PTSD – Survivors Guilt

Chained (1)

The older i get the more I realise just how ingrained this is within myself. It’s like looking at yourself and trying to notice the details and not just the overall picture. Within your exterior, hidden in plain sight, are all these details that make up who you are and they are there if you know where to look.

I say exterior, rather than interior, because I am referring to physical clues such as tone of voice and body language. Non-verbal communication.

In my case I have a strong compulsion to punish myself for the slightest wrong that I perceive. Simple things that have caused no distress to others feel to me like they are worthy of reprimand and I MUST be punished.

Recent Example No.1

Last month my wife went on a foreign holiday with her sister for a few days. This holiday had been planned for months but only booked a matter of weeks before the actual departure. I was invited as well but I declined for practical reasons and I also saw an opportunity to spend some time doing some things I always wanted to do but couldn’t whilst my wife was here. Nothing bad, just spending some time up the coast at night (ref Kinbane Castle).

The next day, I decided to watch a couple of DVDs and to have a few drinks and let my guard and defences down. It was during this period that my wife and her sister text to ask me what I was up to and I replied via FB messenger that I was sitting naked having a few drinks and beginning to feel tipsy (I don’t know why I said this as I was sitting fully clothed) and I suddenly got a phone-call from my sister-in-law saying that my last message was sent on a group chat and that I should delete it ASAP.

Too late; I received a reply from someone who was not meant to see that message saying ‘TMI’. I deleted my message right there and then but the damage had been done. My sudden concern turned to embarrassment, even though there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Unfortunately this proved to be a perfect storm as not only was I starting to feel intoxicated, I also hadn’t taken my meds the day before nor on this night in question, and my embarrassment quickly turned to anger.

Suddenly, and without hesitation, I sunk my teeth into my left arm and bit myself hard enough to make my teeth ache in my gums. In an instant the alcohol that I was using to lower my guard was now my weapon of choice to further self-harm. I knew I would be sore and there was a possibility that I may have a rough night ahead of me, but I didn’t care and I felt like it was something I deserved as I was such an idiot for not being more careful about where I send my messages.

This is like the time when my dad asked me if I wanted to move to Antrim a few years before he was murdered and I said no. I know the names of the people who murdered him and I know mine is not counted amongst them and never will be.

I know I was not to blame for his death; but survivors guilt leaves its own scars and this is one of them.

I know I am being irrational in that I have nothing to feel guilty about. I know I need to stop punishing myself for every slight I do. I know I need to stop letting others make me feel guilty. I know I need to stop treating myself so badly and I know I need to stop self-harming. I know I am a nice guy with a good heart who is caring and compassionate.

But I also know that I hold myself partly to blame and that as I cannot punish the people who killed him, I CAN punish myself as the nearest substitute.

I also know that after 30+ years I need to stop this destructive behaviour as the only person I am hurting is myself…but I can’t help it. It feels wrong if I don’t punish myself; like I am letting the guilty walk free.

Recent Example No.2

I was driving home one late afternoon and I saw the lights ahead of me turning from green to yellow. I knew in a second or 2 they would be red and I need to make a decision NOW as to what action I need to take. Do I have enough time to stop safely? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I hit the accelerator and saw the lights change from yellow to red just before I reached them. I had just went through a red light.

FUCK! STUPID STUPID BASTARD!!!

My wife had to calm me down because I didn’t cause an accident and I wasn’t caught by the authorities and I was starting to over-react in a big way over something so simple that it may go unnoticed by other people or it is the kind of thing people do all the time.

It’s what I do and whilst I can override these instincts some times…others lead me to some sort of self-harm.

I try, internally, to make them feel better by punishing myself for their wrongs rather than my own. I feel like I take upon my shoulders all the weight and troubles of the world because this is what I have been doing most of my life and, whilst it is entirely illogical, it is something I feel I am compelled to do.

I am just too bloody nice and too caring 😦

 

 

Anger

nuclear-bomb-dirty-smallThis is a completely natural emotion to feel. It keeps us safe when we feel threatened, increases respiratory rate flooding the blood with oxygen and releasing adrenaline and our bodies natural painkillers; in preparation for either attacking a danger or running away from it – flight or fight.

I have some difficulty with this particular emotion as it conflicts with some of my personality traits in that I am not an aggressive person and I do what I can to avoid conflict and try to deescalate any increasingly hostile situation which life throws at me.

I have seen people get angry and loose their temper with people who are only doing their job or they get so engrossed and passionate about a sport that they easily take offence at anyone who disagrees with their view.

Anger also has its place within our society. Soldiers, martial artists, sports; any sort of situation where we are competing against or in conflict with another person and anger is useful in a controlled way as it improves our performance, increases our pain threshold and enables us to go that little bit further…or in the case of military personnel, helps keep them alive.

For me its different as it conflicts with my personality. I hate being angry. I don’t find it to be a pleasant emotion and it makes it easy to loose control of a situation and react negatively. But then again, that rush of endorphins flooding my body and increasing my confidence can be exhilarating lol.

Sadly my anger often times results in self-harm and emotional pain that’s almost beyond endurance. 

I’ve spent years learning to be on the lookout for warning signs that I am starting to get angry and as a result my anger rarely sneaks up on me. There are usually early warning signals. Maybe I am feeling more irritable than normal or I feel that adrenaline starting to be pumped into my blood and my breathing increases. I also use my eyes, ears and mind to assess what is going on in my surroundings to see what the stimulus is that could be impacting negatively on my emotional state.

In the meantime, having had these early warning systems being triggered, I immediately focus on my breathing to try to calm down. Deep breath in… hold… and slowly release. Repeat as often as is needed. I also take myself out of and away from any situation that is causing this level of distress. 

Sadly we all have a breaking point. I’ve found myself in situations where I need to have that physical release of energy and I usually end up punching a wall and damaging my knuckles or biting my arm until my teeth hurt all the way to their roots. 

This is a controlled, and destructive, release as I will NOT take my anger out on ANYONE as I don’t believe this is productive. And I rarely find myself in situations where my safety is in question. I am always on the lookout for an alternative to a physical confrontation. I pose a danger to myself, but not to others.

But like I said, we all have our limits and even mine can be tested to the extreme…

Many years ago I remember one night when I was supposed to be staying with a friend in their flat. They had a visitor from Scotland over and the 3 of us were supposed to be going to a fancy dress party. I had my dads leather jacket and was going to go as John Travolta from Greese. 

The situation that night took an unexpected turn before we even left the flat. My friends visitor had begun drinking and, having been informed somewhat of my past, he began questioning me about my experiences. I wasn’t happy about this and refused to answer. But the questions kept coming and were becoming more aggressive in nature. 

I could feel those familiar warning signs being triggered and I was becoming concerned. I began to employ calming breathing techniques. As the minutes went by the questioning changed and this visitor began to ask before demanding to try on my dads jacket. This to me would be the equivalent of trying on his skin and desecrating his memory.

I looked to my friend for help and asked them to help; but my pleas were ignored whilst they laughed.

I had to get out of there before I snapped. I began to pack up and was being told to stay by my friend whilst being called a ‘chicken’ and a ‘little boy’ by this visitor. 

Stay?

Go?

Stay?

Nah, fuck this, if I don’t get out of here I am going to loose my shit!

It took several trips to remove all of my belonging from the flat, but despite now being outside and away from these idiots, I was barely in control. I was physically shaking with rage.

Sadly, I seem to have somewhat of a delayed reaction in that even when I was finally out of that flat, my anger was actually increasing as the gravity of the situation began to fully catch up with me.

All I wanted to do was to kick a bin, but I didn’t do this in case the neighbours heard and began to ask questions.

I walked to my car, determined to drive away. I also knew that as soon as I got behind the wheel, this would not be safe and I could very likely end up in an accident or hitting someone; but such was the heat of my anger I decided to be selfish and not care about other people. With the distress I was feeling I just didn’t care about myself or others.

I think something must have clicked with my friend because they came out and grabbed the keys from my hand and threw them away before shoving me away from the car. I was so so close to hitting them. I wanted to. I felt justified in throwing that punch.

But the morals my parents instilled in me as a child came to the surface and they were my last line of defence.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted the pain to stop. Emotionally I was in agony and just wanted the pain to go away. And I will admit that had I gotten into the car in this state, suicide was most definitely an option I was actively considering.

Fortunately my friends shove, when combined with my own constant calming techniques, did the trick. I calmed down just enough to regain my desire to not do anything stupid. 

After a few minutes my anger had cooled from 100C to 98C. Still far from being safe and calm, but cool enough to regain that valuable control of my mind and actions that I so desired.

I still left. I drove away angry and alone, but now no longer carelessly so. I don’t remember where I went but as I am here writing this today, I clearly got there safely lol.

Just a Thought…

analysis blackboard board bubble
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After a long dry period of warm sunshine during which time we spend many a day going for walks or laying about and basking in the heat when we get the chance, it is easy to forget the cleansing affect a downpour can have, especially early in the morning just after sun rise.

The leaves on the trees open up and the air feels fresher and is filled with the smells of nature, as if the earth has just awoken from a slumber and is now stretching and readying for the day ahead.

As I drive towards my place of work I see a layer of cloud resting on Cave Hill like a veil, partially cloaking the mountain from view. The memory of a once occupied ancient fort perched atop and now in ruins, returns to my consciousness and I can’t help but wonder about the thoughts of the former inhabitants of this ancient land and what it would have been like to be amongst them on a morning such as this, overlooking what would become Belfast.

Looking out to the shore as I drive along continuing my journey, the high tide of the sea is filled with hundreds of seabirds all resting on the gentle movements of an otherwise apparently calm sea.

Occasionally I catch a glimpse of an upturned bird seconds before it disappears below the surface of the water in search of a tasty marine meal before resurfacing like a bobbing cork.

The sound of the rain against my windscreen pulls my thoughts out of their daydream and, with a rush, all the sounds of traffic associated with modern life rush to greet my ears.

This entire time, which may only have been a few seconds, my eyes have been staying alert to the possible dangers of the road which accompany 21st Century living.

When I have a few quiet moments at work to reflect on today’s car journey, my thoughts once again return to the past.

The Norman Castle which has stood ever vigilant over the Lough for nearly 800 years now stands out amidst the modern world. It’s presence never waning and constantly serving as a reminder of where we came from and with closer thought, of battles fought and won. Brave warriors throughout the centuries fighting to survive countless savage and bloody battles.

I often wonder what it would have been like to have lived during the time of its construction. How different would Carrickfergus have been and looked. What remains today of that ancient landscape that is still recognisable today? Some of the town streets have barely altered their path from the Medieval period during which they were first marked out. The town walls still stand just as imposing as ever, though now the threat has passed and their defensive purpose now rendered obsolete; they remind us of a more violent time during which they were very much needed and actively used.

Along the Marine Highway still stands the original sea wall marking a shoreline that was still in existence 100yrs ago. The main road and associated gardens now occupy land that was once owned by the sea and reclaimed at the hand of man in an effort to keep up with the ever changing and evolving society in which we now live.

The full moon and stars of our own galaxy would shine like billions of fairy lights hung high in the night’s curtain, brighter and more startling in ways that there are few opportunities to observe in today’s world of light pollution, which shields their glory from view.

Still, we must carry on the traditions of old laid down by our ancestors, in the best manner appropriate for the outcome that we seek to achieve.

We find ways to incorporate our love of the Goddess and God into our everyday life and each environment in which we find ourselves.

And all we have to do to reconnect with nature is to go for a walk and feel the same wind, sun and rain upon our bodies as did our ancestors before us and become at one with them and with the spirits of the earth and sky.