Saturday, Mar 28, 2020

Planet Earth

Recently, I came to the undeniable conclusion that I’ve been suffering from undiagnosed PTSD from a long string of adverse experiences in childhood. Years ago, a therapist warned me that I’d experienced every major form of abuse, including physical and emotional neglect. 

Additionally, we moved at least once a year (non-military) so I changed schools 17 times in 12 years of primary education. According to this therapist, I had a “mountain of personal work to do” and that my case was “not typical.”

Well, that was a horseshit comment that I attribute, in part, to this therapist’s desire to get a long-term client who doubled as a cash cow. Seriously, it’s a dirty little secret in the mental health community. Some therapists, some of the time, tell you what they believe will keep you coming back for more. I worked as a mental health counselor for 10 years. There’s a whole underworld there.

Whether or not I’m a poster boy for complex PTSD who needs a lifetime of therapy just to cope, I cannot sit here and deny the impact of it all. I’m 50-ish, not 25. In our 20’s we have to just push through all the crap and figure out how to be viable in the world. At 50, assuming we’ve achieved that viability, among other things, it’s appropriate to look back and finish any unfinished business.

As I do so, I am realizing the heavy burden I’ve been carrying – and not merely the one around my waist.

Coming into BFFM, I wonder how people here view PTSD and the self-medicating that often accompanies it, be it with food or drug or some other activity. 

I’ve found that people view such things in a variety of ways. There’s the crowd that tells you to get over yourself, suck it up and move on. Stop being such a baby. The past is in the past. 

Of course, this is ignorant. With PTSD, the past is definitely NOT in the past, although we hope beyond hope that it will be one day.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who appear to cling to their diagnosis as if it were a religion. When you suggest they do anything outside their comfort zone; that they are capable of more, they look at you as if you were the very devil. How dare you ask me to do anything that is difficult for someone with my condition!

My perspective on PTSD as it relates to overeating is somewhere in between. PTSD is a significant complication to any weight loss effort. The flashbacks (which come in many forms) are overwhelming. PTSD can make weight loss, which is already difficult, even more challenging! But not impossible. Maybe improbable, as in less likely than if you hadn’t been traumatized and discovered that food is your preferred coping mechanism. 

Coping mechanism is another horseshit term to some. When you think about it, how is that coping? There is no situation in life that overeating can’t make worse. Overeating to self-medicate is like saying, “Wow, I feel like shit, so I’ll go ahead and make myself feel much worse with a good binge!” Nonsense. Eating to self-medicate is an awful remedy.

And don’t call your addiction a “crutch” either. Crutches are helpful tools that help you stay productive when injured. Addiction isn’t a crutch. It’s another injury.  

And no one knows it better than a chronic stress eater. Telling us all about it isn’t that helpful. 

The reality is that some of us are carrying around pent up pain from so long ago that it doesn’t seem rational. We feel crazy or self-indulgent at the prospect admitting it, let alone giving our suffering the legitimacy it deserves. Yet, there it is. When you try to ignore it, the emotional angst comes out in a variety of health-affecting ways, like anger and freakish panic attacks, and undersleeping, and enduring days where you’re living in chronic fight-or-flight physiology. 

This quote by  Bessel van der Kolk sums it up nicely:

Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable. Most [victims] become so upset when they think about the experience that they try to push it out of their minds, trying to act as if nothing happened, and move on. It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability. 

Anyone who becomes conscious of what they’ve been through – what their body has been through – knows what van der Kolk is talking about. 

The icing on this cake is when, after such a long time negotiating the symptoms, they become so familiar that you can’t imagine life without them. A normal, happy life (as you imagine it) becomes a foreign concept. Most of us would choose misery that is familiar over happiness that is foreign. We’re just wired that way. Familiar = safe. Don’t think about that one too long or your head will start to spin.  

So we must rewire.

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