PTSDiaries: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Today, I have both good news and bad news. The good news is that my PTSD symptoms have largely disappeared (leaving me with depression and anxiety to deal with but who’s counting?). Hurray! The bad news is that leaves my topics for PTSDiaries pretty limited. I thought that, since I’m in a position to now look back on my journey through the wilderness, I’d share some of the books, movies and music that helped me through. I’d like to start with one of the hardest books I’ve ever read: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. And I will be spoiling the book, so turn back if you don’t want to know Leonard’s secrets.

forgive me leonard peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is by Matthew Quick, the same author as Silver Linings Playbook. I really liked Silver Linings Playbook, so I knew I’d find at least something of value in the book. The synopsis is as follows:

            “Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting look at a day in the life of a disturbed teenage boy, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.”

This book was hard. Trigger warning is an understatement. I sat on my bed and cried all the way through this book. Matthew Quick wrote a damn interesting and engaging character, and I felt like I was in his head. This was not easy, given, well, you read the synopsis. But this isn’t a book review.

It is revealed in the book that the reason Leonard has such hatred for his best friend, Asher, is that his best friend raped him. It is also hinted that Asher was molested by his uncle. Leonard suggests that “[he] thinks Asher wanted [Leonard] to save him.”

It really said something to me. Even though Asher was a horrible person and appeared to have everything, popularity, good parents, he was still battling this secret pain. A pain that he passed on to Leonard.

Should Leonard have “saved” Asher? Could he even have?

There is this idea that abusive and toxic people can be “saved” if you just love them enough. I know that’s not how it works. I know that no matter how much I loved R., which was a lot, it wouldn’t have saved him from the monster inside of him. Abusive people have to acknowledge that something is wrong with them and then seek help by their own free will, or else it just won’t work. Loving someone abusive will not save them. I’m sorry, but it won’t.

The most important thing the book made me realize, though, was this: there is no winning.

Despite the terrible things that Asher did to Leonard, he was still a victim too. He had to live with his inner pain and inner torment. Even though Leonard doesn’t kill Asher, Asher doesn’t win. He’s going to have to keep going with this pain forever.

I realized that there is no winning or losing in my situation with R. I may live with what he did to me, and it may be hard, but his life isn’t great either. I know that he dealt with his own secret pain. We both have to deal with it and keep going.

There is no winning. We’re both flawed human beings who are in a lot of pain. Getting better doesn’t mean that I’m winning; it just means that I’m getting better. Done.

In the end, I’m more like R. than even I could have seen. And it’s important to remember that.

Thank you, Matthew Quick.

Best of 2015

Before I start the list of my most popular blog posts from 2015, I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for being a part of my year. Without you, this blog wouldn’t be what it is today. I had a great 2015, and I hope you join me next year as I take this blog to new places.

Without further ado, here are the best posts of 2015, as determined by you, the fans and your likes:

PTSDiaries (you guys made it so popular it needed it’s own category!):

My Poetry Journey

Black Widow: Photography

Alternate Way to Present Poetry

Writing as Conversation

Flash Fiction: Ganymede

Poor Old Jack: A Nightmare Before Christmas and Depression

PTSDiaries 10: Art and I

eye1When I was working through my trauma in exposure therapy, my therapist and I tried to find safe ways to expose myself to reminders of the trauma. Of course, seeing R. was out of the question, as it would be dangerous for the both of us. I still don’t know how he’d react to seeing me, and at the time I didn’t know if I could control my rage. As a team, my therapist and I came up with the idea of using art as part of my exposure therapy.

I’ve been working towards becoming an art therapist in recent months, a dream I’ve had since I first saw an art therapist when I was fourteen. As such, I’ve done research on art therapy. According to Schouten, Niet, Knipscheer, Kleber and Hutschemaekers (2015), who conducted a review of the effectiveness of art therapy in traumatized adults, and was found to significantly reduce symptoms of trauma. Art therapy has been used to treat traumatized veterans, those suffering from drug addictions, and many other types of complex trauma. I was confident in the ability of art to help me.

The first project that my therapist gave me was to draw R.’s old house, the place where a lot of the abuse happened. To do this, I had to take a picture of his old house. I had to call on my inner super-spy skills, as I wasn’t sure if just going to someone’s house and taking photographs of the outside was legal or not (shhh!). I went to a nearby candy store first, for some sugar courage. I took the picture like a ninja, pretending to be taking a selfie in the playground across the street so the nearby construction workers didn’t think I was scoping out the place for a robbery (bwahaha!). 

When I got home, I sat down and tried to draw. I decided to practice some of the perspective skills I learned in my art class a few days before to make the house more realistic. I over practiced, however, to avoid the feelings that came from drawing the house. When I was ready, I drew the house. To draw it, I had to break it down into it’s component shapes, and then draw the details later. Breaking it down (this is the siding, this is the window) helped me to realize something: a house is just a house. It wasn’t a Monster House, like in the 2006 film; it was just some house in some neighbourhood in my home town. 

20151119_132028The second project was a little bit more difficult. I was tasked with drawing R. My therapist suggested that I draw two different versions of R.; one as he was, and one as I saw him. Of course, I knew which one would be easier, so I did the harder one first, drawing R. as he is. 

I tried to do what I did with the house, and what most artists do when they try to draw something…break him down into his component parts. However, I’m such a perfectionist that I didn’t want to draw him from memory because it wouldn’t be accurate. Even R., I suppose, deserves the effort of an accurate portrayal. On a less pretentious note, I also have trouble remembering his face sometimes, as a defense mechanism from the trauma. Since finishing treatment I can remember his dumb face easily, but at the time we conducted this little experiment I couldn’t. I had to unblock him from my Facebook so I could see his profile picture and draw from that.

Funnily enough, that’s not the first time I’ve drawn R. I drew him before we started dating, because I couldn’t get him out of my head. Little did I know that once he was in my head he wasn’t going to leave. As I drew him I felt angry at his face for being so dumb and ugly, but then I saw it as a collection of features and broke it down and drew them as I saw them. I tried to remove the feeling from the drawing to make it realistic, hiding behind artistic integrity. Maybe that wasn’t so bad. The picture I drew isn’t accurate at all, but I tried damn it, I tried. The experience made me realize that, much like the house, a face is just a face. Yeah, it’s a face that traumatized me, but a face on a computer screen wasn’t going to hurt me. There was no point living in fear of the memory of a face that I never saw. 

20151119_132056Drawing him as I saw him, as a monster, was much easier. I chose to take inspiration from a classic Canadian monster called the wendigo, from the traditions of the Algonquin plains people. The wendigo is a cannibal creature, how was once human but tasted flesh and became a monster. The wendigo can thrall people into walking right to it and preparing themselves to be eaten. The more it eats, the more it grows, but is never full. The wendigo has a heart made out of ice and looks more like an animal than a man. I drew him as one of these creatures, because R. has a cold heart and no matter how many people he hurts, he never gets his fill of pain. The drawing of R. as I see him took me fifteen minutes, the drawing of him as he is took me forty five.

20151119_132112

The art did help me put onto paper how I feel about R., but also reminded me that, no matter how monstrous my mind had made him, he was still a human being. One with a stupid face and bad hair and generally kind of an evil jerk, but a human being. Flawed. Made of the same component parts as anyone else.

Did art reduce my feelings of depression and trauma? I think it did. I was able to make my feelings expressible, like in the poetry I’d been writing. I was happy with it. I felt that it was a safe way to expose myself to my trauma, with the added benefit of a tangible accomplishment at the end of the day. I would recommend it to other therapist. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it one day in my own practice!

 

 

God bless,

 

Kelsey J.

PTSDiaries 9: Therapy’s End

I have been bad about posting in my PTSDiaries. This is due to a combination of symptom reduction and life events. I recently moved away from home to the first time, got a new job, and I attended a writing conference, one contests, got published and generally had a good summer. The therapy worked well, too, and I’ve had a reduction in symptoms.

Note that I said “reduction” and not “elimination”. I still have nightmares. I couldn’t handle reading over materials on abuse for work–I couldn’t deal with how clinical they made it all. Abuse must be quantified and categorized, of course, but it’s also so deeply personal and deeply emotional that when I read clinical text on abuse it really bothers me. I still have nightmares. I still evaluate everyone I meet, especially men, as potential threats first and see any positive attention from a man I don’t know well as grooming. It’s not over.

That’s not to say that the therapy was ineffective. I loved my therapist and I honestly miss going to see her once a week. The staff at the clinic were so positive and kind that I always left with a good feeling. I also made some decent art, which I will upload in the next PTSDiaries. In PTSDiaries Seven, I mentioned that during my exposure therapy I could feel R. assaulting me all over again. My panic attacks are getting better. At the end of the therapy, I felt the emotions without physical sensations, but they were easy to sit with and move past. I think the therapy did it’s job.

I’m still angry. I’m not angry at the world in general, though. I’m angry at R. I’m angry at all the people who turned their backs on me. I’m angry at the adults who I told who did nothing. And I deserve that anger. It’s controlled, and it reminds me of why I do stuff like this: to help people who are going through things.

R. is no longer my monster. He is my ghost: he exists, and he haunts me, but I can leave him behind, and he can be exorcised.

PTSDiaries 8: Big Hero Six

Who here hasn’t seen Big Hero Six?

Then you need to leave, because here there be spoilers.

Thanks for stopping by, Baymax.

For those of you who don’t listen (you know who you are), or for those of you who haven’t seen the film in a while, here’s the scoop. Big Hero Six is the story of a young genius (Hiro Hamada) who assembles his friends and his brother’s helper robot, Baymax, into a superhero team in order to stop a nanobot-wielding bad guy.

Oh yeah, and the bad guy (whose name is never given, but promotional materials call him “Yokai”) killed Hiro’s brother. Who is the last remaining member of Hiro’s immediate family.

This movie is funny and beautiful and full of great messages and all that fun stuff. It’s really a great movie. There’s a lot about it that speaks to me. The thing that speaks to me the most, however, is that Hiro has a chance to kill Yokai (through Baymax), and has to be physically stopped.

 

In most media when this happens, the hero decides on their own to spare the villain, realizing hidden strength. This is fantastic and beautiful…but not how it all works.

I’ve long struggled with questions of how deep my own darkness runs. How bad could I hurt R if I had the chance? Would I be able to take his life and feel bad about it? It’s true that the opportunity probably wouldn’t come, but getting into feeling like you can decide who lives and who dies is dangerous territory.

I relate directly to the pain and rage that Hiro feels. Though Yokai didn’t physically harm Hiro’s person, he took something away from Hiro that wasn’t his to take, and forced Hiro to grow up faster than he was meant to. Yokai killed Hiro’s brother, but in many ways killed Hiro’s youthful naivety. Hiro doesn’t know how to face his new life without his brother. His tragedy is amplified by the fact that he previously experienced trauma at a young age, but had Tadashi around to help him.

Like Hiro, I was forced to grow up early, and was left without a way to cope… or so I thought.

Hiro, like me, is confused in this scene and is lashing out with anger. Like me, Hiro is hurting the people around him as much as he’s hurting himself, and here’s the kicker: he doesn’t actually know if killing Yokai will help him. He only wants to do it to hurt Yokai as much as he’s hurting.

Of course, Big Hero Six is a Disney movie and not a Punisher film (though the next one of those will technically be a Disney movie…) so Hiro doesn’t violently take his revenge. Hiro finds peace in his therapeutic relationship with Baymax, and his relationships with his friends. Instead of forgiveness, Hiro finds understanding of Yokai when he sees that he’s motivated out of suffering and loss too.

Of course, no movie is going to truly show the whole recovery process, because that would be a really long movie, but Big Hero 6 shows that recovery and healing comes as much from the people around you as it does within yourself. I’ve given up on actively trying to forgive R. I’m not ready, and I still feel like he doesn’t deserve it and he never will. What I am working on is understanding him as another human being.

I started thinking about this idea when I read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick,  and I really developed it when I read Conversations with A Rattlesnake by Theo Fleury and Kim Barthel. In Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock becomes suicidal after he’s raped by his best friend, but also realises that his rapist was probably abused by someone he trusted. In Conversations, Theo Fleury discusses some of the less-monstrous aspects of his rapist, Graham James, with therapist Kim Barthel. I explained to my therapist that understanding is as much or more important than forgiveness. To forgive someone, you have to stop seeing them as an abstract construct made up of bad memories and pain. To stop this, you have to see them as human. Understanding R., to me, means that I see him as a human being, and that I see his trauma, and I see his flaws, but that I also see the good in him.

That is so hard

Like Hiro, it’s easier to see R. as a man in a mask who does bad things because he’s an intrinsically bad person. It’s hard to see R. as a little boy who was emotionally abandoned by his mother and raised in a broken home, who never learned how to treat people the right way. This, in no way shape or form, negates what he has done to me and to many other girls. What he has done is still wrong and always will be.  But it helps me understand that he’s not evil, and that he is human, just like me.

It’s easier to understand a flawed human being, and maybe, some day, it will be easy to forgive this broken, pathetic human

I am Christian, but I appreciate the Taoist view on good and evil. In Tao there is no good and evil: there is balance and imbalance. Imbalance is like dirt on a window and can easily be fixed so light can shine through. I believe that understanding R. is like wiping the dirt off of a window, but not for him. I believe that understanding R. will allow me to find balance and to cope with the darkness inside of me.

PTSDiaries Seven: Therapy

While on my temporary hiatus, I (finally!) began my PTSD treatment. Here’s how it’s going:

Part of my therapy is exercise. I have been working out on the treadmill for 45 minutes at a time. What this therapy has really been teaching me is how resilient my body is. I now warm up at the speed I was going full throttle at a month ago. I’ve noticed how much better my sore knees have gotten, because the muscles around them have become stronger. I haven’t noticed weight loss, but I have noticed a lot of muscle toning. Personally, I would rather be a sumo wrestler than a model: I’d rather have big muscles under a layer of fat than no muscles and the “perfect” body.

Because my therapist doesn’t want me to listen to music, I spend most of my time on the treadmill plotting my stories, and I’ve been getting so much work done because of it. I would recommend exercise to any creative person. The only thing is that  don’t know if I’ve seen reduction in my symptoms yet.

The main part of my therapy is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy basically works by forcing you to confront aspects of the trauma that you have been avoiding. It’s a form of CBT, coginitive behaviour therapy, which means it’s addressing both distressing thoughts and avoidance behaviours. For example, I cannot consciously recall R.’s face. I can think about it right now, as I’m writing this, but all I see is a blob on top of a body. When I think about his face, I have distressing, occasionally violent thoughts. So, when I see it, I feel the need to run away. I’ve written about this before. Most people hear this and think “isn’t that a good thing, that you’re avoiding possible violence, or staying away from this clearly bad person?” Well…no. This need to avoid my feelings has caused me to miss out on my life. I’ve missed out on events, I have trouble trusting people to the point of creating difficulties in my relationships, and it clearly hasn’t been making me feel safer.

Lots of people have probably seen exposure therapy on TV when therapists try to help people with extreme phobias. There are two types of exposure therapy I’ve been doing: imaginal and in-vivo. Imaginal therapy is reliving the trauma in your mind, and in-vivo therapy is confronting safe situations that you’ve been avoiding due to trauma. What this is supposed to do is force you to think about the trauma, and as my therapist says, figure out where it belongs and make sense of it. It also teaches your brain that thinking about the traumatic event isn’t the same as it happening, which is what your brain thinks when you think about the trauma with PTSD. It also is supposed to teach you how to handle your trauma symptoms with the goal of symptom reduction.

So I’ve been remembering the first time R. sexually assaulted me over and over again. I’ve noticed that I’ve been having more nightmares since this began. I’ve also noticed a very slight increase in panic attacks. My theory is that, while my conscious brain is learning how to process the trauma, my subconscious mind is still struggling to make sense of it and is taking it out on me. My subconscious mind is a real dick like that. What’s also been happening is that I’m starting to get angry at the memory. I am angry at it for being such a problem in my life, and I’m angry that he is forcing me to do this to heal. I think that this could either force me to hunker down and power through it OR make me too mad to continue.

My in-vivo is more of a pain in the ass. It’s relatively harmless things, like listening to R.’s favourite music and looking at his Facebook profile. So far my laptop is intact, so I’ve been able to control my “punch the face” reflex. I’ve found that I enjoy some of the music R. likes, and I am a music addict so I don’t consider this a bad thing at all. However, some of the music R. likes sounds like a cat being kicked in the testicles as five year old hits a cheap drum until it breaks—and then keeps hitting it. Some days, I hate my therapist for making me listen to shitty music.

However, I still struggle with my anger through the process. One of the songs R. enjoys is about domestic violence, specifically how much the lead singer wants to kill men who treat their wives and children badly. It makes me angry because it tells me that he wasn’t just a stupid kid who had no idea what he was doing. He knew what domestic violence did to people, and he chose to be abusive anyway.

I also struggled with my anger on Facebook. It made me mad that we liked some of the same things, because I have come to associate everything that he likes with him and therefore it becomes evil and bad. It also made me mad that we have so many mutual friends on Facebook. Kevin Kantor says it better than I can:

Yeah. To be frank, it’s a real bitch.

But I’m glad that I’ve finally taken this step. Nothing worth having comes easily, not in my experience. It’s hard, but I tell myself that I survived R. I tell myself that I survived a man who sexually assaulted me, belittled me and threatened my dog. I can survive exposure therapy. I can survive anything.

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Here are some more resources about exposure therapy and PTSD:

Veteran’s Health Administration is just awesome! They provide such accessible and well-researched information on their youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaW28mX6gCpTuWYJyPfWd-Q

http://ptsd.about.com/od/treatment/a/ExposureTxPTSD.htm

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/PTSD/public/treatment/therapy-med/prolonged-exposure-therapy.asp

PTSDiaries: On running into my rapist at work

My followers may have noticed that I didn’t post on my usual day. Sorry if that ruined your week, haha! It was a hard week, and I’m sorry that my wonderful followers had to suffer for it. If you’re new, welcome, let’s be friends!

My week was off to a bad start when I ran into my rapist for the first time in three years.

It was at work, when I was out with a client. We went to Tim Horton’s (which is a Canadian coffee shop chain, for all my international friends) for some Kelsey-brand cheering up and there he was. At first, I didn’t recognise him. I just saw a group of unwashed nerds playing card games and idly wondered if they were playing Magic: The Gathering. Then, I got a better look at him. There he was. Just sitting there.

Luckily, he didn’t see me. This is good. The last time I saw him in the flesh he smiled, waved and tried to talk to me. I gave him the middle finger. That’s not the kind of behaviour you can get away with at work.

I managed to be okay during the visit, but when I got back to the parking lot at work I heaved. On a scale of mild hunger to food poisoning, my nausea after seeing him was somewhere around the time I ate undercooked eggs in home economics class.

I went home and tried to laugh it off while letting myself feel, but that is so. damn. hard. I repressed most of what I was feeling and it came out in the form of anxiety attacks in the days following. I was also more depressed and apathetic than usual.

Of course seeing him bothered me. But the why is more complicated than simple “I see a rapist asshole.”

I cope with what happened to me by telling myself that R, due to his drug habits and messed up family, is worse off than me. I imagine and hope that no matter how much I’m suffering, he’s probably coked out of his gourd. But I saw him, and his skin looks normal, he’s a normal weight, nothing like the drug addict I imagined. I guess I should be happy for him. I’m not. My partner told me that he’s at Tim Horton’s playing card games on a Saturday night, so his life can’t be that great, but it’s not what I wanted. I tell myself that nobody wins in these situations, but right now there’s a clear loser.

I was also irrationally angry at the police officers that were there. I wanted to scream at them that a rapist was sitting two feet from them. I wanted to tell them to arrest him. But that’s stupid. They can’t do anything.

My parents wouldn’t let me press charges. By the time I came forward they felt that I didn’t have enough evidence to convict him.

My sole comfort was that his haircut still looks like a mangy raccoon got caught in a weedwhacker. The boy’s a mess.

*

I need a strategy to deal with seeing him again. My therapist and I discussed it and thought that if he talks to me at work I should politely but firmly tell him to leave me alone if he talks to me, and ignore him otherwise. She and I agreed that, if not at work, I should feel no shame about cursing at him and causing a scene if he refuses to leave me alone.

I agree with these strategies, but I still don’t know if I’d be able to restrain myself from punching first and swearing later. Especially if cops are around. I’d rather not write my next entry from prison.

-Kelsey M.