15 May 2012

Sleeping in cars, et. al.

This has nothing to do with college, and yet it has everything to do with college.

In all likelihood, I'm going to be evicted from my apartment soon. There was a hearing today, at which my landlord and I were supposed to try to work out a payment plan. I was in my apartment sleeping instead of at the hearing. I'd been getting more and more stressed about the situation last night, afraid if I went to bed I would sleep past the hearing. There was a point at which I decided I'd just stay up all night, which I've done before. After two cups of coffee at around 0400, I couldn't keep my eyes open. So it might be that I would have slept through the hearing anyway-- when my body decides it needs sleep, my arguments only go so far.


A person needs three things-- food, clothing, and shelter. Until you have those settled, nothing else is important. --me

There is always a choice. Sometimes, neither option looks good, and you have to choose the lesser of two evils. There is only one bad choice, and that's not making one at all. --me


I graduated from the four week Transitions program at the VA Hospital here yesterday. Overall, the course was split between mindfulness, relaxation, and creating a wellness recovery action plan. There were elements of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that I recognized from the 12-week CBT program I completed soon after I was originally diagnosed with PTSD. I also recognized some of the behavior modification techniques that my social worker has had me working on over the past couple of months.

Originally, I'd intended to write about the program as I was going through; there was quite a bit of material, and I'm still reading and taking notes and organizing. I can say that there were vets in the program from Korea, Vietnam, Desert Shield/Storm, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Some of us hadn't been in a war zone in 50 years, while others had come home only a few months ago. Our ages covered as wide a range as the wars we'd participated in. Still, without question, we shared with each other, listened to each other, and supported each other. There is no greater understanding than that between comrades in arms that have been there, wherever and whenever "there" happens to have been.

If I had to choose one thing I learned, it is this: PTSD is not something that can be "cured" or "gotten over". Memories of the kinds of experiences I've had (perhaps, as well as your experiences if you're reading this) never really go away. Medication (prescribed or otherwise) cannot make me forget, or erase what happened to me. The trauma of the past is part of my life, but not in control of my life. That being said, I'm going to be participating in two additional group programs this summer; one focusing on behavioral activation, and the other on the wellness recovery action plan (WRAP).

After adding up the number of hours a week for the four weeks, the total comes close to the number of hours for a 100 or possibly 200 level summer college course. I missed some of the optional stuff, and missed one mandatory group session. Still, I claim victory. Three times a week, for four weeks I got up, got dressed, packed up my stuff, and headed to the VA Hospital. Pretty good for me, considering there were times over the past year when I didn't leave my apartment for class-- weeks at a time.

While I'm not looking forward to being evicted from my apartment soon, I am trying to have a positive outlook. Homelessness isn't a condition I aspire to, but it is something I can survive for a while if it happens. There are friends with couches and there are shelters. There is my car, which isn't spacious or comfortable-- but it is an option.

I know most people who are in stable (or at least more stable than mine) environments look at the idea of spending even one night on the street and refuse to believe it will happen to them; or worse, consider themselves above the very idea. It should be obvious that I'm not one of those people. From grade school through high school, there were many times I thought of running away. I'm not talking about stopping at the end of the block because I don't have permission to go farther. Once, my mother asked me "where would you go if you did run away?", in a tone that suggested "yeah, right, kid, you don't know shit". I didn't answer, not because I didn't know- I had a plan, part of which was knowing that telling her would be the last thing on earth I'd consider.

Years later, I was in college the first time and my Dad had just married his third wife. I suddenly had two more sisters, one of whom decided running away was the best thing to do (having gotten to know my Dad's third wife, I readily understood why. The woman was batshit crazy). I knew, or at least strongly suspected, where she'd gone without even really thinking about it. My Dad probably knew as well, but he had that hysterical woman he'd married to deal with. Rescue, then, fell to the older brother.

I'd met enough of my new sisters friends to know who the BFFs were, so I started there. The first friend I talked to said she hadn't talked to my sister in, like, a week. I suggested that if she (the friend) happened to talk to her (the sister), have her call me. Not Mom, not new Dad; if either of them answered, hang up until I answered. The phone call from my sister followed a few minutes later. My sister was home that night, as soon as I'd gone and picked her up-- the BFF lived a couple of blocks away-- but only after we'd eaten burgers and fries and talked things through.

Hero, me, right? Around that same time, I was spending most of my nights (and a good portion of my days) sleeping in my car in parking lots on the local cruising strip. I was on delayed enlistment, waiting for my day to ship out to Lackland AFB. I didn't have a job, so I was living on what little college money I had. My Dad didn't charge rent for the storage locker in the basement where I crashed after dropping out of my first attempt at college. I ran away on a daily basis, and like my sister, I didn't run farther than was necessary.

I tell this story as an affirmation to myself-- sometimes I feel that during the years I was being sexually and emotionally abused as a kid, I was in a state of "functional homelessness". Yeah, I was there, and yeah, I did the best I could, but it's hard to consider a broken home as "home".

Sleeping in a car outside a 24 hour grocery store (chosen because there are bathrooms available all night) in the dead of winter, while snow collects on the windshield-- many days, that was the best I could do that day. It was the closest to peace I could get, given what I had for resources.

I still look around today, thinking about where I'd park the car and sleep if I needed to do so, making sure I was in a place where I was the least likely to be noticed by a police officer or security guard.  One could argue that thinking about such things makes them more likely to happen; but I was headed for this place anyway. Better to have a plan to survive, than figure it out as you go.

I'll make it through this. 

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