I have Complex PTSD. It works like this.

December 7, 1990: My father gets down on his knees and begs the cops to shoot him. It happens under Christmas lights. I am blamed for it.

I will have my first suicidal thought less than a year later. I will be able to count on one hand the number of nights I truly felt safe after that.

Part of me died that day. Other parts died in the months that followed. Still other parts have been trying for 25 years to follow them to the grave. For part of me, there will never be a tomorrow. There will only be then.

It works like this: Your brain rewrites memories to make sense of the emotional reality you endured. It deletes the parts where you acted bravely because it does not fit with the fear you felt, and I mean that exactly: like cutting out the middle of a film strip, it leaves you with the first and last parts. You hear "911, what is your emergency" and think "holy shit, I am calling the cops on my Pop" and the next thing is that you’re hanging up the phone. Then he’s there and he picks you up by your shirt collar with both hands, shoves you against the wall, and blows hot, stinking rage in your face, and for 23 years you cannot for the life of you figure out who called the cops. Probably the neighbors. You then assume that they are the ones who got in touch with your mom and told her to come. Or maybe it was Grandma. Or was it Cathy. It was definitely someone. You do not know yet that it was you.

Your brain has also protected you from remembering the worst parts of it. It's not until you're 29 that the begging for suicide part comes back after your mom casually mentions it like you hadn't forgotten and it comes rushing back and slams into you so hard that you drop out of a semester of grad school. Your classmates are trying to figure out why you're leaving the group project you're working on. They ask can't we just fix this? No, we can't fix this. You do not know yet that this was a flashback.

And it's not fixed. You just have that part now, probably sooner than you should have had it. Life appears to go on and little things still never fit into place. You feel like your whole life is a series of episodes with no connecting narrative. It's a story without sense. I mean, it makes sense in a way because you can trace your history through time, this was sixth grade and that was seventh grade, but it still feels off. The bell sounds hollow. Of course, everyone else is happy to, or even eager to, write this off as the usual forgetting that comes with time or to philosophize about existential angst and the human condition or to tell you that your unease indicates a need for The Savior. But you never actually forget, not really, and it shows in how when you're touched in your sleep you immediately pop up and ask what's wrong and in how you react when someone dumps you and in how you have to go outside and smoke three cigarettes during that scene in Friday Night Lights where the dad kicks out the car windows. It's even in the goddamned cigarettes themselves and you fucking hate that so much and can't stop. And it's especially in the rage you feel when someone acts like you don't know what your clients have lived through and mistakes you for someone more like themselves.

How else do you explain it except that you’re broken? You’re not a fucking idiot, that you’re sure of. You can see the evidence of that. You can also see that other people seem to get through school, life, work, and relationships without the same struggle you go through. The deep, deep shame you carry about your deep, deep shame is that you know that you’re not living up to your potential. You were the one who was supposed to "make it," and here you are constantly wondering how long you’ll be able to hold out before you one day get too tired and too exhausted and just end it all. You do not know yet that this is C-PTSD.

What you don't know yet is that the whole world, in collusion with your own brain, has conspired to gaslight you.

It was your fault, they say, imply, nod, glance, intone, hit, neglect, and scream.

It was my fault, you say, imply, nod, glance, intone, hit, neglect, and scream.

After a while they don't need to actively abuse you and they don't need to beat you down to cover up their own shame at what they did. They've gotten you to do the work for them. And holy fucking moses are you good at it. You're like the best at it after a while.

What you don't know yet is that it wasn't your fault.

And when the time is right and enough bad things happen and you're capable of dealing with more of it, it starts coming up again.

He's dead now and you can openly mourn the loss of your entire childhood.

You look in the mirror and wonder if you ever make his faces when you're angry. You are now the age that he was when things started getting bad. You pull down your cheeks and poke at the wrinkles that make you feel older than you feel. You wonder if you'll not be afraid to have children in time to have them. You wonder how anyone could bear to stick around with someone who has such a corrosive, and heretofore largely secret, history of chronic suicidal ideation.

You are making what they call progress. That sense of disconnection is disappearing as you re-experience everything that happened in between and you recover your memories. It's excruciating and holy fuck terrifying and you get attacked by so much shame and hopelessness and you often don't think you'll get through it without killing yourself. But you repeat what you know and it's that it's too early for all that. Not at 35. You're still a baby even though you're not ready to admit that maybe he was too. All you have to do is keep doing exactly what you're doing and not die. That's it. You're being real with your people. You know you can trust them even if you have a hard time with it and fear on a panic level that someone will jump in and try to fix it for you or even inadvertently condescend to you and only see your struggle. You want to bellow in advance that if you weren't one of the strongest motherfuckers around that you'd be dead already and you hope that your natural ferocity says it for you that it's not advised to fuck around with you like that, without you having to say it. But you know they know that. I mean fuck 'em if they don't but you know they do. You're letting them know you. It's cool. You're letting new acquaintances know this along with close friends, my man. This is how we fight shame. They say it helps. Part of you believes them. And maybe it's exactly as it should be that you still tremble every time you click post. You can hear drum beats in the distance. Something's out there. But you wonder if "progress" means that you will ever really be good in your own skin and will ever really know that it wasn't your fault. You wonder if the rest of you will ever age past December 7, 1990.

You wonder if you'll ever again be able to sleep without fear.

It works like this.


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