Sunday, August 13, 2006

Meet the Books

Happy Sunday! I just finished my Sunday morning ritual- watching Meet the Press and the McLaughlin Group. I get the feeling that PBS is not too gung-ho on the McLaughlin Group, even though it is their show. I could not find a link to a website for them on the PBS website. That is too bad, because it is a great show. They argue important issues very passionately, from both conservative and some liberal perspectives. I find it very educational to hear both sides, and the shades of gray in-between. I am absolutely a liberal, but I think it is important to expose yourself to multiple perspectives. All the people on the show are very intelligent, and occasionally I even agree with what a conservative has to say. I am a PBS news junkie, and my favorite shows are The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and Frontline. Some of my favorite people are Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Eleanor Clift, Mark Shields, David Brooks, and that guy who is the voice of Frontline.

Politics and journalism are topics that I get very excited about (you should see me jumping up and down when I hear the Frontline guy), so not surprisingly one of my favorite books is about both. Chris Hedges is a veteran war correspondent who wrote War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a book about his experiences and impressions of the psychological affects of war on reporters, soldiers, politicians, civilians, and society. I am a little hesitant to try to review a book such as this- the topic is so powerful, and I can only deal with a small part of it. Suffice to say, the book speaks to the enormous demands of war on people, demands that are challenging both to survive and to recover from. When a person and a society have lived through the horrors of war, it can be very difficult to return (or get to, in the case of conflict that has gone on for generations) to a peaceful co-existence with neighbors and other people. People become acclimated to ways of coping that do not adapt well to "normal" life, such as suspicion of people who are different in some way, rallying behind one point of view and disregarding others, being in a constant defensive (and offensive) mode, expecting violence and chaos- i.e. living on the edge. When people expect violence, they will often times look for it to validate their expectations, and can, at the very least, be wary of overtures of peace and compromise.

When I was reading about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I thought a lot about this book. PTSD is a huge problem for both individuals and societies who have experienced war, because it can prevent people from moving on to a happier existence. It can even cause people to slip back into war after peace has been achieved. Just consider all the places in the world where neighboring societies alternate between all-out war, sporadic violence, and uneasy co-existence, unable to let go of old grievances, agree and stick to a peace plan moving forward for the overall good of both societies. It is really hard, understandably so, to set aside past betrayals and atrocities, and trust a perceived enemy enough to agree to lay down your weapons and stop fighting. It can feel too risky, even if the alternative is continued violence, death, poverty, fear, and living conditions that are hardly worth living in.

I wrote about PTSD in my 2nd and 8th postings. In my 8th posting, Drama Junkie, I talked about the book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine. This book talks about how people can become stuck in the fight or flight (or freeze) mode, unable to process the emotional and physical energy produced by trauma. As a result, you may stay in a state of fear and agitation, re-living the event and unable to move on. (In chapter 15- The Eleventh Hour: Transforming Societal Trauma, he discusses the shared trauma that a society can suffer from, as I did above.) The book points out that the only way to effectively deal with trauma is to transform it, to renegotiated our trauma rather than re-enact it. I have noticed, as this book might have predicted, that when I wrote about the causes of my own post-traumatic stress- child abuse, rape, and my brother's suicide, it helped me understand my pain better and forgive myself, and to feel less alone, but it did not help me get over the trauma still affecting my life. For example, last week I wrote about my life right after my brother's death when I was 25, and my dad beating me severely when I was 17. While those posts helped me sort through what I was feeling and still experiencing related to those events, it did so by bringing it all to the surface, and I have been struggling with those feelings since then. This is how I feel-

I still expect catastrophically bad things to happen to me, and I fear what the future may bring. I think that I will lose everything I worked so hard for, and the better my life is going, the farther I have to fall and the greater my fears. I am suspicious that the people in my life will turn their backs on me when these bad things happen, as some did in the past. I am haunted with lingering feelings of terror caused by the beating, and the extreme physical pain and mental confusion (from the concussion) I experienced. I have phantom soreness in my right shoulder and butt, as well as regular migraines and nausea. (I went limp and my dad held me up by my right arm while he punched me in the face, and used my right arm and leg to throw me against a wall, twice, where my head and my butt slammed against the wall.) I am still angry at authority figures such as the police, doctors, and those people at Child Protective Services. I have panic attacks, often triggered by paranoia that my friends and boyfriend will die suddenly and without warning. I feel that other people are better than me, that I am a fraud and that other people deserve their careers, homes, and relationships while I do not. Even if I am not less than other people, I fear that other people think that I am. I feel that there is something wrong with me, something that I do not understand but other people are aware of.

I saw an interview with a man whose mom had abandoned him in a park when he was 10 years old. Even though it happened 30 years ago, even though he found his mom and met her and she was clearly insane and a horrible person, he still felt that something was wrong with him that caused his mom to abandon him. The interviewer told him that instead of being ashamed of what he had been through, he should be proud of what he had overcome. I totally understand his shame, though. It is a lot harder to be proud than it sounds. Someone can tell you from now to eternity that you are worthwhile, you can tell yourself, but when your experience tells you that you are powerless, expendable, and unimportant, you tend to believe your experience. Victimization is powerfully demeaning and so effective because most people will internalize it, taking over the role of the victimizer themselves. Then we re-live the trauma, potentially for the rest of our life. How do you purge, transform, and/or renegotiate that internalized trauma?

I have a bookshelf of unfinished and un-started books about overcoming PTSD, abuse, destructive emotional patterns, and low self-esteem. Thankfully, these books are action-oriented, with plenty of exercises to help me work through my difficulties instead of just floundering in them as I have been doing lately. I could use a different perspective. My next project is Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart by Tara Bennett-Goleman. A wonderfully compassionate, creative, and intelligent friend of mine recommended this book, and it has a foreword by the Dalai Lama. The back of the book says, "most of what troubles us falls into ten basic emotional patterns, including fear of abandonment, social exclusion (the feeling that we don't belong) and vulnerability (the feeling that some catastrophe will occur). This remarkable book also teaches us how we can free ourselves of such patterns..." Hmmm, it sounds promising, does it not?

I will report back next Sunday on my progress.


Jonathan said...

I really like how you compare political conflicts with your own inner conflicts. The comparison makes a lot of sense. Trauma -- whether it's experienced by an individual, or by a large group of people -- creates shock waves that resound throughout time. In both cases, these shock waves can continue to breed a traumatic cycle, unless they are dealt with.

I also appreciate that you geek out on politics. :)

Anonymous said...

I still expect catastrophically bad things to happen to me, and I fear what the future may bring. I think that I will lose everything I worked so hard for, and the better my life is going, the farther I have to fall and the greater my fears. I am suspicious that the people in my life will turn their backs on me when these bad things happen, as some did in the past.

So do I darlin'. I already had my fall, and am just now trying to get back a little of what I lost. We make not talk as much as we used to, but I will always be here for you. Anytime.