PTSD: Is it possible to Forgive and Forget?

There is a lot of media out there from both organizations and individuals who claim that forgiving is our only way forward once we have endured trauma. The problem I have with this is that I believe you can forgive alright. But forget? Never. If you dare for one minute to let your guard down around certain people who were harmful to you in your past, you leave yourself vulnerable for more hurting. This is always a conflicting statement to me whenever I hear it because forgiving and forgetting aren’t even in the same category  in my world.

Forgiving means you have grown past the pain or abuses well enough to let go of them and stop the daily torment of “why why why” but I personally believe it is completely impossible to forget what happened to us. In forgiving I find nothing more than a sensation of not being angry any more. I no longer question “why why why” because I have realized I was not being dealt with by people who were mentally and emotionally intact human beings. If they were, they could never have dealt me the blows they exacted on my psyche and on my person.

A niece who knew I had worked with victims of domestic violence in the justice system phoned to say her common-law husband and father of their three children was bashing her head into the wall. Call the police I said, I am on my way.  Her mother (my sister) and I worked tirelessly for days to get their home in order because the police officer who took the children’s father away said he was calling the Ministry of Children and Families. The Ministry visited and the children were deemed safe in the care of their mother but he was not to move back in. Just two months later, my niece let the kid’s father move back in with his skull and crossbones posters and all. I cried when I heard this news.

In trauma counselling for PTSD myself, I was emotionally torn. Should I leave it or should I let the Ministry know of the potential danger the children and their mother were in? In the end, the trauma counselor helped me a great deal by asking me questions that gave me the answer and I used her phone to call the Ministry. I could not take the idea that three little pairs of eyes might haunt me if I didn’t do the right thing by them. If their mother wasn’t strong enough, somebody had to be for the sake of the children and that just happened to be me. He is now fully out of the picture so as far as I know, the children are safe. But again family members, including the niece who called me for help in the first place, blamed and ostracized me for doing this instead of seeing there really is no choice when it comes to the safety and protection of children. They still cannot see it, or rather, refuse to.  But I am no longer angry about that either so I guess that means I have also forgiven all their misplaced ire. And all that in the midst of having PTSD. So, as I have said many times and I will likely have to say it again: when you have PTSD you do not lose your intelligence, you just lose your “coping skills.” What you once bounced back from pretty fast just takes a lot longer when you have PTSD.

Not only did I survive a physical assault that could have killed me with one kick to my bladder, I was haunted online even as I struggled massively to cope with the loss of my mother, my job, my decades long marriage, my financial stability, a new relationship of a year that ended due to his cheating which was what ended his own decades long marriage before meeting me and yes, in a nod to a country song, I also lost my dog at the same time all of this was going on. Those nasty minded people had no compassion, no humanity and no regard for anything but their own selfish angers at the misguided conclusions they drew. They dogged me for about a year until I threatened legal intervention. I am sure, unless they did some radical self educating, they are still angry at somebody somewhere and spew their vitriol daily. I am so far removed from that now, I look back and ask myself, “Why wasn’t I able to see how truly broken all those abusers are, what took me so long to see it?”

Two things spring to mind: hope and PTSD. Just as I had held out hope in my marriage every time he promised to drop his multiple addictions and seek help, I held out hope that these cruel minded adults would realize the error of their ways and come to their senses. Add to this the fact that I was taken down by PTSD and it actually felt like my brain was “banging” on the inside of my head in what I now call a “repetitive brain stutter.” I just couldn’t get past the brain stuttering and get the clarity I needed to see that there is no fixing some people no matter the lies they tell themselves and others. Even though I have PTSD, I could finally see they are “broken” and may never come right again. Thanks to three years of trauma counselling and learning coping techniques, my brain does not “bang” inside my head anymore. It hasn’t for almost two years. Still, there are moments when I am still “triggered” and start trembling and stuttering my words. It’s not so much that we have to wrap ourselves in cotton swabs and avoid the world so much as it is to remember your coping techniques. And realize that some people are just not going to ever be good for us no matter what they say or promise.

This is where I will go back to “forgiveness” because I believe I have reached forgiveness. Against the eight family members who sided with my ex and the woman who kicked me, a former bestie of near 20 years, I no longer carry anger or even question why. This is how I know I have reached forgiveness. But I will not give any of them, my ex, the abusive relatives or the physical assaulter a second chance to hurt me. Unless and until a massive public apology occurs from all parties. We all know that can’t happen until they actually deal with the truth and facts of the situation and that is, clearly, not even likely for any of them or they would not have behaved so terribly in the first place. Thankful is my walk forward that I can now recognize abusers on a dime and steer totally clear of them. The last four years have been some of the most peaceful of my life and I am so looking forward to more of the same. This is due, in large part, both because of my own continued healing work and because I now surround myself with people who are “safe.” If you are not “safe,” you don’t “get in” is my new philosophy for living life as peacefully as possible.

I will leave you with my latest PTSD poster and as always, your comments and questions are welcome here. I know this can be tough reading for some and I apologize if you have a hard time reading. Actually going through it is much worse than reading about it as you know. Please know also I am able to write about it with a healthy distance because I am in a much better place now. Well, that’s it for me this week, love, peace and hope to all who read this.

ptsd-poster-3

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THE MUSICAL MESSENGER (published 1999(c)

Parents teach us about life even long after they leave us...

The Sunday my teenaged brother accidentally slammed the car door shut on my hand is more vivid in my mind then my forever altered fingerprint. It wasn’t that I had never witnessed my father’s rage before. His impatience with the repetitive noises children naturally make was no secret in our family. Neither were Dad’s scathing outbursts of cursing when he reached the height of frustration. But his silence that day terrified me. No yelling, no swearing, just the rhythmic crunching of boots crossing gravel.

To appease my father, my brother uselessly repeated,”It was an accident. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Stop it! Get in the car! We have to go to the emergency room!” My mother shrilled through the tension as she wrapped a towel from the clothesline around my hand.

With a bewildered expression, my father backed toward the car. My bloody nosed brother stared at us as we pulled out of the driveway but he did not return my wave at him through the rear window. It’s okay, I whispered. At seven years old, I already knew that Dad calmed as quickly as he riled himself up.

Child rearing was not my father’s area of expertise. Country music was and, competing in several talent shows, Dad rivaled artists who later achieved international fame. In one event he had hoped to place third and win a new stereo. Instead, he was awarded the first place trophy and a chance to advance in the industry. But a growing family demanded a steady pay check and Dad abandoned his musical dreams.

A machinist by trade, his skilled hands eventually only played the guitar at home on weekends. No more band rehearsals or overnight jam sessions. With guitar in hand, he left when I was thirteen. All I knew was that he was deserting us.

Some of us are still licking wounds from the ensuing sense of rejection and abandonment. Mine manifested as an inability to release possessions and relationships long past the expiry date of their goodness. A greeting card hoarder, I held onto people and things that were no longer life-giving.  I now know that I was clinging to a self-worth that hinged on how much others valued me, including my father. I considered death among one of his many human short-comings because when he died, so did the love he gave me.

Dad lived simply with a fondness for good food, rye whisky, Sunday drives, nature and practical jokes. A charismatic character with a strong sense of right and wrong that is vivid in my mind, he would hate it if I painted a posthumous image of perfection. “That’s not right,” he would say. “Tell it right or don’t tell it at all.”

A man ill-equipped to deal with the curve balls life tossed  him, my father was completely freed when performing. He often encouraged us children to take turns pressing an ear against his battered acoustic guitar while he strummed. The only stress visible in him then was his taut neck cords straining to hit the high notes. And he did.

Recently, I realized that my father’s gift was far greater than the gift of music alone. Observing the passion of a man lost in the rapture of creativity was a magical experience. Through him, I not only heard but saw and felt the music. I still do.

When I was still a teenager and my father was 41, he left this earthly world for what I have always hoped is a better place. Over time, I feel I have come to know him better than I did when he was alive. Youthful preoccupation blinded me to the light of love on his face in the photos I now cherish and pore over while listening to his music. His songs speak directly of the heartache he endured and , more poignantly, to the suffering he knew he caused. Every time I hear the lyrics I recall my brother’s words the day my fingerprint was altered and I can almost hear Dad saying,”It was an accident. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Daddy Stories...reading and writing so serious, even then.

Reverence on my part, perhaps, because my father lived simply but he was not a simple man. The most glorified memory I have of him is one I, regrettably, was not present for. It is of a man who, weeks before his cancer riddled body fought the final fight, created a haunting legacy of words and music that tell me who he was and, in turn, who I am.

Now 40, I have learned a couple of things myself. I have realized that the greater part of being loved is loving yourself, being at peace with yourself. I know that people must follow their hearts or it can make them sick, possibly even kill them with an insidious, joy corroding cancer of the spirit.

Thanks to my father, I strive to “make my own music” by writing full-time. I left a mainstream career track for humble part-time work that supports my learning and basic needs. I no longer feel stretched forty ways but there is no steady pay check for following the call of the soul and being true to your creativity. There is usually no check at all.  But I can’t let that stop me.

In discouraging moments I think of my father’s creative life cut short by obligations, then by cancer at age 41 and I continue writing because I have no choice. I know Dad would completely understand this and, wherever he is, I hope he knows that being in his life was one of the highest notes in mine.

(c) 1999 Published in Anthology of Winning Literature

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