Ask Amy: Survivor with PTSD tries to cope with family

Dear Amy: Growing up my childhood was not horrible — just bad.

I have PTSD, dissociation, and sleep paralysis because of things that happened during my childhood.

Whenever the subject of childhood is brought up, my parents say it was good.

If my siblings or I say otherwise it just starts a fight.

We were raised “Christian.” We went to church between three and seven days a week.

I hate church now and do not go.

Eight years ago, our grandmother died. She also attended this church.

I decided to go into the church building for her funeral (big mistake).

A few days later I started getting flashbacks of things that had happened to me as a child at that church.

My PTSD got worse, and I had bad dreams and night terrors.

My doctor put me on medication to suppress these nightmares. After seven years, my anxiety is finally at a tolerable stage.

I swore never to step foot inside the building again, but my family members pressure me.

I have tried to explain that if they die and their funeral is held there, I will NOT go.

I want to get them to understand (without a fight starting or someone’s feelings getting hurt), but at the moment I am at a loss.

— Scarred in North Carolina

Dear Scarred: Given the long-term symptoms you say you experience, I’d offer a gentle correction to your statement that your childhood was “not horrible.”

You are experiencing symptoms similar to those reported by soldiers returning from the battlefield. Your past seems “horrible” enough.

Your choice to get professional help is a great one, and I hope that you continue to discuss your experiences with a qualified therapist.

My advice to you continues along two tracks.

Although I wonder if it is best for you to be connected with your family, if you want to remain in touch, the best way to do this is to hold onto your decisions privately and learn how to deflect pressure. You can review strategies with your therapist.

If people have a problem with you staying away from church, you can truthfully respond that you’ve already explained your reasons, and those reasons have not changed.

My second piece of advice is that you should consider blowing the whistle on this toxic church community. If things that happened there were harmful, abusive, or criminal, you might be helping yourself and other survivors.

However, you are obviously extremely vulnerable. Bringing your own experiences to light would expose you to more pressure and possible estrangement from your family, as well as other community members. Doing so could re-traumatize you.

This is an important decision, not to be taken lightly.

You might have success connecting with a support group for others who have been traumatized in faith-based communities.

Dear Amy: I have a good relationship with my neighbors, who I would describe as “extremely quiet.” We only meet over the “backyard fence,” where we talk about our gardens.

Recently I told them that I was hiring an arborist to trim some trees at the back of my property where it meets theirs. They pointed out two dead trees that they were eager to have removed.

I offered to have my guy do it while he was handling mine and they demurred — but then said, “Oh, that would be really nice. Thank you.”

The guy came, he did all the work, and I realized that their portion cost around $400. I can definitely afford it — no problem — but I’m disappointed that they haven’t really thanked me.

I’m wondering what you think?

— Good Neighbor

Dear Good Neighbor: I think you’re really generous. You pressed this solution upon your neighbors and they thanked you in advance. You might be “repaid” in fresh produce later in the season.

Dear Amy: Like “Cleaning in Culver City,” I, too, sent old letters back to my friends, but I didn’t send any that mentioned anything painful, such as relationship problems.

My friends were delighted and said they felt like they traveled through time.

Some couldn’t remember the incidents they’d described in their letters, but that made it even more fun.

I recommend this to others, but one should curate the letters first.

— Pam

Dear Pam: I have been surprised at the number of people who have reported being quite upset by receiving back letters they had sent years before.

When pondering doing this, it is important to recognize that context is really important. “Curating” the material is a good idea.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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