February 16, 2017 at 11:44 am #127891
Hi, 20 years ago I broke up with my wife. I fell rapidly into alcoholism to numb all pain, then when I sobered up 11 years ago, I started to get major depression and anxiety attacks. I never even considered this had anything to do with the end of 23 years with my wife, as I had a dysfunctional childhood, so I blamed that. Finally, 3 days ago, after 11 years of trying – (Live in the UK and the NHS regards mental health a low priority) – trying that included 3 long term (6-10 months) of therapy with a counsellor,
- blaming my childhood
and never getting any better – finally this week I had a very long session with a Psychiatrist. He said that I had PTSD from the marriage breakup; my childhood might give me small anxiety. This was a bombshell to me, and I realised that he was right… I am/was still in denial as I nearly drank myself to death instead.
But… what do I do now? Therapy would be good but the waiting list is now up to a year. I still suffer (if I don’t take all my pills) massive depression and anxiety – PTSD in fact. How do I start a grieving process for something that happened 20 years ago? I know I have to do it, especially as my brain is shouting “No, no!”. I’m stuck at the moment, suddenly it’s like I’m frozen in time and I am clueless.
Any suggestions as to how to move on would be appreciated 🙂
Ian.February 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm #127907
I am trying to understand, therefore I ask: are you saying that the loss of your emotional attachment to your wife of 23 years was so devastating to you independently of your experience in childhood with the attachment to your parent/s, that is, that you would have suffered as you have even if you had a safe childhood?
anitaFebruary 17, 2017 at 3:01 am #127989
Hi Anita, it is very complex, my psychiatrist says I was “primed” by my childhood, and when the breakup happened it then had a far greater impact, leading to trauma and PTSD. What she did was also horrible and so totally unexpected – she cheated on me, then told me she has never loved me, it was a game she had played for 23 years because I has a good job, she lied to the children about things I never did, she got a restraining order by lying to the police saying I was violent… this went on for about 6 months until I left her (for my own sanity) and then I had a massive breakdown and started to drink all day every day. The drinking delayed any mental problems for 9 years during which time in rehab they questioned me about my childhood and said that was where all my problems came from.
Do I have to mentally re-live all the breakup events, processing each one… this doesn’t sound very safe to me; but I must do something so I can heal and not suffer such depression and anxiety again. My hands are shaking badly now having just wrote this and I have a bad headache starting.
Thanks for listening,
Ian.February 17, 2017 at 7:35 am #128023
Hi Ian. Your story resonates with me because I’ve had similar issues although my ex didn’t break up with me or cheat. I’m very sorry for your pain. I also have childhood issues that are rearing their head in my current relationship. First of all, congratulations on quitting drinking. I am going to start therapy for my childhood trauma. It’s specifically called trauma counselling and the therapist has to have special training and experience in this. It a takes 12 sessions and I understand that it actually rewires the brain to no longer react to the memories and ease the lingering effects of PTSD. It’s very hard work and requires a lot of courage, but I’m hoping that my chronic depression and anxiety, and getting stuck in relationship problems, will all get better. I’ve also found that keeping a gratitude journal helps, as does mindfulness meditation. I hope you’re also attending an AA group. I really think the 12 step program is very useful, but again, you need to do the work. Best of luck.February 17, 2017 at 8:25 am #128035
You asked: “Do I have to mentally re-live all the breakup events, processing each one… this doesn’t sound very safe to me”- from personal experience, being still engaged in the process of healing, it is unsafe for you to “mentally re-live all the breakup events.” Anxiety limits how much we can process at any time, therefore processing traumatic events has to be done very, very gradually, each processing step has to be taken when safe.
You wrote: “but I must do something so I can heal and not suffer such depression and anxiety again. My hands are shaking badly now having just wrote this and I have a bad headache..”-
This is indication that you must be very gentle and patient with yourself and the process. Trying to remember traumatic events when your hands are shaking is counter-productive, the wrong thing for you to do. You should relax, instead, distract yourself with calming music, aerobic exercise, and such.
In your original post you wrote that you had “3 long term (6-10 months) of therapy with a counsellor,
blaming my childhood and never getting any better”
My comment on the latter: the fact that you did not get better for blaming your childhood does not mean that your trouble didn’t originate and start in your childhood (being “primed” as your psychiatrist suggested). The fact that you didn’t get better as a result is probably because the therapy did not progress beyond the blaming. Maybe you were waiting for the therapists to validate your experience in childhood, to give your blaming an outside, reliable validity. Maybe you didn’t get that validity and this is why you didn’t get better.
I hope you post again.
anitaFebruary 17, 2017 at 10:40 am #128059
Childhood events: I used the wrong wording – I do not “blame” my childhood or my mother (repeated very young abandonment). I own and am totally responsible for my feelings. I had plenty of validation (e.g. what happened was bad, it’s normal to feel that way, you’re okay) and exercises that re-lived the events, but looking back the work was “easy” as I did not experience much emotion, nor was I suppressing any. I can mentally go back there any time I want and I feel nothing.
Over the 11 years since I stopped drinking, I have read dozens of books on allsorts, and have become very self-aware and also skilled in areas of self-therapy. Which is why I knew I had to quickly end my last post as part of my head was going back to my marriage breakup. I’ve realised I have deliberately (or sub-consciously) kept my mind away from the breakup. When I tentatively poke a finger now in that morass I start to feel that anxiety that says “stop now or you’ll regret this”. My (new) wife is away for a long weekend and while I cannot do psychoanalysis with her (with the added reason that because it is about a marriage breakup), I can do self-therapy when she is around, as she is a psychoanalyst and knows how to dig me out of a pschodynamic hole I may fall into.
Where I am at the moment is knowing where to start. In other words, when I am not in any grieving process, how do I get back to some point where I can actually grieve? Can I skip some things as it was 20 years ago? I can quite easily get depressed or fearful, but do I need to “make myself depressed” to process? As I said, I do suffer PTSD and am on some medications which vastly help, but I want to get off the meds and recover properly (so I can get a job!). As Sylvia pointed out there are therapeutic methods which “may” help (I’ve studied them) but that kind of therapy I am sure would never be available via the UKs NHS, and as I am on benefits cannot afford such help myself, so I have to do my own work.
Ian.February 17, 2017 at 10:56 am #128077
When you experienced “repeated very young abandonment”- how old were you when you were first abandoned and how old were you when you were last abandoned? Were you aware, at the time, that you were abandoned?
I don’t think you want or need to re-tell your childhood, and so, I am asking only for your ages when that happened and a yes or a no on whether you were aware as a child that you were abandoned.
anitaFebruary 17, 2017 at 11:41 am #128091
I can only assume I have some very (very) young childhood memories as my older sister is at home, i.e. not at school, so that places my memories at 2yo at the latest. The first is a very frequent one where my mother threatens to leave, goes upstairs to pack a suitcase (banging around upstairs) then the suitcase being dumped by the front door with another threat “my case is packed now, if you two don’t behave (we were not misbehaving, this is some problem my mother has) I am going now”. I remember this being totally horrific, and I would feel sick, that she might leave. That’s all, just the horror and sick (as in I’m about to throw up) feelings. Then one day she did (my sister is not there now so she must have started school), I remember the absolute horror, her locking me in the house, and me banging on the front window screaming and crying, as I watched her drive off in the car. I was only aware of horror and total fear. Funny, I can still look back and remember the feelings, but emotionally they do nothing to me now. Her doing this was maybe just twice as I have no memories of her doing this when I am older, say 4 or 5.
In my teenage years this caused huge problems with dating, I was always literally paranoid that my girlfriend would dump me, as they all did eventually anyway… apart from the last one, where that fear is gone and this girl eventually becomes first wife. I never worried at all that my marriage would ever end – as it did in such a horrific way after 23 years. “in my heart” I knew I never needed to fear… If she did never love me (as she said) then she was a very good con artist! That is probably the “main” reason why the shock was so great, then when she turned nasty…. <shudder>.
Ah well, at least I can now talk about the surface of it and I’m not getting stressed tonight.
Ian.February 17, 2017 at 1:26 pm #128107
I read your last post and went back to one before it where you were wondering how you should grieve the ending of your first marriage.
This is how I see it: thoughts and emotions are mingled in our brains, neuropathways were formed in childhood (those Formative Years) and those connections, aka pathways, remain through adulthood. They do not disintegrate with time. Future emotional learning means more pathways, inserting a new connections into the old. With successful therapy, difficult pathways, those that cause you most suffering, can being undone, little by little, over time, mindfulness and work.
The pathways formed in the young Ian during those experiences you described (and those you forgot), exist. These pathways are not separate from the new pathways formed as a result of your divorce twenty years ago. Pathways are interconnected, old and new.
When you were a young child, you didn’t have past experiences to project into your present, so what you felt accurately fit with reality. For example, when you felt hurt, it meant someone really hurt you (you didn’t misunderstand; it really happened).
What you feel now is often what you felt as a child (those childhood pathways activated), therefore, your current feelings carry the information about the reality of your past. You don’t have to remember events and details. Your feelings indicate that you were in danger, that a parent hurt you, etc.
I hope this is somewhat helpful. I will be back in a few hours.
February 18, 2017 at 4:58 am #128191
- This reply was modified 3 days, 18 hours ago by anita.
Forgetting the neurology of it for now (Classic neurology/learning much of which is now debatable, though the practical application of the theory still works). I can see what you are saying, that my breakup found the “nearest past example” of something similar and tagged on to that, thus the new experience became “horrific” rather than just painful, which would imply that, as painful and horrible as my breakup was, in reality it was just that. Painful and horrible. If it was alone, then my mind would not be re-traumatised and would have processed the situation rather than avoided as much as possible (e.g. the drinking) having any thinking going on. So now, I might not get triggered by the events of 58 years ago as a small child as it’s been therapied to death and then some, but thoughts of my breakup still lead to firing of that ancient (and multi-entrant) neural pathway. I have transferred the “ownership” of it to the breakup; when nothing in the breakup would have caused that degree of traumatization. Thus my c-PTSD is now a new kind of PTSD; after all I have never heard of anyone developing PTSD from a divorce. This is what the psychiatrist meant when he said childhood had primed me for creating a vastly overdeveloped horror of the breakup. Hmm, this all makes sense. I wonder what the new “knowledge is power” can now perhaps but breakup events in correct context and process and deal with them without “traumatising” myself. I shall let that mull in the sub-conscious realms for a while….February 18, 2017 at 9:23 am #128215
What is important is not how much therapy you had, how much knowledge you have, what is most important is that you feel safe now of the dangers you experienced as a child and during the breakup of your first marriage. The danger then was being left alone, uncared for and unprotected by your mother (as a child) and later, by your first wife.
Now you are safe from those dangers because as an adult, you can feed and protect yourself. You can live without your mother (as you have) and you can live without your ex wife (as you have). From those dangers, you are safe.
anitaFebruary 18, 2017 at 11:49 am #128245
Yes, being safe. I often use that as a mantra when I am in “high anxiety” state. Almost never though do I know of any trigger that starts an anxiety episode, they “come out of nowhere”. Depression episodes are uncommon, though I think that is down to being on an effective anti-depressant (effective long term anti-anxiety pills being non-existant. I usually hit some valium (prescribed), but try to minimise doing this as tolerance is reached very quickly).
But of course, I don’t want to live my life run on pills. I want to OVERCOME my PTSD. So I arrive back at my initial question – as I have to do self-therapy – where to start? From a safe anchor point I can return to, and delving into (writing about) the whole breakup scenario? Trying to investigate the childhood and breakup links?
I’ve suffered a long time now, 11 years and at times suicidal, or hideous anxiety where I might have to take .. um.. up to 80mg.. to anesthetize the panic, and as I told the shrink last tuesday, I’m tired now, I’ve had enough, fed up with pills… and I am seeing me drift to another very bad (dangerous) depression state unless I take action. I’m ready to take action, I just don’t know a good action to take… Inaction is killing me right now.February 18, 2017 at 1:23 pm #128251
I have suffered a lifetime of anxiety and still do. The process to reduce it, minimize it, requires a whole lot of patience with the process. I call it “excruciating patience” because a moment of “I got it!” is often followed by: oh, I didn’t, there is more.
The process requires an equal amount of gentleness with yourself, empathy for yourself, as if you are taking the hand of a small, scared child, be soft, tender to that child.
The “outside approach” to reducing anxiety- current relationships with other people. Two things:
1. Cut contact with abusive people, and with people who were abusive to you in the past and still trigger in you the same anxiety response. There is no way to reduce anxiety long term when still interacting with people who are disrespectful to you.
2. Be effectively assertive with the non- abusive people in your life, state your needs, negotiate, make it a win-win relationship. If you regularly interact with a person whose habit is annoying to you and it is reasonable to ask that person to stop that habit with you (allowing for imperfection in the process), then ask that person just that. Otherwise, you repeatedly get triggered. The scared child whose hand you are holding, needs you to voice his needs, to take care of him. Be his voice.
3. Daily or every other day aerobic exercise, like fast walking, 30 minutes or so; other exercise, yoga/ other slow stretching. It is important to take the elevator, so to speak, down from the overthinking brain, to the body. Get physical.
4. Ongoing Mindfulness practice, making your everyday movements purposeful and slower, slower… making your movements matter for themselves, not only as a means to an end. Exit the overthinking brain more often, listening to sounds, feeling a soft object in your hands, looking at the clouds in the sky…
5. As you prefer: hot showers, hot baths, saunas; music, fresh air, a bit of sun, a bit of soaking in a light rain, petting a dog.
6. Let yourself know that you survived all the intense anxiety of many years of life. The anxiety you suffered did not kill you. It is not deadly in itself (the “solutions” we find for it, as in taking drugs can be deadly). You will survive this one too. This is the truth and it may eliminate the fear-on-top of fear.
7. Do not resort to the ineffective past ways of reducing anxiety, those “solutions” I referred to, such that cause additional problems. When you develop trust in yourself to operate effectively, that self-mastery, reduces anxiety. It lets that scared child whose hand you are holding know that he is “in good hands.”
anitaFebruary 18, 2017 at 1:25 pm #128253