At age thirteen, the emotional state of my family changed dramatically. The major details I’ll leave out. Nothing violently illegal happened. Simply put, an event occurred. I’ve written about it before, but with some regret so I’ll avoid the details. It was horrifying to us all, almost as much as the proceeding years of parental/family dysfunction.
After the incident, no adult recommended professional therapy for the children of our family. Keep in mind, fifty years ago, mental health was something best kept out of a conversation, and if considered, not spoken to anyone. And besides, children are resilient, right? Don’t believe it. Nothing is further from the truth.
The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health states that children are less likely to experience PTSD after trauma than adults, especially if they are under ten years of age. We were, obviously, outside their testing grounds, for all of us in our family deeply suffered. While the adults ignorantly paid no attention to the children, they also refused to seek professional mental healthcare for themselves. The only ones worthy of mental health care were those attempted suicide, and then they were the talk of the town forever.
Barely functioning drunks numbered in the multitudes, and didn’t read much more than the sports pages and funny papers, if anything at all. Probably none of them could read a stop sign. And so, the adult choice, when confronted with distress of most any sort was to drink more, accuse more, avoid the kids, and grow bitterly sarcastic. Struggling with unidentified feelings was, then, became the only option for kids and one of several for so-called adults.
That event I refer to took our mother from our home for a long period of time. This put my father in a difficult position, being without help in raising four kids. Frequently, we found ourselves carting our clothing from one family member’s home to another until our father’s mother was brought in to watch us, which lasted for perhaps a couple of months.
EVENTS OUTSIDE/INSIDE MYSELF
The preceding events took place during the days of JFK’s assassination and burial, all of which was repeatedly being aired on television in our place of residence, as Grandma openly wept. To my little mind, the President’s assassination confirmed to me that tragedy was to be expected. It was part of life, but I found no rest in that awful truth.
The condition we kids suffered with for decades soon following the event, with which we wrestle even today, is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the early sixties, there was no name for it. Because PTSD was neither recognized nor understood by the average parent, at least not by the adults surrounding our lives, that was no reason to believe it didn’t exist equally in the youngest and oldest. We were taught nothing of its existence. Instead, all we could do was feel something that kept us controlled by it.
RECURRENCES, SIDE EFFECTS, WORLDVIEW
Beyond my teens, I heard the same broken record in my head and experienced recurring flashbacks of what I’d witnessed. So struck by the event I was, that I stayed in a kind of daze for many years and lost a good portion of memories that had taken place prior to the incident. It was as though I had undergone a dozen shock treatments, that’s how detached from the present I often felt. Making sense of the incident was impossible, and even today, I remain with an innumerable number of blank spaces within my history.
Life, as I was learning early, carried with it emotional pain and suffering. There was no escape from either of them. During the predictable phases of my life — other schools, shared activities, military duty, and relationships — that unnamed and unrealized condition, PTSD, stayed with me.
About a year after the event, I developed physical side effects, the worst of which was urinary dripping. While in school, even in college, I struggled to keep from embarrassment. Once, I attempted to find the diagnosis and cure from a doctor who was willing to accept twenty dollars to see me, but he displayed neither answers nor compassion.
MY FIRST ESCAPE PLAN: MILITARY SERVICE
In 1969, I joined the Navy. There was no other recourse, for as the poor, blind decisions made by my distressed father grew, so did the dysfunction.
Prior to my move out, more senseless tragedies hit the news, and added to my growing depression. The assassination of RFK and MLK, heightened that familiar sense of loss and meaninglessness. It was becoming more apparent that in this life there is no escape from trauma from one’s family of origin, every day events, and special horrific moments that made the news.
We’re born into troubles and none of it can be stopped, was my thinking. Events and human actions are determined entirely by causes outside my ability to predict or prepare for them, unless I choose the route of a survivalist, or prepper as some are now calling themselves who store up canned goods for the ultimate endtime battle.
After my naval discharge, I learned I had veterans health benefits and visited the Pittsburgh VA hospital where I was told my bladder was too small. Through some process, they said they’d enlarged it, but to no avail. It wasn’t until the early nineties, after having two prostate procedures for enlargement, did I notice any benefit, but it was not a complete cure.
MY SECOND ESCAPE PLAN: A CULT-LIKE RELIGIOUS GROUP
Then, on April 23, 1972, my life was interrupted by a revival of faith in God within me. Initially, it was a wonderful experience, but it eventually led to obsessive behaviors: constant church attendance every time the doors were opened, prayers I spoke and verses I memorized and recited to Him i– the formula I was given by well meaning men designed to force God to move, and voracious study and indoctrination. Surely, I thought, the more intense my discipleship. the more chance I had of earning healing. Unfortunately, the healings never came. At times, I felt almost normal by the few happy moments that showed by accident, though nothing wasted for long.
Christianity is a relationship, I was taught, with God, not a belief system, and yet that was all those rituals seemed to be. While I sought healing through recitations and good attitudes, my health grew none the better.
The most well known proponents of this kind of “You are a little god” philosophy told me I was able to speak anything I needed into existence. All I needed to do was quote specific verses repetitively, every day, be thankful, and act as if what I asked for had already manifested. Little did those young pastors know, they were failing their flocks in abundance by teaching these errors. But then, what did they know other than the teachings handed down to them by men of fame and fortune.
After eight years with them, I knew I had to set aside those monotonous techniques designed by well known televangelists from Ft. Worth, TX to make God do as anyone commanded Him. This movement became known as Word of Faith or WOF teaching, originating from men like Phineas Quimby (New Thought philosophy; who also influenced Mary Baker Eddy of the Christian Science belief system, E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland), .
Other symptoms of WOF, and related movements, included doctrinal error and extremism, and elaborately demonstrative displays of enlightenment known as “impartation”, as well as more self-centered endeavors like the drawing in of Christians from other churches or what became known as “sheep stealing”, personal kingdom building, tax evasion, and more. By 1980, the entire movement had become much less spiritual and more manmade.
The reason I stayed with these groups for so long was because I was afraid to move from the location where God was located, that He would not follow me into a new beginning. After I graduated college, finally fed up with the area’s large assortment of prodigality, I fled from that part of the country. Sadly, those same symptoms continue to exist throughout the church world today, within both the nondenominational and denominational sects.
THE BEST HELP: INNER CHILD WORK
Rather than halt my search, I continued on, and through a young woman with whom I became friends, I discovered John Bradshaw and a psychological approach called “inner child work”. Adopting it, I made a few advances as I learned to talk to that little fellow inside me, to tell him everything is okay, and that life is worth experiencing. Inner child work is not as easy as it sounds. The process takes time and a deliberate reexamining of one’s life and events.
With help, I dug deeply into my childhood memories, those I could recall, and wept openly, something I never did in Christian circles, and that I seldom do even today. Tears are as difficult for me to shed as is PTSD. But I did cry then, which acted like a cleansing, and managed to get in touch with that hurt and lonely little guy inside. It helped in many ways — not entirely and forever — yet it did teach me to forgive, to not feel condemned, and to move forward.
As I became less inward, I decided it was time to learn to listen to others, to help them make good decisions. It was through Skip Hunt’s classes on “active listening” and his book How Can I Help that I eventually became equipped to aid others who struggle with personal issues.
Active listening employs the use of mirrored phrases either exactly as the person has spoken them or paraphrased. Simpler replies can lead the person to continue with their story, with the goal of eventually getting the person to expose their feelings. After an identification of feelings are made, then it is time to ask, “What have you done about your fears?” or “Feeling cornered is a tough place to be. How did you react?”
Through Skip’s classes, I realized I don’t have to own, or take on, the other persons feelings. They are their’s, not mine. Immediately, when (if) I am attacked verbally, I respond by allowing the one upset with me to own their feelings. “Wow, you sure are angry with me,” I might say. Talking through situations by refusing to take ownership of another’s emotional responses, and addressing those feelings as an observer, is the way to introduce solutions, either by the attacker or me.
Today, I am 62 and ready to retire.from a job that I have held for 27 years. I suppose, that is proof of some success. No, I don’t have a family of my own, since, as I found out in an accidental sort of way, I am sterile and have been since birth. My pituitary gland does not make the required ingredients for the creation of testosterone. Not surprising, there is no cure for me as testosterone injections make me ill.
During my military hitch from 1969-72, I developed tinnitus and hearing loss from artillery and the use of pneumatic tools. I wear hearing aids, and when the environment gets too loud for me to endure, either I will turn them off, or politely excuse myself and return home to my cat, Bella.
I like to read, write, and, on occasion, play a bass and sing in a “quiet” band in restaurants. A trip or cruise is nice once in a while too.