I learned something about myself recently. I suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD. You would think that somebody who had over 25 years of sobriety and has done a whole bunch of therapy would know whether he had this condition or not before now.
It’s a slight play on words that I learned about my PTSD recently. I have known about my reaction to threatened violence for a while. What I learned is that when a person says to me, “you are,” “you will,” “you can’t,” “you will never,” “you’re not,” “you’ll never be,”” or other statements along that line of communication, I shut down emotionally. Because what happens for me is I see that intimidating adult wagging their finger at me and telling me how less than everyone else I am.
And I know that it’s PTSD because the first instinct that I feel is anger, I want to protect myself against the imminent violence which used to be associated with those words. If the statement has an inflection of threat or condescension it is all I can do to not tell that person to go somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine.
A couple of examples. Last night I was leaving a meeting that deals with depression in sobriety. There is a gentleman who attends that meeting who I don’t like it all. Why doesn’t matter. So after this meeting this gentleman says to me in a loud voice that everyone else could hear, “Hey……, can we resolve this conflict that we have?” I am about 25 feet away from when he says this. I turn around and look at him and say, “I don’t have anything to say to you.” He says “I need to work this conflict out.” I repeated myself and said “I don’t have anything to say to you,….”
I stop, turn around and he looks at me and then he says, “……. you need to work the steps around this issue.” I looked him directly in the eye and said tersely, but not angrily, “If I need a sponsor to help me I won’t call you. If you need to work the steps around it that’s not my issue.”
I turned my back to him at this point, and walked to my car. He continued on with some discourse about the lack of quality of my sobriety. The feelings I had when he told me that I needed to work the steps were rage and anger. I didn’t act on it so that was an improvement. Once I got into my car and turned it on I turned up the radio really loud and drove out of the parking lot as he was standing there pointing at me and I think wanting to talk to me.
(An aside. Yesterday morning the guy confronted me at my Saturday mens meeting and this time he didnt leave me alone until I stood up and told him to get the F away from me. My friend Mike B said.”that guy dont listen.”)
The second example is a friend I had a few months ago when they would get angry at me they would start saying, “you’re not ready,” “you’re not mature enough,” “you haven’t done the work,” in discussing our relationship. They would say it in a not so gentle voice. Not angry or mean, but without any kindness in their voice.
What I realized happened to me when I heard those words was that I shut down emotionally. I can’t even say that I got really angry, but what I can say is that I was through with any conversation that was going on at that time.
I worked really hard to try to overlook the choice of language, but at times I didn’t succeed. Wait, I didn’t succeed. Because after those words were spoken to me, I was done having any sort of discussion about what was going on because when people point their finger at me and tell me how I am less than when we’re supposed to be in a mutually supportive, loving relationship, I shut down.
I don’t fear the violence that I used to when those words were said, but the emotional charge around them is still powerful. I hope someday that those words don’t have the effect on me that they do, because much of communication between people in the world today is about “you,” in relation to the other person that we’re dealing with.
We have forgotten that all communication can only come from I!
Better to seek forgiveness than permission!