Tag Archives: ptsd

vozsutra: who have you become, to be thinking about this

street art -- silhouettes of swallows, painted black on white brick, flying around, maybe out of a cage

(all the images on the blog are clickable, linked to their source -- this one comes from a graffiti blog based in the UK)

Ok — so I found out yesterday that writing ourselves whole didn’t get a grant from Horizons that we applied for. Today I’m disappointed but not knocked down — could it have something to do with not feeling so isolated, not so alone in the work? I’m grateful, today, for all the folks I get to work with in building writing ourselves whole to something sustainable and stronger.

Here’s exciting news — last night we ate the first of our own tomatoes with our dinner.  Deep orange like a peach but with tomato flesh, and still warm from the vine.  The first my-home-grown tomato I’ve had since I lived in Maine: I mixed it in with the guacamole, and it was so good.

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Today’s a VozSutra day: a practice of voice day.  I’ve got a little bit for writing time, then I need to head into town and be at the office for a bit before the MedEd writers workshop at UCSF. After the afternoon’s work, the Mr. and I might even get to spend some time at the ocean. Maybe I should wear my bathing suit under the work clothes; it’s supposed to be hot again today.

Did you do some thinking yesterday about what you’d write if you didn’t have to be good?  What did you come up with? I love the writing that comes up in response to Mary Oliver’s poem — I imagine any writing you did in response to this prompt was risky and challenging.  Thank you for that!

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Last night I spent quite awhile editing the piece I’d workshopped earlier this summer at the Writing as a Healing Art conference.  The conference organizers have joined with the folks at University of California Press, and UCP is putting out a volume of the writing produced or workshopped during the conference. The piece I submitted is fiction, drawn heavily from my own life, and focuses on two sisters who experience awful sexual trauma and psychological manipulation and control at the hands of their mother’s second husband — right now it’s a short piece, 30 pages or so, and I’ve excerpted 6 to submit.  I have an idea of the longer work, how it could come together into a book. It’s also a terribly hard story for me to write, and so I’ll get a little bit out (3 or 7 or 12 pages) and then I’m done with it for 6 months or a year, til I’m ready to write the next part.

I want to show how folks experience trauma change from the people they were Before to the people they were After, Later. I want to capture that moment of transition, transformation — the moments of decision: how is it that, just yesterday, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to do or say this thing, but today it’s become a part of my normal?

It’s easy to pathologize victims of trauma (and it’s easy because it’s safer for the pathologizers, for the rest of society — if we make this an individual’s problem, then we don’t have to deal with the wider ramifications of power and control or hierarchy or oppression). It’s easy to paste PTSD over someone’s face and then go to work trying to resituate that person to “normalcy” — which means getting that person to a place where they can be a ‘contributing member’ of our capitalist society (and/or back to the front, if we’re talking about the military*).

What I’ve wanted for some time is to be able to write the story of a long-term trauma, which involves both decisions and actions on the part of the perpetrator, and decisions and actions on the part of those being traumatized — not decisions to be abused, but decisions around survival, strategizings and navigations from moment to moment, day to day.  Over time, those strategizings change, because the ground is always moving: the perpetrator is never satisfied with what he’s already been able to do, he wants to do something more. Suddenly you’re deciding, deciding, not what you want to do with your friends after school but whether today is a good day to ‘let’ the person abusing you do this or that, or whether you think can put it off for one more day. Who have you become, to be thinking about this?  How did you get to this place?

Maybe more selfishly, I want you to know what that experience is like, that going from who you thought you were going to become to someone your earlier self would never, never recognize as you. I don’t like to be alone here.

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Stay hydrated today — it’s supposed to be hot hot again.  Be easy with you today, and I’ll work to do the same.  Thanks so much for all the incredible work you do… whatever you’re doing to be you: thank you.
*This is a side note, but I want to try to write it: I read earlier this week about research going on at th UCSF VA with military folks to try and figure out how to prevent PTSD. The more I think about this, the more terrifying it is: PTSD is a healthy-brain’s response to horror and trauma. A military that has been trained out of the capacity to respond with horror to war is more frightening than I have words for. PTSD is an awful, awful thing to have to deal with, and the best way to prevent it in the military is not to send people to war. In my estimation, the best way to prevent PTSD is not to torture, brutalize, traumatize, harm others: not children, not intimate partners, not friends, not people you think have less power than you, not ‘enemies.’

we are elastic beings who are ever becoming new

"Go Gently" -- reverse graffiti

(check this out -- 'reverse' graffiti!)

5:43am — what would I be writing about this morning if I had the time, if I could be writing about anything I wanted? Last night the bus took an hour and a half to make a 45 minute trip because traffic on Lombard was so heavy — everyone wanted to get across the Golden Gate.  I was tired of words and wanted to be home. I nearly fell asleep on the bus, dozed a little, got a sleepy mouth.  Sometimes I get tired of words the way I get tired of the smell of my own body, with a kind of sickening overwhelm, because I can’t get away.  There’s no break for me from words.  Words are my only mechanism, only medium, only practice.  They’re my work and my hobby. Last night I came home and drank wine and ate the red beans and rice F! had made, then ate cheese and crackers, then ate ice cream. I watched tv.  If I’d turned off the tv, I’d have been left with words. I wanted to breathe without them for a little bit. I wanted to step outside of that structuring of my brain, which I didn’t, not really, but tv drugs you and makes you think you’re free. The clouds outside look like dark smoke in the early sky. The garbage truck looks like hungry.

The Monday night Write Whole workshop is going and gorgeous, even though the registration is quite small.  The Tuesday night DOE workshop I’ve had to cancel again because only a few people had any interest, only two indicated they’d register and only one followed through. What happens?  I had the idea that many people would want to take an erotic writing workshop, figured that, of course, when I opened the groups up to everyone, folks of all genders, that I might lose some of the women who’d wanted to take the women-only workshop, but I’d get a lot more people who didn’t fit or feel comfortable in those groups: that hasn’t been the case. Maybe it’s because I’m not known, I’m not advertising enough, I don’t have a book or a regular (like, consistent), sexy image: I’m not out there blogging and twittering and facebooking about sex, my own sex and others, I’m not really putting out that this is what I do.  And frankly, right now, it isn’t what I do: I haven’t been doing a lit of sex writing, except when I’ve got a workshop on.  Otherwise, what do I write about?  trauma. flowers. workshops.

The other day I thought maybe I’m interested in sex writing as a part of something larger, as a part of this project of making it safe for us to tell our dangerous stories, the stories that are risky to our identities, to our communities, our families, the stories that express our whole, fragmented, faceted selves, our full and messy realities. The initial impetus around offering erotic writing workshops was to make a space where (queer women) survivors of incest or rape or other sexual trauma could be in their lived, adult, consensual desire, without having to have it be always pretty or always a struggle.  We could write our messiness out.  We could write out the things that we’ve longed for that we haven’t had language for, or have very much had language for but haven’t what haven’t wanted to share with other people, haven’t wanted to share for fear it would be something we had to follow up on or something we’d never be able to do, for fear it wouldn’t sound like something we should want, given our gender identity or sexual identity or class or race or size… given how we’re seen in our groups, maybe, we think this thing we long for looks ridiculous. I don’t pitch the workshops as a place to get you published, a place — right now I just feel low.  I feel low energy.  The point is I don’t think I’d be offering erotic writing workshops as an end in themselves, as important all alone, but as a part of this larger process: telling societally-difficult stories. That’s what I believe in.

I’m interested in space for our breaking stories, the ones that stick in our throats, the ones that hide under our lungs, the ones we aren’t supposed to tell because our families don’t want to hear them or our communities can’t hold them with us, or we don’t think they can.

Here’s what I’m thinking about now: how trauma and creativity are inextricably linked. How trauma survivors are deeply creative beings, and then how creativity can pull us through to our next place as we come through whatever happened to us, its after effects.

Many of us already know this: creativity is in us.  It is us.  Without our creativities we wouldn’t have survived.  We wouldn’t have been able to come up with different solutions, different ways of dealing with difficult situations, wouldn’t have been able to read the street signs in our families, or wherever our experience of trauma situated itself over and within our lives, we wouldn’t have been able to navigate that landscape.  Every decision we make is a creative act. Decision is creative — it has the capacity to engender, make different, make new. Also: make another moment to breathe, make another opportunity for decision.

PTSD, its symptoms, grows out of our creative selves learning to adapt to horrifying situations. Once we are out of those situations, the process is to reengage our creative selves: learn/attempt new strategies, learn our own languages for our experiences and then express them, remember that we are elastic beings who are ever becoming new.