This is a little different because I need to work this out pretty urgently to continue to function, and working it out within the confines of my own head is no longer a good idea at this point.
I have a diagnosis of compound PTSD.
Let me tell you how I first realized it. About 18 months out of sex work, with no access to any advice or resources, I was doing a lot of very boring work with my hands from my own home, to get money to survive. I would be sitting, pretty much where I am now, trying to concentrate enough on what I was doing while the rest of my mind wandered off to fight the crushing boredom, and suddenly I WOULD BE FURIOUS…
I mean the full Monty, hands shaking, escalating let-me-get-my-hands-on-him furious that only comes with the first realization of what has happened that usually happens when you leave the scene of the crime against you and sit down to take it all in. Except the thing I would be furious about would have happened many, many years ago. Often I would find myself seething in anger at something the father of my son (never a very emotionally significant person to me) had done in 1975 I don’t mean big abuses (which had happened) either, I mean the sort of stupid, offensive things EVERYBODY says, and somebody wants to wring their neck for, sooner or later. My father would be another common subject…not the terrifying violence, the threats, not even the games he played with my life to prove to himself he owned me, the trivial offences.
One I can remember is the way he never referred to me by name, but rather as “MY daughter” and realizing he did the same with “MY car” (which mother actually bought every 3 years for the tax break as she was self employed) and “MY house” (which I knew was at least 50:50 at the time, and found out recently was also pretty much paid for by mother). It GOT to me, as SO offensive, in a really impartial and generic way, that anyone could just dismiss everything, even people, as an extension of himself and his will. When I say “it got to me” I mean, in the sense that I was fit to hop a ferry and sort him out over it. Which considering I had not laid eyes on him or wanted to in years was pretty darn furious…about something he said years ago.
I knew at the time one of the reasons this was happening was almost comical. The only thing that ever really prevented me from isolating totally was the need to earn a living. I could not sell sex in total isolation, but without being able to do that I had isolated overnight, not just from people and sex work, but from the regular nuisances who got some kind of thrill out of coming out on the street, not to buy sex, but just to insult and abuse us, because society gave them permission.
*MY* permission was still, however, lacking, and, I realized, ensuring that they were made profoundly (I often got far more creative than just “giving out”) aware of that, was a very healthy, affirmative, outlet for any anger and frustration I had that kept me remarkably even tempered in every other way. Looking back, I don’t think I had ever had such a healthy outlet for negative feelings before, and without it they built up alarmingly.
What that did not explain was why the things that built up and boiled over in my head happened so long ago. I found someone and paid for private counselling to sort this out and came to realize this was compound PTSD. (Trust me, there is enough in my past to give anyone PTSD.) It was pretty obvious that some of the reason it was coming out at that time was that, *ALL* my energy and inner resources had been deployed on fighting off threats and abuse while staying alive and functional, until that time, when the only threat remaining was the constant threat of running out of money to survive (it was to be 2001 years later before I would be in a position to know I would have the means to survive as long as another year and could plan ahead). Suddenly I had more time than adrenaline on my hands and a part of my head kept time travelling back to episodes of unresolved anger.
The only part I never really understood until now, almost 20 years later, is what was triggering it all. It seemed to be coming up by itself. I never saw anyone or went anywhere to be triggered.
Today I realized that there is an “except” to go with that. I didn’t see it before because I was not ready to see it before, though I reacted to it and defended my life from it very efficiently. The unconscious mind is a wonderful tool.
PTSD is when your emotional reactions get “locked on” a specific trauma, because that trauma has wiped out the parameters of your perception and overdosed you on cognitive dissonance. One of the psychiatrists working on PTSD issues in Belfast in the late 90s explained it this way:
We live our lives within the parameters of certain healthy core denials, the strongest of which is that, day to day, we deny the fact that we can ever die. When somebody’s head is blown off right next to you it challenges those core denials to breaking point and beyond and leaves us stuck there until we can rebuild our perception to accommodate and move past the trauma.
One of the ways PTSD affects me is in locking the image of the trauma onto the person I associate with it. To keep that simple for you I had an obnoxious ex when I was young. You have NO IDEA the various forms of sh*t I took from him (some of them, seriously ARE NOT IN THE BOOK to this day), all through the long hot summer of ’76.
He was rich, I was poor and I desperately needed someone powerful enough to protect my son and I from the family and any form of dependence on them (sex work would have solved all my problems and saved me an ocean of deep abiding grief and lifelong scars at that point, but I had an irrational phobia of it. I was only 18, I could not have made enough money to get away and raise my son properly any other way, welfare was punitive then as now, the rest is the kind of history you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy). He was also very intelligent and the emotional abuse was off the charts…but, for me, it was all I ever knew, I absorbed the damage and got on with the day, even when he pushed me to suicide (my heart actually stopped, but they brought me back. I was horrified, but went on taking it, what else could I do?)…BUT…
…one night he finally got violent. He reduced me to tears again with another drunken, but creative, verbal assault, then started ordering me not to cry…when I couldn’t stop he picked up one of those stand ashtrays with a lead base and started swinging it like a club at me…I am only realizing, now, in 2014, almost 40 years later, that I never had a memory of what happened next…but from that day, whatever he did or promised, however he turned the charm on, however badly I needed protection from the family every time I looked at him all my mind could see was the vicious, exalted look on his face as he swung that lethal club…it was over.
In some weird way my mind seized the pattern as a defensive reflex, and to this day, as soon as I see any kind of abuse *clearly* enough to be revolted by it that is the only identity the abuser has in my mind, ever again. That is why I never appease or negotiate, and why there are people I can barely tolerate looking at. To date, time has never proved me wrong about those people. I must have the reflexes of a Ninja when it come to abuse.
Compound PTSD is when, instead of being able to heal and rebuild, the original trauma goes on being compounded by further trauma. In the case of PTSD related to abuse of any kind the original trauma is often used to reinforce the effect of subsequent abuse.
This is a large part of why predators tend to actively seek those already “pre-abused”.
Among other things, that is how terrorism works or more specifically, that is how terrorism is calculated and planned to work. The most effective weapon against terrorism is preventing the effect from compounding, if at all possible.
The exact same principles apply on a more individual and personal scale.
I was horribly abused as a child and young woman, both physically and materially, by my own family, but that was nothing without the relentless psychological and emotional abuse that went with it.
I cannot imagine being most (sadly, not all) of you. I cannot imagine what it feels like to have a parent or other caregiver it is safe to trust in the smallest way, let alone what it would feel like to grow up with one. I never had a way to develop that core perception at all and had to limp into life without it. That is not entirely a bad thing, it is the reason why I see through corruption and abuse so clearly and effortlessly. The core denials do not exist, therefore it is *NO SURPRISE TO ME* and there is no trauma to be absorbed. So my head really does say: “Well that was bullshit, so how are we going to override it with some facts?”.
“Gaslighting” is a powerful technique of emotional abuse that works by artificially inducing effects similar to those of PTSD, let me quote you from the (excellent) linked article:
The term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight, and refers to a form of emotional abuse or manipulation in which you twist another person’s sense of reality.
In the movie, a man sets out to convince his wife that she is delusional. For instance, the gas lights in the house dim when he is up to no good in the attic but he convinces her she is imagining this. He sets up other situations such as planting missing items in her handbag to undermine her belief in her own sanity.
Instead of targeting your core denial as a part of your perception, as classic PTSD does, the deceit involved in Gaslighting targets your perception, and the faith you place in it in a far more general way, with a very similar effect – a massive overdose of cognitive dissonance that destabilizes you and destroys your ability to function until you stand down the cognitive dissonance by denying either the reality of your own perception, or the lie imposed upon you. As you have total control over your own perception and only limited control over your environment, and your reflexes are programmed to react to an overload of cognitive dissonance as a crisis, the chances are, particularly if the issue is a small one, like where you left your car keys, your subconscious will default to standing down your perception. As part of a strategy of abuse and control this erosion of your perception becomes a stepping stone to significant escalation in the value of the perceptions you are prepared to disregard in order to neutralize the cognitive dissonance. The worse of it is that, without true resolution the escalation does not have to come from the same source. An abuser today can tap into the perception already eroded by previous abuse.
I was raised by Gaslight and left incredibly vulnerable to it to this day.
That I survived at all without ever becoming subsumed into it is probably sheer fluke. I think the curious combination I am of sky high IQ and the literal mindedness of autism probably helped a lot though I doubt if either factor alone would have saved me. I also think the sheer weight, volume and malignant intent with which that was compounded, over and over, may have begun to cancel itself out as sheer weight and volume tends to do. My compounded vulnerability began to affect me more like an allergy, shutting down my functionality too dramatically for anyone to capitalize on. I have to unravel and see through it fast as a survival skill.
Can you imagine what a couple of years immersion in a whole world of deliberately crafted professional gaslighting and propaganda has done to my head? I am surrounded by fake people, blatant lies and abuse passed off as compassion even on an official level.
This is my personal Room 101 , for as long as I can remember if I am conscious that someone is gaslighting, or manipulating me in any way I HAVE TO LEAVE, and it is almost impossible for me to even deal with that person again the triggers are so strong, deep and dramatic…
But I am getting away with myself, let us not miss the point entirely.
Today I was finally ready to face what came after “except” almost 20 years ago.
I was isolated, I saw nobody, *EXCEPT* dealing with, and deflecting Ruhama and the Women’s Health Project in the course of putting up an independent fight against the 1993 law that recriminalized independent sex workers ( at least until men stop being to afraid to call a mobile phone).
After poor murdered Sinead Kelly was given a funeral worthy of Princess Di I knew I had achieved what I set out to do and raised the public perception of sex workers in Ireland from a form of human vermin to the priceless and worthwhile people they are.
I never thought I would achieve that (I was up against Ruhama et al trying to present sex workers as infantile troglodytes in need of “shepherding” every step of the way), and I could do no more, so I withdrew, isolated, as I do, and never even looked at another newspaper or report at all for at least ten years because the lies and strategies from Ruhama, the Women’s Heath Project and all that descended from them would, without fail, trigger PTSD in me so badly.
I have had no idea how I am still standing and able to form coherent sentences since the dawn of 2012.
In a final turn of the screw the Minister who will copperfasten all this ongoing deceit into legislation is the wife of the man who diagnosed my compound PTSD.
I durst not start screaming now, for if I did I would never find a reason to stop.
More, at a slight tangent from 2000: