On PTSD Reactions

 

My graduate advisor had his annual party tonight to welcome the new graduate students. I always love this party.

I knew that, if I get a job–which I hope that I do–this would be the last of those parties for me. I wore a gold, velvet tank top that I had paid full price for at J. Crew (I never pay full price at J. Crew, but I really loved that tank top). I wore long dangly earrings made out of brown and gold leather threads.

I liked my outfit.

I said to two of my friends, “One of the nice things about having lost weight is being able to wear cute clothes.”

One of my friends reached over unexpectedly and hugged me. She said, “I met you for the first time at this party four years ago, and you don’t even look like the same person.”

My other friend said, “It’s not just that you’ve lost weight. It’s that you’re so much happier. You don’t seem stressed in the same way.”


The other day, I ran into a different friend, and when she asked “How are you?”

I answered, “Good. Really good.”

Then I thought, When was the last time that I said that?


I divorced Caleb, then moved to Athens the next day. I would have met those two friends from the party only a few weeks after my divorce. No one knew my story then.

I didn’t even know my own story then.

I was so sad.

And then, soon enough, I was angry.


And then, the anger consumed me. It manifested against Caleb, but it also manifested against his friends.

Who were they to disbelieve me?

If they did believe me, then who were they to devalue me by remaining friends with him?

Who were they to assume that I was doing “fine” because I had gotten out?


One of Caleb’s friends wrote to me that it seemed like I was doing well, so what was my problem?

She was an aspiring writer, but had not published, so I presume that her assumption that I was doing well was because I had become a pretty prolific writer?

Writers judge by those standards. “Oh, that person must be doing well because they’re publishing!”

When in truth, at that time, I would take breaks from my writing and jog past the McDonalds by my apartment building as a way to work out some of my stress, and the McDonalds employees would laugh at me through the window because I was so obviously out of shape.

I cried so often and so hard.

I ran the stairs at my apartment building.

I needed to make my body hurt, so that I couldn’t feel the pain in my heart.


Caleb once told me that we can only feel pain in one part of our body at a time.


When I was running those stairs, I only felt pain in my legs.

My heart, for a moment, was free.


And that anger led to this blog. That anger is why this blog is called Apology Not Accepted. That anger led to me complaining to the DA’s office about the handling of Caleb’s case, about his sentence being that he only had to write me a a letter of apology.

That anger led to me getting an apology from the Prosecuting Attorney on behalf of the state of West Virginia.

I got an apology on behalf of the state of West Virginia, and it wasn’t enough.

The anger was still there. Still eating me alive.


I wasn’t angry at Caleb. I was angry at everyone around him.  His mother. His friends. His workplace.

Who were they to love him?

Who were they to love him when I felt so unloved?


So, I started lashing out, both privately and  publicly. I privately messaged people to tell them just what I thought of their alliance with Caleb (and I was not kind), and I publicly engaged in battles that I should not have with men who claimed to be feminists but were still in contact with Caleb.

Every time that I lashed out, I left the exchange having gained nothing. No one changed their mind. No one said, “You know, you’re right. I really have messed up in my support of your abuser, and I know that now.”

But the truth is that the people who would have said that had probably already allied themselves with me because there were plenty of Caleb’s friends who also said to me, “I am on your side.”


Last night, I messaged a female professor who had known Caleb, and I thanked her for having always been supportive of me from the beginning.

I said to her “I regret how assertive I was with some of those Boise dudes about their support of Caleb (though they generally denied to me that they supported him), but then I think of the Boise women and how I always felt supported by the women, and I realize that, as much as I hate to be the case study in PTSD and reactionary responses, maybe I’ve done something to help those dudes realize how to–actually–support women who have been abused by their friends.”

And I was sincere.

My PTSD caused me to react in an overly aggressive manner to people who are really of no consequence to me, but, still, maybe they needed to hear it?

Maybe they needed to hear that they can’t claim to be feminists while remaining allied with a wife batterer?


In reality, I am sassy, but a generally agreeable person. I love very fully and am a loyal friend.  I am an approval seeker who will always try to meet expectations. When talking about the academic job market, one of the full professors in my department who is known for his brutal honesty looked at me for a long time, then said, “I am not worried about you. You just need to get a campus visit because they will like you when they meet you.”


Still, around that same time, on Facebook, I was aggressively countering a rather famous writer’s claim that he was a feminist with my own evidence that he wasn’t.

I did the same thing on another writer’s post. One of his friends, a stranger, jumped in to tell me that it would be a lot easier to listen to me if I “wasn’t so angry.”

I learned then about tone policing.

It could have been career suicide for me, but I didn’t care. Sometimes, I am just the vehicle and PTSD is the driver.


My PTSD is on mute right now, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve surpassed it. Only, that I’m not having those incidences of rage or sadness.

But I don’t want to discredit the value of those incidences. So many people tell me that I’m “brave,” but so much of my “bravery” has been PTSD. PTSD is ridiculously emboldening, and a lot of good can come from that.

I’ll never be grateful for PTSD. It is honestly the worst,  but it also isn’t a permanent state of being.

Right now, I’m the person who when a friend says, “How are you?” I answer, “Good. Really good.”

On #notmylife

I was texting with my friend Shane recently, and the subject of Caleb and his new job came up. I mentioned that Reed had told me that Caleb is commuting from his parents’ place, and the new wife is home alone with the baby during the week.

I mentioned that I had found Caleb’s schedule, and he is still teaching 5 classes, but now teaching at a pretty anonymous community college.

I mentioned that I couldn’t see how the new job was an upgrade at all, and in fact, appears to be a downgrade.

I mentioned how a friend had commented that it seemed as though Caleb had “just fled” WVU (there was definitely pressure being exerted to get rid of him there).

I mentioned how awful it must be for Caleb’s wife to be home alone with a new baby while he works at a job that surely can’t be gratifying in the way that he desires.


But then, I texted, “I’m just grateful that’s not my life.”

And Shane texted back, “#notmylife.”

So, that’s my new motto: #notmylife.


It was once my life, but is no more.


Do you want to know what my life is now?

Grace and Frankie marathons on my couch.

Jimmy John’s delivery three times in one week because I don’t want to cook.

Afternoon naps whenever I want (if I’m not teaching).

Beer at the nearby brewpub with my neighbor on a weeknight.

Travel to writer’s residencies in Belgium, Vermont, and Washington.

So many friendships, both new and old.

A PhD, a Best American Essay, and a book with HarperCollins.


The other night, in the car on the way to see his father, Reed said, “Do you think that my dad believes everything he says about you?”

I said, “I don’t know. He was married to me for almost a decade, so I feel like he’d know me by now.”

“Wait, I thought you were only married for 5 years,” Reed said.


Reed was 7 when I left his father, yet he thought that we had only been married for 5 years. I have no doubt that this is due to his father trying to recreate the narrative of his “first family.”

The first family must surely be downplayed as inconsequential.

We never really existed.

When did you get married?” Reed asked.

I told him the date.

“So, [dad’s baby] was born on the day of your wedding anniversary?” Reed asked. “I guess that means he’s probably extra happy about that day?”

I said, “Well, wedding anniversaries are sad after a divorce, so he’s probably happy to have something to replace that memory with.”

Reed said, “If [my stepmom] ever divorces my dad and he loses [my sister] like he lost me, then he’s probably going to be really sad on that day.”

But then he said, “But if [my stepmom] divorces my dad, then I’m going to lose my sister too.”

I said, “If [your stepmom] divorces your dad, I’ll make sure that you still have a relationship with your stepmom, your sister, and your step-grandparents. I promise.”


But Reed’s stepmom is not going to divorce his dad. Caleb is smarter and harder. He knows what he’s doing now. And the stepmom, according to Reed, wants to be a stay-at-home mom.

This is not an indictment of stay-at-home motherhood, but in this particular instance, I cannot think of a better way in which Caleb could have trapped his new wife. How could she ever leave him if he’s the sole provider?


Tonight, in the car on the way home from his father’s house, Reed told me that his English teacher had asked them to write about a moment that had changed their life. He said, “I wanted to write about when my dad broke your foot, and I came home, and you were in a cast and on crutches, but then, I thought, ‘No, that’s way too dark for the other sixth graders.'”

He didn’t say that with sadness. He said it with humor.

Dark, dark, humor.

I raised this kid. I get him. I giggled. “Yeah, probably too dark,” I said.

He giggled harder, “Definitely too dark,” he said.

Then we ranked our household in order of weirdness, and Reed ranked it as the following:

  1. Teddy the dog (weirdest)
  2. Me (next weirdest)
  3. Bob the cat (kinda weird)
  4. Reed (not weird at all)

Though I shouldn’t admit it, I actually agreed with Reed’s ranking.


I love this kiddo, and I love my life. I have pangs when Reed sends me things like pictures of his dad with his baby sister, but they’re just that–pangs.

I was full-on suicidal when I was with Caleb. I’ll take “pangs” over that any day.


But it’s not my life anymore. It’s her life now. Hopefully, she’ll read this. Hopefully, she’ll learn sooner than I did.

Regardless, #notmylife

Guest Post: Empathy for the Abuser

By: Dr. Buddhini Samarisinghe

Sympathy for the devil  Empathy for the abuser

The man who abused me told me that he had a lot of baggage.

He told me he had an unhappy childhood. He told me that he grew up without his father, who abandoned his family when he was younger so that he had to step in to take care of his siblings and mom. He told me his mom was abusive, and that his grandfather had abused his mom. He told me that he never felt loved, and that he never felt safe, and that he never felt supported.

The man who abused me told me he had a past history with mental illness. He told me that he had been diagnosed with depression, and that he was institutionalized as a teenager when he tried to kill himself. He told me that he has been on various medications for his illness sporadically, and that these medications were responsible for his mood swings.

The man who abused me told me that he had a past history with substance abuse.

The thing is, the man who abused me was also a compulsive liar. He lied to me about his finances, his relationships, and his work. He lied about the most insignificant things, like when he told me that he is not a smoker, and hates cigarettes – I found out this was a lie when I spoke to several of his other victims who told me he was actually a chain smoker.

I know that the man who abused me used his baggage to entrap me. I know that I explained away a lot of his abusive behaviors because of his baggage. The man who abused me is a skilled manipulator. Gaslighting is second nature to him, and he would spin stories to fit his agenda without batting an eyelid.

As a survivor of his abuse, it’s hard for me to separate the truth from his lies. I spend a lot of my time trying to do this – alone, with friends, with my therapist. Sometimes, questioning the things he told me feels wrong because of the essence of the question. Think about it – “did he really experience childhood abuse or was he just saying that so I would feel sorry for him?”. Now try to imagine how awful a childhood abuse survivor would feel to have their experiences questioned like this.

As a survivor of his abuse, I often notice that I am expected to take these ‘extenuating circumstances’ into account when I consider his abuse. As if his baggage is somehow an excuse for what he did. As if I owe him empathy – as if I owe him the courtesy – to take these things into account when I take stock of my devastated sense of self. I hate how I am expected to be kind and empathetic and watch my language when I talk about this man who harmed me because he (allegedly) has a history of mental illness/substance abuse/childhood abuse. Accounting for his baggage and nuancing how I express my hurt and anger feels wrong. It’s wrong to expect the survivor of abuse to have empathy for their abuser.

I am not at a place where I can feel compassion for my abuser. I still hate him for what he did to me, and it is a hatred that feels everlasting. It burns bright, like the sparks from an oxyacetylene torch, blinding me to anything else other than a desire to see him suffer. I don’t know if I will ever get to a place where I can stop hating him, but I know that any lessening of hatred needs to come from within me, when I feel ready for it. It cannot come externally, from people who had the luxury of not experiencing his abuse telling me how I should and shouldn’t process my experience.

Buddhini

Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe is a science writer with a background in molecular biology and cancer research. Her writing can be found at Jargonwall. She is also the founder of STEM Women, an initiative dedicated to promoting and celebrating women in STEM. Follow on Twitter @DrHalfPintBuddyFacebook and Google+

Guest Post: On Loving Someone Who Has Been Abused.

By Anonymous

I knew you both way back when. The hot-shot lawyer and his beautiful girlfriend, the social worker. Soon to be your fiancé.

You were both so young and new in your careers and ready to take on the world.

I have to admit. I thought you were an odd pair. There was a little bit of me who thought you were gay. Just like me.  Soon you were married, and we were all happy for you.

Late one night there was a knock on my door. There she stood on my porch. Tears in her eyes.  There had been a fight. You called her a cunt and told her to get the hell out. I opened my door and let her in. She spent the night on my couch, and when I woke in the morning, she was gone.

We all remained friends through the years. Eventually we moved in different directions but still stayed in touch. But then we lost touch.

Fast forward several years. I find her on Facebook. You have 2 children together and you are divorced. She and I reconnect like no time has passed. You and she have two beautiful children. A boy and a girl. I hear horror stories about the drinking and the abuse. Emotional and physical. Now I hate you. How can you do that to three beautiful souls?

Five years after reconnecting on Facebook, she and I are married. You are living your life alone. Bitter and unhappy.

I have been through the tears and the anger. The depression and the anxiety. Counselors and psychiatrists. Therapy and medications. All to combat the damage you caused.

I may not be a man, but I am ten times the man you are. I love my family and I will do anything to protect them. From you or anyone else. No more Christmases hiding in a hotel because you are drunk and raging and feeling sorry for yourself. Do you remember that?

We’re all doing well now. Life is good and we are a family. An unconventional family, according to some, but a family nonetheless. We are not looking back. We are full of love and a bright future and happy endings.

 

On Getting What I Wanted

The first time that Caleb hit me, he pounded my head with his fist.

He yelled, Is this what you wanted? Is this what you wanted? Is this what you wanted?

By then, it was what I wanted.


It was what I wanted because I wanted him to stop berating me, stop scaring me, stop backing me into corners. I thought that, if he hit me, then he would realize he had gone too far because I thought that everyone knew that hitting your wife is wrong.

I can be so fucking smart, but I am also so fucking naive.


Getting what I have wanted has been accompanied by so much loss.


I dreamed about having sex with Caleb the other night. It was the most amazing sex, but even in my dream, I knew that it was wrong.

No one has ever made me feel like he made me feel, and I still miss that.


I have never had better self-esteem than I do right now.

What does that say about how I used to feel about myself?

Because I still feel pretty shitty about myself.


I had a really wonderful evening with a friend tonight. She is so easy to talk to, and I just connect with her. We talked about someone who used to be a really close friend of mine, but is no longer.

My friend asked what I thought had happened to cause this rift, and I responded that my book deal happened.


I got what I wanted–a book deal with a major publishing house.


When the final offer for my book came through, my agent called me on the phone. She was initially in a cab. She then spoke to me from the first floor of a hotel lobby.

She said, “Don’t tell people what you were paid. Writers get jealous, and advances are arbitrary and mean nothing. When people ask you what you got paid, just say ‘Enough to write the book.'”

Writers get jealous.

I got what I wanted, and I lost a friend–or many–in the process.


Just to be clear, I only received enough to write the book. It actually wasn’t even enough to write the book. I’ve recently had to borrow money from my parents.

We all need to talk more honestly about money, okay?

Faculty members keep telling me that they hope I’m “investing” my book advance. I want to say to them, Do you realize my TA salary is $15,700 dollars?

My rent is $16,800 per year.

I love y’all who think I can “invest” this windfall, but I’m still barely keeping my kid off of free lunch.


I have moved into the elite school district. Reed and I went to the open house, and the “feminist” moms from my English department who supported the sexual predator all snubbed me.

My heart was broken because I feared that my outspokenness would harm Reed, but he is doing fine. He has already made friends and fit into his new school. He is so resilient.


No one matters more to me than Reed.

I saved myself from dying for that kid.


Maybe I should rephrase that.

That kid saved me from dying.


I am very good at getting things that I want, but they do not usually turn out the way that I wanted.


I wanted River Guide.

I still remember the first time I talked to him on the boat ramp at Corn Creek. He made prolonged eye contact, and my coworker laughed and took a swig of his beer because he saw what was going on.

For the rest of the summer, I exerted my energy on River Guide. I am not a good flirt and not very forward, so instead, I was just nice. I would make him coffee in the morning and take it to his boat, then he would make coffee and bring it to my A-frame.

I finally ran into him in town and invited him to go to the Blues, Brews, and BBQ festival with me. My hand shook as I entered his number into my phone.

We were there for hours. He does not drink, so neither of us had liquid courage, but we ended up going back to my parents’ house (they were conveniently camping). He said that he wanted to watch the dry lightning storm play out.

We lay in the grass and watched the dry lightning storm until we were no longer watching the lights above us.


I got what I wanted with River Guide.

It went on for two years.

He broke my heart, but a heart that has already been firmly broken is less easy to damage.


There is so much I have wanted.

I want you to love me.

You, random stranger, I want you to love me.

When will I love myself?


I have been pursuing a particular man for a long time. It has been a joke with my friends. Finally, he said, “I really like talking to you. We should get a drink sometime.”

It’s a very long story, but we got a drink. We got more drinks.

Things ended badly.

He said, “I don’t want to cause you pain.”

I said, “You don’t have the power to cause me pain.” (I wasn’t trying to be a dick. I was trying to reassure him because I had taken his words at face value.)

He said, “OH, I GET IT.”

And I said, “Well, I like you, but I don’t care about you to the point where you could cause me pain.”

And he said, “OH, I CAN’T CAUSE YOU PAIN. POINT TAKEN.”

So I guess that he really wanted to cause me pain?

There were other things that I don’t want to discuss here for fear of violating his privacy.

I had thought that I had a good read on him, that he was “a mess” but basically harmless.

He is not harmless.


I got what I wanted with him though, didn’t I?


What do I do if my wants are not congruent with my needs?


Caleb, too, was what I wanted.

I pursued him. I made him mine.

And then he destroyed me.


His fist connected with my scalp. Is this what you want? Is this what you want?

It was what I wanted.


And now?

I honestly don’t know what I want.

I just want my heart to be whole.