Sunday, March 16, 2008

I play for L.A.

"Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I'm not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I'm still waiting"

-Not Ready to Make Nice, Dixie Chicks

I just got back from Miami (for work), and I'm a little jetlagged. Last week I became a manager. I was promoted, and it was a total surprise. I felt like I was in shock for a couple days, especially since the day I found out I had my first ice hockey lesson on the ice at Staples Center. It was after a Kings game. I am a ginormous hockey fan, so this was a thrilling, if exhausting, experience. Hockey pads- great for falling down because it doesn't hurt, but even though the ice is so cold you can see your breath, I've never sweated so much in my life. Seriously, people, I had sweat literally running down my face, and all my clothes under the pads were soaking wet. I think it’s kind of funny when people think I must be attracted to hockey players because I'm so into hockey. Please. It's hard to overlook the mullets, missing teeth, broken noses, and big scary defensemen. Check out the players towards the end of the play-offs- most of them stop shaving, possibly bathing, and are starting to look like early man. And now I know that hockey makes you smell funky. Those pads sure soak up the smell. I could not have been in the punk rock scene if I couldn't handle a little male sweat, but the sweat level of hockey is a whole different thing.

One of the reasons I actually like hockey is because to me it is non-sexual. (See my last couple of posts for my feelings on sex.) This is also the case with the punk rock. I like it for the music, people. If you don't believe that a woman could be a fan of a male dominated activity without being a groupie, you don't know me, and furthermore, you must not have a high opinion of women. Sexualizing it would ruin it. The less sexual the better, as far as I’m concerned. No one thinks guys are into sports for the homoerotic aspects, unless they say that’s why they're into them. Two of my favorite people are Trevor Linden (Vancouver Canucks) and Keith Morris (Circle Jerks). No desire to sleep with either one of them. No offense, guys. You're both adorable, especially for a hockey player and punk rocker.

Playing hockey is a lot of fun and one of the more challenging things I've ever done. Learning hockey at Staples Center after an NHL game was one of the coolest things I've ever done. Today was my third hockey lesson. I fell down today more times than I can remember. Maybe I can't remember because one of the times I fell down I hit my head on the ice. Just kidding, I was wearing a helmet. The instructor, a former Kings player and a Canadian (I love Canada), insisted that it was good that I kept wiping out spectacularly because it meant I was allowing myself to get out of my comfort zone and take chances. All I know is that I started getting sore almost immediately, and now my whole body hurts. But yes, painful as it was, it was good that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I never thought I'd get the chance to play hockey. It just amazes me how effortlessly the players seem to speed across the ice, stop on a dime, change directions, know where the puck and their teammates are and where they're going, and then get that puck where they want it. Now I really have an appreciation for how difficult that game is.

I'm an ambitious, driven person, but it does take considerable effort for me to move out of my comfort zone. There's only one person who understands how hard it is for me, and that's me. I've been adjusting my life to accommodate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for as long as I can remember. PTSD causes me to be very anxious about what could go wrong if I’m in an unfamiliar situation, and one way to lessen anxiety is to avoid those kinds of situations. (Avoidance is another symptom of PTSD.) Even positive events can be stressful, as I experienced when I was promoted. Of course, I was thrilled; it was a dream of mine to get that kind of recognition and responsibility in my job. My career is the area that I feel the most successful in, and it's incredibly validating to be getting an office and two people reporting to me. I've been in my job for less than a year, and this was like getting a letter from the universe saying, "You're doing great. Keep up the good work."

I feel limited by the way I was raised and the emotional challenges I'm trying to work though, so to be successful despite all the (I hate to use this stupid term) baggage I'm dragging around is a huge triumph for me. But I’m also a little freaked out. I’m a manager. I’m responsible for other people. I could screw up. Things could go wrong. I could disappoint people, and there are people who might want me to fail because I’m young or they don’t like me. Work politics can be pretty stressful at times.

I think a lot about how my life has been affected by my experiences and all the tragedy and I wonder if I am a different person because of it, and if that is a good or bad thing. I think the answer is that a lot about me is different because of what I've seen and been through, and some of that is good and some of it is not so good. Case in point, I found this article online-

From Harvard University Gazette- Childhood abuse hurts the brain by William J. Cromie:

"Patients with a history of sexual abuse or intense verbal badgering showed less blood flow in a part of the brain known as the cerebellar vermis. The vermis aids healthy people to maintain an emotional balance, but in those with a history of childhood abuse, that stabilizing function may become impaired.

The connection between abuse and brain addling apparently involves stress hormones. Harsh punishment, unwanted sexual advances, belittling, and neglect are thought to release a cascade of such chemicals, which produces an enduring effect on the signals that brain cells send and receive from each other. As a result the brain becomes molded to overrespond to stress. "We know that (lab) animals exposed to stress early in life develop a brain that is wired to experience fear, anxiety, and intense fight-or-flee reactions," says Teicher. "We think the same is true of people."

Other research has revealed that electrical abnormalities in the brains of abused people are similar to those seen in patients with epilepsy...And researchers have found a vigorous correlation between epileptic-type brain abnormalities and thoughts of suicide...Depression is generally believed to be the prime instability that pushes people toward taking their own lives. But a study done at the National Institutes of Health found that thoughts of committing suicide actually precede depression in abused children."

In some ways, my brother's suicide makes me feel closer to him. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who contemplated suicide when faced with life's challenges. Even now, I respond to stress with panic, with the feeling that I either need to fight or run away. It can take me a while, when I get panicked, to talk myself down from the ledge. The connection between abuse and suicide doesn't surprise me at all- for one, suicide is a form of escape. When you are in an almost perpetual fight-or-flight/flee state, you keep a mental list of possible reactions to catastrophic events, and suicide is often one of them. Imagine being a kid- you don't have a lot of options so suicide can be pretty high on your list. When you grow up with this mindset, it doesn't radically change when you become an adult. Thankfully, I have other ways to react to stress. A lot of them are just mental diversions- fantasies. My favorite TV shows like Lost and Doctor Who portray the world/universe in ways that resonates with me. Hockey is an exciting diversion from my normal life. My apartment is a safe place that I can be alone and calm myself down. I need to find ways to feel safe because my perception of the world and of other people is significantly colored by my childhood experiences, i.e. I feel I'm always in danger.

From age 7, I was fighting for survival. I had to be in fight-or-flight mode pretty much all the time. This is what underlies PTSD. You just continue to react to the original threat or series of threats even after it's over. For me it’s not over because I continue to see threat everywhere. This isn't a moral judgment, but I perceive most men as potential threats. It's emotional, not intellectual. I know not all men are dangerous, but I feel like I have to be prepared. Women are a little easier for me to trust, but I am suspicious of just about everyone. Imagine what that's like, to always wonder if/when someone is going to turn on you. I have insomnia a lot. I operate at a pretty high level of anxiety. I have a list of things I avoid- boats (someone could kill you and throw you overboard), camping (makes rape/kidnapping/murder so easy), living in apartments on the first floor (rape), living in houses (ditto), motorcycles (what if the driver decides to commit suicide with you on it), heights (anyone could just push you off), etc. Are you laughing yet? It sounds crazy, but that's really how I think, and it sucks. It sucks to be afraid, and always thinking about what someone could do to you.

I love those apocalyptic movies with the bad ass female characters like Sarah Connor in The Terminator, Ripley in Alien, Alice in Resident Evil, and Selena in 28 Days Later. For one thing, they are fighting, not running, and for another, robots, aliens, and zombies are obvious bad guys. (And army guys, I guess, in 28 Days Later.) There is no confusion about where the evil is, or what to do about it. It's refreshingly black and white, not like my life has been. I've never had the satisfaction of hacking up my rapist, or blowing up my great-uncle. This is the stuff of my fantasies- having a gun strapped to my thigh and going to battle with every asshole who tries to stop me. The only way I could think of myself as being sexy is if I was tough and fearless sexy, and fearless is not an adjective I would use to describe myself. Brave, and maybe even tough, but my fears are alive and well.

If only it was just a matter of deciding not to be afraid, and to stop focusing on the "what if’s” and the myriad of dangers swirling around in my brain, but I literally feel that this has been hardwired in. I have managed to live with these fears through avoidance (of situations that make me especially anxious) and denial. Just to recap, my fears revolve around people, people taking control of my body and my life away from me. In order to survive my dad and not be a nervous wreck waiting for him to kill me, I pretended it wasn't happening, and in order to have what I thought was a normal social and sexual life, I pretended that men didn't terrify me. Actually, let me modify that, I have always had guys in my life who I didn't perceive as a threat, and they are friends or otherwise non-sexual to me. If the relationship becomes sexual, I get scared. I emotionally shut down, because to block out the fear I also have to block out all my feelings. It's really hard to selectively shut down your feelings; you end up going numb entirely. This made it hard to pay attention to red flags, because the whole thing was a red flag for me! Remember, for me, sex equal degradation, so if I'm having sex with someone I feel disrespected regardless of how they're treating me.

Arggh! This is frustrating because I don't see the way out. I'm just going on the faith that because my perception of sex and relationships is so twisted by abuse and my approach to living in the world is so skewed by PTSD, that I can recover and my feelings will change. I was so young when it started and I've had the PTSD for so long that I worry that it's woven into the fabric of myself and I don't know if I can untangle it. Is this who I am? What if I can't change? Maybe I don't need to change, though. What I’m trying to get to is inside of me. I know I can love and trust and be open because of my brother. He broke my heart when he died, so I know my heart isn't frozen. He was a very good person and loved and accepted me, so it must be possible to love and accept me. I can’t be so screwed up for it to be hopeless. I know that it’s not.

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