This is my first published article, in Recovery Today, a monthly newspaper also available on line. If you follow this link, you will find my article about how to help others recover from panic disorder and alcoholism/addiction. I would like you to know the story behind the story. Do you think I speak to Leaving the Panic Room because I have witnessed it? Yes, my Papa, a survivor of Japanese Concentration Camps suffered panic attacks, so have other family members. However, I have also experienced panic disorder. In my 20’s I reluctantly entering an outpatient treatment program. I was told on day one, before my first psychotherapy group, “Go lay down and relax.” Hah! I was in the midst of a panic attack, no relaxing for me. The gentle and firm treatment I received in that program helped panic become part of my past. Here’s a bit of my life story, before the Panic Room article, before the panic attacks.
My family is Dutch, and I was born in the Netherlands (Holland), then lived in Iran where my father worked for Dutch Shell Oil, then we returned to the Netherlands, and in 1964, when I was six years old we moved to the U.S. The first state we lived in was Utah, living in three different homes over two years. Then, after my father obtained his Master’s degree we moved to Houston, Texas.
My sister and I asked our parents, “Are we moving countries again?”
They said “no.” But they might as well have said yes.
Houston, Texas was a huge, shifting, citified area, after the gentle beautiful spaces of Provo, Spanish Fork and Salt Lake City (all in Utah). The only hardship of our years in Utah, were the first adjustment away from our home country, and being expected to convert to the Mormon religion. However, people were kind and caring, and we made friends.
Or rather, my parents and younger sister made friends; I didn’t. I was in shock over leaving my beloved grandparents, whose farm had been my foundational home growing up (over all the moves we had already made). I was in shock over suddenly learning a new language, in shock over sometimes being teased, and in Houston, in shock again with a much meaner and difficulty peer group and teachers.
There was little of physical danger during these years, but there was so much loss, and so much struggle in my family to be able to support each other (the way each of us needed to be supported) that I became very shut down. When I first learned of PTSD in my future training to become a counselor, I realized I related to the spaciness (dissociation) of survivors of trauma. I realized I had secondary trauma also, due to what my parents had been through.
My mom and dad were both survivors of WWII trauma. My father was a survivor of Japanese concentration camps, which Dutch civilians were put into during WWII and my mother was a survivor of Nazi-occupied the Netherlands. Sometimes my parents were great with listening to my feelings, more often I felt I’d better not bother them with my pain, I sensed they had pain of their own. Tragically, especially on my father’s part, sharing did not occur. So I did not hear his pain, only sensed his pain. Like many Dutch survivors of the Japanese Concentration camps for civilians (in the Dutch East Indies — now Indonesia), he never talked at all.
I don’t think I found a more complete healing until I talked to a survivor who does share. He is Dutch-Canadian-American and now 80 years old. I met him doing research for my novel, and our resulting friendship has been very healing for me.
Since the age of 6, I didn’t have any friendships that lasted, or any deep knowledge of how to have intimate friendships, until I at age 15 began recovery from alcoholism.
A time of tragedy for me, being an active alcoholic, turned into (slowly) a harvest of fellowship and love.
This summer I will be reuniting with over 100 of the friends I found in recovery in the 1970′s and count myself blessed to have such a reunion. I care little for reunions of my large anonymous high school in Houston, Texas. I care deeply to see these friends again.
My faith journey, through all the pain and joy, started with a vague sense that perhaps there was a God ( I had decided cynically at age 6 that there was no God, already too much pain to easily believe) when I was a teenager, then slowly led me back to my Christian roots due to friends who reached out to me before during and after a painful divorce in my 20′s. I have a good and grateful life today. Recovery is always possible, I hope to see more recovery stories here.