Spending most of my time recuperating with my right foot elevated above my heart gives me lots of time to think. This is fine. The prickly feeling in my toes is fine. The wailing ache of my bones is fine. That I have to use the timer on my phone set to 3hr30min to take more ibuprofen is fine. That my cat, Lennie, is by my side constantly and is often sitting right over my throat is fine.
Even though so much of this experience hurts tremendously, feels never ending, and feels confining, it’s fine. No, it actually is fine. That’s exactly how recovery from major surgery is supposed to feel. I’m supposed to rest, stay in bed, let my chosen family give care, let bones set, and let cartilage heal. I’m alert, the pain is easing up, I’m able to manage a little bit more of my life independently every day. I’m enjoying my own company a lot. I am exiting the shadow world.
This isn’t actually fine.
I was thinking of that meme of the dog sitting at the table with their house on fire saying, “This is fine.” That meme has resonated with me many times in the last few years.
Carry on? This is fine? No worries, mate?
Hold up. Uhhh, no. Nope. Doggo, it is clearly not fine. Get (the f**k) Out! (fantastic movie, btw).
I realized something about my own experience with complex PTSD that has everything to do with that “this is fine” meme. Maybe it resonates with others; maybe it speaks to friends who want to help their cPTSD friends know they deserve to feel safe, calm, cared about and for. Other people experience it differently I’m sure; I’m describing my own current understanding of how my body-mind-memory system operates.
I create mental “this is fine” tags for really unacceptable, distressing things that I experience. I psychologically tag it as a one-off, an isolated incident, not that bad, they had their reasons, it won’t happen again. I minimize and gaslight myself as a coping mechanism to survive terrifying things.
Sure, I spend time ruminating over it, replaying it, trying to understand why it happened, and grieving over the breakdown in care, community, accountability, compassion. Then I compartmentalize each “this is fine” distressing experience separately so that I either don’t see it or don’t believe a patterned, persistent, predictable toxic pattern of an interpersonal system. It goes into the metaphorical kitchen junk drawer. I mostly forget about the compartmentalized memory. I mean, I can recall the event if you ask me or something reminds me of it, but it’s just a snapshot of someone who looks like me in a situation that I can agree with you looks bad on the outside.
I repress and am completely dissociated from the embodied experience and the higher Self action that says, this is _not_ fine and it’s on me to say so. I never set the boundary or expectation that it is unacceptable for others to set my metaphorical living room on fire. Instead, I do all sorts of people pleasing to make the event less likely to happen again or more survivable the next time. I gather up all sorts of external resources to spread out my experience of the impact. I just assemble tools, resources, and survival strategies to put out the inevitable fire the next time.
I am today years old in realizing the extraordinary self-doubt I feel in my capability to discern “this is fine” from “this is not fine.” I don’t believe myself to be a reliable narrator. Multiple times, I have needed multiple bad interactions, multiple sources of independent confirmation, and direct “this is not fine” talk from friends I trust as reliable narrators for me to wake up. And then it takes me a long time of reprocessing, grieving the loss of trust and care, and retagging events that reasonable people would agree are objectively “not fine.” Then I can finally decide I don’t have to be where everything is kindling waiting to ignite so that I can follow a different path that is more safe, secure, caring, and predictable.
Maybe this is really a post about praise for communities of care and accountability. Thank you, chosen family, for helping me do the work so that I can help us co-create little abodes of calm, serenity, abundance, mutuality, and authenticity.