Saturday, January 30, 2010


The mind is a strange wasteland, full of moonscapes and pits and dark places. Radiant, beautiful places exist as well, but it's the wasteland, the badlands, that make for more interesting stories. Maybe this is the place Meredith and Christina (Grey's Anatomy) are hiding out when they refer to themselves as being in the "dark and twisties."

Studying psychology and having had mental illness running in the family has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about the dark and twisties. Even more so, being in recovery, being mildly bipolar myself, and knowing a lot of people have all led to even further insight into this dark place.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something lots of people have heard about but few understand. I certainly don't understand it fully. They used to call it "shell shock" back in my father's tour of duty in the Army. He came back from WWII a changed man who went on to father six of us and then to be abusive to us. What made him that way? Is PTSD like a brain bruise of sorts? Does it leave an indelible mark on the psyche, forever changing one's personality? What can be done to route new connections around that wasteland?

It isn't just war that can cause such a bruise. Many things in life--sexual abuse, rape, car accidents, and so on--can leave a terrible mark. The ways in which one learns to cope with and incorporate the bruise into one's life are myriad. Some people start drinking. Some people start using drugs, cutting themselves, or acting out in inappropriate ways in order to handle what is going on inside of them. What can be done?

My father exhibited the strongest signs of PTSD after his surgery for lung cancer. He was medicated (on morphine) while recovering at home, and I remember him yelling out to people who weren't there, men who were in his unit. My brother-in-law (at the time) had been a medic in the Army during Vietnam. He came to visit my father one day, and I remember Dad sitting up in the bed, just his shorts on, looking down at the marks on him and the scars.

"Mike," he said, "they shot me. Why did you let them do that?"

What he was looking at was not a gunshot wound but a mark over the clip at which the radiation would be directed when treatment started. I was 14 at the time and remember feeling the strangest sense of disconnection with my father. For the first time, he looked sad and young and lost. He no longer looked hard and cold, as he could look when that violent switch flipped in him. I saw him as a teenage boy in the trenches during WWII. I saw his innocence about to be stolen from him.

Those memories stick with me today and inform much of my non-professional work (blogging, poetry, grad studies). Getting an insight not only into myself and my father but also into others who have suffered such bruising is important to me. I want to peel back the layers and see what the bruise looks like and how to fix it.

Just something I'm thinking about early this Saturday morning before the snow falls in Maryland.

Peace - D

[image credit]


Ms Hen said...

Very well written.

I know from reading Wayne Dyer books..we have to embrace the pain; but NOT stay in the pain. We can train our minds to embrace more of the good things around us in this world. (not to live in denial; but not to keep re-living it) ..

Some people get STUCK in the re-living it; for whatever reasons.

I learned to embrace my PAST... the abuse and all (not to deny it); but now I see that I get to decide what I want to focus on ... and I can laugh more and be more child-like and find the beauty in so many things in the world.

And never put anyone on a pedestal.. but have my owner inner HP.. my LIGHT.

I can accept all for who they are; and not pass judgment; (because that is the Ego)..

But I can discern what is right for me.. and not accept anything that is unacceptable by anyone.

I'm avoiding unhealthy friendships and men and such. I keep boundaries.. soft one; and loving detach without judgment.

It is a hard thing to do; and there are slip ups..

But I no longer play victim; ... I no longer get Codie for more than a few weeks; and see what is what .. and avoid people that are looking for enmeshment etc.

And giving back. Service.. keep me humble and filled with humility too.. and not ego gratifying.

I'm happy now.. !!! (even if get sad at times.. but life is GOOD). Ignorance is NOT Bliss. :)

Awareness * Acceptance * Action.. is how I live now.

You sound great.. you are on your way to healing and healing and healing..

Everyone has slip ups; but than we get stronger too.

Erika said...

Such deep thoughts during a snowfall...

I've read a lot about trauma and post-traumatic stress. If you're truly interested in learning more about the brain bruise (what it is, why it stays, what triggers it during other events in our lives), two EXCELLENT books are Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine and EMDR by Francine Shapiro. Basically, the brain bruise you describe comes from a traumatic event (which can be anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope) and any negative beliefs about yourself that stem from that trauma. In Waking the Tiger, Levine does a really good job of talking about trauma, memory, and the trauma freezes up in our system, getting stuck, and then replays in other scenarios in our lives. (Like your dad reliving Vietnam after his surgery.) Shapiro talks a lot about what can be done to complete the memory of the traumatic event (i.e. resolve it emotionally), to repair/reverse any negative beliefs about yourself born of it, and to greatly improve your ability to cope when other traumatic events occur in your life. I'm totally fascinated by this area of study...ther's a ton of research in brain science to back it up and there's lot of hope for survivors of all kinds of trauma.

Take good care...

Syd said...

I think that living around an alcoholic has some semblance of PTSD. I can still have flashbacks about those days. The triggers that occur are still present.

Jo said...

I do believe we can train our brains to heal. It sometimes take a bit of hard work, and we have to be willing to do it. I have had too many people I love who have died in violent accidents -- airplane crashes, house fires -- I developed post-traumatic stress syndrome too, and I was terrified I was going to lose everyone I loved. So I can identify with some of the awful things you have had to experience, that no one should have to experience.

Pain is a good thing. Pain is the first step to healing. It's when you feel nothing at all that you should be frightened. Sometimes just putting the painful things away in a drawer for a little while, and concentrating on the positive things, can be a big help. We can re-wire our brains to be happy. It is possible.

RiverPoet said...

I love all of the comments, and I especially love that you are all so frank about your own experiences of trauma and recovery from that trauma.

Personally, my grief journey will always continue, because as one friend said, "I don't think you ever recover from losing a child; you just learn to live with the pain." I know there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not an oncoming train!

Peace - D