What PTSD Taught Me About Friendship

Having a genuine friend is vital to having a healthy life.  Many studies, as well as life experience, teaches us that friendship is healthy spiritually, physically and emotionally.  I am not talking about people who are acquaintances or people you are friendly to at the office.  I mean a friend who you can tell anything and if they disagree with your thoughts they will not abandon you or be pissed off for years because you told them something that may have offended them.

I have also learned that in order to have good friends you must be a good friend.  The traits of genuine friends are patience, kindness, understanding, deferential treatment, and faithfulness.  Friendship also includes making time for your friend.  In American culture, time is the most precious thing we have.  Making time for friends is a very tangible way to make your relationship stronger and more valuable to both of you.

The need for a friend or friends is universal.  The need to have a genuine friend is not only universal but for those who suffer from PTSD, it is absolutely necessary.  Our trauma came about in the community and our healing must come through the community.  By community, I mean with and around people.  For years I was “locked” away in my head.  Many times I have locked myself away from the community literally. My behavior made it very difficult for me to consistently be a good friend.  I was too busy trying to stay alive in the midst of never ceasing paranoia and hypervigilance. At some point, we must be willing to walk into the fear and a friend will walk through it with you.  I believe it is wise for the PTSD sufferer to be honest with their friends and let them know not only what is going on with you but what they can expect vis-a-vis your PTSD and how they can help you.  If you suffer flashbacks or temporary loss of rationality this is even more important.  This isn’t the time to be “independent.”  We cannot heal in isolation.  I also learned that if you want a friend you must be willing to walk through the fear and not give into the temptation to isolate.  Your friend should have permission to gently encourage you to not isolate.  You must choose not ditch them because they are trying to reintroduce you to normal activity.  It is also crucial that your friend understands that sometimes you won’t be able to do the activities that people find so stress-free and common.  Your friend should never judge you.  They must be willing to sit with you as you suffer.  IOften times words are not even necessary.  Just having someone there in silence is often times the best we can do.

I believe it is wise for the PTSD sufferer to be honest with their friends and let them know not only what is going on with you but what they can expect vis-a-vis your PTSD and how they can help you.  If you suffer flashbacks or temporary loss of rationality this is even more important.  This isn’t the time to be “independent.”  We cannot heal in isolation.  I also learned that if you want a friend you must be willing to walk through the fear and not give into the temptation to isolate.  Your friend should have permission to gently encourage you to not isolate.  You must choose not ditch them because they are trying to reintroduce you to normal activity.  It is also crucial that your friend understands that sometimes you won’t be able to do the activities that people find so stress-free and common.  Your friend should never judge you.  They must be willing to sit with you as you suffer.  Often times words are not even necessary.  Just having someone there in silence is often times the best we can do.

It is important for you to be able to be 100% open and honest with your friends.  It is also important to realize that you will most likely run into someone who can’t handle or simply doesn’t have the time or inclination to walk someone through painful and messy healing.  That is ok.  That doesn’t mean that person is bad.  It just means that they become an acquaintance and that is just fine.  Be aware that you may get hurt,  Just do your best to be at peace with all people and simply move on.

I have had the blessing of having an incredibly patient and understanding wife.  My PTSD hurt her.  My PTSD scared her.  My PTSD confused her.  My PTSD angered her.  My PTSD caused her to think differently of herself.  Through all of that PTSD never caused her to quit!!  I will forever owe her a debt that cannot be repaid.  I literally owe her my life.  I also am lucky enough to have another friend in addition to my wife.  My friend has been willing to take my call at all hours.  My friend has often sacrificed his own time and activities so he could be with me.  My friend speaks well of me when I am not there,  he has always had my back.  He knows my entire story.  He is loyal and faithful!

If you are a person of faith then pray that God would bring you such a friend.  If not reach out to someone you trust or to someone you think you can trust.  Those people exist….I promise.

We must also be a good and loyal friend.  You may not be able to function at 100% during your sickness but you can choose to honest, vulnerable, faithful and present to their needs to a degree.

Continue to fight the lie always!

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PTSD is Contagious

It took me years to realize how much having PTSD for 25 years affected the people around me.  Often times the people that I care about the most.  If you are suffering from PTSD I assure you in addition to the harm that this sickness causes you that it is hurting your friends and family.  Anyone who is in close proximity to you will be affected by your PTSD.  Sorry, I don’t want to be a downer but I do want to encourage you to seek treatment so you can get better, live in peace and begin the inventory of personal relationships that may need healing.  This is very difficult and often you may not see the damage your sickness has caused.  The difficulty in seeing the damage caused by your sickness is another reason to seek the guidance of a therapist who is trained AND experienced in treating trauma victims.

Did you know PTSD is contagious?  It is true.  You cannot catch PTSD from someone sneezing or blowing their nose and not washing their hands.  However, those nearest to you can “catch” PTSD from you due to your behavior.  Will, they catch a serious case of PTSD?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is almost assured that they will be damaged emotionally.  As you begin to get better and receive healing from PTSD it becomes a little easier to see the damage you have caused to others.

I don’t want to hit you over the head with this fact but simply to cause all those with PTSD to understand that many other people are affected by how PTSD causes you to live your life.  This can be a friend or group of friends that after inviting you to many functions without you showing up simply stop inviting you or having any hope that you will ever show up.  I understand that this is because you are sick with PTSD and the thought of going out into an uncontrolled environment scares the shit out of you.  The problem is, however, those people probably do not understand that this is the reason why.  Almost every relationship you have will bear some of the damage that PTSD causes.  Your coworkers, friends, family members, etc.

My PTSD has damaged my relationship with my children.  During my EMDR treatment, I went to both of my kids and explained why I had been such an asshole so many times. They deserved an explanation for my distant and seemingly uncaring attitude.  Repairing these relationships takes time and intense effort on your part.  My PTSD affected my beautiful wife in a huge way.  Imagine being married to a hyper-vigilant, angry, terrified and distracted person for years and years.  It takes its toll on all of your relationshups.

Here is the good news.  Those relationships can be restored most of the time.  Sadly, not all of the time.  Our responsibility to those we have harmed is, to be honest, and contrite.  We must work consciously and diligently to bring peace and healing to these relationships.  While it is true that some relationships are permanently damaged by this disorder (more accurately an injury to the brain) not all are irreparably harmed.  In fact, I believe that most of those relationships can be repaired and even become stronger. Keep your head up.  Remember you are a survivor.  Face the relationships that need to be repaired with humility, honesty and the firm resolve to own your stuff and work as hard as you can to allow them to heal.  After years of PTSD induced behavior, it may take a while for these relationships and these people to forgive you.  Just as you probably weren’t aware of the damage you were causing the people who were affected may not be fully aware of the scope of the damage that has been done to them.

Let’s move forward and be at peace with everyone if it is at all possible.  Once again remember you are a survivor and after the darkness, the sun does shine…every day.

What PTSD Taught Me About Being Soft

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” T.C.

So, softness is not weakness.  Staying delicate takes courage.  I am not sure who said that originally but I am crediting it to Tommy Chong.  During this series on “What PTSD Has Taught Me” I have done lots of reflecting on the past.  Taking a look back at trauma is difficult.  All of the events that contributed to my PTSD are still in my memory banks.  They will never go away. I am, however able to look at them in the proper perspective.  It is my hope that people who are suffering from PTSD will be able to see that they are survivors!  I heard that for years.  In the midst of having active PTSD,  it is very difficult to believe that you are a survivor, but it is true.  Hang in there and you will see. Never give up.

One of the effects of and common behaviors of people suffering from trauma is to be hard, tough, ruthless, always vigilant, always hyper alert for danger and ready to kick some ass if necessary.  All of these behaviors are normal responses to trauma.  Who, in their right mind would not want to protect themselves after experiencing life-altering trauma?

When I was young I was a happy go lucky kid from southern California.  I was funny, friendly and looked at life as being full of great opportunities and adventure.  However, after my traumatic events, I changed.  I turned into a hyper-vigilant and paranoid man. My love of life had been replaced by anger, fear, and distrust.  I self-medicated with alcohol, pot, cocaine, speed, LSD, and opiates.  Man, I loved the poppy!  I was so angry at myself that I couldn’t stop stuffing substances in a trauma shaped hole that I just became sicker.  I did the best drugs man could make and yet I only got tempory relief from the demons in my head.  As Bono said, I was “stuck in a moment.”  Allow me to say I am not for one second down on people who are using substances to try to ease their pain.  Again, who could blame them?  I also believe (as science is showing us) that some substances, such as cannabis,  help people who suffer from PTSD very much.

I have always been to some extent “soft.”  What I mean by that is that is for my entire life I have been at heart a lover and not a fighter.  I have always desired to resolve issues by talking and not fighting.  I never looked at skills I learned in the army as necessarily good things just necessary.  I cry a lot.  It is easy to move my emotions.  I have never started a fight.  Getting revenge never sat well with me.  I have always been sympathetic to people and empathetic when possible.

I said all of that to say this: those so-called “soft” parts of me are the REAL me. I could have very easily ended the continual abuse I suffered by turning into a violent beast.  It is true.  My humanity stopped me from doing that.  I refused to act like an animal.  I was “soft” and now I glad I am!!!!

Keep fighting whatever the lie is that is torturing you!  Keep looking for people that will help you.  Nurture your “softness” it is what makes you human.

 

How Do I Fight The Lie?

I suffered from severe and advanced PTSD for most of my life.  PTSD nearly cost me my life.  When I was suffering from untreated PTSD I was a walking time bomb.  I was hyper-vigilant, angry, suffered from insomnia, night terrors, etc.  I also would have flashbacks that would affect me in a significant manner for days afterward.  I would be more than happy to share more of my experience if anyone is interested.

One of the first things my therapist taught me was to “Fight The Lie.”  I had no idea what he even meant.  I certainly didn’t know how to practice fighting the lie.  After months of therapy, prayer, support from my friends, family, and wife  I actually know how to the fight the lie and am successful most of the time.

This article (you can find a link at end of post) explains this much more clearly than I can.  Fighting the lie means that when negative, destructive, nagging lies pop in your head we must fight it.  For example, I had to fight a particular lie very often and I still do.  PTSD made me so alert and so hypervigilant that I was in combat mode 24/7/365.  When I started to get better and have enough control over my thoughts to realize when those negative thoughts attacked me I simply answered the lie back verbally.  For example, if my back was turned the back of a restaurant for 20 years I would sit facing the door.  The lie was that I am the only one that can keep me safe.  So, after my therapist told me about fighting the lie I started to practice.  Next time I sat without facing the door I would say out loud “I am safe.  I am not in a threatening position or location.  These folks are simply having a beer and/or getting something to eat.  I am not in danger.  Then I would take many long deep breaths.  After a while, it started to work.

If you are suffering, try to fight the lie.  Realize that with help you can teach your brain to forget.  I don’t think forget is the right word.  There is no way an incredibly traumatic event will ever be erased from your mind however, you can reach a place where you are able to put those thoughts and memories in their proper place.  And they do have a proper place.  Read this article and see if it helps you.  Perhaps you know someone who is suffering and you think this article may help them.  If you do know someone whom you think this can help then please forward it on.  Remember FIGHT THE LIE!!

Here is a link to the article.