C-PTSD and Solitude
The Therapeutic Use of Solitude for Survivors of Complex Trauma
February 20, 2021
I know, I’m late. I missed my self-imposed deadline, but this week has been quite the week and I tell you all about it this week’s episode. I have been craving solitude for a long time which meant, in my case, I needed to be on my own, completely. I have been on my own since November, last year and I am just now beginning to feel grounded.
C-PTSD steals our lives out from under us and we are never given the opportunity to figure out what we want and who we are. This is where solitude comes in. The experience of solitude feeds the heart and soul. Solitude will help anyone, but it is especially powerful in the healing from complex trauma.
Find a way to carve out time, just for yourself. Structure it with self-reflection and deep meditative experiences. Feed and care for yourself. Love yourself back to life. Below are some websites that I hope will expand on this week’s theme, The Therapeutic Use of Solitude for Survivors of Complex Trauma.
The Crappy Childhood Fairy does a lot of really good work and this is the first article of a series focusing on C-PTSD and Isolations. Whether you read her blog or watch her YouTube channel, you are sure to get some help.
This article is from The Atlantic and if you like their magazine, you will like this article by Brent Crane.
Psychology Today published this article by Virginia Thomas Ph.D. focusing on the benefits of solitude. She makes her point by studying teenagers.
The ultimate in floating on the water. Not a boat, not a raft, not a tube, but a sensory deprivation chamber. This could be worth the investment.
C-PTSD and Solitude
The Therapeutic Use of Solitude for Survivors of Complex Trauma
February 20, 2021
Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. For weeks I have been talking about my need for solitude, but I am concerned that I may not have fully talked about what solitude is and what it is not. Today, I’ll be talking about what these terms mean to me, which may or may not have any relevancy to your situation, but I think it will.
I want to apologize for today’s episode being late, but it is not for the lack of effort. Most of my energy this week has been directed towards driving. After 9 months in the shop, I finally got my Subaru Forester back and I am breaking in the new motor. Also, since the car has not been on the road for a year and a half, I needed to get it certified to be safe. I drove to Riteve, but while I was paying the fee, I was told my driver’s license had expired and I could not drive the car through the inspection zone. This was a problem. The license expired in August of 2020, but I never look at it. Damn!
Fortunately, I am followed by angels and behind me in line at the cashier was a masked woman who spoke English and she offered to ask her friend, who was there to drive her car through the inspection because she gets too nervous under these conditions. Her friend was her neighbor. He was a sweet man who did not hesitate to offer his services. I swear, this happens all the time. Everything is good. I pay the inspection fees and wait for my angels to complete their inspection.
When it was my turn, my driver friend and I enter the gauntlet required by Costa Rican law, but upon completion, I learned that the Subaru did not pass. Rats! There was a problem with the muffler, and I had 30 days to fix it. Oh well, such is life. I was a little irritated with my mechanic for not checking out the exhaust system before delivering my car, but it is what it is.
I leave Riteve and drive the 6 kilometers directly to the Cosevi office where I can get my driver’s license renewed. I parked in the shade of a tree and encountered a shirtless man who asked if I was there to get a license. I confirmed that I was and he escorted me to a small kiosk with a cashier and a doctor who interviewed me to determine if I was healthy enough to drive a motor vehicle. I paid 35,000 colones or $58 USD and received an appointment to return the following Wednesday to process the renewal of my license. My plan was to return to Cosevi on Wednesday, get my license renewed, then go to Riteve to get the car inspected for the second time.
Between Friday and Wednesday, my friend, Captain Mike invited me onto his boat for a couple of days sailing. How could I say no? This involved an additional trip to Puntarenas that week and Saturday morning I packed up my overnight stuff and make the trip down the hill once again. Let me tell you a little bit about driving in Costa Rica. The main roads are surprisingly good, but driving from my house in Grifo Alto, it is a snake-like crawl through the mountains and even though the distance is only 62 kilometers or about 39 miles, it takes a good hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half to get there.
If you ever visit Costa Rica, you will soon realize that you just don’t get anywhere in this country fast. Don’t waste your money on cruise control. If it is not the winding roads, it’s the lumbering commercial trucks blocking the road and slowing the traffic. This causes people to become reckless at times and even I am compelled to pass a truck or a Tico, who are notoriously bad drivers, on double yellow lines and/or on a curve. There is virtually no shoulder in the mountain roads so Ticos, if they need to stop, they just stop and park in the middle of the lane. Seriously. It is not unusual to come around a bend stopped in the middle of your lane is an old car with the flasher on and the driver is nowhere to be seen. This happens all the time here, so I tend to drive defensively until I am so frustrated, I am willing to risk a head-on collision to get past an 18-wheeler driving at 5 miles an hour.
By the end of Wednesday, I had driven to Puntarenas 3 times, but the good news is, Captain Mike and I found a muffler shop on Saturday and we had the exhaust system repaired, got a front-end alignment for the same $58. We ate lunch and we were back on the boat with plenty of time to spare as the tide slowly rose. We had an amazing time with some scary assed wind. Scary for me, not for Captain Mike.
I returned to Puntarenas on Wednesday morning, got my license renewed and the Subaru passed the inspection, so I was good to go. I was back home within 4 hours. Needless to say, It was Wednesday and I was really behind the 8-ball when it came to getting my podcast finished before my self-imposed deadline. I knew I wasn’t going to make, so I let it go. That’s alright.
I had to let go and get settled again. Too much busy. Only then will I be able to focus on writing and recording and editing, a process I am loving, and I am happy to be doing at this very moment on Friday morning. Weeks like last week have been kicking my butt lately. I don’t like to have a lot of things on my agenda and this last week really pushed me. I feel good though, everything had a happy ending and I have only one more task to take care of before the Subaru is totally street legal. I was planning to go to Escazú on Friday to take care of the Marchamo (Insurance) sticker. I need to go to Escazú, 39 winding miles away, because there is no insurance office here in Santiago de Puriscal.
Escazú is called Little America and is known to be one of those haughty places, but all the good shopping is there so I make the trek through the mountains once every couple of months to hit up stores like Auto-Mercado and PriceSmart and stock up on the pantry staples. Unfortunately, money’s tight this month so there will not be any bulk shopping until after payday. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, C-PTSD and Solitude.
For most of my life I have had many experiences with solitude and being alone, which I prefer to think of it as being on my own. I know it’s a semantical difference, but it points to the difference between solitude and isolation.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own over the past few months and it feels like I am just beginning to be grounded. I feel better about living with myself and I am feeling more autonomous. This is what solitude is doing for me, but I have to admit a healthy proportion of my alone time is really isolation. There is a good chuck of my week where I just do not want to deal with anyone. That includes store clerks, terrible drivers, and even my friends. I just want to be alone. It’s not a lonely alone, it has a completely different feel to it. There is no pity party because I want to be living alone, but there is not a lot of joy either. It's kind of flat. Do you ever feel like that? In the past this blandness of life has compelled me to try to change it by looking for someone to fill in that void. I am not doing that this time, but the thought of living like this for the rest of my life is not my preferred way of being.
I like being in relationship, but I am becoming more conscious of my poor choices in life when it comes to relationships. This time I am choosing relationship with me over relationship with others. This is real a divergence from the grief and loss mentality that compelled me to seek a source of love outside myself just to comfort me in those lonely times. Nope, no más. I’m taking the bull by the horns and I’m going to wrestle that co-dependent part of myself to the ground and convince him that he is enough. This is easier said than done.
The solitude I am experiencing is not 100% solitude but has good portion of isolations and the self-imposed isolation I experience is not about getting away from anyone, it is mostly a need I have had for a long-time. I am finally taking a good, hard, close look at the person I have become and what I need in relationship and what I can offer in relationship. This makes it’s more of a combination of solitude and isolation intertwined together each supporting the other. The solitude blends into isolation and the isolation blends into solitude. I hope this is making some sense.
Nevertheless, I have plenty of time to myself and that is perfectly alright. That doesn’t mean I don’t get out and socialize. I do but given the nature of social contacts in the COVID-19 era it means that it is usually 1 or 2 people at a time. Mostly lunches, but sometimes there are wonderful weekends, like going sailing this past weekend for instance. It’s amazing what 2 days on a sailboat can do for a person.
My friend, Mike, is British, but he was raised in Kenya and went to boarding schools in England his entire life. We have absolutely nothing in common, but we enjoy each other’s company. He has become a good friend. He is the kind of guy where we can be around each other, but not feel compelled to talk or play some game or whatever. It just so happens he is a sailor and has a sweet 35-foot sailboat that he can’t get enough of and last weekend, he invited me aboard.
We have a wonderful experience each time we sail out into the Gulf of Nicoya. He is a seasoned sailor who has owned sailboats for more than 30 years. He is a brilliant engineer and a masterful seaman. We have a similar bend on politics which probably makes it possible to hang out with each other. He is about a year-and-a-half older than me and lives in Santa Ana, a suburb of San Jose. We met because he and his wife hired my wife and I to housesit a while back and he and I have become fast friends over the past few years. I truly cherish his friendship.
He anchors his boat in Puntarenas and in order to leave his mooring, it has to be high tide. We can’t just get on the boat and go we need to wait until the water level is high enough in order to make it out into the bay. Not a problem. When it was high tide, we fired up the motor and begin the 3-kilometer journey to the bay. You need to be careful because there is only one clear route out of the harbor for sailboats. There are many sandbars that do not have the necessary water depth to pass without being grounded and being grounded is no fun.
He knows the route and owns all of the equipment a well-equipped sailboat should have. You know, a depth finder, wind speed and direction meter as well as communication devices in case of emergency. High tide on Saturday was about 5pm and we arrived at our anchor point in a calm bay near Isla San Lucas just before dark. Isla San Lucas used to be a prison, not unlike Alcatraz, but in Central America. Let’s just say, you wouldn’t want to be in prison in Costa Rica. You really wouldn’t.
I had been to the island before. He and his wife invited us out for a weekend of sailing. One of the sites they wanted us to see was San Lucas Prison. It is now a national park and Mike has known the park rangers for years and we got in for free. We were also allowed to self-tour the prison and parts of the island. Besides the horrifying conditions there was the variety of charcoal pornographic art that was the major theme for graffiti at the prison. There were obviously a number of pretty darn good artists there at one point.
We had a wonderful time. The worst day sailing is better than the best day of pretty much anything else you can think of. Since then, I have been sailing a number of times and each time has been a marvelous adventure, even if we don’t catch any fish. At one point Captain Mike had two sailboats and he needed to sell one of them. He put them both up for sale. It didn’t matter to him which boat sold. He would keep the one that didn’t. His wife is grateful that he sold the older boat named “No Intentions”, a boat I fell in love with while helping him prep it for sale.
The smaller and older sailboat sold first and was purchased by the Costa Rica Sailing Center in the Province of Guanacaste. That meant the boat needed to be delivered, so Captain Mike, a fellow boat owner, and me, set sail for Potrero Bay. It took us 3 days as we navigated the Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. We had a wonderful time and upon arrival were given the VIP treatment. The school was thrilled to have purchased the boat. We had a grand time as there was celebratory mood all night long. At the end of the evening, they ferried us back to “No Intentions” for one last night aboard her. The next day the other boat owner’s husband arrived and drove us back to Puntarenas where our cars were waiting for us.
Being on the water is therapeutic for me whether its floating in a tube in a swimming pool, tubing down the Boise River, whitewater rafting in California and the Grand Canyon or on a sailboat in the Gulf of Nicoya, Cost Rica. I’ve always loved being on the water. I thought about living on a boat, but I tend to want too many things so my life probably would not fit on a boat. I am blessed and grateful to have had friends with boats or rafts or even tubes.
I was planning to drive to Escazú on Friday and take care of the insurance but decided not to and spent the day being productive, writing and editing my belated Episode 16 of Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with C-PTSD. I don’t know about you, but I am not built for constant activity. I tend to mosey and saunter, not slash and dash. I hate being rushed and feeling pressured to function. I see no need to start now.
Since my car has returned, I feel good about taking some road trips. Once the 2000 km break in period has been satisfied, I will begin to branch out to places I have never been. There are a lot of things to do and see here in Costa Rica. In the 5 years my wife and I have lived here, we have taken little time to explore her beautiful country.
I don’t know why, but Ticos don’t seem to do much exploration of their lush and rugged landscape. I think it’s because most Ticos are too busy working 60 hours a week for what you and I would consider to be poverty wages. They do love the beaches and during holidays, from the terrace of my little casita on the hill, I watch the caravan of cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles heading west for Puntarenas or Jáco for their long holiday weekend. I think to myself, I’m sure glad I’m not down there in that traffic.
When we lived in the flatlands in Orotina where it was hot, but the Mangos were plentiful and sweet, we were trapped on the infamous Ruta 27 for 5 hours. We were 2 kilometers from the house we were renting at the time. It would have been really bad had we not been returning from a shopping trip in the city. I busted out the snacks and we munched and chatted and meditated our way through the traffic snarl which, unfortunately had been caused by a deadly collision that closed all four lanes of highway. In Costa Rica it is illegal to move any vehicle involved in an accident prior to the Traffica (Traffic Police) arriving, and that could take a while.
Let me get back on track here and ask you a few questions. Are you living in solitude or are you isolating yourself in order to keep yourself safe? How do you know the difference and what are some strategies for getting the most out of your self-imposed incarceration? There are no wrong answers here. Whatever realm you currently exist in is exactly where you need to be at this time in your life. The key to a full life, even in the face of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress is to accept where you are right now. Not in some imagined fairyland where everything is beautiful but living your life in the most genuine way that you can.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress steals our lives from the time we were first abandoned. And some of us had to resort to extreme measures to survive those conditions we were exposed to. For me it was dissociation. Until recently, the past few years, I had no idea I had dissociated for much of my childhood and adolescence. My memories paint a picture of a perfect family in a perfect small midwestern town in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In my world, these experiences all occurred, but what was left out of the picture was the abuse I experienced. Not a single drop of memory of any abuse existed in my psych until the dream began to unravel the morning my mother revealed to me the sexually abusive behavior of my older brother, John.
It has taken me literally decades to come up with some kind of understanding about what the hell happened and how did I end up with C-PTSD? It literally blows my mind, but now is not the time to go into that. I want to leave all of you something that could be useful and relates to this week’s focus; C-PTSD and Solitude.
I happen to be fortunate and have carved out a wonderful spot in the world to experience solitude on a larger scale. Most of you may not have the opportunity to wander off into the wilderness for however long you need to be there. Most of you are faced with a reality that is much more restrictive than what I have going for me. I am grateful to be in such a lovely place. I have a perfect arrangement, but you, it is not easy to sort out loneliness, anxiety, depression, and triggers in the midst of dealing with family or work or some other comorbid condition you are living with so I will try to make this as applicable to you, regardless of your individual and personal circumstances.
If solitude seems like it is not an option for you, then the first place to start is with Boundaries. Given your social circumstance do not permit a hermit-like lifestyle, like me, you need to begin to carve some solitude into your crowded life. You do this by setting limits and creating boundaries and maintaining them. This is much easier to say than to do.
You must be willing to tell your family, your roommates, your coworkers that you need to establish some time to yourself every day at home and, if possible, at work as well. You need to put your phone on Do Not Disturb for at least 1 hour. This will take some planning and pondering on your part. Know in your mind, exactly what you need to work on and how best you can take advantage of the opportunities in your day-to-day life. Write these ideas down. Document them. Make a commitment to them.
Then tell the people around you what you need from them. This needs to be specific and a behavior, something they can do, and it is observable. If they know what you want them to do to support you, then you are going to have more success. Ask them also what you can do to acknowledge them for their efforts to give you space. This will sound strange to them, but do not let them off the hook when they say, “Nothing, you don’t need to do anything.” This is all very nice, but it is important to reinforce this new behavior otherwise they will simply continue to interrupt your “Solitude Time”, like always. What can you do to acknowledge their efforts that will feel good to them? You need to positively reinforce their “Letting you be” behavior in order to help them make a habit of it.
You, meanwhile, need to identify how you are going to spend your “SolitudeTime”. What activity will help you the most, that day? Is it meditating? Is it writing? Is it napping? Just kidding with the napping. Don’t nap during your specified Solitude Time. You have my permission to nap as long as you need to and as often as you need to. Napping is good, but it doesn’t count as Solitude Time. Me, I have all day, everyday filled with solitude and it is a huge challenge for me to make all of that time productive Solitude Time. By productive Solitude Time, I don’t mean how much you can get done, but rather, how much can you heal when you are mindfully operating in a state of solitude.
Solitude along with its ugly cousin, Isolation are, in reality only states of mind. Which state of mind is the healthiest? That depends upon what your needs are and if you do not know what your needs are then it is high time you create some Solitude Time, look into your life and figure that out. If you have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress, you were not given the opportunity to figure out what your needs were, much less figure out who you are and what you want from life. That is why if feels so awkward to ask your family, friends and coworkers to behave in certain ways at these times when you are diving deeply into your own nature. This is your challenge, and it is your path to healing from C-PTSD.
Don’t wait for solitude to come to you. Make a commitment to carving out at least an hour per day where you can be with yourself, by yourself. No interruptions. Start where you can start but start. Do not put it off any longer. You have a date with your authentic self, now step up and do what you need to do. You know what that is.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to Episode 16 of Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with C-PTSD. It means a lot to me and I hope you are getting something out of my fucked-up life. Make your voice heard. Send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment or write a review of OOMMCR on those platforms that permit you to do that. Pass this episode on to others who you feel may benefit from listening to me drone on and on. Anything you do is greatly appreciated by me and my staff, which consists of me, myself and I.
Don’t get stuck in isolation, change your mind, change your perspective and begin your path to healing by moving from isolation to solitude. Until the next time.
Be courageous. Be Strong and Be Kind. I’ll catch you later. Bye.