C-PTSD and Starting Over-With a Guest Appearance by Shame
Been Here, Done That
March 29, 2022
Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with Post-Traumatic Stress. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. Well, the handwriting is on the wall and the future seems to be well in place. At the ripe old age of 70 years, I am starting over once again. I sure hope this is the last time. These transitions really take it out of me. Let me tell you, climbing out of denial and into the reality of the situation is never a pleasant experience. It is usually filled with second guessing myself, processing mountains of grief and resolving my fear of the unknown future.
Before I begin, I want to thank my sponsor, Out of My Mind Art at www.outofmymindart.com. The Etsy shop that is as charming as the artist himself. Jajaja. No, seriously, go check it out. It will be appreciated by everyone here.
I’ve said it before, I function best when in a mutually supportive partnership. That is, until the wheels come off the cart. Then, I spend way too much energy trying to get the wheels on the cart and back on the road. Most of the time these experiences feel like they are out of my control and usually, it is not me, who breaks it off. I realize now that I have tried and tried and tried to make an impossible situation, possible. This time, it is different. I’m the one who pulled the plug and what is now clear for me, it doesn’t matter who ends the relationship. For me, it is still a heart-crushing experience.
You would think I would be used to these transitions, but oddly enough, each time my relationship has ruptured and bled to death, I have crashed and burned. Then, I become a different person. I’m a different person this time than I was the last time, and I am different from the time before that and beyond to infinity. These transitions continue to be excruciatingly difficult for me and making things even worse, I’m 70 fucking years old. It was not in my plans to end up single again, but nevertheless, here I am, single, yet not divorced, again. Hopefully for the last time. I seriously cannot continue to do this. I can’t continue to implode in my intimate relationships. I just can’t do it any longer. Who can blame me? These experiences are exhausting, and I am spent. I am empty and I am tired.
So, what do I do? I create a podcast and share my story with the hope of inspiring you to radically change the way you look at yourself and the world you inhabit. What works for me may not work for you. But it may be worth it to explore what may work for you. In time, you will find your path and then you can take it from there. This is not easy for anyone. I don’t know about you, but I have long history of fucking things up for myself, mostly due to my ignorance. I lacked the awareness that I was living without the knowledge of the impact my family of origin had upon me and my development. I just did not understand the gigantic effect it had on me.
When I realized I had Complex Post-Traumatic Stress, it was a real eye-opener. Actually, it was more like a 3-Alarm fire, a category 5 hurricane and a 9.6 earthquake happening at the same time. Fuck, I am still vibrating from the moment I realized I had CPTSD. My first thought was like, “Great, doesn’t that take the cake?” I was not surprised, because the evidence has been mounting for years until it finally reached the tipping point, and I could no longer deny the truth. It took me a long, long time to put 2 +2 together but hey, what can I say? I not the sharpest tack in the box. I am just grateful that I now know this sad fact about my life experiences.
I feel fortunate for not being flooded with live memories of the abuse I must have experienced, and I don’t particularly care to know what they were, either. My body knows and that is good enough for me. Besides, I don’t believe it serves any purpose to monkey around in these painful experiences. I have lived with the pain all of my life and now is the time to let go of that pain. Heal my childhood wounds and grow into the person I was always meant to be. So, what, if it took as long as it did. I am grateful to be here, in this moment with my current awareness. There is nothing I can do to change the past, regardless of what resides there, I can alter my perceptions of the world and respond in healthier ways. I can begin to see the world as it is, unfiltered by my family history and the resulting beliefs. It is up to me to create this new vision that includes compassion, harmony, and love. None of which were available growing up in an incest family. Not in any real sense.
So, here I am, living in a cabina on a hill in Costa Rica. Now what? I know I need to move forward and at the same time I need to be conscious of my past misjudgments and my past mistakes and forge a new perspective of myself and my purpose in this world. For years, people have told me to tell my story but even with this encouragement, it has taken all of my 70 years to get to this point where I am clear enough to look at my life with empathy and compassion. I am no different than anyone else when it comes to this monumental task we all face. Each of us has a story that needs to be told and for much of our lives we’ve been told to keep quiet and don’t rock the boat.
I don’t know if I am rocking the boat, given that I am pretty much the lone survivor of my branch of the family tree. Nobody else exists and if they did, they are doing a very good job of staying under the radar. There is virtually nothing online about any of my siblings and my parents. Invisible was a good look for them, and they preferred this way. Too bad I showed up and spoiled their plans. Like I said, they killed me off decades ago and for what it is worth, I have managed to outlive the entire ratty crew. It’s a very hollow victory, but a victory none-the-less. I am grateful for the time I have left, and I hope to take advantage of the fact that I am ambulatory and in relatively good health. Knock on wood.
When I first started this blog, I knew I had a lot to offer my listeners. Besides, I like to talk about myself, and I like to help people. If talking about myself, can help others, then, hell, why not give it a shot. Those of you who have played around with this medium know what I am talking about. Who me? What do I have to offer others by doing a podcast? How can my miserable life be of any help to anyone else? Heck, I have had trouble helping myself way too many times. Nevertheless, I trudge forward. I know I have been really inconsistent over the past couple of months, and I chalk it up to the healing process. I know doing this blog is a therapeutic activity and hopefully, listening to me drone on and on will have a healing impact upon you. I can only do what I can do, and I can do this. I can podcast. I can share. And I can heal. If I can do it, so can you.
I don’t mean you have to purge your blood, sweat and tears in the form of a podcast, but you have unique talents that will take good care of you when you recognize and nurture that part of you that is deserving. And, if you ask me, each and every one of you are fully deserving of a life well lived. What the hell does that mean, a life well lived? I am just now beginning to figure that out after 7 decades on this little blue dot in the cosmos. I am just now awakening to the consciousness has been sleeping for the vast majority of my life. Sure, there were glimpses of my true self here and there over time, but it seems to me, many of the puzzle pieces are just now falling into place.
At times life is like the game show, Wheel of Fortune where each day you spin the wheel, and it goes round and round and round and stops at the precise location that moves you forward in this silly game of life. If you are not familiar with this game show, then you have been living under a rock. The object of the game is to identify a phrase or a word while earning money by spinning the wheel and buying letters. Eventually there are enough panels identified to make a reasonable guess as to the solution of the puzzle. It’s really a lot of fun and it's a great audience participation game as well. I remember competing with both contestants by calling out the answer before they did. My grandmother loved the show.
Anyway, Wheel of Fortune is just a metaphor for what life is like in my world. Lately it is a daily struggle to solve the puzzle by trying my luck at whatever that may be. For me, the puzzle was really puzzling, and it took me all of these years to realize that my puzzle changed all the time. At times, reads, “Persistence Pays Off” and at other times it reads, “How Much More of This Are You Going to Take?” and at still other times it reads, “Good Job Ray, You Are Getting Warm.” This keeps me motivated to keep going forward at those times when I feel overwhelmed and defeated. These little puzzles in my life get my attention and remind me of the nefarious ways of the world. They remind me that I am on a continuous learning curve and there is no end to the learning, only a steepening of the curve.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, starting over, again. I can’t really put my finger on the reason I am having such difficultly moving forward. I have been really stuck for much longer than I care to think about. It’s like the movie, “Ground Hogs Day” with Bill Murray where he relives the same day over and over and over until he figures it out. In fact, I need to watch this film again because I don’t recall what happened to get him out of that rut. Given that it is a romantic comedy, the most obvious intervention would be love. And I would not mind that one teensy-weensy little bit.
I am not naïve, at least not when it come to love. I have loved many times in my life, and I have lost many times in my life. Baseball players have a better batting average than me when it comes to love, and I have struck out many more times than I have hit a home run at this point in my life. Oh sure, I would love to be in a loving relationship, but I am terrified of being hurt again or hurting someone else again. After all, I do have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress and all of you know that under certain circumstances, I can lose all emotional control and this, my friends, is not a pretty picture.
Besides, I need to get back to a homeostasis for myself before I can even present myself as an available partner and thanks to this podcast and you listeners, I have hopes that one day this need will be actualized. Until then, I need to take it one day at a time. I need to focus on bringing the splintered off parts of myself back together. I need to recreate an image that reflects my true self. Someone, I am just now, getting to know.
Overall, I’m a good guy. I have compassion and empathy for others. I listen with the intent to understand, and I enjoy cooking. I don’t like a messy house, but I can tolerate an unmade bed for weeks at a time. I strive to be kind and supportive whenever I am with others, and I am patient with children and animals.
I am also far from perfect. I can get overwhelmed easily and at times words will fall out of my mouth that has the room gasping for air. I’ve become somewhat of a loner, and I know that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I am Ray. I am human and I am doing the best that I can. Just like you. You may be starting over in your life as well and this may also be the gazillionth time you have started over. You may feel like a failure, a loser and you may believe that you are doomed to a lifetime of pain, grief, and sorrow. I assure you; you are not doomed. But the first thing you need to do is throw away the old template, the one your inherited from your families and then, create a new template for your life.
Nobody can do this by winging it. You must have a plan. No plan, no progress. This has been my main issue all my life. At those times when I needed to make radical changes in my life, I simply chose the easy way out. I pretended to be doing things differently and as you well know, you cannot pretend your way into a new and vibrant life. It takes a plan, some perseverance, and a lot of patience if you are going to turn your life around. Otherwise, you will simply spin your wheels and get nowhere. You need to know where you are going in order to get there. So, pick a place or a state of mind where you want to live. It doesn’t really matter if you are in Lubbock, Texas or Sarasota, Florida because the key is to change your state of mind. Remember that expression, “No matter where you go, there you are.” This is not bullshit. This is what it is, and you can move a hundred times, but if you don’t change your state of mind then you will always end up in the same place you always end up. Regardless of your physical location.
I used to do a talk called, “Change Your Mind and Change Your Life” where I spoke to the need for flexibility and elasticity in our thinking. Rigid thinking creates rigid behavior, and everyone knows that the more rigid something is, the less flexible it is. And the less flexible one is, the more conflict and struggle they experience in life. The purpose of these talks was to help people recognize their own patterns of stuck thinking while offering them a reliable resolution to the problem. In general, I advocated using a Cognitive-Behavioral approach to Changing Your Mind. Once you recognized the troublesome cognitions, then you can actively take steps to change the way you think about yourself and your circumstances.
It can be as simple as changing a single word in a thought, like changing “Can’t” to “Can” or changing “Should” to “Choose”. The idea is to help people disentangle from their pattern of shameful thinking and by doing these simple interventions regularly you can build into your mind a means to counter the experience of making mistakes or being emotionally overwhelmed. We all need help at these times. We are all vulnerable to shame if we do not actively express it. That is what shame does. Shame compels us to hide where on the other hand, guilt, compels us to expose ourselves and make amends for the mistake we made. Guilt is about the behavior and shame is about the person.
Shame based people feel broken, inadequate, and helpless. This leads to isolating oneself which leads to even deeper levels of shame. Also, people do not know how to respond to another when they express their shame. The first impulse is to deny that the person even feels the way they feel. “Oh, you don’t really feel that way.” Or “There is nothing to be ashamed about.” That may be true for the listener, but it is not true for the speaker. When people express their shame, it is a rarity in the first place. In the second place they are being really courageous by expressing it. The best thing you can say to a person who is expressing their shame is, “Please, tell me more.”
This is powerful, you have now given them permission to continue expressing their shame. This creates an amazing opportunity for that person to unload more shame and the less shame we tote around with us, the better off we all are, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. Shame is a real fuck-turd. I know this because I have held onto shame for most of my life and I have worked hard to release the shame I have released to date. I have also spent a career helping people identify and change their shaming thought patterns. This is very rewarding work, but it is mentally strenuous work, not just for the patient, but for the clinician as well.
As a clinician it is imperative that my stuff doesn’t get mixed up with my client’s stuff. That is a recipe for disaster. Therefore, it is critical to have good boundaries when working in this field. It is easy to fall into a negative alliance. Clients want you to join forces with them to tag-team the object of their shame. It is easier for them to do this, than to release the shame. The reason for this is that shame has been a part of all human experience since the birth of dawn. As soon as child is born, it is thrown into a culture where the principle means of social control is guilt and shame. One being, much healthier than the other.
If your family was a shame-base family system, then you had no choice, but to take on the intergenerational accumulation of shame that has been haunting your family for generations. You can’t help it. When you are swimming around in a soup of waste material, then you are going to emerge smelling like waste material. Take my word for it. I’ve been there many, many times.
I am still fighting with shame. I continue to struggle with its negative energy and esteem draining forces. It sucks, and it serves no healthy function. Shame is a feeling that gets injected by our families and our culture. Shame is powerful. You can compare shame and guilt by comparing getting struck with a whip or being tickled with a feather. Guilt is constructive. Guilt compels you to make amends. To atone for your mistake while on the other hand, shame is destructive. It tears at the heart of the very essence of your character. Healthy guilt is simply a reminder that we have made a mistake. Toxic shame, on the other hand is a reminder that we ARE the mistake. I cringe, just saying it.
I don’t know how I landed on the shame button, but that’s enough talking about it. What is important to talk about is releasing that shame and rendering it impotent in your life. It’s going to take a lot of courage and a lot of self-reflection and a lot of self-love. Shame, more than likely had already corrupted your self-perception, tainting it with a bitter stain upon your soul. I know that sounds dramatic, but the slippery slope of shame is steep, and it is critical to dig your heels in and pull yourself out of the abyss. Only you can do this, but you don’t need to do alone. It is best to have a trustworthy system of support.
Most people don’t like talking about their shame. Hell, people have almost zero tolerance to hearing someone expressing their shame. It is very uncomfortable for people to listen to the lowest moments of someone’s life. But to do this is a true act of love and kindness. Listening to their pain and acknowledging their shame is a very powerful reconstructive act. It has enormous benefits to the people you lend your ear to. I know this because I have spent countless hours doing exactly that. Listening and acknowledging the shame of others. The remarkable thing about shame is that it wants to stay underground, but the moment light is shed upon your shame, the shame diminishes, and you are one step closer to healing.
Starting over means that you need to release the old and the outdated and the obsolete in your life. Because shame is such a sticky emotion it has bound you to these preconceived ideas and you have identified with them. You need to say, “Fuck You!” to the shame that binds you. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.” I know you’re in there and I am going to pry you out of the nooks and crannies of my soul and free myself from your delusional powers. I am going to free myself of the shame that binds me and by freeing myself, I move forward into the life I am meant to live. It’s better late than never.
The process is humbling because we have built very strong walls to protect themselves and these walls are heavily fortified and guarded. Plan on it being quite a struggle. It won’t be easy, but you will be happier to the degree you able to release that shame. You will need to forgive yourself for accepting the shame in the first place and you will need to comfort yourself in your grief. You cannot do this on your own. Your shame MUST be witnessed, validated, and acknowledged. That’s the bitch about shame. It compels you to keep it in when the antidote to shame; is the expression of it. This will humble you and you may think the pain is not worth it, but it is.
The humbler you become, the more shame you are able to release. Humility is the conscious act of allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the eyes of another. It is a giant shame buster, humility is. Shame and ego work together to maintain control and they will not like it when you start to wrestle control out of their hands. They will not like it one little bit, so be prepared for a lot of push back which means you need to push right back even harder if you want to escape that shame-based purgatory. First you purge, then you throw that shame as far as your metaphorical arm can throw it. Get rid of it. Forgive yourself and go forward. Prepare yourself for the next encounter with shame because there will be more. For now, take a moment and savor that part of you that can now be expressed. Savor it and sit with it. Let it fill the space vacated by the shame.
I didn’t really expect to take this turn onto the highway of shame, but I did, so I went with it. Hopefully it will inspire you to confront the shame that is binding you. A good resource to begin with is “Healing the Shame that Binds You” by John Bradshaw. Beyond that, anything by Brené Brown. She has some wonderful things to share with you about shame and its toxic legacy. I wish you all the best in your own personal battle with this deadly state of being. Thank you for being there.
Well, there you go. You have wasted another 30 minutes of your time listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. I want to thank you for lending me your ear and hopefully you will be inspired to create your own plan for the life you are meant to be living. Perhaps you will be inspired to share this podcast with other whom you feel would benefit. Lastly, I want to thank my sponsor, Out of My Mind Art at www.outofmymindart.com. If you are a little low on whimsy and need a little pick-me-up, then go check out my wide selection of Magic Wands, Magical Mobiles and Fascinating Flingers.
Thanks again for being here and until the next time, be courageous, be strong and be kind. I will catch you later. Bye.