Mental Health: An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters for People with PTSD and CPTSD.

The “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,” by Portia Nelson is a mainstay of 12 Step Programs.
It is primarily used as an allegory to describe the addictive process. i.e. the insanity of repeatedly and consciously making the same mistake with the hope of getting different results.
The “Autobiography” goes like this:
“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I received my copy of “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” in a clinical setting, as part of a treatment group for people with C-PTSD.

For me, that’s a problem. Here’s why:

In my experience, people with primary substance abuse disorders know they are in a hole, even in their denial. They not only know where the hole is, they know how they fell in, and they know the way out.

Our for profit medical system sees “behavioral” health and 12-Step Programs as a cheap alternative to providing the more expensive services required by people with mental illnesses.

Some people with severe mental illnesses have substance abuse disorders, but they are secondary to our illness, and to the artificially induced poverty, that forces us into slum housing and into the arms of aggressive drug dealers.

I did not fall into a hole.

I was placed in a hole as an infant.

Any attempt to crawl out that hole was met with violent beatings.

After she solemnly read the ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ to us, the therapist who was running the group asked us what we thought.

I raised my hand:

“What if we were stuffed into a hole before we knew we were alive?”

She had no answer.

Behaviorism has few answers for people who need intensive psychotherapy.

***

For those of us with mental illnesses related to childhood sexual assault and trauma, I offer this Autobiography in Five Short Chapters for People with PTSD and CPTSD.”


Chapter One
“I wake up and I am in a hole. I don’t know that I am in a hole. The hole forms the circumference of my world. I base my options in life on its width and depth. It is uncomfortable but the hole is all I know.
I feel constrained and helpless.
One day I look up and see that light enters the hole through an opening at the top.
My eyes are so dazzled I cover them.
***
Chapter Two:
I live in a hole in the sidewalk but I am not certain of this.
I try to pretend that It isn’t true but I see that there are edges at the top of the hole through which the Sun shines.
I decide to climb toward the light to look beyond the edge.
I climb to the top.
It takes a long time.
I see that beyond the hole is a vista that is more rich with possibility than anything I have ever imagined.
My fear is so profound I fall back into the hole where I know I am safe.
***
Chapter Three:
I live in a whole in the sidewalk, which is where I was placed as an infant.
I try to forget what I saw when I climbed toward the light and looked over the edge.  The hole feels small and cramped but the thought of leaving fills me with dread.
I try to pretend that I don’t know that I am stuck but pretending doesn’t work anymore.
I am furious.
Why am I in this hole?
 It isn’t my fault.
I contemplate climbing out
***
Chapter Four:
I live in a hole in the sidewalk. My world is in this hole yet I feel I must leave this tiny world for the larger one above: the real world.
I slowly climb to the top of the hole and slowly pull myself out.
I stand at the edge of the hole, terrified and uncertain of what to do next.
***
Chapter Five:
There is a hole in the sidewalk. I’ve spent my life in this hole and once believed  it was the entire World. I am terrified and want to throw myself back into the hole, but enter psychotherapy instead.
Rob Goldstein 2014 – 2019

#Poetry: Connections

    You have no business

no right to

tell me how I feel.

I do what I must:

I open my eyes and pull

down the sky.

I bleed myself dry.

Here where reality is

brutal and exhausting,

we are connected by lies

and anger —

We are one again.

(c) Rob Goldstein 1984-2019

Poetry: That Muggy August Night

That muggy August
night we waited for
a stranger:

a new boyfriend who
didn’t show.

Momma swore an
threw a stone:

it bounced and
sparked before it
cracked on the
concrete porch–

An momma cried
An momma slapped
An momma bit
An momma snapped–

all because
of that boyfriend
who didn’t show.

(c) Rob Goldstein 1983-2019