This blog is dedicated to my Therapist, Tara-pist, and social planning soulmate. Without you three amazing women, I wouldn’t be where I am in recovering from CPTSD. You have my deepest gratitude.
Trigger warning: I mention IPV and weapons.
Note: If you aren’t familiar with the term CPTSD, you may want to read this first. Any errors in this blog are mine alone and largely due to a severe lack of sleep. Thanks, insomnia!
One of my most valuable possessions is a hammer that once belonged to my maternal grandmother; today I employed it in aid of my newly minted, fragile sober-ish way of being. I’ve written about Grandma Dora before, most notably here. I have also written about my struggle self-medicating with alcohol. I’m not going to repeat things from other blog posts — if I did this would be my longest post by far. Way too long. So I’m going to try to convey some new thoughts along with links to, well I guess, old thoughts.
Let’s give it a go Flowers.* I want to tell you how I came to treasure a simple carpenter’s hammer.
Aside: Sorry Sis but this doesn’t have anything to do with the Marvel Thor (is it Marvel?). I haven’t seen the movie. I’m not completely clueless — I am aware Thor has a hammer. That’s about it. I know I could Google it; I think I’ll just wait for the Power Family to introduce me to the film this summer (now that I’ve outed myself I expect to be indoctrinated, happily).
Alright, back to Dora’s Hammer. Dora is the name my grandmother preferred; in fact her name was Mary Dorathea MacLeod. Thus, Dora’s Hammer not Grandma’s Hammer.
My Grandma Dora was a feminist in her own way. She belonged to women’s groups, travelled alone, and insisted on having her own cattle. It was 1980’s rural Saskatchewan where time ran slow and change took a while so this counted as being feminist. Grandma squirrelled away money from her cattle like the good Scot she was and used this money to purchase a rental property in the closest town (Maple Creek). She leveraged the first house to get the second and so on until she had 5 or 6 in total. They were small, unassuming properties and I think she purchased them for around $20,000-$30,000 in the early 1980’s.
Aside: The 1980’s turned out to be a terrible time for farmers. Think FarmAid: “Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.” (Source). Grandma’s houses declined in value and upkeep over time as she tried to manage this endeavour in her late 70’s with an ailing spouse to look after. In the 1990’s when the houses were eventually sold after her death, they fetched between $5,000 and 10,000. It was a development she never really had to face thankfully.
The relevant part is her intent: she planned to fix up the houses a bit herself, and rent them out. She did exactly that, using her own hammer to do all the work. I know this with certainty because she marked her initials on the hammer and I saw her with it many times. She marked it ‘DM’ after ‘the men’ (she referred to my father, her son-in-law, and my grandfather, her spouse, collectively and somewhat derisively as ‘the men’) borrowed it one too many times without putting it back.
Aside: My daughter’s most valuable possession is a small desk that Grandma Dora built with her hammer. Grandma had many hobbies, wood-working among them.
Grandma Dora spent her last years before entering a specialized dementia care facility living with me, so when she passed I inherited most of her stuff. The hammer had made the cut when she culled her possessions for the move to Alberta. I kept it for sentimental and practical reasons and I have used it for years on DIY projects.
During the pandemic, I didn’t do any projects. I didn’t garden. I couldn’t do much of anything. I spent a lot of days locked in…
locked in my house,
locked in my room,
locked in my head
doing battle with the terrifying thoughts of death, illness and loss that plagued my days and nights.
I wasn’t able to sleep and this made my symptoms worse. I had full days of being in what I can only describe as extended panic attacks where my adrenaline would just peak and peak. I ran my wrists under icy water and chewed on strong mint candies; I did trauma-informed yoga, meditation and breathing exercises a few times a day. All these things and more (therapy with EMDR!) were done in an attempt to quell the trauma response. I couldn’t watch anything other than three UK shows: Gardener’s World, Garden Rescue and Escape to the Country (anything else was too stimulating). Reading was not even remotely possible.
Of all the dark, death-themed thoughts there was one that wouldn’t stop. The man who perpetrated intimate partner violence on me lives in a nearby town and he is a gun owner. I couldn’t stop thinking he would snap and come out to kill me. So I would lock all the doors and keep my cell phone at my side. At some point in this distress, I decided to keep Dora’s Hammer at my bedside. It helped me feel a bit safer. I guess it became a sort of talisman.
With this as context, what comes next makes sense. Earlier today I was out on the deck writing. It was a beautiful sunny day so I headed in to get another fizzy drink (flavoured water or diet root beer) when I spied some beer in my fridge. Temptation right? My partner had tucked it away in the back, but it made its way to the front. I felt a sudden irrational rage (rage has been ever near since Roe v. Wade fell). I was mad that there was beer and even madder that I wanted to drink it. I had a sudden flash of inspiration and employed Dora’s Hammer with this result:
It helped me dissipate the rage and calm my nervous system enough that I could once again think clearly. One of the most difficult things with trauma wounds is that when something touches the wound your brain goes into flight, fight, or freeze mode instantly and your complex, nuanced thinking goes out the window. I needed help.
When I get in this state now I have learned I need a substitute for my pre-frontal cortex, which kinda goes off-line. The day I decided to quit drinking my social planning friend played the role for me. Today my sister Tara talked me through the crisis as she so often does (my partner has christened her my Tara-pist). My therapist will help me process this tomorrow during our session.
No matter what happens next in my healing journey, I have Dora’s Hammer to remind me of the steely strength and stubbornness she passed to me. I’m confident that Grandma Dora would appreciate the origin story of my talisman. She would appreciate her memory giving me strength.
Wishing you peace and progress Flowers*
P.S. If any of what I said resonates for you, come find me on social media: @drcoraine where I post things related to trauma recovery as well as things to help with the hard days (that means photos of my two floofs and my flowers).
*Flower is a term of endearment, for lack of a better description, used by the comedian Sarah Millican who I find to be hilarious. I’m adopting it. I love flowers. I’m the kinda girl who has a shoulder tattoo of a bouquet of flowers in memory of my mother, Grandma Dora and my Aunt Lorna. I think calling people flower whilst wielding Dora’s Hammer in times of need is just about contradictory enough, don’t you? A new way to think of flower power for sure!