The idea that life goes back to ‘normal’ after tragedy is a lie. What really happens, whether for better or worse, is that normal becomes something different. Sure, there are vague remnants of your past life (pre-event), but you sill have to relearn how to live, no matter how much you fight it or how long you ignore it. And that’s what happened in March.
My therapist once told me that when I started to feel anxiety or depression or deep, debilitating sadness, there were specific ways to make these feelings quickly lessen. This seemed the most opportune time to put these strategies into place. But there were two slight problems: I thought my therapist was nuts when she detailed the steps to making this happen, and she used the phrase ‘self talk’ in her explanation (a phrase Mike used frequently when he wanted to sabotage my self-esteem). Let me explain:
My therapist explained that I needed to use self-talk to make it go away. She said saying things like, “I hear and feel you, sadness, but right now I have to make it through 4 more hours of work. Do you think you could give me a little bit of a break? I know you’re there. I understand I need to work through you. Now isn’t the time.”
Mike, on the other hand, would say things like this:
“Change your self-talk before you talk to me, Fina. Maybe if you didn’t talk to yourself like a colossal piece-of-shit fat whore, you wouldn’t come off as one…and I wouldn’t treat you like one. It’s all about the self-talk.”
One time, in fact, he bought a huge Post-it (the 3 foot length) and posted it in the bathroom, directly in front of the mirror, while I was showering. When I grabbed the towel, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to the sink. “Fina,” he said, “We’re going to stand here and you’re going to tell me all of the positive things that you think about yourself. If I agree that they’re true, we’re going to write them on this paper. We’ll leave the paper here, and every time you feel like I’m being mean to you, you can come into the bathroom and sit, looking at the paper.” He said that it would make me feel better. And the only reason I didn’t feel good was because of my ‘self-talk.’ So, obviously, this didn’t work because I knew it was total bullshit. But since he was harrowing and I was already weakened and afraid, I pretended to do just what he wanted. This only worked for about a month, and then the paper came off the wall.
One night, while sitting on the couch (after a 12 hour work day), Mike stormed into the living room with the written on Post-It note in hand. “You’re obviously not doing what I’ve suggested, little Fina. If you were, you’d be up cleaning the kitchen or getting an outfit together for tomorrow. I am disgusted by you, did you know that? I’ve given you every tool to make your life better and you can’t even do this. You are a worthless cunt.”
I think it’s easy to see why this phrase was so triggering and dismiss-able when brought up again.
Back to March:
Sure, I’m a believer that if something works, it doesn’t matter how nut-so it is. But I believed that for other people, not me. And when I was told that I needed to talk myself out of those feelings, well, let’s just say there was a lot of laughter in my therapist’s tiny office. All of which came from the couch where I was sitting. She was a good sport about it, as I’m sure there are plenty of other women who reacted in a similar manner to such an absurd suggestion.
But then, one night on my way home from Ellen’s, when reality actually hit me (they’re both gone and they won’t ever be back), I cried so hard that I thought I’d have to pull over on the side of the highway. That’s when I decided that I already looked like an idiot, so I might as well try it. It was only when I didn’t know what else to do, when I was alone and so very overwhelmed that this worked for me. It’s not that it couldn’t have worked earlier, but I wasn’t in a place to try something that had been so awful before. March drew out similar feelings of helplessness, and I knew that it was time to get over myself and try, even if it made me uncomfortable.
Fina’s most common self-talk phrases:
“Yes, Fina, you should be mad. Yes, what just happened was shitty. I’m acknowledging your presence and validating your existence, anger, so do you think you could back off a bit?”
“Hey, sadness, why are you always trying to steal the show? Haven’t I given you enough over the past few months? Think you can give me a break for today?”
“Sweet, anxiety. I adore having the shakes in the middle of the day, but I really like them when they come from excessive amounts of coffee. Let’s count to five, breath in once, and then recall our favorite Seinfeld ‘serenity now’ moment. We’ll be alright without the tremors, dontcha think?”
People can call me or this strategy crazy, but it’s actually really helped me learn how to cope with my PTSD in ways that nothing else had or has to this point.
I learned to live through pain in March, and I learned that trying something out of my comfort zone might actually benefit me in ways that are far more significant than the fear of being found strange.
Even though I have plenty of people who I can depend on in my life, I’ve found that talking to myself has helped me regain trust within me that I’d lost from my relationship with Mike. Trust that nobody else could have helped me rebuild.
It’s funny how willing I was to do this. And it’s funny how, before March, I would’ve gotten so bogged down in pain and suffering that I wouldn’t have been able to cope. But after February’s lessons, I was able to understand how detrimental it would be to allow myself to go there. So I learned new, even better things in March.
And, as there is a pattern starting in these last two posts, even more happened in April.