It’s not you, it’s me

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By Mindy Rubenstein

You may have seen people like me at events or at kiddush after Shabbat services, seeming aloof. Maybe you thought I was shy or even rude. And maybe I was. I’m always the new person, as my baal teshuvah family and I explore Jewish communities — Palm Harbor, Potomac, Atlanta, Richmond, Norfolk, Jacksonville.

As a wife and mother, I am the emotional and spiritual foundation of my family. I set the tone for our home and our lives. If only I had learned how to do it right. But at least, thank G-d, I’m learning now, slowly but surely.

I grew up in almost constant fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, with an enraged father who made waitresses cry and a depressed mother who would sometimes ignore us for weeks at a time. I understand them now and forgive them.

Please forgive me for my inability to trust you enough to let my guard down. Please forgive me for always wanting to flee.

I’m learning now how my mind works, how my thoughts and emotions affect my beliefs, and how to retrain my brain in an effort to have shalom bayit — peace within myself and within my family. I’m learning to see the good in myself and the world.

Before a few months ago, I had never heard of the concept of Complex-PTSD, let alone imagine it was a medical diagnosis I would be facing. It has chased me for decades as I tried unsuccessfully to find ways to distract myself — with my career as I tried to prove how smart I am, chasing religious rules to satiate the chaos in my mind, numbing out on my smartphone or with snacks, and fleeing.

The PTSD part (which is different than Complex-PTSD), often means people who were impacted by the trauma of terrible things like war. I grew up in the beautiful suburbs of Seminole, Florida, attending A-rated schools and serving on the teen-board with my friends, wrapping gifts during the holidays at the mall. From the outside, my life probably seems idyllic. But, as it turns out, a traumatic childhood — even without physical abuse — imprints the brain similarly to exposure to the awful things we read about in war-torn countries.

As human beings, we need parental nurturing. This includes verbal, spiritual, emotional and physical nurturing, according to psychotherapist and renown C-PTSD specialist Pete Walker. And if we don’t receive nurturing, or worse, if we are actually emotionally abused or abandoned, we try to numb the pain and fear that manifests within us as a adults. It’s a cycle that tends to repeat itself in each generation.

Until we acknowledge and shine light upon it.

What I’ve been seeking all along, all any of us are really seeking, is love and acceptance. And, as it turns out, that begins within. So, with help, I’m editing the narrative in my mind, paying attention to my thoughts and the physical reactions within my body, and charting a new course.

As we enter the High Holidays, a time for introspection, repentance and forgiveness, it seems like a perfect time to confront the monsters within.

Here I am. Exactly who and where G-d wants me to be. Facing my fears, facing my feelings, learning to balance “being” and “doing.” Learning to love. So next time we see someone who seems aloof, let’s try not to judge or to feel rejected. Maybe all they need is a warm smile and a hello.

We are all in different stages of healing our souls, even if we don’t realize it yet. As Rosh Hashanah approaches, let’s ignite the compassion and acceptance within — as we learn to truly love ourselves and others.

If you think you need help, ask for it. Verbalize what you want or write it down. Once we set our intentions toward healing and growth, it’s amazing how beautifully our journey unfolds, one baby step at a time.

To learn more about Complex-PTSD, visit www.outofthestorm.website or cptsdfoundation.org.
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Mindy Rubenstein has worked as a journalist since 1998, specializing in religion and mental health. She serves as editor of Nishei women’s magazine and is a writing coach for children and adults. 

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