A Timeline of My Journey June 2014
• My younger years contained some fun-filled memories and some successes as well as a lot of terror, low self esteem, social difficulties, learning challenges and a constant internal war. For me, daily living was always filled with distress. I was terrified of everything and everybody. In addition, there were many years of emotional invalidation (Reindl, 2001), physical and sexual abuse. Hence, a common pattern of revictimization developed throughout my life. In my teen years, I found that alcohol made my life a little easier. By the time I reached college I had a serious issue with alcohol abuse. It was during college that I attempted suicide.
• In 1981, I started to find joy and success from teaching in the inner city Catholic Schools of Boston. For 15 years, I taught in the elementary, special education and middle school classrooms. Many of those years I was a Sister of St Joseph of Boston. This work and lifestyle gave me a sense of purpose and a vocation which was to live simply and to work to improve educational opportunities for urban youth. However, in hindsight, I see today that these years immersed in the culture of the inner city were also a time of experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma. As research from the Center of Disease Control shows about 30% of inner city kids suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which some call the “Hood Disease” (CBS San Francisco, May 16, 2014). The culture of PTSD in the school and classroom exacerbated my own PTSD. Clearly, I took on the pain, trauma, and emotions of my students. This only intensified my own pain leading to a more long term experience with trauma and therefore, added to my PTSD to make it much more complex. Today, I also understand that I take on the trauma, pain, and emotions of others. I do not have a filter to protect myself even today.
• In 1996, I studied for my masters and Ph.D in Educational Administration at Boston College. It was during this time that I worked with undergraduate and graduate student teachers in urban classrooms. It was while pursuing my masters and PHD I discovered I could remember information if it connected to my lived experience and my intrapersonal intelligence skills. If I did not connect to the information it would go right out of my head. For my doctoral dissertation work, I focused on how new urban teachers manage issues of power and authority in the classroom. I had such a personal understanding of issues of power and powerlessness so all the work for my dissertation connected to my lived experience and my intrapersonal skills. This was the reason I was able to manage success in the academic arena despite my memory challenges. My studies and work in graduate school connected me once again to my purpose and vocation – to improve educational opportunities for urban students.
• Both my success in teaching and my success in my studies helped foster a greater sense of self esteem. However, I still had such an internal war going on and I was terrified and hypervigilant all the time. Today, I know that my anxiety, terror, and hypervigliance throughout my life started to come out in me physically during this time period.
• In 1998, I married my husband and began an adventure of a lifetime. I only had hints about what intimacy and marriage were about but I had the basics to begin a partnership with another human being thanks to my years in religious life. Marriage has been a frightening, beautiful, and growth-filled experience.
• In 2002, I started work in another college, Boston University. Here, my work once again was with student teachers. Also, I had the opportunity to teach seminars on managing student learning, social relationships, and student behavior in the classroom. This related to my dissertation and dealing with issues of power and authority in the classroom. Once again, my work connected me to my passion, my vocation and my purpose – to improve educational opportunities for urban youth.
• In 2004, I began my journey with my therapist, Lisa, and it was then I was diagnosed with severe, chronic, complex PTSD. The firsts few years of our process together, we spent time recovering memories, processing these memories and connecting my past history with emotions. When I started, I couldn’t recognize an emotion I was having never mind its impact on my body. Today, I am so aware of both.
• In 2005 – 2006, I had to take a medical leave of absence due to the severity of my mental and physical health issues from PTSD. My work was always one of my great loves of my life. It meant everything to me. Losing it was another major trauma and brought about a great period of darkness for me. One reason it caused such darkness was because I had to go on both private and public disability. Being on disability has been one of the hardest things to deal with on a daily basis. (I will talk about why being on disability is a daily challenge in a future blog.) In addition, I have found that not working is harder work than working. Furthermore, I felt I had no sense of self worth without my work, my vocation and my purpose. Having self worth through my work and living my life’s purpose made living with daily distressing internal pain much more bearable.
• In 2008, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital (Sierra Tuscon) because I did not think I could live anymore with the physical and mental pain I was in despite the wonderful husband I had. It was there that I did a timeline of my life including both the wonderful and traumatic parts and shared it with the group. After leaving the psychiatric hospital because it was too overwhelming, I attended a 2 on 1 intensive program for two weeks called Maui Intensive. It was here that I went over the timeline more and then burnt it. Since then I have chosen to leave my past in the past even though I live with the effects of my past in the present. This is why I choose not to get into the details of my trauma history in my writing. As an aftercare to these two programs, I attended a 1½ year weekly program at the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA where I learned many new cognitive behavioral skills especially Mindfulness.
• In 2009, my husband and I moved to New Hampshire in order to live a simpler, less chaotic life than the community we had been living in just outside of Boston. I found I couldn’t function with the noise, commotion and number of people in Brookline, MA. It was too disorienting to go outside my home. Our move to a quieter, more nature filled area was one of the major tools that has helped me move along in my evolutionary and transformational path. Also, the move was much more aligned with our desire to live more simply.
• About this same time, I started to understand my innate temperament. I am a highly sensitive and empathetic person by nature. Being both highly sensitive and empathetic, I feel the pain, emotions, trauma and energy of all living things and it impacts me deeply physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically. The bottom line is the other people’s traumas become my traumas; other people’s emotions become my emotions. Furthermore, I get bombarded by the energy of things around me both people’s energy and nature’s energy. I now realize it has always been this way. Having this highly sensitive nature and then experiencing early and long term personal, social and professional vicarious trauma contributed to the severity of my PTSD.
• In 2012, at an intensive outpatient program for alcohol abuse affiliated with Dartmouth Medical Center, I proclaimed I was worthy and deserving of goodness. Furthermore, I owned I had the power and responsibility to create goodness in my life on a daily basis. In addition, I was keenly aware that I had already started creating goodness in my marriage. These were life-altering proclamations and awarenesses. To be able to say and own them meant that I had healed the toxic shame that bound me my whole life because of abuse. Also, these proclamation and awareness began my journey out of the Dark Nights of the Soul (Moore, T., 2004) which began when I had to leave my work in 2006. Today, I commit myself to building goodness and success on a daily basis. I am thrilled I know how to do that every day despite my pain and suffering.
• In 2014, I chose to create this blog and to focus on living purposefully while managing my physical and mental health and the effects of living with PTSD. I want to focus on my transformative and evolutionary process over the last 10 years that helped me to finally learn how to care for my nature at the age of 55 and to live through my own set of eyes (a line given to me by my therapist). In addition, I want to share my process of how I daily strive to live out a quote by Teilard de Chardin.
What is involved is not well being (bien-etre), but the hunger for more being
(plus-etre), which alone can save thinking humanity from the taedium vitae (the tedium of life). To-be-more means to explore more, to know more, to understand more, to unite more, to live more.
This commitment to live this lifestyle contributes to an increase in my hypervigilance, my sense of urgency, my mental overload, my hyperarousal, my disability. However, it also meets my deepest longing, passion and purpose – my destiny of my authentic self – so my focus is not solely on wellbeing but also on taking responsibility for creating the future and living purposefully and fully the human experience while contributing to the common good. It is my right and responsibility to strive for creative agency (a sense of accomplishment) in my everyday life. The last 10 years have shown me how to care for myself, how to be about creative agency, and how I can contribute to making the planet a better place. However, and most importantly, I can only live out my destiny with the assistance of a great support team – my husband, my therapist, and my online communities – as well as a very structured, routine life filled with a an assortment of self regulating tools which I will discuss in upcoming articles and blogs.
Writing this brief timeline has been a good experience. It has shown me that I have always had an impulse to evolve. This along with my desire to seek and attain enlightenment really came from my desire to fix the pain of my traumatic experiences since I was 5. So in the end, my lifelong pain has brought me a great gift. This impulse to evolve and this desire to seek understanding continues to teach me how to strive to achieve my greatest potential as a human being, how to manage my disability while contributing to the conscious evolution of the universe and how to live a life committed to working toward a more sustainable world, addressing issues of the environment, social justice and spiritual fulfillment.
1. Reindl, S. (2001). Sensing the Self. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
2. CBS San Francisco Bay Area (May 16, 2014). Hood Disease: Inner City Kids Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. SanFrancisco.cbs.local.com.
3. Moore, T. (2004). Dark Nights of the Soul. Penguin Group, New York, NY.