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.

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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.)

Autumn Equinox: heaven’s wheel turns

earth at solstice

I know, I know, I come late to the equinox. Perhaps it’s the equinox’s fault. All hell broke loose when I should have been sitting down to ponder its significance. Fortunately, the sun positioned itself directly over the equator at right angles to Earth and showered its light equally on both hemispheres without my help. The Russian weather satellite Electro L also got on without me and took this picture of the earth as it can be seen only at the equinox. If I think about this hard enough, I may actually figure out why. (Usually part of it would be in shadow?) But you’re better off if I don’t try to explain that, given my ignorance.

This happened on Sunday, September 22, 2013 around 4:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Coincidentally, the moon had been full three days before and was particularly beautiful from my front porch.

There are four heavenly events that we still note: the vernal equinox around March 21st, the first day of spring when day and night are of equal length; the summer solstice around June 21st, Midsummer Night, the longest day of the year, and the first day of summer after which the days start to shorten; the autumnal equinox around September 21st, the first day of fall when darkness and light are once again equal; and the winter solstice around December 21st, the first day of winter when day begins to lengthen and night to grow shorter. These changes amount to only a minute or two a day, so that spring creeps northward at that daily rate.

The autumn equinox is the festival of Mabon, an early Cornish saint, according to some internet sources. That would be a pagan or Wiccan saint. Some accounts assert that she is female while others say he is male. They all see the festival as a celebration of the second harvest, the first harvest presumably was in July. But whether female or male, the deity is about to descend into the underworld, just as the energy of nature withdraws and disappears from sight in winter.

We feel this in our own bodies and we may even wonder out loud if we really can survive another winter. Chances of such complaining probably relate to how far north we live and how old we are. Me, old and here at 43.7 ° N. But I have observed that those living at 34° N and much younger also dread winter.

To cope with these fears, we have used narrative. Mabon, Persephone or Ianna goes into the underworld sometimes as the bride of Hades. The yearly King Must Die as Mary Renault recounted and Joseph Conrad alluded to in Heart of Darkness. The Green Man is sacrificed. The Straw Man is burned.

On October 31, the third harvest is celebrated, as Samhain, the Celtic New Year. So why do I get so irritated by the appearance of Hallowe’en costumes and God help us- Happy Hallowe’en cards- in stores in September? It’s just humanity acclimatizing to the death of the god, preparing to embrace the darkness by mocking it in scarey costumes and forays into the night in pursuit of sweet solace. November 1st, the Christian church designates as All Saints Day, a day to remember all the dead.

Our goal is to get through to the goddess’s or god’s rebirth, the emergence from the underworld or womb at the festival of light at winter solstice. We hang lights -much too early- and bring evergreens and holly, red with berries, into our houses to assure ourselves that eventually divine forces will bring back the energy of growth and expansion at the spring equinox.

Since I am almost as old as Mabon, I have a 75 year-old memory of one autumn equinox that I recount in Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. (

On September 21, 1934, I was a 2 year-old, seated in a horse drawn buggy between my mother and my grandmother on my way to the church hall in Hereford, Quebec on the Vermont border. There was going to be a chicken pie supper and dance. The pies under the seat were ready to be reheated in the hall stove. They smelled delicious. I never made it. “The wind took my breath away.” Don’t ask. I heard my mother say that. Evidently, the wind was very strong and I couldn’t breathe. So I found myself unceremoniously  dumped back home in the care of my great grandmother and mentally challenged cousin. They did their best to comfort me, setting up my little table with tea for my dolls and me, but I was sore aggrieved.

Later that evening, I woke up to an incredible hullabloo, a great wind hammering at the isolated hilltop farm house, my caregivers pushing furniture against the windows, which were bulging inward. My great grammy fell down. She wouldn’t get up. My cousin started screaming. When I went near her, she pushed me away and shouted at me. Things went downhill from there.

By the time my father arrived next day, having chopped his way back up hill from the church hall, I was truly traumatized, Grammy had suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered and my clever little mind had decided to forget the whole thing. It never happened.

Exactly what never happened, I didn’t figure out for 60 years. It was the Great New England Hurricane which whaled up the eastern seaboard without warning. It killed 680 people, destroyed 9000 buildings as well as damns, bridges, roads, and harbours. It leveled whole forests. It did $20,000,000,000 damage in today’s terms. Only one of the great white pines that stood on the road down the hill was left. Although I didn’t remember the event, I loved that tree with inexplicable intensity.

So here we are just past the autumn equinox. The days grow short, but no hurricane is knocking at the door and fortunately, our stories light our way.