I have heard it said the death begets death. Put another way, when you’re grieving or helping someone who is grieving; passed deaths, funerals and aftermaths come flooding forward.
This is also the case for severe trauma. Experiences with other’s traumas provoke strong memories and features of one’s own trauma. For this reason, I often tell my clients who are dealing with severe traumas, to avoid news broadcasts and closely monitor television shows and movies before watching (if possible). This helps prevent suddenly finding themselves in a virtual situation similar enough to what they experienced to cause problems.
Until you know what your trauma triggers are this is shaky ground. It would be easy to say, I experienced child abuse; therefore, I won’t watch things that show or discus this topic. Since the mind is like a 4-D movie camera recording during a traumatic event, the obvious might not be so obvious.
For example: The well groomed newscaster presented three horrific events; the remains of 11 dead bodies found in Ohio killed by a serial killer; a Toyota’s accelerator got stuck and the car accelerated to 100 miles an hour, killing the driver when it hit a tree; a woman was thrown from a roller coaster at Six Flags Amusement Park in Texas and died on impact.
In which of these stories would a person with severe trauma experience the most triggers? It’s a person by person answer. It may not be the most heinous which grabs the person. It will be the one that elicits the most triggers from that 4-D movie reel in their head.
In my own case, as I have PTSD, the story that grabbed me was the story at the amusement park. I’ve never been thrown from a roller coaster, in fact I love coasters. So why would this story grab me?
In my case, it had to do with something I and many people with PTDS develop. It’s the fear or guilt of having a good time. In my case, it is fear. My life experiences have taught my brain that as soon as life calms down and starts to look normal, something horrific is coming around the corner. It’s something I’ve had to actively evaluate and be aware of for many years.
So, who in those news stories was having the most fun when something horrible happened? Yep, it was the woman, vacationing with her family and then ejected from the coaster to her death. What made this situation worse, the news reporter stated when the coaster pulled out of the platform the woman realized her lap bar wasn’t closed properly and there was nothing anyone did or could do once the coaster left the platform to help her.
This brings about three more common traits of people with PTSD. These are the feelings of helplessness, inability to escape and sudden realization of impending serious harm or death. The other two news stories probably contained these elements as well; however, this third story compounded all three elements. If the woman had been my age, that might add a fourth component. If instead of on a coaster, she was in a situation similar to what I experienced, that would add another component. The more components are involved than the stronger the reaction tends to be.
So you see it’s complicated when you or a loved one is learning to live with PTSD. Part of this learning is in understanding how the brain processes trauma and what triggers are hard wired to respond. As the person and their family learn these, the next steps are learning to compensate for reactions, lesson reactions and know your limitations. Most of all never stop exploring and never give up.
If you do get triggered, this protocol will be useful.
- Ground yourself. Do a mental check. Where are you? Who is with you? Are you safe? Your brain needs some external impute from you to circumvent the need to protect you from the danger it perceives you are currently under or about to experience. Telling yourself things like, I’m in my living room, there are green curtains on the window, I’m drinking Lemon Zinger tea may seem silly, but they tell your brain you are not in that place where trauma originally occurred.
- It’s okay to be triggered. Being triggered is a horrendous feeling, especially if it leads to physical, emotional or visual flashbacks. Once you have calmed your mind and body down. Do not, I repeat, do not chastise yourself for having been triggered in the first place. What you experienced was strong enough to provoke the same response in you everyone experiences when they try to put their hand in fire. The brain knows how to keep you safe. Triggers are the mechanisms the brain uses to screen for fires.
- Be an investigative reporter. Logging down what you were doing or watching when you were triggered, any information about how you reacted feelings after the fact are invaluable. Over time, you will see patterns. Perhaps, it’s anything that sounds like explosions or the smell of curry. Even if you and another person experienced the exact same trauma at the same time, your log will be as unique to you as your finger print. Don’t be afraid of finding the patterns.
- Bring your information to someone who can help you. It is typically best to work with someone knowledgeable about trauma reactions when processing and learning to live with triggering events and information. Take your log and your insight with you. You know you and your traumatic event(s) better than anyone. No counselor or therapist is a savior. They are only another human being with training that is there to help. Find someone you trust and become partners in your quest to living healthily with PTSD.
When Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick wrote the lines: To the last, I grapple with thee; from the hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee, he was writing about a man’s obsessive pursuit to concur an internal demon triggered by an external sea monster. Is living with PTSD any different?
I have chronic post traumatic stress disorder which means I’ve experienced multiple times in my life where my life was threatened to the point of perceived death or I witnessed someone else experiencing the same. In my case, I have experience both several times in my life.
I can go several days in a row and sometimes as far as two weeks before being reminded that PTSD DOES NOT GO AWAY! This week was a PTSD week and I’m pissed.
The combination of having PTSD and also Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has left me almost completely housebound for approximately five years now. For a while I had work I could do at home, only to find the stress of the work exacerbated both conditions to the point of not functioning and my body shut down. I literally lost forty pounds in four months, was bed ridden and had to be treated at the ER for dehydration. That was a little over a year and a half ago. The contract on that job terminated about a year ago and the healing began. I was doing well and started a small private practice in my home and then last week hit.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly I can go from being pulled together and almost medication free to being thrust back into emotional, visual and physical flashbacks, constant state of panic, nightmares, jumping and screaming at sudden sounds and feeling completely unhinged, waiting to fend off an attacker, logically knowing it is not there.
I have found that the more secluded from stress I am and regimented in my routine I have, the healthier and happier I feel. Life actually feels worth living and I can contribute to the community and help others heal. Every once in a while I forget my limitations or attempt to rise above them (take your pick).
Several months ago I attempted this. I did it by the book: go slow, carefully watch the people involved so I’m safe, monitor my reactions and self talk, make sure I have an escape route if I’m too threatened and above all – appear normal.
I have a shaky trust in my ability to read people in my life. Even people I’ve known and loved forever sometimes startle me into a fear reaction. For people who are acquaintances or who I’m just starting to know, this fear is tenfold.
All it takes is for a person to react or act emotionally or physically different from what I expect and confusion sets in. Confusion equals fear and fear causes flairs of PTSD. These changes in behavior can consist of raising their voice, yelling, puffing themselves up, twisting my words or intent, flailing their arms around, pounding on things or behaving in ways contrary of what they say they are doing. One or all of these things sets my automatic brain in motion.
What is triggered in me, I call neuro-synaptic frying. It is very physically painful. My brain floods my nervous system with chemicals so I can survive a life threatening event, even if one does not literally exist. It feels like my entire body has been stuffed inside an open electrical socket. It hurts for hours and because I also have Fibromyalgia contracts my muscles and scrambles the pain signals to the brain. So the pain, sometimes debilitating, lasts for days and I have to take special neurological medications to calm the signals down.
This happened this week. I’ve almost worked past the, it’s okay you’re not in danger, stage of PTSD. My nightmares are still there, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, second guessing my decisions and desires to run and hide diminishing. They were an eight on a scale to ten and now are a three or four.
I did some reality checking with family to try to get a sense on how much I over reacted, the real threat ratio (knowing me and my PTSD history) and where to go from here (knowing my physical and emotional health and situation). I went out with people I know and trust. A best friend who loves me so unconditionally it never ceases to amaze. There is the church family with no agenda other than to share love and companionship and of course the love, support and companionship of my own family. Not to forget the humor, encouragement and camaraderie of Facebook friends.
Even with all that positivism surrounding me, PTSD still slammed its ugly head. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could just say, I have reservations about or I see inconsistencies I don’t know if I want to be involved in or I need to watch closer. No, all that is colored by the lenses of PTSD making the ability to make any of those above stated comments almost impossible at this point. I can’t even say, gee I wonder what is going on with that person that things occurred the way they did. That, I hope will come later, but not now.
I am glad I originally pushed myself, tested the waters because I learned some new things and met new people. I have to ask myself where is the line between putting oneself out there knowing the limitations and accepting the risk verses, staying safe, healthy and happy?
I’ve meditated, prayed and contemplated to no avail at this point. Perhaps what I did wrong was move too fast even though I thought I was going slow and trusting too quickly. Or maybe it has more to do with not honoring my limitations and working within those parameters.
I can say I’m damaged, but I tell my clients you’re not damaged you are unique. I say, you have witnessed things other people can never imagine or they go to the cinema to experience. That wisdom and knowledge of the fragility of life may make it so you are more like a piece of fine china and not a plastic cup. You don’t throw fine china in the sink or dishwasher and you don’t put it with the plastic cups in the cupboard. Does that make the fine china damaged? No, it makes it precious. I need to learn that I am precious and treat myself accordingly.
I see books all the time about the five types of relationship killers. It’s ashamed we stop at five because naming the top five may not hit on the bumps in a relationship. If you look at a lot of the social and psychological data on relationships, the list looks more like this. (Note these are not in order of most damaging to least. There is no way to do that as each entry has its own dimensions and they differ couple to couple).
- Communication issues
- Dependency vs independency
- Ineffective problem solving or arguments
- Changes in sexual desire
- Affairs/one night stands/porn/excessive flirting
- Life Stress: job/unemployment/death/chronic illness/sudden illness/mental illness/increase in responsibilities/aging/moving/life style changes
- Taking the other for granted
- Rushing into a phase in the relationship too quickly: weddings/babies/retirement
- Lack of trust
- Lack of Intimacy: feeling like you have to hide who you are due to fear of being unlovable/ no physical intimacy (touching)/ feeling like you have to be someone else to be loved
- Lack of care: feeling like you are uncared for or your partner does not understand you
- Judgementalism: feeling like you are always scrutinized, you can’t do anything right or being perfectionist and believing you can’t do anything right.
- Tests: partner sets up little tests to see if you pass and are worthy of trust/love
- Unrealistic expectations: if this is love, why am I so miserable – expecting partner to meet or fix your inner emptiness or meet unrealistic expectations or fantasies
- Lack of contributions in household, family responsibilities
- Raising kids
- Comfort levels
- Different goals in life
- Step parenting
- Mistakes: shutting down due to fear of making a mistake, making things worse
- Living in the past
In the next couple weeks, I’m going to address each of these risks and discus them in more detail. In the mean time, what is important to know is that while these can range in metaphor as a splinter, dagger or serial stabbing.
What one couple sees as a serial stabbing another might see as a splinter. Why the difference and which couple is going to ride the wave and come out feeling connected? The quick and easy answer is in fluidity and desire to the commitment.
Fluidity means the ability to bend and not brake, to see the whole picture and not hyper-focus on one detail. Think about your relationship as a porcelain bowl, for example. If you drop the bowl into a swimming pool full of water, it will get wet, but most likely will stay intact. If you drop it in the sand, depending on the height you drop it; it might stay intact or crack. If you drop it on concrete – it’s shattered – almost every time.
There are ways to make you more mindful – more fluid. Keep in mind, however, that you are only one person in a relationship. The strongest relationships have fluidity in both partners.
Until next time….
I have a demon that sits on my shoulder. Its name is They. I’ve had it on my shoulder for more years then I can remember but didn’t realize it was there. It is insidious, cunning, charming and just malevolent and I have been listening. The result, I often reformat my thoughts, actions and feelings about me and the world without any real examination of what I am doing.
You may know this demon. I have seen it on many of my friends, family and clients. I’ve learned to recognize its influence on others and find this easier to do then prevent myself from being blindsided by the demon that haunts me. You can recognize the affects of “They” when you hear yourself or others make comments like: They told me to do it. They won’t like it. They think I’ll fail. They told me so-and-so does not like me. They think I’m boring. They won’t care if I disappear. They said it can’t be done. They think I’m horrible. They think I’m not worth the ground I walk on.
“They” is a really interesting demon because it can play both pitcher and batter. For example, let’s say you and your significant other are having a disagreement. Not only can the demon “They” on your shoulder tell you things like; he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t understand me etc.
If there is a demon, “They”, on your significant other it might coax your SO to say things like, I think you’re a moron. You are wrong. Everyone things you are an ugly piece of sh-t. …. You get the idea.
Notice the insidious of this… The demon “They” when playing ball with another of its kind can change forms to be I or You or He or She.
The good news is that demons CAN’T force you to think, do or say anything you don’t want. So how do you go about protecting yourself? No, it’s not as easy as just saying, in the name of Jesus be gone…. Why?
I give you this modern day parable.
An old man is in a row boat with oars floating aimlessly about a mile from shore. He is a survivor of a horrific storm that blew him too far from shore to return. If he doesn’t make it back he will die from lack of water, heat stroke or maybe he might capsize and be eaten by sharks. So, he prays for help. In 99.9% of cases that prayer will strengthen the will power of the man. Give him guidance, endurance, perseverance to aid him in accomplishing his task but it won’t self-propel the craft to shore.
The man has two oars. He has to do his part. Maybe he’s rowing along and a ship appears. Or the tide shifts and he find oaring is easier or he moves through the water faster. We can call these acts of grace, acts of God, the Universe, Karma. No matter what, the man is still doing both rowing and praying/meditating on the desire for assistance and a positive outcome.
Now back to our demon problem.
First we have to identify that we have evil inclinations around us, trying to influence us. You can’t have positive energy without negative. I don’t care what name you wish to give this negative energy, words are words. What matters is the effect this energy can have on us. So, identify when you hear yourself thinking, acting or feeling something (especially all of the sudden) in the ways discussed above. Identify the negativity exists and you are buying into its reasoning.
Second, tell yourself you don’t have to listen, don’t have to act on what you are being told. Check the facts, pray or meditate about it, invoke the name of a deity, but take a stand. I’m not going to listen.
Third, replace those horrible messages with mindfulness, loving messages. Directly reverse what you are hearing. Shout them loud if you have to. Write them on post-it-notes and display them around the house. Do this often on a daily bases.
Finally, if you do assess the situation and find you are involved with someone or people who usually listen to the demons on their shoulders and act in accordance, you have two choices. Make yourself demon proof and stay involved with those people or shake the dust off your shoes and move on to healthier people who will see and encourage the goodness in you.
It’s been about two months since I last wrote. The Restless Wanderer was traveling for three weeks and came back with a fairly significant upper respiratory infection. This rolled into creating a Halloween display for 800 children, making a video for a reunion party, and doing a major rewrite on a manuscript. Now, here it is two weeks before Thanksgiving and I’m wondering where the year went.
About three months ago I was interviewed for a local magazine asking how to deal with holiday stress. The reporter asked the usual questions that I think anybody can find the answers to if they look under a leaf. Eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise. I think the top piece of advice would be WATCH YOUR EXPECTATIONS. The first part of watching your expectations is to understand what you’re doing and why. That brings us to a mini history lesson.
The topic is Thanksgiving. Do you know why we celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you know why you celebrate Thanksgiving the way you do?
According to the book, Thanksgiving: The biography of American Holiday, the original holiday, in 1620, lasted three days and consisted of fasting, humility, prayer and a feast on the last day.
Prior to this, it was common tradition to set aside a day for giving thanks to God. There were days for giving thanks (Thanksgiving) in all the first colonies, in Native American traditions and in Europe. Standards or protocols for how to give thanks and when varied.
In school, thanksgiving teaches us about the English settlement called the Massachusetts Bay Colony, now known as Plimouth (yes that is the correct spelling) and about the Pilgrims. I think the average American believes we celebrate thanksgiving to commemorate the goodwill between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims the first winter in 1621. I wonder how many realize it started out as a somber religious experience.
According to Plimouth Plantation historians, the holiday was ratified by the Constitutional Congress but the date varied state by state. When the Civil War broke out, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to help reunite the country. He actually wanted two thanksgivings a year; one in remembrance for Gettysburg to be held the third Thursday in November and the other a more general occasion. The day was designed as a day for praying for the orphans, widows and aid for our war torn country. There was no special meal or tradition.
We can thank Franklin D. Roosevelt for deciding the date of Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, you can say he is also the father of Black Friday. He tied Thanksgiving to the traditional Christmas season so there could be more Christmas shopping which would help the economy. The year was 1941.
The time between Lincoln and Roosevelt in how we celebrated Thanksgiving is not very clear to me. It does look like in the north, people started having large family dinners and many in the south had no idea about the holiday. I think what people did, how they did it and what they ate was very much individualized.
Wait a minute, what about all those decorations with Pilgrims and Indians and all the things we learned in school about Thanksgiving? According to Plymouth Plantation historians, that storyline started in the early 1900s. Why then? They claim it had something to do with two manuscripts that increased people’s interest in Plymouth (our modern spelling), Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag Indians.
The American school system chose to use Thanksgiving as a time to teach American freedom and citizenship to children. By the 20th century we had a set culinary expectation of what Thanksgiving required. In 1943 Norman Rockwell gave us his famous painting entitled, Freedom from Want, and the ideal Thanksgiving tradition was carved in stone.
Now you know the rest of the story. Or do you? I know our Thanksgiving usually consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, corn, green bean casserole, rolls and pumpkin pie. My mother used to add sauerkraut, harvard or pickled beets, red cabbage and lima beans. Depending on where you live in the country, this list varies. But what did the Pilgrims eat?
According to a special on the History Channel their diet was a little different. They would have had things like cod, lobster, eels, oysters, clams, eagles, partridges, ducks, swans, geese, turkey, deer, wheat flour, Indian corn, pumpkins, carrots, grapes, beans, peas, onions, lettuce, chestnuts, walnuts and acorns. All of it lovingly prepared with seasonings from liverwort, parsnips, olive oil, and currants. Yum!
Next we look at how our own histories mixed with the national holiday. The result is your expectation of what Thanksgiving is and what it looks like.
So what’s on your table? And how much is on your table? Why did you choose the music, the decorations, the amount and type of food for Thanksgiving?
Is it a badge of honor to say you ate so much you have to unbuckle your pants? Is it worth having a meltdown if the rolls are slightly burnt? Do you have to do all the work or do you delegate?
How much of your holiday do you allow to happen vs. you trying to control it?
Are you responsible if someone doesn’t like your food or is not having a good time? Is the final revile of the Thanksgiving dinner and your sense of self worth tided together? If something happens and the entire meal is ruined, can you still rejoice because you have family and friends gathered together?
These are important questions that help you examine the things you do to prepare and implement Thanksgiving. You alone are in charge of what you think, what you do and how you feel.
The more fluid you are, the less stress you will feel.
Being more fluid means you’re going with the flow. When something happens, it might be disappointing but not catastrophic. The fluid person knows this, expects issues to happen and rolls with the punches.
It’s very easy during the holidays to get wrapped up and twisted in what the media shows us, our families and what our holidays should look like. We often assume every other family is having a Norman Rockwell picture. We forget the media has an agenda and also that nobody’s life is perfect.
So, if your Thanksgiving is not what you remembered when you were a child or you’re not able to provide the Thanksgiving dinner you would like to for your family, don’t sweat it. More than likely, your memories of what was or your dreams of what could be are seen through either rosy or blue tinted glasses. While it’s good to have expectations, goals and plans to make the day a memorable one, remember, you’re only human and your family will love you unconditionally; even if you’ve burned the turkey or dropped the green bean casserole on the floor and have to remake it. If you have a dysfunctional family, the kind that grumbles, argues, complains about everything and never gets along, your dinner unfortunately, is not going to change any of that. Work on that the rest of the 364 days of the year.
Last point: If mom or Aunt Busybody scrutinizes what you’re trying to accomplish and you feel like no matter what you do it’s not good enough, that’s not about you but about them. Give it back to them as a present. Don’t feel bad, don’t suck in the venom, keep telling yourself it’s not about them. Enjoy your day. Enjoy your family and friends. Live in the moment. Happy Thanksgiving!
We hadn’t seen each other all summer. For the past two years we’d taken a writing workshop at a place called Write from the Heart run by Melissa Green. It’s designed to encourage writers to put behind the critics of the past and learn to listen to their inner, creative voices.
On a whim, I asked my friend to check out an Irish Pub in Lancaster and she agreed. We got lost, driving literally in circles for over an hour saying things like, “Didn’t we pass that pizza place before?” Yes, we have.
Out of the blue, my friend says, “You know, there is some reason we’re supposed to be going in this circle. There is something or someone in the center of this circle that’s going to become very important to us. Isn’t that exciting? I wonder what it will be.”
A day later, both of us have talked to and signed up with Melissa Green’s Write from the Heart. Her place is located smack center of the circle we forged the night before. This event is not surprising to my friend and intriguing to me.
Melissa’s studio is an hour from us and I quickly find that the conversations to and from are not only affirming but spiritually awakening. My friend and I have had near death experiences and are on the same wave-length. Together what blossoms are beyond what either of us could ever accomplish alone.
Life happened and each of us had to stop attending the workshop for various reasons. That was the beginning of the summer. Although both of us stated we felt spirit was taking us in new directions, to build on the journey we started with Write from the Heart’s wonderful experience, it was saddening.
The summer for me was plagued with death, multiple surgeries for my daughter, trying to run a new business and learning to live minus one income. Every week when time came for our normal rendezvous for class, I could feel my heart and soul ache. Yes I missed the class, my writing buddies and Melissa. But what I really missed were the conversations on the drive to and fro.
It hit me, this was ridiculous. Call the woman and get together. We don’t need to drive to Lancaster to have spiritual conversations and enlightenment. We can go someplace else and talk. Gettysburg pops into my mind but I dismiss it. I want someplace spiritual, not historical. I think The Grotto.
The Grotto is a Catholic shrine to Saint Elizabeth Seton. It’s a fabulous place to relax, pray, meditate or just enjoy the mosaic art works and mountain environment. I’ve been going there since I was a little girl. This is one of the places I normally hit in times when I need to clear my head.
I gave her a call and find out she’d been experiencing the same longing. So we eagerly set a date, her house for dinner with her family then a drive to The Grotto.
Just as I’m getting in my car, a horrendous storm hits but I keep going. The main road leading from my house to my friends surges with rising flood water. Cars stall, truck-made waves wash over entire vehicles. I pull into a parking lot, pull out my cell phone and call her. There is no way I am continuing. It’s too dangerous.
She tells me she is only a couple miles ahead of me on her own way home. She is looking at blue sky. I look out into the distance and see a small patch of blue. Okay, I’ll keep coming but I tell her The Grotto is no longer an option. She says, “Let’s wait and see which way spirit takes us.” I agree and head out into the flooding street.
By the time I get to her house, the sky is blue, the rain gone and the roads just wet. We have a great chicken potpie dinner with her family and she says, “Well, what do you want to do?”
“I want to go to The Grotto,” I tell her. I’m looking out her kitchen window at the soggy ground. I don’t even know if The Grotto is open at seven o’clock on a Thursday evening. What the hell? “Let’s do it.”
We get in the car and drive the half hour to The Grotto while catching up on our summers. It’s a quick drive to the Catoctain Mountains. We climb the narrow road up the mountain and stop short. There is a gate across the road. The Grotto, situated at the top of the mountain, is closed.
“Now what do you want to do?” She asks me. “Where do you think spirit is leading us?”
Gettysburg pops back in my head. I am reluctant to say anything because I feel like I’m obsessed with Gettysburg Battlefield. But the feeling is strong enough to speak. “I keep thinking Gettysburg.”
“Oh my gosh! I’ve been thinking about Gettysburg all day! When you called I thought, Gettysburg! We need to go to Gettysburg. That is why The Grotto is closed!” This, in an odd kind of way, makes sense to me. I turn the car around and head to Gettysburg.
There are several exits into the borough and town of Gettysburg from US 15. She didn’t care which one we took. She says, “Clear your mind and head in the direction you think we are supposed to go.” I took the Taneytown exit and wound up on the battlefield.
It’s now 6:45 pm. As we enter a main thoroughfare of the National Park grounds my friend says, “Whenever I come out here, I get this feeling that says stop. There is something about that location that I’m supposed to experience.”
“Okay, well, if you get that feeling, tell me and I’ll stop.”
“Stop.” She immediately states so I pull over. We are about one hundred feet from the old Cyclorama overlooking the high water mark of Picket’s Charge. “Did you see him?” She asks me.
The park is surprisingly busy for a Thursday night in September. The series of bad storms rolling across the county would have fettered any daytime visit. It looks like a lot of out-of-town guests are taking advantage of the evening’s clear weather. Among all the cars and people wondering in and around canons sits an older man with a very large, Irish Wolfhound. Yes, I’d seen him. He and the dog were hard to miss.
We get out of the car and wander over and say hello. The dog’s name is Tanner. He stands seven foot four inches on his hind legs and weights two hundred and forty pounds. He is without a leash and his owner informs us it’s not necessary.
The name of Tanner’s owner is not reveled to us. This is okay because we are also nameless. We spend a short amount of time exchanging niceties. He lives in Gettysburg and routinely walks his dog around the battlefield looking to meet interesting people and soak in the spiritual nature of the location. Normally, he states, he sits on Little Round Top but tonight he was called to sit where we found him.
The conversation takes a turn. The man has had a near death experience that changed his life. We haven’t told him we share this trait and my friend shoots me a look of, see I knew there was a reason we were supposed to stop here. For about an hour we talk about crossing over, God, the universe, life as we know it and this place called Gettysburg. The whole time we are talking, I keep looking over at several cannons and ammunition wagons positioned where original cannonades resonated across the field.
Tanner’s owner has not experienced anything he would call paranormal on the battlefield but definitely has at his home. He sees the battlefield as alive, as spiritual and it calls him here. My friend shoots me another affirming look.
I have experienced things on the battlefield and I tell him so. This prompts him to talk about a friend of his who writes books on ghosts in Gettysburg. He’s questioning some of the stories his friend has written which I think is funny considering he just told us several personal, paranormal stories. I start telling him about my experiences with unexpected things in photos, voices and sounds I’ve heard, odd smells and apparent apparitions on or around the battlefield.
It’s nearly, completely dark. Tanner’s owner looks over at the cannons I’ve been eyeing off and on and says, “Don’t they look lonely? I often think of them as animated. They spend all day being touched, having their pictures taken with people, telling their story. But by night, they are lonely sentinels on this sacred ground.”
This hits me, really hits me and I take a photograph of with my cell phone and send myself a message that reads, lonely cannons. It’s profound in my mind, but I don’t know why.
The conversation comes to a natural conclusion and we get in my car. Tanner and his owner get in theirs. We beep goodbyes and go our separate ways never having exchanged names. We are just three people drawn to a place in time for an unexpected conversation.
My friend has never been on the battlefield after dark. It’s a profoundly sobering time to visit. There is a minimal amount of visitors. The place is quiet, shadows deep and the mind can better attempt to sink in what happened on those three horrific days in history. It’s incomprehensible. No matter how many times I visit in an attempt to understand it won’t sink in.
I deviate from the Auto-tour route to show her several of my favorite monuments and end up beside the area known as The Wheatfield. Our car windows are down. The air is different here. I’ve been here many times and I’ve never experienced this feeling. It’s a tingling on our skin like static electricity, our throats feel tight making it hard to swallow and my friend feels a bit queasy.
I have no intention of stopping the car. We round the bend and the feelings stop – for both of us. I pull the car over and we try to process what happened. It was damn odd and not pleasant. Both of us have experienced heightened energy before. Times when the air is charged where there are high magnetic fields, standing near large electrical towers or during lightening storms. That’s what this felt like.
I pull the car back onto the road and we drive through the woods and end up at Devil’s Den. To my surprise there is only one other car here. Usually, at night, I find this is the most popular place to find other visitors.
I stop the car and we get out. Using the light from my phone as a flashlight, we wander past the granite megaliths known as Devil’s Den and walk up the road around to the back of the rocks. In the not-to-far distance we hear the sound of a rumbling explosion and stop.
“Thunder?” She asks.
“Too low,” I reply and we stand quiet waiting to hear it again. We don’t and I tease, “Its cannon fire.” Then add, “Maybe there is a reenactment nearby.” We shrug it off and return to walking up the darkened hill.
At the top of the hill, directly behind Devil’s Den is a very tall, lone tree. It stands very close to the location where my hubby captured a white form of what looks like an apparition of a soldier. My friend identifies the tree as a place where she and a cousin spent several hours sitting and soaking in warm, positive energy.
Devils Den is made of granite. This entire area is granite and quartz heavy. I know both stones hold and radiate energy. That’s why we use them in computers, watches and why they don’t want you to use granite as a counter top. It emits radon. I’m not surprised she feels energy here.
I get several feet from the tree and get a sensation of disorientation. I can barely keep my balance. Before I can say anything, my friend tells me she feels odd, her stomach is turning over and she smells something metallic. I don’t smell it but I immediately think of blood. I unfortunately know very intimately the smell and taste of large amounts of spilled blood. It’s metallic. I don’t tell her this. I don’t think she’d understand but I could be wrong.
She reaches over and places her hands on the tree. I don’t want to go near the tree. Every time I get too close the equilibrium problem hits again. She says, “Take a picture here, how about here?” I do this and nothing shows up but darkness, a shot of her with the tree and one that has some fog.
I really feel like the world is spinning one way and me in another. “We need to leave,” I tell her.
We start heading down the hill and she grabs me. Both of us are having a hard time keeping balanced. I think this is nuts and tell her I want to do an experiment.
I walk away from the tree until I feel normal again. Then I turn around and walk till I start to feel ill. I do it several times. I have her do it. It makes no sense. I wish there was some meter or devise we could use to measure any static electricity or high magnetic current. Prove one way or another that what we are feeling is nothing more than being in near-darkness on uneven ground with over-active imaginations and low blood sugar. We don’t have anything like that so we head back to the car with more questions than answers.
We get in the car and head up to Little Round Top. Normally, I love to look out over LRT. The view is stunning and it‘s a favorite place for many people to lay on the large granite rocks and sunbath. Sunsets from this point are beautiful no matter what the season. This time, I slowed down but decided not to stop. Something didn’t feel right and besides, it’s dark, what was there to see?
My friend sighs and says, “I’m glad we didn’t stop, I don’t feel well.” Another oddity? I think one of us really has an over-active imagination, ESP or something. We stop at the stop sign and continue across the road.
Almost immediately, I feel like I’m going to vomit. My chest hurts like its being crushed (I actually know what this feels like) and it’s hard to breath. I get a sharp pain in my eye and a vicious headache making my eye water. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was having a physical flashback of the car accident where I was partially crushed in my car, medevaced and endured medical torture before I died of shock. The flashbacks come on that fast and are horrifically painful. Only I never damaged my eye and I have not experienced anything in the past couple minutes to suddenly throw me into a flashback.
I drive the van forward several hundred feet and slowly, the feelings subside leaving me with a mild headache, a watering eye and some mild agitation. My friend tells me her stomach is very upset and wants to leave. So do I.
The road ends up across from the old Cyclorama where we had met Tanner and his owner. I look over one more time at the lonely cannons and am glad they are not as animated as Tanner’s owner imagined. They look tragic, lost, shocked and filled with pain, fear and disbelief. They remind me of the me no one sees during the day and only a select few have seen at night. They remind me of my PTSD and my seaming lifetime of struggle to survive and thrive.
Those cannons are sentinels to the souls of thousands of men never identified, buried and forgotten, witnesses of horrific screams of agony and death. They are the watchers of a history we should never forget but continue to repeat. They are the lonely watchers of the ghosts of Gettysburg surviving through time, telling their story.
As we leave the battlefield I am reminded, there are some things that can’t be explained. Other things even if I could explain very few people would understand. But I’m not alone. Like my friend, like Tanner’s owner, we are a regiment of people having experienced something on the fringe and yearn for understanding. For this reason, we come to Gettysburg.
It’s almost Halloween time! You may not realize this because it’s only September 12th but that is beside the point. I saw my first woolly caterpillar and a yellow leaf, the county fair is in town and all this means it’s almost Halloween.
Since moving to my current home (which is located on a main road) Halloween has become an amazing event. Reminiscent of my childhood where entire neighborhoods joined in the fun and everyone had a good time. So, we are one of the only houses around me that decorates the way we do, but that’s okay. It will catch on.
The first year (this will be our fourth Halloween here) we had no idea what to expect. I bought a couple bags of candy, we all sat on the front porch and an hour into the night; we ran out of candy. We ran out of the individual serving size bags of chips and cookies I’d bought for school lunches. We ran out of cup-a-soup and little bags of oatmeal. I sent my hubby to the local convenience store for more candy. By the time he got back we were out of pens, pencils, complimentary hotel shampoos and soaps and those little soap pellets you put in dish washers.
The second year I thought, you know, I may not be Walt Disney, nor do I have the money the Disney Company owns, but this is a golden opportunity to entertain the masses, get in touch with my inner child, blossom in creative absurdity. I decided to make our Halloween theme, Pirates of the Caribbean bohemian chic style. This meant all my supplies had to be re-purposed from something else.
I worked my arse off, sewing, stuffing, sawing, gluing, painting, dyeing, designing and redesigning. The neighbors would gather around as each piece was tacked up outside wondering what the h-ll I was up to. Then the hurricane hit and everything was in shambles. Crap, not a problem. I can fix this. I can make it better! And I set out to do a miracle.
Halloween night, everything was great. We had the sound effects and lighting set up, family members dressed as pirates to mingle with the fake, life-sized ones. And then it snowed! I looked at hubby and said, “Well, I guess we left the Caribbean and are now the Pirates of the Aleutian Islands. “
He didn’t think anyone would show up. Actually, I think since we bought twice the amount of bags of candy that year, the good stuff, he was hoping not many would show. Based on the candy count on the bags, we greeted about 500 children Halloween night!
People were lined down the street, came in cars, blocked the road, and got their pictures taken with the set and with us. Parents came to me and said, they could never afford to take their kids to see anything like Disney World and this was probably the closest thing they would ever get to it. I was humbled – it really wasn’t that great of a display. I didn’t want the night to end.
Last year I was doubly psyched. We had a reputation and with the basic set elements already built, I could focus on a story-line, learn how to make more complex elements and how to make my life size pirates move! Before we got any of the set out on the front lawn and porch, another hurricane came through. It did enough damage that Halloween was cancelled.
Despite all the damage, I couldn’t let Halloween just die. Kids had costumes! We had candy! So, I put out just a few things, we got dressed in our pirate best and waited in the dark, cold, wet night. We saw about 20 kids and happy parents welcoming anyone who was still able to make normalcy on a weather worn week. I was totally bummed but psyched for the next year – this year.
It’s almost Halloween time! This year I’m combining my two favorite Disney rides, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. And, well, depending on how things go, maybe throw in a couple odd things here and there to beef up the humor aspect. SO…..
This is what I have done so far.
This picture is of my grim reaper. It’s made of sheets I got from the Good Will, a coat rack, a plastic wrapped and tapped mold of my daughter’s head filled with crack filler, and four cans of cheap, truck liner, rubberizing, paint. Total cost = $15.00.
Next I realized I needed large tombstones but they needed to have a pirate-like theme to them. So, here are my tombstones so far. They are made from warped, plastic shelving left over from our flooded basement (compliments of the hurricane), dilapidated ceiling tiles from same basement, accessories from old Halloween costumes I found and from the Dollar Store, caulking, and my favorite item in the world –duct tape. They still need to be painted and made to look like stone. But I think they are coming along nicely.
I’ve also made new hands for my pirates. In past years I just stuffed winter gloves but I couldn’t do anything with the hands. So, this year I gave them a skeleton of wire so I can manipulate the fingers. They have a long way to go before completion.
If people are interested in this, I thought I would continue to keep everyone updated on the drama of my un-Disney, Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Haunted Mansion Halloween display as we count down the days.
Has anyone seen the weather forecast for October 31st? Hurricane? Yes or no?
I like to watch reruns of Comedy Central’s episodes of Colbert and Jon Stewart. Last night, like every night, I ate dinner and curled up on the couch to watch an episode of what I call the Colbert/Stewart hour. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, they make it better.
In this Colbert episode they spoofed the theft and black market of Canadian maple syrup comparing it to a Mexican drug smuggling cartel. The reporter, a staunch maple syrup virgin, continued refusing offers to taste the luscious, feel good Canadian maple syrup. He knew if he had just one sip, it would be his demise into a life of addiction, seedy living, underworld crime sprees and the loss of all he claimed as good.
Finally, temptation was too much and as suspected, he couldn’t stop at just one taste. The result, pancakes, lots of pancakes rolled just right in order to deliver the sweet, dripping, tantalizing, golden liquid into his mouth. Life as he knew it ceased and was replaced by the horrific decline one can only find in syrup addiction.
It happened all at once. The cravings, forgetting to go to work, forgetting to bath, secret meetings in dark streets to get more syrup, brushes with police, arrests and attempts at all cost to get more syrup. As Star Trek actor George Takei would say in a way only he can say it, “Oh my!” That is what I felt and wondered if I too had a syrup addiction. Nonsense, whoever heard of such malarkey? But what was that feeling I just couldn’t shake?
I turned to my hubby who was seated on the opposite couch and said, “Damn, I wouldn’t mind having some pancakes with syrup. Do we have anymore King Syrup?”
King Syrup is rich, thick and teases you as it emerges from the bottle. It is almost tantalizing to watch. Taste buds go into overdrive.
You can’t buy King Syrup in Florida where my retired parents now live. When I go visit, my father’s first request is always – make sure you smuggle some of that King Syrup. My dad knows and so do I.
I didn’t give into the desire for pancakes and syrup. I had a piece of toast with peanut butter and a blue Solo cup of milk. I spent some time writing and then went to bed. Only sleep would not come. I got up. Keeping the house lights low, I fired up my Kindle and played a couple rounds of Bubble Mania, a game where the object is to free little kittens from bubbles and hear them yell, “Wee!” It’s usually very gratifying.
The bubbles weren’t popping in the right order because my brain was not thinking about kittens stuck in bubbles. It was thinking about the two-third empty bottle of King Syrup sitting in the kitchen, waiting, longing to be consumed. I start to sweat. Mark and change that to perspire. I think it sounds more feminine. Anyway, I tell myself, I don’t have to give into a syrup temptation. I’m above that.
I’m out of kitty-freeing bubbles so I returned to the bedroom and listened to my hubby snore and the rumble of the air conditioner. Sleep is slow in coming and very fitful.
At 8:00 am, I awakened violently and the first thing slinking around in my brain is the thought, PANCAKES!
I yanked my sorry arse out of bed and grabbed the Aunt Jemima box. You just add water. Instant pancakes! There they sat, three golden brown, almost perfectly round discs, dabbled with just the right amount of butter. I set the plate on the table pushing aside the work flow for the day and all their distractions.
Pancakes had my full attention. With a smile on my face I picked up the ¾ full of King Syrup and wondered if it was the good stuff from Canada. The label said it’s from Fredonia, NY. Is that close to Canada?
I watched the syrup slowly leave the safety of the bottle to flow onto the golden discs in patterns of my design. I let it soak into the pancakes a little bit, but not too much. It cheapens it when the pancakes are soggy and all that remains of the original syrup is horribly mutated.
I consumed my pancakes slowly, rolling my eyes and trying to convince my mind I was experiencing what the reporter in Colbert experienced last night. It didn’t work.
I had consumed 1,000 empty calories with no real payback. I had to think, where did I go wrong? Oh, now I get it. What I really wanted was not syrup, not pancakes, but the feeling of being filled with joy to the point of forgetting the world. It was a need to feel abundantly loved, treasured, needed and fulfilled.
I could be talking about sex. I could be talking about anything that would fill that need for love and belonging. A part of me knew from the beginning that pancakes and syrup were not the answer. So why did I go through this?
Because I had a need unfulfilled and as I watched Colbert a seed was planted in my brain. A seed that although logically I knew was ridiculous, my needs great enough, other ways failed enough, that syrup made sense.
Is it any wonder sometimes that our behavior can become so wacky? Our thinking so out of touch with the reality around us that we gravitate toward someone, something, to get a need met. Thinking, this is in my best interest but knowing it is not. Thinking, these are my choices, what the hell?
If only we can get our brains to flag us and yell STOP before continuing. Especially when we know what we are about to say or do is not in our best interest. We would all feel healthier.
Sometimes, our situation is one where all our choices will be negative and we have to choose the least negative. Colbert/Stewart, pancakes/syrup, needs/wants was not one of them. My brain for whatever reason did not yell stop! Now I need to figure out why?
Are you self-aware enough to know when to yell STOP? Can you tell before you think, feel, say or do something whether it is in your best interest to do so? If you find yourself gorging on a plate of pancakes dripping with syrup and it’s just not cutting it, re-evaluate why not. You’ll feel healthier in the end.
Did you ever wonder if people living in third world countries sit around wondering what life would be like if….. (fill in blank here)? Is attempting to design our lives something that all humans contemplate or is it a manifestation of our society? Are we bred or designed to think in terms of what if?
I think the first time I was introduced to the concept of, there might be something better out there, happened when I saw Cinderella as a little girl. You know the story, the down and out princess, abused by her stepmother and stepsisters dreaming of someone to love her and take her away from the hell.
Then there was Casper the Friendly Ghost. He was the child ghost harassed by his emotionally abusive uncles and longing for acceptance and love. I think if I really put my mind to it, I could name hundreds of characters or media sources depicting the theme, there must be something better out there.
In every case I can think of, the lead character gets to a point where they can’t take it anymore and attempts to force a change hoping for the better. But what is better and how do we decide when what we have is not good enough?
In my counseling practice I have seen people who appear happy living in relationships and in environments plagued with difficulties. On the flip-side, I’ve seen miserable people in what looks like great relationships or having more than enough money to live very comfortable. Where does the difference come from?
I’m sure you have heard the saying, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you are one of the billions of people thinking or searching for the, there must be something better, this probably seems infuriating. It got me wondering. If everyone lived by that saying, where would the world be? Is the act of making lemonade a kin to fight the good fight or accept and learn to live with lemonade?
All these questions are important because depending on your beliefs, this maybe the only opportunity to live your life. Are you going to buy into the somewhere out there life is better or things are great just the way they are? Of course there is any combination of both options that people vacillate between.
How many divorces occur because there might be something better? How many wars fought because owning someone else’s land, people or forcing your way of life on another group of people might make life better? Only to have that something better happen and be startled that the something better is not that better after all. Note I am not talking about people in abusive relationships.
The idea of, let’s get back to the good ole days is another example of this phenomena. I saw a book in the Smithsonian American History Museum entitled, The Good Old Days They Were Terrible!, by Otto Bettmann. It asserts that the concept of the good old days is a myth, a trick of the mind. If you look at the reality of our history, personal, national and global, he’s right.
I think this backward looking fantasy is not much different then, there might be something better out there, which is forward wishing. In both cases the person has judged their current life as not acceptable. How does this serve us, help us?
When I was in Northern Africa, I didn’t hear people saying things like, I’m an anchovy fisherman now but one day …… Maybe they were hoping for a different future or desiring a glossed over remembrance of a life long ago and I was not made privy to their desires.
I have friends who spent a couple weeks in Haiti. When they came back they were overcome with the positive, spirit-focused, mind-set of the people. Was this a representation of a select group of people, an outward expression designed to show outsiders or a genuine way of viewing the reality of their national and personal situation?
The ultimate question is who ends up with the least regrets at the end of life? The person searching, planning, acting in hope for something better or the person accepting and finding reasons in the here and now to be happy.
Happy does not necessarily equate to lack of regret or does it? Perhaps the real; key is not whether to search or accept but the mind set accompanying both
Can a person accept and “be” happy for the life they have and still search for something better? That almost sounds impossible, impractical. In my mind the act of being happy equals contentment. And if I’m content than I forget the future or pondering if there is something out there better?
I’m happy, content, but what if there is something better? Maybe better does not bring more happiness but a richer experience. Someone who says, I have a million dollars and I feel happy. I’m going to spend a great percentage in this helping people in need and that enriches my happiness. This is a very altruistic goal as opposed to the self centered thinking of Cinderella who was looking out for her own needs.
We all decide what will and won’t make us happy. Sometimes we are realistic and other times there is no pleasing. There will always be people who are never happy with certain elements in their lives. The will fault their fate, themselves or blame someone else.
I usually hear people make comments such as, if only so and so would do such and such, I would be happy.
I have also seen people attempt to go against who they are and against their desires and needs in an attempt to make another person happy. It typically doesn’t work. Why, because the other person is seeking change in someone else to make themselves happy instead of taking responsibility for their own happiness.
Thoughts of if only I had a better job, a better car, improved health than life would be better. I would be happier. There is no difference in any of these scenarios. They are externally focused. What if you are never able to have improved health or a better job? Are you destined to never be happy, content with a well lived life?
Are these thoughts byproducts of modern industrial society? A product of bombardment with advertizing telling us what we should have, what our spouse should look like, behave like, what the definition of success is? The birth of the internet and the six-hundred channels on a TV brings many of us further still from the realities of healthy human interaction to obsessive, unhealthy, unrealistic expectations.
How can a person navigate through all the sewage to find contentment, happiness? How do we balance what can’t be, what should not be, what might be with what is? How do we set up that reality check to keep ourselves headed in the direction of happiness, contentment and a life well lived? However you define that?
Do you make lemonade dreams for a better tomorrow? What do you do when you are told, sorry, the life you wanted is out of stock? You decide, it’s your life.