Tuesday, February 14, 2012


It's not a label I normally attach to myself.  I go for control whenever it's possible.  I try to avoid situations which would put me in a position of weakness. I am the center of my universe; woe to those who try to change my trajectory.

Disaster struck and still I held onto my illusion of control.  First responders and citizen heroes and hospital personnel kept my body whole, but the rehab was on me.  Progress would depend on my effort.  It was my body and I was in control.

The anniversary of the shooting came and went.  I was drawn into the maelstrom in spite of myself. At the end, I felt lighter, with some notion that my rambling-random-poke-me-in-the-brain-when-I-least-expect-it thoughts would stay safely in the space I'd created for them in the back corner of my brain.  Silly me.

The last week or so has been filled with rage.  My finger hurt and vicodin made me loopy.  Walking with my iPod turned up loud was easy, but turning it off left me with the clicking and clacking and frazzled nerves that go with it.  We missed an evening out with friends and I was furious, even though it was unavoidable.  Waiting at Wally-World to buy a new camera, watching the idiot customer and the flummoxed cashier bumble through a two second transaction which stretched to two...three...five minutes, I felt my head exploding.

Literally.  My eyeballs were bugging out of my head from the pressure.  I am certain that steam was pouring from my ears.  My feet were tapping, my fingers were drumming on the cart handle, and I was looking for someone something anyone anything to hit.  Hard.  When the disgruntled sigh burst from my lips, startling the woman to my left, I knew I needed help.

It pays to have your therapist's number in your cell phone.  You never know when the world will give you a wake up call that help is needed.

I sat with her this afternoon, in a safe space, and I listened to myself complain.  Was this ever going away?  I was doing all the right things and yet there it was, rearing its ugly head in the middle of the camera department of a big box store. I was filled with rage over ridiculously small events.  Was the vicodin interfering with the zoloft?  Was the adrenaline flowing up and down my insides going to be a permanent part of my existence?  Was I ever going to regain control?

Therapy is wonderful.  I sit and spew and the therapist magically pulls my words together into a coherent whole.  She sings them back to me in a different key, the melody altered just so.  The answers are in my mind; I just don't know it.  By bringing the definition front and center, by clarifying my confusion and putting it in perspective, by linking me to research and experience and compassion, by re-framing the anger through the lens of normality - in all these ways she helps me heal.

Powerlessness - that is what I am feeling.  It's neither congruent nor enjoyable.  It's unwelcome and frightening.  It's also very real.  After all, I only went to the grocery store with a little girl...... evil found its way to our corner through no fault of my own.  I need a strategy to contain it. It can't keep taking over my life.

Hearing that this was a usual reaction helped a lot.  Listening to her questions I could agree that all my trigger situations were times when I was not in control.  I used to avoid those places.  When I couldn't escape them, I would take action to right the wrong, to set things on the correct path, to exercise my options.  That was no longer my default.

Instead, after my disaster, my self has adopted a new set of parameters. The powerlessness touches the edges of January 8th and I'm off to the races - heart beating, sour taste of adrenaline in my mouth, an inability to take a deep breath, and an urge to do damage.  It's not a pretty place to be.

But therapy has taught me that I always have choices.  I can choose to go with the flow and spew venom.  I'm pretty good at that. The consequences might not be to my liking, but that really doesn't enter my consciousness at those moments.  I am filled with bile and out it must come.

Today, I have a new plan.  I will exhale softly and deeply and fully.  On that breath will ride the rancor and the rage, the sad and the painful feelings, the outrage and the anger. I may need to do it more than once, should some of the crappiness remain.  And then, blissfully, I will inhale into the deepest recesses of my belly, filling it up with good, clean, fresh air.  The calmer thoughts will ride that wave.

Exhale. Inhale. Then make a choice.  Do I want to stand and wait or should I leave?  I can't make them move more efficiently, but I am the master of my own actions and I can leave if I'm really that aggravated.   I can turn up my inner-iPod when the clicking in my hip frightens me; I don't have to focus on the noise if I am humming a tune to myself.

I don't have the power to keep the grief, the PTSD, the rage from arriving unannounced.  I do have the power to choose my response.

It's not much, but it may be enough.  For now, I am taking my first deep breaths in a very long time.  It feels great.


  1. Happy Valentines Day!! I hope you find peace, happiness and lots of smiles today! ...debbie

  2. AB, sounds like you have a really good therapist. I too have to do the breathing because I used to suffer anxiety attacks. They aren't as frequent as they used to be. I never had the added pressures you have on your psyche. You have been through something so traumatic and it's alright to feel anger. I think how you deal with that anger is going to be the way forward. For me, I get really worked up about things and I literally have to talk myself out of letting myself spiral out of control. It's a conscience decision I've made to not let things overwhelm me. It's been a learning process. You are in unfamiliar territory and you are going to have to navigate it the best way you can. The first step is acknowledging it and formulating a plan--something you have already done. Baby steps...

    Have a warm, loving Valentine's Day.

    Megan xxx

  3. Ashleigh, while you say it doesn't sound like much,it IS truly within your power. I know you probably say the words at an intellectual level and not quite yet at a heart felt level, it will come...healing is a process-slow, deliberate and thoughtful. While we've never met, I take each step with you through positive thoughts and prayers because I've been to the valley and abyss of PTSD, and all that this place entails.

  4. This was incredibly powerful and will probably be very helpful for others. I'm glad I stopped by to read this morning as I will be thinking about the lessons you are sharing the rest of the day. God bless you!

  5. ABs (Yes, I think this is what I shall call you - two parts AB one part s.) This is one of those powerful pieces that single you out as a really, really good writer! I would say great writer but I think you have to be dead to be called that and I plan on both of us only being really, really good for a long, long time to come. Pancakes? Didn't we talk about pancakes at BlogHer? Anyway, I am so happy that you have a good therapist. My good therapist just had surgery and I won't be able to have my regular Tuesday afternoon chat, release, and deep breath session for a couple more weeks. *insert pout face here* Having a good therapist makes a WORLD of difference.

    Anyway, I'm still here, reading when I can. I'm still trying to figure out what to write for Arizona's 100th B-day. I like Tucson, but I don't like AZ much with guns on campus, ASU censoring access to websites, and all the other blatant stupidity going on in the Capitol of the State.


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