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.

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I Hate Christmas!!!

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“I hate Christmas!”

The first time I heard these words, I was shocked. How could anyone hate Christmas? My startled ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Curiosity getting the better of me, I just had to start asking people, “Why do you hate Christmas?” And, boy, did the answers startle me just as much.

One person said, “I hate the greed of it all. We have overstuffed and over-privileged people running around becoming more stuffed and more privileged as though nothing in the world outside their bubble even exists.”

I could grasp this. Having seen one too many fur coated parcel bearing woman or man walk right in front of me as though I didn’t exist to step into their spanking new Mercedes has left me gob smacked more than once. It always strikes me odd that we have people on one side of the globe worrying about their cottages or multiple homes while those on the other side of the globe have none.  I believe some over privileged could take a page out of J.K. Rowling’s book of life on the matter of “giving back.” So, I could relate and told this person so. But that still wouldn’t make me hate Christmas, it is not Christmas’s fault people behave poorly, as some humans do.

Another person said every Christmas just reminds her of all the people she no longer has to celebrate it with, her parents and a sister all passed on before her. Even though she is long married with kids of her own, she said Christmas still feels hollow to her without her loved ones, her memories still hurt her and cause her sorrow instead of gladdening her heart.

This I can understand, too. This is also why I say “love your people fastly, you never know how long you will have them for.” Telling those you love that you love them as often as possible is the only remedy I know of to honor those already gone on. It takes time for the healing of memory and we need to go gentle on ourselves until we are there. Making the most of our moments, even in the face of sorrow, is the only thing that ever works for me, helps me realize all we ever really have is here and now.

Another said it is a horrible time of year when families gather to watch relatives get tanked to the gills while everything from arguing about how to make the gravy or who can out arm wrestle one another turns into a free for all brawl that pretty much lasts until the New Year. I don’t do Christmas anymore, she said. I hide away telling people I am away or I actually go away, even if only to the next town over, anyplace I don’t have to be part of all that squabbling and annual bitterness.

This I can also understand. While most of my childhood memories of Christmas are happy, not all of them are. Too much drinking by too many adults who didn’t learn to control themselves properly blurred over some of our childhood Christmases. Seems their arguing was far more important to them than us kids, standing around looking distressed and confused because, hey, what happened to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

While other answers included “commercialization” or exclusion, the one that came up time and again was people feeling lonely. They didn’t feel a “part of the holiday” because they weren’t part of a “unit.” There are other reasons people hate Christmas, I am sure, but not being part of a family or a couple or a close knit group really strikes some hard at Christmas more than any other time of the year.

I can understand this as well. Not everyone has the good fortune to have family, be in a couple or be part of a close knit group. There were a couple of Christmases I sat the day out. Just listened to music, made myself toast with peanut butter, tea, ate oranges and read. It was really okay and I was glad I did it. Joining in on anything during those particular Christmases would have meant some hurting in some way or another and I needed to avoid that. And I did.

Is spending Christmas alone something that works for everyone? Probably not. Most of us are happier when we engage with others, if only briefly. Still, whether we are missing a loved one who has passed on or a long term relationship has ended, many are left alone to try and make the most of what can be a very trying time of year. As a huge supporter of allowing humans to feel what they feel, to process their feelings and sometimes just let them be, I personally know the pain of trying to “shut it all off” for the sake Christmas.

While I can’t say much to ease that kind of pain or longing, I can appreciate a hatred of Christmas and even join in with a hateful word or two of my own.

I hate Christmas for you. I hate that there is nothing I can do to make your Christmas better. I hate that there is nothing I can say to change your loneliness, exclusion, frustrations or sorrows. I hate that greed and commercialization rule the Christmas roost, too.

I, too, long for the day when gathering fragrant bows from the woods to place around the home while sharing a festive meal in a cozy setting is the priority instead of losing days to the mall and running ourselves ragged for what will barely be a blip on the screens of our lives. I hate that for all we humans think we have advanced, we often still sink to the nearest common denominator when it comes to all the Christmas hype.

So, there it is. I hate Christmas, too. But I also love some things no one can take away and these things will always move me no matter what else is or is not going on. The music and the faerie lights (as my mum-in-law called them) have always touch my heart and, as I find myself breaking into song, a tear or two may fall because the loved one I once sang this song with is no longer here.

As the days grow darker and the long black nights almost punishing, I love seeing the cheering faerie lights everywhere. They remind me of all the love and light there is in the world in spite of all the greedy, over-privileged and selfish humans. The lights remind me that humans don’t have to stay that way, that we, too, can change our “colors” if we want to or “twinkle” a little brighter for a kindness we extend to another. Hating Christmas might be the very thing that sparks a new tradition, a better way of being in the world that others may follow. There is always hope.

And I hope for those of you who hate Christmas that you will find something all your own this year and claim it. Taking a walk in the snow with camera in hand for unique and memorable nature captures, ordering a festive drink in the local coffee house with no handheld gadget going – just sitting sipping quietly to enjoy people watching or listening, borrowing a library book you might never have chosen before and reading the entire volume over Christmas, calling some people you miss for a phone visit, inviting another who will be alone to join you for the day or part of the day, going to see a movie, anything, it doesn’t have to be big or costly, just something all yours you decide to do. Who knows, it might just erode that hatred of Christmas enough that you will find yourself enjoying yourself.

This is my Christmas wish for you. Merry Christmas Everyone. Wishing you all hope filled hearts and peaceful souls.

❤ ❤ ❤

© Janni Styles