Expose'- the gift of triggers | Exposing Abuse in Nursing Homes
What’s wrong with this Picture?
How nostalgic was my first thought as I glanced over to a mug sitting on the counter in the work station that I shared with my boss, Joanne. The mug had a picture of a little girl surrounded by chickens. The inscription on the mug read, "Happy 100th. Birthday Madeline." We had just celebrated one of our resident's 100th. birthday last week. How nice, I thought, Joanne must have had this made for Madeline. Without much more thought, I continued on with my work.
Several times over the course of the next couple days I found myself picking up this mug and starring at it. Although there was a warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia there was something amidst. I found myself continually looking at the chickens in this picture. There was something about this picture that kept drawing my attention to it, but I could not put my finger on it.
On Thursday morning Joanne came around the corner with the mug in her hand and said, “Hey, did you see this mug? Isn't this a riot!” I looked at her a little puzzled thinking, It's nostalgic, forgive if you will but, I'm not exactly seeing the humor. The expression on my face must have said it all. She looked at me again, and exclaimed. “It's Madeline! This is an actual picture of Madeline when she was a little girl. Her son had it printed on the mug and gave it to me.” “Oh my God,” I said, stretching my arm out to take the mug. “Let me see.” She handed me the mug. Little did I know that reaching my hand out would be the last connection to this present moment that I would remember.
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The very second my hand touched the mug, everything went haywire, It was instantaneous, like someone had just flipped a switch. The movie camera began to role as chunks of vivid imagery began to rush through my mind. Madeline became Arnie; He was crawling towards me. Dust was flying, chickens were scurrying. I could feel my insides begin to tremble. Shivers were running up my spine. I happened to glance down at my arms and noticed the hair on my arm was literally standing straight up as if it was full of electricity. Another image flashed, he looked up at me from the ground, his eyes crossed, crooked teeth, drool dripping from his chin and his arm reaching out trying to grab me. Feeling frozen, not knowing what to do, I just stood there.
Once again the past had managed to creep over the threshold grasping my thought process with its ugly claws discoloring my perceptions while creating confusion between what once was and what is now.
Oh my God don't tell me Madeline was punished and made to stay in the chicken coop with the chickens when she was a little girl. This was my very first thought upon returning to the present moment.
My perceptions of this seemingly wonderful nostalgic picture had just been altered, no longer were there warm feelings of nostalgia.
Coming in for a landing and getting a grip on myself. I could feel my face was flush and clammy. My heart was still beating, like a herd of galloping stallions. It felt as though my heart was going to come through my chest. Feeling a tad overwhelmed with sadness, I began to wonder if my emotions were penetrating the surface. Judging by the look on Joanne's face, I guess this was one of those instances that required an explanation. Having shared much of my past with Joanne, I looked at her and said. “Sorry, I guess it threw me back in time.” This picture had suddenly taken on an entirely different meaning. Before I could look at this picture and think of it as a warm nostalgic picture. “Once you told me the little girl in the picture was Madeline everything changed”. Having identified the little girl with a name instantly transported me back to my childhood.
I looked at Joanne, “Sorry, I guess my thought process had shifted from nostalgia to abuse. I was wondering if Madeline was being punished or was she just made to stay outside with the chickens in the coop”.
She started to laugh and said, “Oh no, no. Madeline grew up in Manchester, this picture was taken while they were visiting a farm.”
Oh, “Thank God!”, I said as I exhaled a rather large breath. Joanne, nodded for me to sit down as she drew my chair closer. Still holding the mug in my hand, I glanced down at it and began to explain. “When I was younger I used to go to this house with my friend Maureen, who was friends, with this girl named Bonnie. Bonnie had a severely mentally challenged brother named Arnold, whom they referred to as Arnie. Arnie was physically disabled as well. During the daytime, Arnie was kept outside in a fenced in area with the chickens. He crawled around in the dirt and chicken poop, kicking up the dust and sending the chickens scurrying around him.
In order to get to the front door of this house you had to open the gate on the fence and walk through this area.
In Arnie’s excitement and over zealousness to see someone he would immediately begin to crawl towards you at an accelerated speed. Dust would be flying, chickens would be scurrying and squawking and Arnie would be looking up at you through his crossed eyes and slanted grin. In his effort to communicate grunting sounds emerged from his mouth while drool began to run down his chin. Arnie would always reach out trying to grab you as you walked by. As a small child it was a frightening and disturbing experience.
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Wherever you go there you are..
The next couple of days were as to be expected.
Just like always, it takes a few days to shake off the residual
feelings; usually connecting to the body for the first time.
The process slowly begins to unravel. After days of peeling back the layers and taking a good look at the absurdity; penetration slowly begins to seep in, Realizations of how bizarre the reality of what once was, really is, becomes unshakable for the moment. But it is only for the moment cause it takes many years and hundreds of realizations to plant itself firmly so that new roots can be established.
Having relived and experienced memories, via triggers (PTSD), thorough a good part of my adult life. It has never ceased to amaze me that in the moment of the experience logic is never accessible. Like a person with dementia it's always the first time for no two triggers are ever the same. You are always caught off guard. Each new memory presents itself in an entirely unique fashion. Not to mention, the level of intensity, that follows The process of stepping back and sifting through the aftershock, is the only thing that remains the same. After many years of utilizing this process it has finally become second nature.
Finally, Finally, I get to see, feel and validate the bizarre reality as it really was. As a child I always had a sense that things were not right however, everyone around me appeared normal, acting as if everything was fine. It's always in instances like this that I get one step closer to realizing, just how crazy the world really is. There is nothing wrong with me for seeing it the way it is. I no longer have to change my perceptions to fit in with the rest of the world.
Having been awhile since I was last triggered. I thought there was nothing left. After going through this process once again, I suddenly realized why I am where I am.
Several years ago I took on this job as an Activity Assistant in a nursing home. On the contrary it was quite the opposite of any work related position that I have ever held. However, after being unemployed for several years and not being able to depend on my freelance work, my girlfriend Joanne insisted that I give it a try. What did I have to loose. I agreed to give it a try. After a couple of months of painting nails and serving coffee and toast I began to bang my head up against the wall wondering how in the hell did I end up here. Although, I enjoyed the relationships that I had developed with the elderly patients immensely and found it somewhat rewarding, it was not really my cup of tea. However, there was a feeling, a gut level feeling that compelled me to say. I trusted that feeling to see where it might take me. I knew there had to be more of a reason that I ended up in this position.
It didn't take long to see the reality before my eyes, the very few employees that took notice and the ones that closed their eyes to everything around them. Residents learn quickly who they can trust.
I had been there 3 months and had written up three incident reports; that is here say by the residents confiding in me and telling me of neglect and / or abusive situations I strive to make things better for the residents, focusing on providing quality service, compassion and understanding. My boss Joanne, has been one that goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the residents receive proper treatment. She is truly an advocate for the residents, continually confronting one situation after another on behalf of the residents. She is definitely an outsider to the entire staff and is treated so. I must say I was not far behind her. I believed I was learning from the best.
I was there for a reason...
I had known for sometime that I was there for a reason. I just didn't know what that reason was. Somewhere during the course of my recovery. I learned through trial and error to never questions the why’s in life. I learned if I just let go and place whatever it may be in the back of my mind and be patient sooner or later the answers would present themselves. I still hold fast to this process today for it never ceases to amaze me.
Since I experienced this most recent trigger my mind had been racing on fast forward once again. The story was unfolding in my mind faster than I could muster up the courage to put it down on paper. For some unknown reason I can always see the beginning and the end. It's all the stuff that lies in between that scares the hell out of me. In order to get from the beginning to the end I must revisit many memories that got me where I am today.
On some level I know that I am much stronger today and have been desensitized to the memories that once held me hostage and paralyzed me with fear. Therefore, they shouldn't have the same impact or hold on me that they once had..
Getting back to the realization of why I was here. Since I had taken on this job I was exposed on a daily basis to incidents of neglect, abuse and / or lack of compassion for the residents. Typical characteristics that exist in many nursing homes at one time or another. Not to say that it's all bad cause like the rest of life there is a lot of warm and tender moments in between.
Abuse and / or Neglect in Nursing Homes | What would you call it?
Imagine, if you will for one minute, sitting on a bed pan and having your dinner tray delivered to you. What? Did you suddenly loose your appetite?
You are now suppose to eat and relieve yourself at the same time. Why? Simply because it would take to much time to wait for you to finish and then the aides would have to reheat your food and possibly have to return your tray to the kitchen cause the dinner tray cart has left the unit.
I thought I was going to lose it the first time that I witnessed this. What was even worse was I witnessed an aide arguing with a resident’s family member who had brought some home made food in for her mother. The daughter noticing that her mother’s curtain was drawn closed and knew that she was on the bed pan, chose to wait outside her room. Standing in the doorway with the food in her hand, she was approached by one of her mother’s aides.” You know", exclaimed her aide, “You really ought to feed her while she’s on the bed pan cause she’s going to be there for a while.” The family member replying through gritted teeth said “No, I prefer to wait.” The aide clueless to the situation continued one more time, “It’s o.k. she does it all the time.”
Furious, I went to talk to my boss. Her reply was,"ugh! I remember the first time I witnessed that". Her head drooping down in disgust. She sat down in the chair, resting her elbows on her lap and placing her hands over her face. As if she was awakening from a bad dream, Joanne lifted her head and began shaking her pixie style hair with her hands. Looking directly at me and speaking through gritted teeth she said. “I ranted and raved for days. for weeks to no avail It fell on death ears. With a partially painstaking, -shameful and remorse stricken expression on her face she replied, “ I hate to say it but this is a pretty standard practice around here.” I knew immediately, if Joanne couldn’t move any mountains or shed any light. I sure as hell would not be able to.
How inhumane is this? Anyone who owns a cat knows not to put the litter pan in the same room as their food cause they won’t eat.
It was scenes like this that I encountered on a daily basis that have triggered me back reflecting on the insanity of my past. and has prompted me to write this article.
Today Expose' was born. They say to write what you know. Insane moments would be a good place to start as there is no shortage of those. However, there seems to be an underlying theme that is presently triggering me back to my past. The theme that I’m speaking of is feeling crazy. I feel so crazy like I’m the only one that sees what is really happening. Everyone else goes about their business never questioning or intervening when it’s necessary. And acting as if everything is normal. But then again what is normal? I continue to find myself in situations where denial runs rampant and discolors the truth.
I no longer have the ability to wear the blinders that others wear. Today, although I continue to experience moments where I feel crazy I know that I am not. The difference being I have developed awareness and the tools necessary to discern between what I refer to as, “The contrast between the two worlds.” It’s the same world that I couldn’t accept when I was a child growing up.
As a child growing up in a dysfunctional family where feelings were not allowed and reality was never acknowledged. I learned at a very early age how to blend in like a chameleon continually changing my perceptions and readjusting to the environment to be accepted and to live by the golden rule that is, never ever ask questions.
Today I allow myself to be honest; to live freely in the world where my perceptions are what they appear to be. I have the ability to accept and believe what I see is real. I continue to struggle at times with my spontaneity, not speaking outwardly as freely as I’d like. On the other hand I believe that I have developed a healthy balance., choosing when to speak and when to hold back. Knowing first hand that speaking out all the time would be more of a disservice to me.
I believe this is one of the characteristics that I love the most about my good friend and boss, Joanne, She is truly an authentic individual. When it comes to expressing herself she is spontaneous. She clearly speaks the truth, expressing herself freely not caring what the other person thinks.
What is Normal?
Whether you are placed in a chicken coop with the chickens or put on a bed
pan while being served your dinner, being exposed to this on a daily basis just
becomes the norm when there is no intervention. Abuse will always be abuse. From emotional, negligence to physical and sexual.
Living with PTSD for much of my adult life and having triggers that ignite out of nowhere, has given me the ability to relive and question. This is the first time in my life that I am seeing triggers as a gift. For up until now they have been nightmares, demons so to speak that made me wonder if I was possessed.
Throughout my recovery, I have found that if I dug deep enough or searched long and hard enough I could always find a thread that I could hold onto; a thread that in some small meaningful way would reflect upon something positive and serve a purpose.
Finally after so many years of dealing with PTSD, experiencing triggers, flashbacks etc. I have once again found that tiny thread that allows me solace, knowing that there is underlying meaning that brings me peace and comfort.
So what exactly is the gift of triggers, you might be asking yourself?
The gift lies in the sorting out process of the triggers. The differentiating of what once was, versus what is now; the reconstructing of the past and the closure.
The gift is the ability to see things from an entirely new perspective; to discern the difference and recognize what is really, "wrong with this picture". The gift is trusting yourself enough to believe that your perceptions are accurate. You are not crazy!
My experience has been that with each new flashback another memory that was previously disconnected has come home. One more piece reunited and healed. (In my case, as in many survivors of abuse, dissociative symptoms, seems to overlap with the PTSD which tends to complicate matters even more.)
Whether exposing the madness of the reality that exists in the present moment that others may not seem to notice, or the madness of the reality that has held me captive to a life of despair and isolation, either way my purpose is the same:
I hope and pray that when all is said and done, my story will shed light, insight, hope and permission to those who have suffered in silence; that they may escape their personal hells and reclaim their lives in triumph.
Article(C)2010 Sage Williams. All rights reserved.
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