Reflections on Family Support
Each of us has a different relationship with our families in regard to PTSD (or other issues pertaining to an anxiety/depression diagnosis).
I love my family and they have been supportive on many, many things. PTSD has not been high on the priority list, however.
I have come to understand that each of us (we as well as our family members or friends) is only able to wrap our head around such a diagnosis and what it all means in our own timeframe. This can not be sped up, as much as some of us would like, particularly in the earlier years of diagnosis and treatment when support would be greatly appreciated.
I currently find myself facing decisions that are not particularly easy. I had always hoped that my parents would acknowledge the PTSD. Be careful what you wish for, right? What I thought, and what is actually occurring, are two separate things.
A little back story: twelve years ago I told my parents about the sexual abuse, my diagnosis and treatment therapy. At this time, when I initially shared with them, I had been in denial for twenty-five years, and thought my failure to get past the experience of sexual abuse and assault for over five years in my childhood was a personal failure, or weakness of character.
As we sat around the table that evening when I first told them, the response was not at all what I expected. Frankly, I expected my father to storm out of the house and track down my uncle (who perpetrated the abuse) and beat the snot out of him. I was actually afraid of this happening and was holding his car keys in my pocket. Instead, both my parents told me they did not know, and knew that something was "up" with me, but could not put their finger on it. Now they could. There was not a whole lot of emotion displayed. And then the topic was changed.
Okay. So I started therapy. When I tried to discuss certain things that were occurring in therapy, trying to make sense of it all, my parents really did not want to be part of the discussion. At the time, I was very sad. I felt very alone, very stupid, very disillusioned and very weak. I can remember about a good three years into therapy when there was an evening seminar being offered free of charge for parents of children with PTSD to gain some information, understanding, insight, have questions answered, etc. I asked my parents if they would like to participate, and the ultimate answer was no. They felt they could not understand it-the PTSD, the abuse, what was occurring in therapy, etc. The idea that they were unwilling to try was devastating at the time. It is only in hindsight that I may be open to the idea that they were not ready to deal with my past experience and that PTSD was too looming a diagnosis to be digested. I believe they wanted to be helpful, they just were not clear on what that would look like (for them, or for me).
Fast forward twelve years. I have been in therapy, am medication compliant, understand self-care, and understand how my old belief systems can run a person into the ground. I faced some tough challenges along the way as I needed to forsake what I had built my life upon and take a risk that something else existed (namely health). I did not know what health looked like or felt like. All I knew what that I was sinking fast and taking the risk to begin all over again at twenty-seven was no small feat. It worked though. Thank gracious. It was the beginning of my road toward recovery.
Just last week, out of the blue, my parents shared with me that they are coming into awareness and understanding of the consequences of sexual abuse, the PTSD, my choices for therapy, my choices to get healthy, my choices for my own well-being, and my choices to move forward in life. It was a bit odd because my mother was crying about the sadness of my experience (how I longed for something like this years ago). My parents want to take it to the next level and address it one-on-one with the cousins on the side of the family where the abuse took place (or rather, I should say that my father wants me to discuss one-on-one with each member of the family). As much as I want to embrace their acknowledgement, it comes together with their anger, indignation, and blame. Further, I already acknowledged all of it with this side of the family over seven/eight years ago. In short, I moved beyond where they are years ago in therapy (and in action). I want to honor how they are feeling; yet, I also want to honor where I am standing.
It is only now, twelve years later, that they are feeling anger, sadness, and the losses that come with this type of experience. (Perhaps they felt this but did not express it?) As much as I want to embrace and joyfully receive their acceptance, sadness and indignation over the consequences of such experiences, I will admit that part of me is feeling a bit put off. I mean, it has been twelve years. I have been in therapy for twelve years. I have been on my own for twelve years. I have chosen to stay in therapy for twelve years even though I received judgment that it was taking so long and that I should be "over it" by now and why can't I just "let it go."
Such a change-up in thinking by my parents is a new experience for me. Smaller pieces of acknowledgement have come over the years, but nothing has been said so overtly, so vehemently before. What I am thinking about now regarding my parents--and God bless them for reaching this point--is that just because they feel ready to deal with all of what occurred over thirty-five years ago, do I jump up and say, "Great!" or is it okay if I say, "Hold up a little bit, and let's discuss this." I am struggling between feeling annoyed and feeling like I should just shut up and be grateful.
If they are ready to actually take on the full gamut of PTSD and all that it has entailed and where my twelve years of therapy has brought me, then I am open to that discussion. At this point, there seems to be an overture of anger, righteousness, bitterness and hostility. Again, I needed to confront such feelings years ago and make a choice to forgive, understand the choices others made in the "cover-up" of other known abuse victims, and chose compassion instead of blame. (Also, the uncle who did all this died several years back.)
What makes me sad--and reflective--is that all of what is currently occurring would not feel like such a lead balloon if one other adult had stepped up twelve, ten or even seven years ago to say, "This matters." But that is a "What if..." and that won't get me anywhere. And this leads me back to the issue of timing: I get that we all get to where we need to be when we are ready to fully tackle the issues at hand. I am not completely confident it has moved past the anger stage and into the compassion stage for it to be up for any kind of further discussion. For that matter, I do not even know where my parents are in relation to fully understanding PTSD... My parents want me to share my therapy experience now with them and the other family members, explain PTSD, what I have learned, what mental illness is, what recovery is, etc. I am resistant to going back to that place in time. I am such a different person now. I feel that my life has taken one trajectory and theirs another. I have not seen this side of the family in many years. I don't know if they would even recognize me.
Yes, I want to be in a dialogue (I say that with a deep breath and a sigh). It's a weird feeling to get what you want but in a different form than you wanted. I want to be honest and not placate the whole thing into the ground. I desire to be a person who is open to others and their learning curve... I think I just need to acknowledge for myself that this requires some hard won lessons about life and what matters and how to share that with the sincerity I feel deep within me.
It is hard to have family be twelve years behind. I am looking for my gratitude, as it is starting to get lost in this scenario, and I do not want to lose sight of the fact that perhaps my own parents are in discovery of what this has all meant and means.
I will keep you posted. Any thoughts on this are very welcome.