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This guest post originally appeared on Joey V.’s blog, Overcoming Complex PTSD: Recovery Revealed.It’s Sunday night a bit past 9pm, the curfew during “winter hours” at the wellness center I now find myself in. I haven’t had a curfew since I was a sophomore in high school. It’s not that I was forced here, however. I can come and go as I please and can grab my stuff and walk out that front door right now. Thing is, though, I’m actually glad to be here… to a certain extent, anyway.
I was homeless for a relatively short period of time because I had to immediately move out as I was allergic to black mold which began to spew its spores once the heat and humidity of summer hit. I had to get everything out and into storage so the spores didn’t infiltrate all of my belongings.
I couldn’t find another apartment quickly enough because of my credit, which was in tatters for much the same reason that I became homeless: a confluence of circumstances sent me spinning into my “Frozen World.” This is my euphemism for what happens to me when a stressor or a combination thereof induce the fight-flight-freeze response.
My Complex PTSD, stemming from physical and psychological childhood traumas, indirectly brought my Frozen World into existence. I was cognitively aware of these repeated events from my youth but I never emotionally approached them. I chalked them up to “childhood as usual” and unknowingly threw up a psychological defensive barrier against feeling any of the related emotions. This is my Frozen World, but it existed solely in regards to those childhood traumas until relatively recently.
Outside the context of dealing with my childhood experiences, I never previously froze up except for extremely short-term situations. I fought like hell to defeat the daunting challenges of my life. That’s the only way I could have made it as far as I had in this world considering the lack of opportunities due to my original socio-economic status (that would be “white trash”).
Finding out I was to be a father caused me to reflect on what kind of father I had. This brought out so much internal darkness and pain that it swamped my brain’s defenses and swept away the boundaries of my Frozen World. The flood of emotions was such that I only dealt with everything thereafter by freezing instead of fighting or fleeing. I was never one to run away from anything, but I simply lost the capacity to fight. My Frozen World had now expanded to encompass my entire life.
I progressively began freezing in a state of denial and inaction whenever presented with any type of significant stressor. With regard to my apartment, I failed to quickly find a landlord willing to risk my credit score. I had nowhere else to go and no natural support since my family is 900 miles away. I couldn’t live with my girlfriend at the time because she had a clause in her divorce agreement preventing that due to their kids. I stayed in hotels the other 80% of nights and ate at restaurants three or four times daily, all of which quickly drained my finances.
I could no longer keep my own girls for overnights, which devastated both them and me. It also placed me in my ex’s crosshairs because I just knew she would use it against me in court to take the 45% custody I was awarded. The stress and frustration of it all was simply too much.
I entered my Frozen World and simply acted as though there was no problem at all. It’s not like I went into a deep depression or anything. I didn’t go on some substance abuse bender. I was happy with my new girlfriend, enjoyed summertime Chicago, went camping, was hanging out socially for the first time in years, and was more or less free of my ex-wife and her manipulative family. I simply enjoyed life while completely ignoring all of the problems I cognitively knew about but could not emotionally handle. There’s no room for emotion on my Frozen World.
I eventually began sleeping in my SUV, but that wasn’t bad because it’s designed for that purpose when camping. This became my norm for weeks and then months, even though I still sometimes stayed in a hotel when my spinal fusion acted up. Then the money essentially ran out altogether. Even still I was safely ensconced within my Frozen World, so I just kept on living as normally as I could. It was fairly normal, actually, and yet simultaneously de-stabilizing in ways I only now understand after the fact.
So I’m homeless, out of money, there was a strain on the bond between me and my girls, and then my girlfriend left me. She knew about everything, but it became too much for her to handle. She tried to tough it out, but her heart couldn’t bear the weight of it all and she had to kill our special connection to save herself. I don’t blame her at all. It’s what I would have told my own daughters to do.
Once she left me, however, I completely came apart at the seams. Looking back on it, her resilience was a crutch allowing my mind to continue its presence on my Frozen World. I almost immediately had two bouts of suicidal ideation within 10 days of each other, neither of which was ever really possible. Killing myself, ironically, could never have happened because to kill myself would have been either a fight or flight response depending on how you look at it. All I seem to be able to anymore is freeze.
These were essentially elaborate, if not terribly subtle, cries for help. I love being alive. Even with all the horrific things I went through and how I’m currently reduced to essentially nothing, I am so grateful to live this life. I have only to think of this past summer and reflect on the simple wonders this world provides. Not to mention I still have two little girls and could never willingly leave them via suicide or any other means.
The social worker at the hospital I checked myself into at the end of my final ideation suggested I come to the wellness center I’m at now. I went on the wait list and luckily just a week or so later I found my sanctuary. This is a place for persons with various mental illnesses to get some short-term stabilization in their lives, tame or control the effects of their MI, and get back to successfully living on their own.
This is my third night here, and I have a sense of safety, stability, and hope I wasn’t sure I’d ever get back. This has unfortunately been intermittently interrupted by thoughts of that which I once was, had, and dreamed. It’s impossible to not be introspective given the opportunities and successes I’ve already experienced. Yet I only need to look around me at other residents here and understand just how lucky I am to have the abilities and talents Mother Nature has lovingly bestowed upon me.
I’ve been stripped almost completely of my confidence, pride, and ego. Yet I consider this to be a positive development. My life can now be reconstructed in a healthy way and be cognizant of all that which I could never admit or even know about myself before now. For the first time I’m getting support from those without any ulterior motives. They aren’t invested in specifically what I do with my life like the “support” I had before with my family, my ex-wife, and her family. Now it’s simply about me being healthy and happy regardless of what form that takes.
It’s akin to being forced to demolish and then rebuild your dream home because it had a poorly-constructed foundation that remained hidden beneath a façade of finery. I’ve cried a monsoon of tears as my old life caved in on itself, and I will continue to weep on occasion for the wonderful yet irreplaceable parts of my life which were irretrievably destroyed. Those tears are no longer ones of regret, though. Regret breeds self-loathing, and that can quickly spiral me down back into my Frozen World. These are tears of grieving and, like all grief, they will diminish over time.
I’m now vastly more knowledgeable about myself and capable of true change. My focus is on finishing the critical components of my Complex PTSD recovery while concurrently re-establishing my life step by step. I’m no longer on my Frozen World and I endeavor to never return but, if I do, I know better how to handle it. My second life will be vastly superior because it’s to be built on a stronger and more secure foundation like that second dream home… and I believe I’m finally ready to start pouring the concrete.
Joey V., proud father of 2 girls ages 4 and 6, is healthcare policy & management professional with an MBA/MPH dual degree. You can read more of his experiences during recovery from Complex PTSD and ADHD at OvercomeComplexPTSD.blogspot.com and by following him on Twitter @Men_Helping_Men.
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