The Cure for PTSD Terror: you’re soaking in it

This post may trigger PTSD sufferers.

In our search for mental health care, we once sat in a Kern County, California, mental health clinic listening to a psychologist exclaim that our patient could not have PTSD because she had never served in the army.

In fact she had been conscripted at birth as all the rest of the family had, and our sergeant major was a bat-shit crazy man, known initially as daddy and later as grandfather. His sadist attacks were so traumatizing that we dared not reveal them even had we been able to remember. So it was that the patient had been repeatedly taken back to that house of torture by her mother, the author of this blog.

(To be fair, mother could not recall that her own life had almost ended when the b-s crazy man raped her as a child. And she has spent the last 30 years since b-s crazy man died and she did remember, in profound guilt and grief. But enough of personal angst.)

Suffice to say Dad could have given the North Koreans or even the CIA lessons in torture or a 2.0 course in mind control. He himself had rather an unpleasant death, which I describe at the end of my e-memoir, Never Tell, recovered memories of a daughter of the Temple Mater.

That’s the back story as to why the patient developed suicidal impulses and then intractable insomnia. For most of her life, she was able to repress the trauma, going so far as to contend that the rest of us experienced it, but she didn’t. This was lucky, because by then we had put in years of dealing with it, worn out therapists and come to realize that terrifying as it is, the past is dead and gone.

As, by the way, were quite a few people outside the family, who encountered our very own psychopath. And, no, a million dollar police investigation, involving three police forces couldn’t prove that.

How to deal with such insomnia? Even the strongest drugs couldn’t put her to sleep for long. In one 5 day hospital stay, five other drugs were tried. The fifth one precipitated a heart attack. So we cast about for other methods.

Finally last April, I concluded she couldn’t sleep because she was afraid to dream.

At one point, she fled to Toronto and her loving mother’s arms. I would sit at her bedside until she fell asleep, sometimes for 90 minutes. It is a moving experience to sit in the dark beside someone you love as she does her best to sleep. Going to sleep for her isn’t easy, but it is easier than staying asleep. I wasn’t up to being there at 4 a.m. when she usually comes wide awake. Or 3 am or 2 am. Sometimes she doesn’t sleep at all, just lies in a semi-conscious state, which surprisingly can generate bad dreams.

While I was studying the NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine) Treating Trauma Master Series , I came across the idea that therapists don’t do their clients any favours by trying to make them feel safe. That is a technique that Grandad and hosts of his fellow abusers use. Trying to make the trauma survivor relax is an immediate trigger – they want to run a mile.

Our patient came at the idea from a totally different angle. She watched a terrifying movie, went to bed late and slept like a baby.

We reached the conclusion that, instead of avoiding fear, she (we in fact) had to soak in it – like that Palmolive dish detergent commercial years ago where the woman is in the nail salon -“You’re soaking in it”.

We are in the research phase. Our patient has spent the last several months reading about psychopathic serial killers and watching shows like The Mindhunters. The Mindhunters interview serial murders in prison in order to understand them. Patient reports that the single scariest scene so far was one in which the woman on the mindhunter team was at home in her apartment at night wearing only a long  man’s shirts and pouring herself a glass of wine at the kitchen counter. She was at the left of the shot. The right side showed the rest of the kitchen and hall, an empty floor. An absolutely terrifying space. Into which something could suddenly come. I myself found the next scene where she goes down to the building’s laundry – still dressed only in the shirt – and while the washer starts, hears a cat meowing outside the open basement window and decides to feed it her leftover tuna. I will not divulge what eventually comes through that window.

Who says recovering from PTSD can’t be fun?

I’ve always hated Hallowe’en and horror shows, but now I begin to see their value. We can’t evade our terror. It may be buried, but it’s there, so we might as well face it, embrace it as far as possible. We don’t need to defy it. We can acknowledge it and even say this is what made me who I am. We can say, ‘I have been to the edge of death more than once, but I can still permit myself to sleep’. At least six hours most nights.

And of course, we can refuse to put ourselves in real life situations with people that scare us.

See also








Mother on Broomstick Coming into Los Angeles

Air Canada 791 leaves Toronto at 8 a.m. On a Tuesday, it is usually quiet. Today, the third cabin, with its excellent access to emergency exits, is all but empty. I have 32 H, J and K to myself. A little more sleep. I got up at 3:30 a.m.

A youngish blonde woman (to me that could be mid 40s) with a black, long-haired boa sits in front of me. A young couple with a new baby and a toddler, behind me. The baby begins to cry and the toddler joins shriekingly in.


I can do this.

Been a mother. Been a grandmother. Been a great aunt. Am a great, great aunt. Am a great grandmother. I’m not one of those! You know who you are – complaining to the steward and changing seats.

Or maybe not.

Earbuds. What will drown out those excruciating high notes? Let’s see Bruce Springsteen? The Stones? Glass’s Kundun? Gould’s Goldberg Concerto? Various Artists: a Special Christmas?  WHAAAAAT? Ok. Nicola Benedetti: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

I fall asleep, head full of symphonic music and wake, drooling and head lolling. To peace. The kids are asleep.

So, let’s get comfy. Put up all the arm rests, undo the seat belt, lie down, with purse as pillow and cover legs with a purloined blanket.

Two hours to go.

I wake as I woke once at Camping Krioneri on the Gulf of Corinth to the braying of a donkey. I lie contemplating this latest upgrade to the Boeing 787-9.

Listen, I can deal with this. I’ll just sink back into delicious unconsciousness where I don’t remember the pain and trouble waiting down there in Lotus Land – the on-going battle with the American health care system as it strives to diagnose a rare disease in someone I love and since it bankrupted them long ago, figure out how to provide treatment ASAP.

But no. The new arrival has the loudest laugh known to sound engineers. She’s in an excellent mood. So funny that my silent blonde neighbor laughs ever more loudly. The new arrival does physical humor  too, standing and twerking, then demonstrating the proper way to seat oneself for dressage. Or so I imagine. The seat back threatens to land on my head.

I sit up. I bring Nicola back up on the device -set to Airplane mode, of course.

What in heaven’s name is this laughing woman  taking? Something more than our recently legal Canadian marijuana surely.

But, at least for now, it’s only that dreadful boxed white wine they serve up here. She asks the male attendant at the beverage cart if the female attendant is his work wife. He pretends to blush. She invites him to her daughter’s wedding in Palm Springs. A hundred guests are coming.

In fact, I saw the bride schlepping a head high white garment bag, looking grim as brides do.

I remember that. Happy days. My girl’s wedding was in Vegas. The bride wasn’t grim until the city turned off the water to our rental house as she was getting ready. It was the last day of 2008, an auspicious time to get married.

Fortunately, I do not remember that someone from Texas brought in one of the first cases of H1N1 and we all spent January bedridden with flu.

Packed in that enormous bag of memory, 8 decades worth, I find a toddler sorting out a cupboard, every pan on the tiny kitchen floor, shrieking in joy at her newborn brother while she throws the newly folded pile of cloth diapers everywhere, a preteen glancing up as she realizes he has outgrown her, a mother in a skimpy nightgown nursing a baby on a floor futon in Venice Beach. Seventy flights like this, most of them on AC 791. Never crashed once. Be there soon, Baby.

Coming into Los Anglees/ Bringing in a couple of keys/Don’t touch my bag if you pease/Mr Customs Man


Halloween Hex

cart for blogIt was raining. Actually, it was pouring. The tail end of Hurricane Patricia. A cold wind was blowing. I had on my water resistant winter coat with the hood up. I parked my car in the Sobey’s lot. The spot next to me had a grocery cart in it. I dashed for the market’s door, head down. It took only a few minutes to grab what I needed from the pharmacy shelves. I paid at the self check-out, refused to pay five cents for a bag, and carried my three articles in my hands. Out into the cold rain again, this time full in my face.

What is this? The grocery cart is now snugged up against the rear of my little red Yaris, and a woman is getting out of the car that is now parked next to me. It is nose out. The space behind is empty. She has moved the cart, and put it in behind my car, so she doesn’t have to back out of the space behind.

I’m really old, but I’m not the silent type. I start cussing her out as I throw my purchases onto the front seat. “Thank you very much,” I conclude, as I seize the cart and begin the long trek to the cart depot. She has paused in her open door. I refuse to dignify her by looking at her, but I’ve got her number. I’ve hexed her day before I can stop myself.

As I wait at the light, I back-pedal hex-wise. I pull back from a really bad day hex to a moderately bad day hex. By the time, I pull into my driveway, I really want to stop the hex altogether. Too late. She’s already ashamed. But still self justifying. How was she to know I was almost eighty, and wouldn’t come out with a cart of my own? She just thought I could return the errant cart when I returned my own. Okay, back to plan B – a moderate hex on a miserable day.


The Hallowed Eve of All Saints Day at the Centre of the World

snow cloud mountain(Hallowe’en is the evening before All Saints Day, the day those in heaven are remembered. All Souls Day, Nov. 2 is the day to pray for all the dead, in heaven or not.)

Darkness fell suddenly at the house in the pines. I sprang up from the dinner table.

“it’s okay,” I said. “It will be lighter when I get out of the woods.”

I flung my various bags onto the golf cart and sped away – at 10 miles an hour. I turned right to where the daylight should be. The  aspens were florescent yellow against the grey sky, but the sun had gone and the mountains on either side loomed ominously. Over rocky Mount Pinos, a rack of black cloud hung and over the San Emigdio Mountains, grey and black cumulus promised a storm.

I hit the dusty trail on the edge of the golf course where I usually go very slowly, but the night-on-bald-mountain atmosphere made me forget. At the paved school bus stop, I passed a couple with two children on their way to the Hallowe’en party at the club house and waved. Now I had to hit the dark streets again.

It’s perfectly legal to drive a golf cart on the village streets because this is a private village, but not entirely advisable to drive an unlighted one after dark. Well, at least, my cart was white. I wouldn’t be making the trip on Saturday and by Sunday, Standard time would solve the problem.

One hundred percent chance of rain by 11 p.m. We had been talking about it all day. Apart from a downpour in July, it hadn’t rained a drop here in drought stricken Centre of the World (according to Chumash legend) for 6 months.

As I fell asleep deep thunder began to roll in from the west. Eventually, I heard what was either a high wind in the trees or rain. Too tired to care. Two very close and very loud thunder claps tried to wake me without success.

I woke up late, after 9 a.m.

“That wasn’t much rain,” said Clara, my house mate, as she stepped out on the porch. “Look,” she cried. “Snow.”

Sure enough the highest range of mountains was  covered with snow.

snow(Okay, you knew all along. The time change means it gets dark an hour earlier.)


Once upon a time, I moved on Hallowe’en and like all moves, it was a truly scarey experience. But I want to talk about two moves later, the time, I moved to Z., a crossroads hamlet, an hour north of the city, hard to find on the map. Like most other newcomers, I moved there because I could afford it.

It was the second time a home-owning partnership had dissolved on me, only this time, the housing market had boomed. Whereas the first time, 10 years before, I could afford to buy a hovel on my own, city hovels were now well beyond my price range.

As luck would have it, I arrive with a Newfie dog, 7 cats and a badly sprained ankle. My partner and I have had 3 dogs and we divided them according to poundage. Bella, the Newfie is all I can handle, weight-wise. The 7 cats belong to my son and his girl friend, who are quitting the city in an anti-police protest. There have been demonstrations, friends have been roughed up. My 22 year-old son, his girl friend and the cats are seeking safe-haven with me in the country -in a white clapboard house with arched windows and gables, next door to the church.

The first load of furniture and all the animals have been dumped, my bed set up in deference to my lamed state and the young people have departed with their friends to pick up another load. Silence falls as silence can in the country, even at a crossroads. The cats don’t know me or trust me and have sequestered themselves in the summer kitchen, a one story extension at the back of the house. Belle has clumped upstairs after me and heaved herself up onto the bed, deaf to all arguments that Newfoundland dogs are too big to be bedfellows. I stand in the middle of the bedroom, gazing at the 3 pitch black, uncovered windows. No problem actually because there is nobody out there.

What about in here? A house built in 1889 surely had seen its share of death. Could it be haunted?

Fortunately, I fall immediately into the righteous sleep of the newly-moved who have badly sprained ankles, and barely notice when the second load of furniture arrives.

It is a chaotic next few days as 8 animals and 3 people sort out their roles. The big black dog soon learns her place relative to nose scratching cats. Gradually we clear paths between rooms and a nest of seating where we can take refuge and eat. Unfortunately, my son, Ben, steps on a rusty nail and we have to find the nearest walk-in clinic for a tetanus shot. Shocking how far away everything is in the country.

Unfortunately #2, now Ben and I are both limping on our left foot. I follow him through the kitchen one day. He is going out into the summer kitchen, while I am turning into the cooking area past the island. It looks like a gimp parade and I am just enjoying a quiet laugh, when another figure rushes past, arms thrashing and clothes flying. And laughing.

“Ben,” I yell, “did you see that?”

“What?” he calls back.

“Where’s Aunya?”


We meet at the door. There is no one else there.

“An Indian – a First Nations person – whatever. Brandishing something -seemed like an axe, doing a kind of war dance and laughing!”

We stare at each other in silence. Well, if you are going to have a ghost, it is probably best to have a laughing ghost.

Some time later, I learn that the hamlet sits on the portage route up to Lake Simcoe.

Things settle down. We buy Ben a very old Ford pickup truck guaranteed to work just fine and he begins renovations. I begin commuting to work. Oh God, why did I ever move here? Surely, there is a shorter route. And there is. It takes only 60 minutes, not 75. Two hours a day, am I out of my mind?  Etc, etc.

Ben is tearing up the floor in the dining room. But no wait, he has to tear out the roof in the summer kitchen. It’s leaking. There’s been a fire up there at some point.

And something in the house is not happy.

I know it’s not the native trickster. Anyway, he’s a wayfarer not a resident.

My city-bred son and girlfriend tend to vanish back to the city until late into the night. One night, Ben calls me around 10 P.M.

“We’re staying in town for the night,” he says.

“Okay,” I reply. I do have experience living alone. I lived alone in the hovel.

There is dead air on the phone line.

“Ben?” I querry.

“Uh, have you seen the ghost?” he asks.

What a truly terrible time to ask such a question, a dark rainy October night.

“I don’t actually see her,” I reply, “except in my mind’s eye, but I know she’s there.”

“Yeah,” he says, “she’s small and she wrings her hands.”

“She’s upset about the work you’re doing. I keep telling her we’re just making her house better.”

“Me too,” he says. “I didn’t want to mention her before. Are you all right staying alone?”

I want to say that I was a lot better before he outed the ghost, but I just go on reassuringly and get off the phone. I stand there in the kitchen. She is standing just out of sight beside the stairs. She is short and thin, wearing an apron which she has balled up in her hands. I feel so cold that I might as well be naked.

I give myself a shake.

“I’m going to put on the kettle for tea before I go to bed,” I announce.

A passing cat, the orange one, meows. No bristling, no raised hackles. Belle ambles along the hallway, right through the ghost lady. Co-residents. We have to get along.

The title search arrives in the mail. One family, the Toves, owners of a car dealership, owned the house for much of the century.  One of them,Daisy died at the Village of Z., having her fixed abode there. Could be her. But on another document the most touching note of all concerns Edith, “a lunatic”. After that, various other last names, two of whom declared, “We are not a spouse”. Who cares about these late-comers in the second half of the the 20th century! My ghost now has a name.