Monday, August 1, 2011

PTSD returns with a vengeance

August 1, 2011

Saturday night was a living hell for me.  I was up all night throwing up because of PTSD, and I lost my appetite and I got physically and emotionally exhausted.  I called my best friend Elana and another friend Freddie for support, and Freddie told me I didn’t sound good.  I told him it was because my body does not yet know it is safe even though I am now in a physically safe environment.  The memories overwhelmed me to the point that I almost felt like I ceased to function completely.  It was a really terrifying feeling, and I really did not anticipate it happening to me. 

I thought I would immediately begin a job search as soon as I was able to pick up my stuff.  But I began to feel queasy as I passed by my parents house and my high school, and I knew something was wrong inside.  Later on I picked up my stuff at my grandma’s house.  I was hit with a triple whammy of memories from not one, not two, but three sources of abuse: my parents, my maternal grandma, and my high school.  I could almost feel my head spinning from the memories that were swirling inside my mind.  My body and mind were so overwhelmed that really I couldn’t begin to process all the sources of my inner distress.  Too many terrifying memories were hitting me all at once, and I began to feel a sort of internal collapse happening. 

I fell asleep to terrifying nightmares in which I was being chased by a murderer and barely escaped with my life.   I blocked out the remaining dreams because they were so scary.  Luckily I took a very easy day on Sunday and fell asleep easily on Sunday night and slept well.  I noticed my body beginning to recover once I gave it healing, nourishing food like oatmeal with milk.  I ate a yogurt and then a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with milk before falling asleep easily. 

Perhaps I should clarify that the Nine Days began on Saturday night.  Chances are, if you are not an Orthodox Jew, you  have no idea on earth what I am talking about.   So every year on the Jewish calendar, traditional Jews observe a three week period of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples.  The First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E., and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.  You may well wonder why we would even care about an event which happened so many centuries ago.  Well, its because we Jews believe the Jewish people and the entire world were profoundly and permanently harmed on a spiritual level by the destruction of the physical location where Jews had the most direct access to G-d as we understand Him (or Her).

The mourning is particularly intensified during the Nine Days.  One of the most important observances of the Nine Days is that we don’t eat meat or wine except on the Sabbath.  So we have a dairy-only diet.  Jews are forbidden to do laundry and to engage in pleasurable bathing, although bathing for hygienic purposes is allowed.  Travel abroad except to Israel is prohibited, and starting new business ventures is discouraged.  The purchase of new clothes is also forbidden.

So I am going through my personal sorrow, and at the same time we Jews are mourning for our national sorrow for the destruction of the Temple.  The Hebrew word for destruction is Churban, and we are commanded under Jewish law to “zecher L’Churban”, to remember the destruction.  The destruction starts with of course the destruction of the First and Second Temples.  But many Jews also include in this period mourning for the Shoah, the destruction of European Jewry from 1933-1945 which is known as Churban Europe.  I feel that the lifetime of emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse to which I have been subjected at the hands of my family of origin is my own personal Churban, my own personal cycle of destruction.  So there is a strange congruence in the Jewish calendar between the intensification of my personal suffering and the remembrance of Jewish national suffering at this tragic time of the year. 

Yesterday we welcomed a new family into our transition house: Aisa and her 4 year old son Julian and infant daughter Sophie.  It is clear that little 13 month old Sophie has stolen the show and has brought laughter, light, and joy into all of our lives.  Her constant movement and her innocence are sources of hope for us all.  Of course we need to remember she is still an infant, so we want to make sure to try to keep her safe.  She is already trying to climb the stairs, and so we need a gate on the stairs to prevent her from that particular arena of exploration.  The house has been pretty well baby-proofed already, but we need to be extra careful to little hazards that could present themselves to Sophie.  We are also glad to have a little boy staying with us. 

 Today I was talking with one of my dad’s cousins about my family of origin.  She told me something that shocked me.  My closest friend on my dad’s side of the family, my uncle Phil, was someone that I have come to trust very deeply.  So I was stunned when she told me that she had seen uncle Phil hitting my dad’s mother.  She said she was told by aunt Sara that he was hitting my dad’s mother.  I have always regarded my dad’s mother as a pathologically evil person and my uncle Phil as a key ally and friend to me.  So the notion of Phil as a violent person is frankly shocking and hard to digest.  She also suspected that Phil might have hit his ex-wife Connie. Phil has often told me how he has struggled to develop an appropriate relationship with his three daughters, who were raised by their mother.  And now I think maybe I understand why his daughters have often rebuffed his attempts to build a relationship with them. 

She said my dad’s mother was a slovenly housekeeper, and I wasn’t surprised by that revelation at all, which only confirmed to me my suspicions about her character.  I thought her slovenly housekeeping was the least of her evil qualities, and if that was her only fault that wasn’t really a big deal. 

She also said that my dad’s mother told her mother,”I hate Louis.”  Louis is my dad’s name, and she asked me whether she hated all of her children or only my dad. I said that she reserved all her hatred and rage for my dad.  My dad is seven years younger than his next-oldest sibling, and I am pretty sure that my dad was the result of an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.  Unfortunately, my dad’s mother terrorized him until the day she died.  She was a constant source of terror in all our lives. I remember that my dad was so frightened of his mother that he was afraid to see her alone for fear that she would psychologically batter him.  So anytime he had to go see his mother, it was a terrifying and traumatic ordeal for him.  And so he usually asked my mother to come along with him on visits to his mother because he needed her support to endure these visits.  My mom used to tell me how much she hated going to see my dad’s mother because she used to terrorize both my mom and dad. 

My dad took care of his mother until the day she died as both her physician and as a loyal and loving son.   My dad’s mother lived near us in Florida, and so my dad was the only one of his four siblings who ever took the time to visit his mother.  His three older siblings live elsewhere, and each year they would come for a week to Florida for a perfunctory two hour visit with their mother.  They spent more time hanging out with us, playing bridge, and going to restaurants than with their mother. My dad loved and honored his mother, and in exchange she brutalized and terrorized him without mercy. 

I told her the story that my mom told me.  My dad graduated from medical school, got married and fathered a daughter (me).  He wrote to his mother and said,”Look at what I have achieved.”  His mother answered his letter with the worst insult she could think of: telling him that she loved her other children more.  It was yet another stinging and painful rejection from a lifetime of cruelty at the hands of his pathologically evil mother.  And there is no doubt a close connection between the fact that his mother told him,”You are not my son” and the fact that my dad once told me,”You are not my daughter.”

I added that I hate my dad’s mother to this day because she refused to go to my bat mitzvah, and that left me terribly insulted and hurt.  Meanwhile my paternal grandfather, who could barely walk and was practically blind, came to my bat mitzvah and celebrated it with joy.

My dad’s cousin asked me if my dad had ever gone to counseling.  She also heard that my mom was in counseling.  First of all, I told her that my dad had refused all my mother’s numerous attempts to persuade him to attend counseling.  Part of the reason for his aversion to counseling was that he refused to admit there was anything wrong with himself or his behavior.  But part of his aversion to counseling was much more reasonable and understandable.  My dad views counseling in a very negative light primarily because his mother spent her whole life in counseling, and it obviously did nothing to improve her life or change her truly abominable behavior. 

I added that my mom has gone to counseling and even briefly attended a support group for abused wives that she found helpful.  But my mother has not attended counseling on a sufficiently regular and consistent basis to attain the full benefits of counseling.

My dad’s cousin said,”Well if your dad had gone to counseling, he would have understood that it wasn’t his fault that his mother abused him.  And if your grandmother had found the right counselor, she would have understood that it wasn’t her fault that her step-mother violently abused her.”  My response was that my dad and his mother are not genuinely open to the counseling process because it requires the kind of rigorous self-examination that they cannot handle, and therefore neither one of them would benefit from counseling.  Also, when you go to counseling, you actually have to admit that you are wrong and discuss and take responsibility for your mistakes.  As a practical matter, my dad refuses to admit that there is anything wrong with:
·         cursing at your wife and daughter
·         calling your children “moron” and “idiot”
·         calling your son “worthless”
·         terrorizing your wife and daughter during every meal at the dinner table over their table manners every time they pick up a fork or spoon,
·         dropping your child off at school when she is 12 years old and telling her to “drop dead!”
·         yelling at your daughter almost every week in middle school and high school
·         telling your seven year old daughter,”I hope you have children just like you.”
·         Making your daughter feel so terrorized that she feels the need to flee your home after she graduates college to take a job for which she is totally unsuited
·         Refusing to pay for counselors for your terrorized daughter because these counselors challenge your emotional abuse toward her
·         Systematically destroying your daughter’s self-esteem through a calculated program of intimidation, psychological abuse, and emotional terror
·         Shattering your daughter’s self-esteem so severely that you completely destroy her interest in marriage and motherhood
·         Attempting to force your terrified and brutalized daughter into marriage and motherhood
·         Bullying your wife every single day for the silliest of reasons with the intent of destroying her self-esteem as well
·         Breaking your promise to buy her an apartment
·         Reacting to the departure of your victim by angrily demanding the immediate return of your suddenly missing punching bag

 My dad is very good at rationalizing these behaviors – and at blaming the victim.  He has a million strategies to get the victim to apologize to him after he terrorizes her.  I wish I could remember them because they displayed keen psychological insight.  But he managed to twist everything so he could make the victim feel guilty for his assaults against her.  My whole body is sweating as I begin to remember these traumatic experiences. 

I called up my Iraqi friend Mohammed again, and he was relieved that today I was doing better than yesterday.  He was sorry for not returning my call yesterday when I was feeling so down, but he was out camping with his wife and couldn’t get back to me.  He told me that the key to overcoming the PTSD was to discuss and face the memories that were causing me to feel so bad.  He said I was reacting so badly because I had so many memories of abuse that I had not come to terms with, and that was why I was getting overwhelmed.  He said that I should share memories and experiences with the other survivors of domestic violence in the transition house so that we could help each other.   Once again, he had some wonderful suggestions for me.  He also told me to call him again on Thursday so we could talk about job options for me as I was clearly in no frame of mind to look for work right now.  He said he read the last posting and thanked me for mentioning him in it.  And then he said he was going to read my other postings on my personal blog when has more time.  Mohammed, thanks again for restoring my faith in humanity.

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is now upon us, we were talking about the practical implications of Ramadan in Muslim countries.  Mohammed reminded me that a lot of Muslim countries have laws to punish people who break the fast on Ramadan in public, and he didn’t like this reality because he thought religion should be a matter for personal choice instead of state coercion.  I said that in Muslim countries there was no separation of religion and state, and that’s why you have the state trying to impose Muslim religious observances upon the population.  He said there were campaigns to encourage people to publicly break the fast in Egypt and Morocco, but he didn’t know how many people had participated. 

He said that he remembered Iraq had a law to punish people who broke the fast during Ramadan while he was growing up under Saddam Hussein, but it went completely unenforced.  I said that Saddam was way too busy murdering Kurds and Shi’ites to care if anyone violated Ramadan, and he laughed and said it was true.  He said that Saddam would kill you if you insulted him, but the penalty for insulting Allah by violating Ramadan was slight.  So obviously Saddam thought he was much more important than Allah.  I added that Saddam was not exactly known as a pious Muslim, so it would have looked ridiculous for him to be punishing people who broke the fast on Ramadan. 

I spoke to my British friend Amran Hussein, who shares my admiration for Israel and the Jews and is chairman of British Muslims for Israel.  He expressed horror and outrage about the Syrian regime’s massacres of innocent civilians.  And I said,”But didn’t you know that there is a split in the Syrian army.  Didn’t you hear that several Colonels led by Riyad al Asad had formed a Free Syrian Army to break with the Assad regime and protect civilians.  The names of the battalions include the Hamza al Khatib Battalion, named in memory of a 13 year old boy who was brutally slaughtered by the Assad regime; and the Hurriye (Freedom) Battalion.” Amran Hussein said he didn’t know about this and he felt a lot better now that I told him this news.  He added that he hoped the Assad regime in Syria would fall swiftly so more innocent civilians would not have to die.  I said that certainly I hope more innocent civilians will not have to die, but realistically I didn’t think the Assad regime was on the verge of immediate implosion just yet.  I strongly support regime change in Syria for the sake of the Syrian people who deserve to live free of 41 years of murderous tyranny at the hands of the Assad regime, both father and son.

I wrote a letter of support to Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad, an Egyptian political prisoner who is serving 3 years in prison because he is a pacifist who refuses to serve in the Egyptian army and who supports Israel and the Jews.  I am sure he will not receive the letter because the military censors confiscate his mail, but by sending him his letter I am making a direct personal protest to the Egyptian military regime against his captivity.  Maikel has moved me beyond words with his expressions of love, compassion, and solidarity for my people Israel and the Jews.  And the hundreds of protestors who have taken to the streets in Egypt to protest his captivity – risking their safety and even their lives – have touched me more than words can say.  I realized these people must support his vision of peace with Israel and the Jews because otherwise they wouldn’t be risking their own safety to support him so publicly.  And ten people led by Maikel’s brother held a ‘stand-in’ outside the prison where Maikel is being held.

I was really appalled to read about how Maikel is being brutalized inside the prison in Egypt.  The other prisoners are told that they will be punished if they associate with him, and thus he is isolated.  My heart really sank when I read that he is starving because the food in prison is very limited and of very poor quality.  His brother goes to the prison every two weeks to visit him and buy him food, and that is how he gets food.  I thought about setting up a fund-raising campaign to pay for Maikel’s food because quite frankly I can’t stand the thought of the Egyptian military regime starving such a wonderfully compassionate, courageous young man who dares to stand up and support Israel and the Jews at such terrible risk to his own safety and life. 

In addition, the Egyptian military is denying Maikel medical treatment and medication for his heart condition, and he is getting sick from being forced to take showers in dirty water and sleep with mites and insects in his bed.   His life could be endangered from denial of needed medical care, and so we have to demand that he receive essential medical care.  His web site is, and there is a facebook campaign to call for his release.  I hope everyone will join it. 

Last but not least on the political front, I wish to mention the struggle of my dear friend Dr. Roya Araghi.  Dr. Araghi has a PhD in physical chemistry from Iran.  She is also a follower of Ayatollah Boroujerdi, an unusual Shi’ite cleric who supports separation of religion and state, gender equality, and peace and is opposed to the whole clerical regime in Iran.  Ayatollah Boroujerdi is a political prisoner in Iran since 2006 who has been brutally tortured and denied essential medical care for many serious illnesses by the regime.  His wife was also raped in front of him while he was in prison.  He will not be released as long as this regime is in power, and the regime could very well kill him.

My friend Dr. Roya Araghi was one of six followers of Ayatollah Boroujerdi to be arrested in November, 2010.  She was released on heavy bail and decided to flee to Malaysia rather than face the certainty of many years of torture in Iran’s Evin Prison, the central location for Iranian political prisoners.  Iranians are only allowed to enter two countries without a visa: Malaysia and Turkey.  Dr. Araghi had a hearing for her political asylum with the UN in July, 2011, and she was told to come back a year later in August, 2012.  Dr. Araghi is in grave danger from the presence of Iranian regime agents in Malaysia, and she has reason to fear that they will kill her if they find her, G-d forbid. 

Dr. Araghi has supported Israel and the Jews very forthrightly.  Thus I would like to raise her case with American Jewish organizations and urge them to support her.  I am also asking anyone with a heart and a conscience to put pressure on the U.S. government to allow her to be granted expedited political asylum here.   Anyone who wants to get involved in her case is encouraged to contact me immediately. 

Finally I would like to note some recent developments in our transition house.  Today Cheryl came and told me that since she and Rachel had taken their turns to pay for toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom, it was now my turn to pay for toilet paper for us.  She added that we were in need of purchasing toilet paper today because we were down to our last roll.  I told Cheryl that I am happy to pay for toilet paper for our household and asked her when she would take me to the store to buy groceries.  She took me to buy groceries around 7 p.m., and I also pitched in to buy sponges for our kitchen and cooking oil and brownies to bake brownies for our bake sale.  I happily let Cheryl’s daughter Shannon use cooking oil to cook chicken and would have gladly given Aisa some sugar except I haven’t bought any yet. 

Since Cheryl has no Internet access until at least Wednesday when Internet access is scheduled to be restored for our household, I told Cheryl that she is welcome to use my computer today and tomorrow to send her materials for her job to her boss.  She thanked me and used it tonight for a while.  While she used my computer for her job, I sat on the couch and read a Spanish-language newspaper to re-orient my brain to the Spanish language.  Since I know she also needs to print out materials for her job, I offered to open up my printer and set it up for her to use for her job if she needs it.  She said she doubted she would need it but thanked me for my offer. 

Also I congratulated Kristin on getting a job at the Gap that will allow her to pay for her schooling soon, and tonight she went shopping to buy clothes for her job.  Her orientation starts tomorrow, and I am very happy for her that she will have some income coming in.

I am so tired that I am ready to fall asleep.   But no posting would be complete without another expression of gratitude for the hard work and financial support that Bev, Kristin, Julia, Gisel, Marie, and Cheryl contribute to this household.  I am happy to be here and I love you all with all my heart.  

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