Identity Extensions – Part IV: Mentality – Creative Intellectual with PTSD
Identity Extensions – Part IV: Mentality – Creative Intellectual with PTSD
A seriously rough week… I even have a footnote for a side rant.
Welcome to the first bump in the road on my spiritual journey.
I had intended this post to be on my relationship with my body. I was working on body positive concepts and had an experience last night that is completely relevant. I’ll use them when I do that post. But something happened early on in the week with two of my close relationships that just ripped the carpet out from under me, required some deep soul searching, and left me staring into a mirror I really didn’t like. Less like a bump in the road and more like the time I jumped a HEMTT off a “speed bump” (concrete poured over tank treads and sand bags) and caught some air time between an up-armored Humvee and a pile of rusted metal. Nobody died, but, man, we were all shook up.
I’m not going to go into the incident right now for two reasons: 1) it’s a little too fresh at the moment and I am still processing some of it; and 2) astrologically, it involves 4th and 5th House stuff, particularly where my Pluto and Saturn are hanging out. Silver lining – their placement makes more sense to me now, even if it is troubling. Instead I’m going to summarize what I saw in the mirror and how I shifted gears this week into a more independent frame of mind.
I have serious trust and control issues. In all fairness to myself, it makes sense. I was molested at a young age by a grandfather figure and, for a long time, blamed myself not only for my own experience with that, but also for the fact that it happened to my sister, who I should have been protecting. I felt I should have noticed all the little signs and listened to my gut. I have been carrying that around for a long time, forgiving myself and letting go in small bits and pieces, which has only been complicated by further assaults and an emotionally, sexually, and borderline physically abusive relationship. The trust issues I’ve known about and acknowledged for years.
The control issues came as a punch in the face. Knowing what it has been like to be in situations where I wasn’t in control of what happened to me and knowing that I can read situations and people in a way that makes it easy for me to be manipulative, should I ever choose to be, I shy away from exerting control over other people. And I thought I was doing a good job on that front.
My reaction to the incident this week was partially understandable – there were multiple reasons not to trust the situation based on how he has behaved in similar situations in the past. But he has made progress and, when I took a moment to step back and ask myself what would have made me comfortable, I realized that I wanted full control over the situation, to insert myself into a relationship that isn’t mine in order to be sure that I could know what it was, that everyone else is being honest about all the things. Logically, I know that’s neither fair nor practical, but it has raised some serious questions for me on how to proceed. The amount of hurt and anger I felt, the absolute sense that I was right and anyone who disagreed with me didn’t have all the facts, the ache of betrayal and abandonment, and the way that I couldn’t even follow my own directives to let him initiate working it all out were all way off from the person I want to be. There are definitely things we need to work on together, but, in all fairness to him, trust is an uphill battle with me in an arena that’s not his strong suit.
I also realized this control issue goes much deeper. I don’t like getting drunk*, I’ve never experimented with anything beyond marijuana (which I don’t like – that loose, floaty, spin-y feeling? HATE it!), and I don’t even want to take certain medications, because they all constitute for me a danger of losing control. I absolutely hated when I shattered my ankle, because I needed help and had to rely on other people. I want to experiment with BDSM, but I don’t trust anyone enough to let them top me and I don’t trust myself enough to top others. I can’t guarantee that I could step out of that space or that I would even want to.
I don’t follow my dreams, because I can’t guarantee needed outcomes for my security. Sure, I tell myself it’s because I have a little boy, and while I could live on Ramen and out of a backpack if I had to, I can’t do that to him, but, really, the closest I got to pursuing my dreams before I had him was to go to a monthly writing group. There was nothing holding me back and instead of striking out on my own and having an adventure, I chose to go home and hide. It’s been an ugly and sobering mirror to look into.
My biggest fear right now is I don’t know if this is something I can change. There’s some evidence that control issues as a form of security may be part of my make up, but, well, you never know until you try. (Yes, clichéd as hell, but I’m feeling it.)
The last couple days I’ve been working on self-compassion exercises. I’m not entirely sure why it never occurred to me to look into this before as I’ve known forever that I judge myself way more harshly than I judge others, but for whatever reason it didn’t occur to me and it was one of the first things to come up as a tip for getting past control issues. I did find some comfort in the fact that the symptoms of my control issues, as they put it, are pretty mild (probably because I actively mitigate them), but it doesn’t change the fact that not being in control still causes me a lot of anxiety and it is definitely affecting trust levels and intimacy in my relationships.
I have spent a couple minutes several times a day recalling instances where I have had extreme anxiety over a lack of control issue, allow myself to feel that, then remind myself that I am human, everyone experiences a lack of control and may react poorly to it, and that I will get through this. I am enough to get through this on my own. The “I am enough” is kind of key, because I also realized that I seek a lot of validation when I am experiencing these stressful situations. Do I have the right to be stressed? Is it fair of me to be upset? I mean, really, take a second and marvel at how ridiculous these questions are, and yet I ask them all the time. I always have the right to feel what I feel, but it’s what I do with those feelings, how I express them that really matters. The self-compassion exercises have been very helpful for me in allowing the space needed to identify healthy steps toward rebuilding trust rather than “sham” steps that don’t so much rebuild trust as control anything I perceive as an attempt to abuse “trust.” I need to cultivate an actual willingness to trust others rather than spend hours studying CIA and psychology videos on how to detect lies and in various formats (an actual thing I did this week, like I could inoculate myself against trusting the wrong people by turning every relationship into a careful and thoughtful interrogation. I promised to share the dark crap.)
So, the astrology bit. I really thought this was going to be the easiest House. I’m starting something new – I’m good at that! The House of Identity and Self – pssh, I got this on lock! I know me and how I express, I could write books on this. I don’t even have any planets in this House. I’ll focus on body stuff, spend time looking in the mirror, appreciating my fabulous self – look at me, I’m doing a thing. But that’s Leo; confident, warm, optimistic, a little self absorbed. I did not expect to have the heavy shit front loaded.
But this is Aries’s House, the Ram. You are going to get gut-checked and, if you’re not paying attention, it’s going to take out a couple ribs. Aries is a Cardinal Sign, the initiators, and Aries doesn’t just initiate, he initiates HARD. I asked for a spiritual journey and Aries is blunt, direct, and combative. So, in addition to the self-compassion, it’s time for me to rely on the lessons of Aries: bravery, self-reliance, independence, the confidence and ability to go out and do one’s own thing without regard for what others think of you. The Tarot representation for Aries isn’t The Hermit going inward living in the wilderness for a spiritual search for individuality, but The Fool, going outward, enjoying the ride, and not just running the risk of falling off the cliff, but probably doing so. I hate the idea of looking, or worse, being foolish, but it’s time to test it out.
For the rest of this House and probably beyond, I want to commit at least an hour a week to going out into the world alone to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Whether it’s going on a hike at a park, taking in a class or lecture, getting a glass of wine, going to goat yoga, or enjoying the theater, the point is to do it without waiting for someone else to go with me and without the purpose of meeting new people, but to do this strictly for me. To let go of the sense that I can control what anybody thinks about me and the sense that they should care what I think about them. To remember that, right now, I need me and, yes, of course, I have obligations, but not as many as I pretend and I’m ignoring what I need to feel whole and alive. And that’s me. Just me. Healthy and happy and ready to be seen.
*Soap Box Moment: You can still get assaulted even if you don’t drink. You know how that happens? Trusting the wrong person. There’s about 7 reasons I have extreme difficulty with trusting people in general, but guys in particular. Just wanted to clarify, I don’t dislike drunkenness for fear of sexual assault. I don’t like it, because I like having full control over my limbs and faculties. The only way it links to sexual assault for me is that, should someone attempt something, I want to be able to fully kick that ass. It’s the intense feeling of betrayal and stupidity, mingled with the fact that it’s hard to flip the switch from liking/trusting someone to wanting to murder them that has held me back from inflicting some serious damage in the past. Yes, I’m bitter. I’m working on it.
Preparation for the journey.
I have been traveling through a dark mist for a long time.
That’s what it feels like, being in therapy. For me, at least. But then, I am naturally drawn to analysis and drama – Virgo Sun, Leo Rising – a clear indication for those of you who follow astrology that this blog is going to be all about my critical analysis of me. Mostly. But it’s a spiritual journey I’m embarking on, so a) it should be about me and b) this world and my life aren’t barren wastelands – others will be along shortly.
But, back to the point, I’ve been in a therapy mist for the last 18 months (incidentally, shout out to my VA coverage and the lovely men and women there who have to deal with me on the regular). I’ve been in therapy for MST (Military Sexual Trauma for those of you without an advanced training in military acronyms) or, more generally, for PTSD, which is the actual diagnosis. This has not been my favorite year and a half ever.
Why tell you this? Heavens, so many reasons! Right now, though this is to set the stage, briefly describing where I’ve been and why I’ve decided to embark on this soulful transit. So, describing:
PTSD is a way of relating to the world in the absence of healing after trauma – a sort of whole life generalized and extended fight or flight response, if you will. It’s fairly rare, though not as rare as we might like and that number depends on the statistics you pull and whether you believe those numbers to be accurate (I don’t). It can happen after one event or it can accumulate over time. Mine was over time, at the ages of 8, 20, and 22. All three involved very different relationships and types of trust. All three affected my view of myself and my faith in my ability to make sound judgments in regards to other people in one way or another.
And after several years of self-imposed isolation and more than a year of therapy, all three have taught me about myself, about thinking, about trust, about power, about observation, and about healing. It has been rough, it is still ongoing, but it has taken me to a place now where I finally feel capable of connecting with my deep inner truth and connecting with other people in a deeper, more compassionate way – all of which takes trust.
The wise and always candid Brené Brown went over the Anatomy of Trust on Super Soul Sessions with Oprah, which resonated so deeply with me. She equates trust with the concept of a marble jar, trusting those who have put in small acts of trust over time with the really hard stuff. After seeing how trust played out in her data, she looked in the research on trust and betrayal by John Gottman, and the first phrase she read was, “Trust is built in the smallest of moments.” And in these small moments is the opportunity to betray as well by choosing not to connect when the opportunity is there. So she set about studying what it is that makes up trust, what are the marbles we put in our jars. It’s amazing talk that I linked below, however, I have summarized for expediency and clarity:
Trust is a big word, right? …. I found a definition from Charles Feltman… “Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else… distrust is what I have shared with you that is important to me is not safe with you.” … Do I know what trust is from the data? And I think I do know what trust is, and I put together an acronym: BRAVING… because when we trust we are braving connection with someone.
B – Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them. There is no trust without boundaries.
R – Reliability: Reliability is you do what you say you are going to do over and over and over again. You cannot gain and earn my trust if you are reliable once, because that is not the definition of reliability.
A – Accountability: I can only trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. I can only trust you if, when I make a mistake, I am allowed to own it, apologize, and make amends.
V – Vault: What I share with you, you will hold in confidence. What you share with me, I will hold in confidence. … The Vault is not just about the fact that you hold my confidences. It’s that, in our relationship, I see that you value confidentiality… a lot of times we share things that are not ours to share as a way to hot wire connection with a friend.
I – Integrity: I cannot trust you… if you do not act from a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same… [Integrity is] choosing courage over comfort, choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast or easy, and practicing your values, not just professing your values.
N – Non-judgment: I can fall apart, ask for help, and be in struggle without being judged by you and you can fall apart, ask for help, and be in struggle without being judged by me. Which is really hard because we are better at helping than we are at asking for help, … if you can’t ask for help and they cannot reciprocate that, that is not a trusting relationship. … You cannot judge yourself for needing help and not judge others for needing help.
G – Generosity: Our relationship is only a trusting relationship if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors, and then check in with me.
One of the biggest casualties with heartbreak and disappointment and failure and our struggle is not just the loss of trust with other people, but the loss of self trust. … If braving relationships with other people is BRAVING connection, self trust is BRAVING self love, self respect, the wildest adventure we’ll ever take in our whole lives. … If your own marble jar is not full, if you can’t count on yourself, you can’t ask other people to give you what you don’t have, so we have to start with self trust.
I know that there are some areas of self trust where I am doing well, but there are others where I have an abysmal track record. Specifically, honoring my own boundaries or, indeed, setting them at all, being reliable for myself, non-judgment, and generosity. I have to give myself opportunities to put marbles in my own jar.
So I have turned to my spirituality. I’ve always been the kind of person who is much more in my Mind than anywhere else, so it’s time to take that strength and use it to connect to my Body and my Soul, to temper my reliance on it with a more holistic approach to Self. To give myself chances to set goals and boundaries, so I can reliably work toward repairing the disconnect between Feeling and Thought and the Unknown.
In delving back into all of my more New Age-y interests, I have fallen into the deep well of astrology and I think it is a wonderful opportunity to share what I am learning (as I do believe we learn best through attempting to teach it) and to use it as a method of analyzing the multiple regions of my life and setting goals within them. Most people are aware of the Zodiac in the concept of “What’s your Sign?” Not everyone is aware that the question leaves out 95% of the process, focusing only on the Sun Sign, and that not always accurate if you are on a cusp. So a brief glimpse into the madness:
There are other points that can be taken into account for in depth readings, like points where the orbit of the moon passes the ecliptic of the Sun, certain specific stars or comets, and, of course, how your own birth chart interacts with another chart for your birthday each year or how it interacts with another persons chart. Relationships can have their own charts.
Mind-boggling and far more specific that you thought?
Well, I’m certainly not going to go into all of that, though I will bring up what I learn from time to time. If your interest is peaked, check out the resources in the widgets. Instead, I am going to commit to blogging at least once a week, on a topic in relation to the Houses. There is an order to them that is like a metaphor for the journey of life, so it seemed appropriate to use for a spiritual journey. The 1st House is in Aries, represents the Self and Identity, and is ruled by Mars, which represents our Passions and our Body. Also, as I’m starting this we are coming up on the beginning of the sign of Leo, which is my Rising Sign, so it seems an appropriate time for me to be starting this journey, especially in a public, yet self-directed way.
As with the beginning of life, I am choosing a name to use for this journey: Starshadow. It may be corny, but appropriately witchy for me and reinforces the astrology theme with the light side and shadow side of each Sign. The “Saharan” from my blog name come from my middle name, Sahara, which is Arabic for moon, also appropriate for astrology and the name my mother gave me, so represents my roots.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for joining me on this journey, however briefly you may stay.