PTSD: The Story of My Life

I have a daughter, who is now within a few months of turning 30 years old.  I remember being her age.  Once upon a time someone who was 50 something years old seemed so ancient, so OLD.

This daughter of mine wants me to write my story.  In total the story has been one that you might go to a movie and see, but would never attribute to real life, I would not have attributed it to mine at least.  I thought all this time that I was normal. Ha!

Well, in order to tell my whole story, I have to tell about some of those people who have been instrumental in my life.  This is going to be hard…  at one time I signed a piece of paper legally agreeing to never speak about some of the things I am going to speak about. At the time, I was exhausted, I was broken. I was much younger, much less educated, much more naive-and very, very afraid of my mother.  In the world I grew up in parents were the almighty, all seeing, all powerful Gods of my existence.

I’m going to tell this story for a couple of reasons.  The main reason is to just help the other multitudes of doctors, therapists, activists, and plain old good people to get the message out that things like child abuse, domestic violence, etc. are 100% real issues that hurt real people.  Something traumatic in nature that happens to a little girl or boy who is only a toddler can be and IS affected for the rest of their lives. I’m also placing my life, my facts, my illnesses, my actions, everything, and anything out there for study –so that we can learn more about how this violence affects us everyday for the rest of our lives.

Some of the details will be really graphic.  I’ll avoid them if possible –if I can can make my point without them.  The characters, all very real people, most of them still alive, will not be so very protected.  The other reason I’m writing this is that I am doing this is for a therapeutic benefit for myself.  You see recently, I was diagnosed with PTSD, aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It has been mentioned in the past.  But, it’s not officially diagnosed.  This wasn’t brought on by just one incident.  It has taken a lifetime of injustice, abuse, and plain old rotten behavior by those people around me whom I trusted the most to put me here.

The diagnosis, along with other things that are coming together in such a way that I have been found to be ‘disabled’ by this syndrome.  Putting the pieces together, I can look back and tell you that I have had PTSD nearly my whole entire life.  But, life has been like a big stack of pancakes (not sweet, nor yummy most the time) in that, character after character has heaped more abuse on top of that muck that was already there.

I’ve spent years in and out of therapy trying to unravel the mess.  To put it all in its place. To come to terms with people who were not who they claim to be, to put certain scenes from life into some kind of order that makes sense.  The problem is that when a person becomes a parent, and then they can see life from the perspective of the child and the parent–then you really start questioning.  Or at least I did, why in the world did all of this happen to me? And am I so different than the rest of the world?  My answer to myself is actually pretty sad – no, I’m not so very different.  It’s time that actions that can be defined as child abuse, domestic violence, etc. to be shelved permanetly.  There is no room in our world for such hurt.  No one deserves to be torn, permanantly wreaked, a life spent in upheaval because they grew up believing that violence was a normal event.

This is a coming out in some ways.  To tell it how it really is, was, etc.  A day of reckoning for some who will probably wish I’d just die or at least shut my mouth.  But, as bad as this might be for them, it’s not really about them. It’s about me, it’s about stopping the depression. It’s about halting the memory problems.  It’s about slowing down or ridding myself of OCD behaviors.  It’s about some consistently good nights sleep.  It’s about not avoiding a place, or a person, or an event that might remind me of some prior abuses. It’s about not crying anymore, not hiding anymore — it’s about NOT BEING A VICTIM for the rest of my life.

So, if you are a character from *MY* story and are reading this and you don’t like it, look elsewhere for your entertainment.  I am not going to stop.  This is about me, and NOT about YOU!  I’m sure most of what I will say will be denied.  That’s ok.  It’s all between me, you, and our maker.  It will all work out in the end.  I soooo believe in karma!

I grew up hearing my mother bragging more than one time about how I, at age 2 years of age (or so), made the statement that  I “loved my father, but did not like him.”  What she was so pleased about was that I was able to distinguish the difference between love and like at such a young age.   Being a mother myself, if my child came to me and said such thing, I’m afraid I would have to ask my child why they feel that way.  I don’t see it as anything to brag about. I see it as an expression of hurt. ” What did daddy do that hurt you, honey?  Why do you not like daddy?”  That would have been the more proper response in my not so humble opinion. But, I will cut my mother some slack on this one.  And it’s a major one: I am her oldest child.  Because I came first, she gets to make all her mistakes with me.  What I can’t cut her slack on is the mistakes that came later, and her lack of ownership of her part of the ‘drama’.

For those of you who do not know me, I was born in 1962 in the San Francisco Bay area.  I was born and raised in the “East Bay” — and according to my father, in Northern California which for as long as I can remember was supposed to be becoming it’s own state, as Northern Californians are not so fond of those from Southern California. The town I grew up in was a small town amongst the huge towns, situated on one leg of a triangle that is made up of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose at each point.  No matter where you went there were people.  In a place like this you learned to be alone in a crowd when needed.

I loved my little home town.  When I was little Newark was still a railroad town.  Proof of that could be heard every day several times. The train tracks ran right through our subdivision and out towards the Bay and over a bridge to Palo Alto.   Our house was the fourth lot away from the train tracks.  When the trains blew their whistle there was no denying that this massive iron horse was galloping through our world.  Later, when I was in high school, I’d often walk home from school, and I’d follow the tracks home — picking up rock salt that fell off the cars to suck on, and keeping my eyes open for railroad spikes.  For some reason, I could not tell you why, I treasured those spikes!  Rock salt fell off the cars because salt was hauled in from the nearby salt ponds, and then distributed back out to customers who needed it via train, or truck.  I lived very, very near to the salt ponds and to the refineries where at that time Leslie Salt and Morton Salt made the mineral into differing products for business and home life.  Leslie Salt was eventually bought out by Cargill.  By that time, my sister was working for them.

There were good times growing up on Spruce Street  in Newark.  There were also bad times, and scary times.  The very first time that violence struck that I remember is when I was still very little.  My guess is that I am remembering more than one fight between my parents.   It’s more like a dream than a memory, because I can remember watching the dishes that dad was throwing over my head from his perspective.  But, I can also remember looking up and seeing the bursting dishes break over my head.  My sister, was still in a stroller.  Mom was taking us somewhere.  Dad was very angry.

Maybe mom was thinking about leaving my dad.  I would not have blamed her.  I do remember hanging on my fathers knee and begging him not to hurt mommy.  Of course, I was not the object of attention- mom was the one who was getting the beating that time.  She most definately had good reasons to leave him.

Those are the only two examples of violence in my very early years that I remember. I do not know why they stuck in my brain.  I do not know if these are the exact traumas that caused my PTSD, but I know they have to be part of it.

I do not know how old I was.  Old enough to want to watch cartoons. Young enough to still need my ‘cuddle’ blanket with me while I sat on the floor being amused.  This particular day my cuddle blanket was one that was made by my paternal grandmother for me. As I sat watching cartoons I made myself bleed.  I picked a spot on my leg until it bled.  When I realized what I’d done, and at the same time saw my father coming down the hallway towards the room where I sat.  I hid my leg under the blanket.  I left behind a stain.  This blanket is still in my possession.  It still retains the stain that I remember putting there while trying to hide the shame of what I had done to myself.  This is the VERY first memory of me and my OCD a symptom of PTSD.  I may have been 4, 5, or 6 years old.  Either way, the signs have been there all these years!

I suppose that I should be screaming Oh, Daddy Dearest!  What have I done to deserve all this?  Maybe, he just wasn’t ready to be a parent.  Who knows… but, I can look back and see why I loved my father, but did not like him.

And yet, in this story, he might not be the one who created the biggest hurts of all. My guess is that he only set the foundation for behavior that allowed others to hurt me over, and over again.  And just so the world knows, before this man died, he did apologize for what he did.  My father, was who he was, and at least he was honest about it.  What I have found over the years is that this is so generational.  His father was abusive, except in those days — it was just a parent who was doing his parenting!  Normal stuff!!

Part II

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