So, it’s Friday. Finally. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is a huge relief to be done with the week. On the other hand, I have so much to do and so many deadlines, that taking a few days off just makes me dread next week.
I’ve been doing a lot of dreading, lately. I am behind on a number of of my projects – there are just too many of them, and they are all TOP PRIORITYin the eyes of others. I’m keeping things running that need to keep going, and I’m also working on building new pieces of the puzzle that is my occupation. And the new pieces are getting intense push-back from people who want things to stay as they were.
Which all seems pretty unfair to me – it wasn’t my idea to make all these changes. My job is just to make them happen. But I get the brunt of people’s objections and opposition, while management sits back and lets the underlings duke it out. Which is incredibly uncomfortable and bothersome for me.
Really, what I want for my life is some peace. I have had a hell of a decade, and I value peace and common sense a whole lot more than I did when I was in my 30’s. I’m nearing the end of my 40’s, now, and I feel it very strongly. I have changed. My injuries have changed me. The upheavals of my life have changed me. All the drama I have gone through in the past ten years since my TBI in 2004 has changed me. It’s almost like life was on the lookout for my 40th birthday, and as soon as it was in sight, all hell broke loose. It didn’t even wait for my 40th birthday, because everything started to come unraveled a few years before… which contributed to my fall down those stairs in ’04.
Interesting… I’m seeing a lot of 0’s and 4’s in the last paragraph. Not that I’m superstitious or anything…
Anyway, enough bitching about how hard life has been. Everybody has it hard, in one way or another, and it’s really up to me to decide what to do with it. Rather than fighting things and resisting them and wishing they were different, I could be facing up to what’s ahead of me and just going for it, treating it like a learning experience, rather than proof that I’m a screw-up and will never get anything right.
When I approach everything like a big ole learning experience, so much the better. Teach this old dog some new tricks, and see how far it can go.
It really does take the pressure off.
And that makes all the difference in the world. It changes the tone of my whole experience, which is exactly what I need. The longer I’m alive, the more I realize just how elusive true happiness can be, and I value inner peace and equanimity all the more. I understand more than ever just how destructive unchecked anger can be, I know from experience just how much time is wasted by indulging fleeting emotions and giving them the ability to mushroom into Major Events. I have watched the last 10 years of my life be undermined and shredded and dragged down by rage and anxiety and poor self-management, and I have seen years of quality experience prior to that go wasted, because I was too busy being angry or hurt or confused or frustrated or worked up about something, to make the most of my past.
And today, as I look ahead to a day I’m not looking forward to, when I’m going to be working with people who are NOT on the same wavelength and revel in all sorts of discord and disruption and downright treachery, the painful truth about what my TBI cost me, is very clear to me – front and center.
Days like today are one of the big reasons I am so intent on my TBI recovery — regaining my equilibrium… mastering my emotions… taking care of my physical health… fine-tuning my behavior and how I think about myself and others. I don’t much care for the situation I’m in, and I need to build up the resources and the ability to extract myself from this situation.
The first step is extracting my mind from a situation of dread and avoidance. I hate dealing with some of the folks I have to deal with… come to think of it, I hate dealing with just about everybodyI have to deal with. But the thing that makes it harder, is avoiding and refusing to engage with them. When I just step up and do what needs to be done, the wheels start turning, and the anxiety and frustration really decrease. Even though I’m not happy, and I really dislike dealing with these folks, still, I’m doing what needs to be done … to get the hell out. I have to deliver a project before I leave, and there is a big-ass deadline on it. And I need to have so much done before that date. Crazy. But as long as I hold back and don’t do what I need to do, it’s even crazier.
So, enough procrastinating, enough avoiding. It’s time to get on with the day, go deal with these … people, and take yet more steps towards getting the hell OUT. Time to make this day what Iwant it to be.
This vacation is turning out to be pretty amazing. I’m still a far cry from being fully rested, or getting a full night’s sleep. I’ve been up late every night, under the clear night sky filled with stars, just being. Not doing. Just being. Sitting on the beach till midnight, tending a fire. Swimming in the ocean at midnight with a friend. Listening to the waves coming and going and letting go of a lot of old “stuff” that has bogged me down.
A few days ago, when I was so very tired from entertaining the lamprey house-guest, I got really caught up in some old “blame games” with my spouse. We’re lying on the beach under a clear sky, not a trouble in sight, and a lot of old resentments started to bubble up. It was definitely withdrawal from the energy I had to expend on the lamprey house-guest — and I was tired, so very tired, and agitated, too.
About an hour of an otherwise perfect day was spent hashing and re-hashing a handful of old hurts, which I now realize may not even be valid. I realize now that my addled mind got paranoid and had it in my head that some terrible betrayal was done to me… when what I have been imagining and getting resentful about may have never happened at all.
Then again, there’s a chance that it did happen, that a terrible injustice was done to me… and I would be “justified” in being hurt and angry.
But focusing on that imagined condition at that point in time, when it was not happening, and in fact it was old news… and it was a gorgeous day with ample time to rest and relax… it just didn’t make any sense. I was ruining my present moment with something in the past that might never have been real.
So, I decided to just let it go. Just. Let. It. Go. There’s no point in hanging onto that old stuff — it just keeps me from being present to, well, the present. And it gums up my system with all sorts of biochemical sludge that I then have to remove at a later time with a lot of extra work and attention.
It’s easier to just let it go from the get-go, and not get into it. Of course, take care of myself and stand up for myself, and not let people walk all over me. But not get mired in the past, when the present is calling.
We humans are funny creatures, sometimes. We need to feel validated and we need to feel like we matter. And when we get hurt, we need someone to see and recognize that. For some reason, it makes us feel better. The problems start, when we get so bogged down in that needing to be seen and recognized and appreciated, that we “take up residence” in our hurts and frustrations and pain, and we drag everyone around us down into that quicksand of pain and suffering.
We want to be seen and recognized. We want our pain and sacrifice to be appreciated and acknowledged. But then our entire lives can end up revolving around that pain and sacrifice, to the point where it gets blown up into The Main Event of our lives. We can get addicted to the thrill of disclosure, as well as the rush that comes from talking about what bad things have happened to us… and that just pulls everyone down — including ourselves.
So, I decided a few days ago to just let it go. Just live as though it had never happened. Let the bad decisions and perceived betrayals and the hurts and injuries just fade into the background… like the invented thought-forms they are. Our perceptions of life and experience are so subjective, we can make of them what we want. And once they’re over and done, they are over and done. It’s just how we “curate” them in our minds that causes us pain — how we hang onto them and nurse them back to health, just when they’re about to die out and disappear.
And what I discovered years ago, is that if I decide to live and act as though what happened has dissolved into thin air, and I choose to think and feel as though the exact opposite occurred, I can turn around my mindset and change the course of my life.
It’s not pretending something never happened. It’s not denial. It’s refusing to let unhappy events of the past continue to live beyond their “expiration date”. It’s like putting “Use By” labels on my experience, and once that date has passed, I stop opening up the old memory containers, because I know the insides are going to be spoiled and smell really awful.
So, since that moment when I decided to let that old sh*t go, I haven’t been bothered by it. Even in the moments when things have gotten weird and tense inside my head, and I’ve had time on my hands to perseverate about bad things that happened in the past, I haven’t done it. I’ve literally just let it go.
And it occurs to me that so much of what we do in our own heads is just that — picking and choosing what we are going to focus on, and making that rule our lives and set the tone for our experience. The fact of the matter is, I’m really tired and feeling sick most of the time. My sensitivities are making me touchy and jumpy and hard to live with. And I’m in pain. But I don’t have to let those passing experiences take over my life. Every new moment is a new opportunity to experience and think and feel something completely different — something completely better.
So that’s what I’m choosing. It takes practice, and old habits of mind are hard to break — especially when they are connected with physical experience — but it’s possible. It’s very do-able.
And that’s what I’m practicing. That’s what I’m doing. I’m just dropping that old crap and moving on, using my mind to steer clear of letting my body drag me down. And in the process, my body actually starts to feel better. Sometimes. Other times, not. But whatever. At least my mind is freed.
I think I found a new way to get a grip. I’ve written a bunch of times about how I’ve lost it over little things — dropping a spoon while I’m making my morning coffee, not being able to hold something firmly in hand, getting stuck in traffic, navigating tough situations at work, arguing with my spouse and having the argument spiral wildly out of control and escalate to the point of madness…and more.
It’s been an ongoing struggle for me, and it’s cost me plenty, to lose my grip and be reduced to an adrenaline-soaked pile of skin ‘n’ bones, shaking and sick to my stomach and regretting what I did or said for hours… days… weeks… sometimes years. Regret is a usual and customary part of my life.
In some ways, it’s the glue for my past. If I didn’t have regrets, and all the strong feelings that go along with them, I’m sure my perception of my life and my past would be very different from what it is right now. In some ways, I’m not sure my memory of my past would be as clear — the emotion of regret has pretty much locked some experiences in my memory for all time. Take away the regret, and you take away a big part of how I recollect my past.
Some folks say, “I have no regrets – I would do it all again the same way.”
These folks have no imagination.
I can think of a million different things I would do differently, if I had them to do all over again. And I can think of a million different outcomes that I wish had happened, versus what actually did. It’s not that I’m being hard on myself, it’s just that I see and recognize my limitations, and I am very clear about those instances where things did not go the way I wanted them to, because I “lost it”, sometimes for no apparent reason.
Do I wish I had not flipped out at my boss, back in 2005, and given him a piece of my TBI-addled mind? You betcha.
Do I wish I had not harangued and browbeaten and hassled my spouse, till they finally broke and threatened to divorce me — not once, but many, many times in the course of the past years? You’d better believe it.
Do I wish I had not gotten into those fights with the neighbor kids that got me in trouble with adults and other kids — who were older and bigger and meaner than little ole obnoxious me… and outnumbered me on top of it? How could I not?
Do I regret flying into road rage over nothing, really, and chasing people down a highway or side street to “show them”, several times, just a few months back? Absolutely.
My past is littered with poor decisions, as well as good decisions I couldn’t make good on, because of some stupid-ass impulse control issue or some idea that felt great at the time, but was a really dumb one, once I thought about it with a clear head. My life has been punctuated by overly emotional outbursts where my frustration and confusion got the best of me and turned me into someone I did not recognize. My memory is spotty to begin with, and the pieces I actually do have in place are anything but uniformly good.
So yeah, regret.
A lot of people tell me that regret is a “bad” thing to feel. They say it’s negative and it holds me back from really enjoying my life. They say the same thing about shame, but in all honesty I have a lot less problem with shame than with regret. I’ve heard shame defined as a humiliating sense that you should have done better, or somesuch. And then there’s guilt, where you make things that sucked into things that were your fault — as though you had so much control over those things to begin with. Shame isn’t such a big deal for me — sure, I usually have the sense that I should have done better, but it’s not that humiliating. It’s just a little embarrassing. Guilt isn’t such a huge deal for me, either, because things that suck are often just notmy fault, and I often have the very clear sense that I have no control over what happened or what resulted from it.
But regret? Yeah, there’s no lack of that with me.
But does it hold me back? Sometimes it does, but it doesn’t always have to. In fact, regret is probably one of the things that holds my life together. It might sound strange, but think about it — it’s a powerful emotion, and it’s always lurking right around the corner in my mind. I am keenly aware of all the things I’ve screwed up and how I wish I had done them differently. And that makes me even more keen to figure out how to NOT screw things up the next time.
See, that’s an important part of my recovery — being able to assess the outcomes of my behavior, see where I’ve screwed up, and then make an extra effort to get it right the next time. There is usually a next time, and when I’m using my head, I can make the most of new opportunities when they arise. It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve often been humbled (and humiliated) by circumstances. But it’s paid off. Regret has served me well.
I’m currently having a new opportunity to re-do things that I’ve screwed up in the past. This is a big-time do-over, and I really want to make the most of it.
Basically, I have discovered that a very close relative of mine really screwed me over a couple of years ago. I won’t go into the details, because it’s complicated, but basically it’s about them pushing me out of the way (behind my back) and trying to cut me out of the family, because they believed I was “damaged goods” and I was a hindrance and a waste of time to my family. Things have been pretty touch-and-go with my family, over the years, and I’ve worked really hard to make up for the things I messed up — and I thought I was doing pretty well, a couple of years ago.
Now I find out (through old correspondence and writings) that there were some serious “operations” going on to push me out of the family, string me along on the surface, but keep me clueless about what was really going on. I come to find out that there were all kinds activities my family members were doing with each other over the space of a couple years — they had a great time and really enjoyed themselves, and never said a word to me. In fact, they hid it from me and pretended it never even happened. I thought something was up, a few years back, and I asked about it, but everyone flatly denied that anything was going on that I didn’t know about.
Two individuals, in particular, were driving the whole thing, and they kept me in the dark while organizing activities and having a grand time… while I was working my ass off at work, just trying to make ends meet, and generally struggling with so much on a daily basis without any real moral support.
Funny, I thought people were more distant than usual.
Now it turns out, I was not only right about something going on, but I vastly underestimated the extent to which I was cut out of things. There was even talk of some large-scale activities which involved people very close to me, to whom I have turned for support many times. Basically, they were going to ditch me and go traveling, see sights, do lots of different things… a full roster of family activities, to which I would not be invited. In the stuff I read, I was dismissed as an impediment to their fun, with talk about how so-and-so “handled” me and “talked me down” when I was upset. Like I was some kind of mentally deficient village idiot they just couldn’t be bothered with.
God, cut me, why don’tcha… When I read this stuff over the weekend, it really threw me for a loop. There was this whole other world that people very close to me were developing, and not only was I not invited, but I was un-invited, deliberately pushed to the side, like I was some kind of human flotsam. Dismissed. Disposed of. Like I didn’t matter, and they couldn’t be bothered. I had been feeling bad about feeling a bit pushed to the side, but I didn’t want to make that big of a deal out of it before. Now I realize that it was a much bigger issue than I ever imagined, and in addition to feeling hurt and betrayed, I also feel like a complete idiot for not realizing what was going on, and basically fulfilling their expectations that I was a clueless, brain-damaged idiot who would never know the difference.
And that stings.
Yesterday was a pretty rough day for me. It was like Day One of the new world… and I had a hundred different ideas about how to confront people and let them know that I KNEW what they had done, and although I never pressed the issue before, I still knew that something was going on. I’m not thatdamaged. I wanted them to know that I had a lot more details now, than they ever thought I would… and I wanted to take ’em all down. Cut them out of my life. Just dispose of them, the way they’d tried to dispose of me.
The only thing is, they’re my family. And when I really thought about it yesterday, I realized that over the past six months, they’ve been trying to do better with me. I think the guilt just got to them. And shame. The realization that what they were doing was really pretty shitty must have sunk in, and they decided to change their ways. They’ve been trying — noticeably — for the past six months or so, to make room for me and include me in things.
And now the question comes down to this — do I let myself fly off the handle with them, confront them, and try to punish them, for what they did before… or do I let it go and allow them to make amends for their callous unkindness? They really seem to be trying, and they seem to have had a real change of heart, and I don’t want to screw that up. It might make me feel better to confront them and make them “pay for what they did to me”, but in the long run, how will that help? I know what they did. They know what they did. Who knows why they did it, and who knows — maybe it was just one bad idea that someone had once, which then took on a life if its own… and then they all got carried away in the heat of the moment and continued to make those unkind decisions just ’cause it seemed like the thing to do.
I will never know that. Nor will I ever know what changed their minds about things and caused the change of heart.
All I know is this — years from now, when I look back on this time, I don’t want to remember flying off the handle and going off the deep end, doing my “scorched earth” meltdown freak-out thing with people who are my family and my main support. I don’t want to think back on this time as one when I lost it, when I trashed the attempts to make things right, out of my hurt and pain and insecurity and need to make others hurt the way I am hurting right now.
No doubt about it, this is very painful. It’s been excruciating. To be so dismissed and so marginalized and just pushed aside like a piece of trash… it just reminds me of all the other times in my life when that was done to me, and it just feels terrible. But even more terrible would be to let that pain and hurt take over my life and proceed to cause more pain and hurt in the lives of others.
That’s the kind of memory I don’t want to make. That’s the kind of experience I don’t want to have. Because no matter how justified I am in my hunger for revenge and vindication, no matter how much right I have to eye-for-eye justice, the long-term fallout of that kind of thinking and behavior is much worse than the original cause for it. It’s bad enough that I was deceived for over a year about things that mattered so much to me. It’s bad enough that the people I trusted most turned against me and made fun of me and treated me like just some tool. But if I let loose with a rampage, then any recovery from that is going to be delayed — for a lot longer than a few years. And knowing me, when I get going, I say and do things that can never be taken back. And if I let myself get to that place of uninhibited attack, I can do more damage than I intend to.
I should know. My past is littered with experiences like that.
And I don’t want to do it again.
So, I’m just letting it go. I have to. I am overworked and over-tired, and if I indulge my outrage, I’m going to be even more overworked and fatigued as I try to clean things up on my side. I’m doing my best to turn my attention to more positive things and focus on the good stuff in my life, not dwell on the bad. I know what it’s like to have a bad idea and then let it spring into life and let it get out of hand. I know what it’s like to not be able to stop myself from doing and saying those things and hurt someone I care deeply about. I know what it’s like to be human, and that’s what happened with my family — they just got really human, a couple of years ago.
And now they’re trying to make it up to me.
They’re being really nice to me. Considerate. Caring, actually. More than ever. I’m not going to push that aside, I’m going to let them do it, regardless of the reason. The past is the past, and while it hurts like hell to find out the inside story, it’s still the past. And I have a present and a future I need to take care of.
I can’t let the bad decisions and behavior of others dictate my own behavior and state of mind. I’ve let that happen in the past, and this time I have a chance to do it over — do it differently. I have a lot of really great prospects ahead of me, and if I let this revelation get the best of me, then Ilose out. And I don’t want to do that. I have been through some pretty tough things, but this is one of the toughest… and when I look back on this time, I want to look back with pride that I handled myself well, that I dealt with everything as a sovereign adult, and that I chose to rise above it and not wallow in petty hurt and pain, which only serve to make me unhappy and unhealthy in so many ways.
Life can really suck, sometimes. Pain happens. Betrayal happens. So does deceit and scheming and all kinds of sick little games. Freak-outs happen, too. As do meltdowns and breakups. But in the midst of this upheaval, I’ve got a new chance to handle the old shit in a new way. And I will. Because when I look back, years from now, I want my memory of this time to be full of pride, not only pain. I don’t want to have this be the kind of thing I regret and carry around with me as yet another example of how I can’t keep my act together. I want the moment to belong to me, not to others who tried — once upon a time — to ditch me and treat me like I was nothing.
They’re trying to make it up to me. They’re still not admitting anything, and they’re still hiding what went on, but at least they’re trying to make it up to me. And that’s a positive change for the better.
Life is waiting, and it has a lot in store — lots of it very good stuff indeed.
Betrayal is a big one that comes into play in PTSD — it impacts your sense of safety and that compounds your difficulties. When hurt or injury or assault or some other trauma is experienced at the hands of others, it ups the traumatic nature of the experience even more. Children who see their parent killed — often by another family member — have a 100% rate of PTSD.
The place where TBI is a contributing factor, I believe, is the place where the thinking processes of an injured brain become paranoid, suspicious, and turn even the most innocuous statement or action into a personal affront. Life can be challenging enough, as it is, but when you throw in the injured brain’s tendency to misinterpret all sorts of otherwise harmless experiences and actions as BAD, and you throw in some perseveration on top of it — spinning and spinning and turning and churning, whipping you up into a frenzy of outrage and hurt — then things get even more interesting.
The thing about betrayal, is that sometimes it’s not exactly that. Sometimes we think that we’ve been betrayed or wronged or personally attacked, when it’s just shit happening. When I got hurt in 2004, I felt intensely betrayed by a number of different experiences, and it only made things worse. I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone. I had very little control over my thought processes, and I didn’t realize it well enough to actually do something about it.
So I suffered. How I suffered.
The other factor with TBI and betrayal and PTSD is that (as I alluded above), you can feel everything so intensely, that a minor infraction becomes a source of immense pain and suffering. One little misspoken word can turn into a world-toppling drama, and inside the confines of your head it then amplifies until it’s deafening, and it’s all you can hear. Even the most minor of oversights can rapidly turn into a full-blown “betrayal catastrophe” with your world shifting off its axis over stuff that most people wouldn’t even notice.