginning this journey that I’ve already been on for so long.
How I Use My Surroundings to Assuage Panic
One of my favorite coping mechanisms is what I call the Countdown Method – it works best when used before solid panic sets in, because once I’m panicked I can’t remember how to do it, but when used in time it is highly effective as a distraction grounding tool.
The way it works is to help you reconnect and come back to the moment you’re in. It pulls you back into a mindfulness within yourself that gets lost when you’re in the midst of panic. First, find five things you can see. Take a minute to look around, picking out five things you can see. It doesn’t matter what they are, but to improve the efficiency of this, I like to choose things by a color. For instance, five RED things. My daughter’s headphones, the flower on her bottle of body spray. The light on the bottom corner of the TV, the dog leash hanging by the door, a bag of Doritos barely visible in the kitchen.
This gives me a way to check my surroundings without searching for threats. By the time I’ve found five RED things, I’m much more aware of what’s around me. So I move on – four things I can feel…
The softness of the chair cushion I’ve got my feet propped on. The twinge of pain in my right knee, reminding me that I’ll need to readjust soon to avoid hyper-extending the joint. The click of these keys under my fingers while I type. The wide circle of the ring set I wear on my right hand: one ring in the form of a man, the other in the form of a woman, spooned tightly together, his arm around her waist, with the set positioned so that the man’s back protectively faces the world, a shield around his woman. A wish perhaps, or just a visible reminder of my heart’s greatest prayer – safety, together with companionship.
Returning To Myself Brings Clarity And Comfort
Taking time to feel the world around me – as it is, not as it once was – helps me come down a little more, brings me back inside myself, back to now, and away from whenever I’ve gotten temporarily lost. So what’s next – what three things do I hear? Along with the clicking of the computer keys, I hear my cousin Dana laughing in my ear. We’ve been on the phone while I’ve been writing – she gives me comfort and solidarity. The third thing? In the background of the quiet that surrounds me, the refrigerator hums.
By now I’m almost fully me again, at least for the moment. I’m facing the world I’m in, facing the moment I’m in, and feeling strong enough to commit to facing the next moment that’s coming – whatever it brings. And now that the world is beautiful again, at least just for this moment, I shift to my nose, activate my sense of smell. Two things – my mug of coffee, strong with mocha flavors, smooth with cream, sweet with a teaspoon of sugar.
Finding another scent to truly notice takes a minute. We don’t usually use a lot of scent products other than Febreze, I don’t tend to wear a lot of perfumes … and I actually have an incredibly weak sense of smell. Still, as I bring my hand to my face, I catch an unintended whiff of chemical strangeness – nail polish long since cured but still faintly scented.
Now I Know I Can Exist In This World, Moment-by-Moment
It’s a simple process when put this way, but the impact is a meaningful one; it brings me back to myself, back to my children, back to the dinner which must be made, the meds which must be dispensed, the appointments which must be kept … the responsibilities which must be carried – and cannot simply be put down. In my own space again, safely inside my mind and in control of myself, I finish the countdown with number one and the last of my senses: taste.
Five things to see, four things to feel, three things to hear, two things to smell, and then the last – one thing to taste. My coffee. And I savor it, because self-care moments are fleeting in the life of a single mom with PTSD. The demands of life and motherhood are waiting, and there’s no one here to meet them but me. So I drink that coffee, I celebrate my senses, and I live.