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We are three adults living in a polyamorous triad family. The content here is intended for an adult audience. If you are not an adult, please leave now.


What We Have Learned About PTSD

It should be obvious, by now, to most who are reading along with us that the emotional health of our family has been seriously compromised by events of the last months.  At the heart of our struggles is the very complicated and difficult reality that Master suffers from PTSD which was engendered by His brutal and frightening contact with our local police, jail, and court.

Everything changed for Him, and hence, for all of us in those days, and nothing we knew (or thought we knew) from before seems to apply anymore.  We occasionally get comments or private emails from well-meaning folks – offering advice or counsel or outright direction as to how we ought to proceed.  I understand how very difficult it is to watch us struggle and flail and hurt, and I am sure that sense of helplessness and discomfort is what drives people to try and “fix” whatever it is that seems “wrong” with us.  Far more helpful, from my perspective (and I can’t speak for the rest of the family), are those who simply sit with us, cheer for all of us, and offer the sort of advice encapsulated in the words of one friend who told me to “keep pouring love on the flames.” 

Whatever was before, the reality for our family at present is that we are very much like a ship at sea without rudder or captain.  On any given day, in any given moment, there may be only one of us, or perhaps there is not even one of us, capable of figuring out what to do or which way to go.  If it all looks chaotic from the outside, that is precisely because it is all embroiled in total chaos.   It is likely that, the story of our lives in the next months, and therefore the vast majority of what appears here will be related directly or indirectly to the vagaries of dealing with PTSD. 

For those who are interested in knowing more about what is known about the disorder, here is a brief primer

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a medical condition. It is a specific alteration in brain function due to experiencing something real, shocking, and profoundly disturbing. Once the circuits in the brain are affected by the PTSD pattern, a survivor has the following three problems:
  • Uncontrollable, Intrusive Memory – Memory is seriously impaired.  Not as in amnesia, but in the opposite way:  The trauma comes back, bursting into awareness, when it isn't wanted or welcome. This “hot memory” lasts minutes to hours and may be clear or altered, like a dream. The victim may feel entirely out of conscious control and fear they are going crazy. Often the trauma comes back in subtle ways - a fleeting feeling, a vague sense of dis-ease. This may not be terrifying, but when it occurs frequently it changes one's whole sense of being the person they once were. The worst memory symptom is the waking nightmare, the flashback. This is as vivid as reality, and may actually seem like reality.
  • Emotional Anesthesia -- A person with PTSD feels like a shadow of their former self. Some say they have no feeling. They are distant and detached. They wish they had more zest for life and they know they disappoint those who want them to be interactive and lively. But the genuine desire to socialize just isn't there. PTSD is not quite the same as depression, but may bring on an episode of depression.
  • Anxiety -- PTSD makes a person anxious. The usual pattern includes irritability, impaired concentration, sleep disturbance, being “jumpy” (easily startled), and worried about threats and threatening individuals. This last element of PTSD pattern anxiety is called “hypervigilance.”
So, that is what we are dealing with here.  PTSD is a physical condition and it is real.

By definition, PTSD lasts at least a month but the difficult cases last several years.

As partners, T and I are trying to learn, quickly, what we can do that is helpful – and what is not… 
  • We are learning to ask if He wants a hug, a kiss, a massage – or would it be better if He were left alone?
  • We are working to learn how to listen when He just needs to tell someone what He’s experiencing and feeling.  I am not as good at this as I should be; becoming angry and defensive when it feels like He is rehashing and blaming me over and over again.  It is a personal limitation that I am working to overcome, trying to increase my emotional resilience so I can be an effective listener.
  • We are learning to recognize, anticipate, and minimize the situations that create unwanted recollections for Him.  Sometimes we see the train coming at us down the tracks at us, but we seem to miss the clues and signals an awful lot of the time.  Hopefully, we’ll get better at that as we go along. 
  • We are learning to believe that His emotional distancing and His rage is not about us.   It is hard, in the midst of all of this, not to wonder if He love us.  Honestly – there are times, when He is lashing out, full of bitterness and despair, when it is hard not to question whether WE love Him.  We are a full blown mess – all of us.  We are working to avoid pushing for an answer to the question, “When is He going to get over it?” That question feels urgent at some level.  On the other hand, I doubt very much that there is any way to answer that, accurately, from this vantage point. 
  • We are trying to learn to help by being there without imposing an agenda. “Being there” can be a challenge – His moods are unpredictable and not always pleasant.  Sometimes, we are learning, it is enough to just be “in the space” without needing anything from Him -- it is hard to do, and there are no rules.
  • We are learning to live with His heightened anxiety.  He worries.  He imagines enemies everywhere.  He believes that “they” are plotting to do Him harm – and given the way things transpired, He has some very real basis for distrust.  Walking helps.  When we can manage it, humor helps.  When He’ll tolerate it, touch helps. 
  • We are trying to hold each other up.  In the field, the partner, friend, or spouse of someone with PTSD is at recognized as being at risk of a condition called “caregiver burden.” Perhaps T and I need professional help as much as He does.  We are surely considering that possibility. Mostly, we are working to take care of Him, take care of ourselves, take care of each other. 
Whenever one of us reaches the breaking point; whenever one of us feels that it is impossible – that we can’t do it anymore, the other two end up pleading for another day.  So far, we’ve managed, at every crisis point, to beg for more time; for just a little bit of patience; for some slight glimmer of hope.  It is a scary business.  I think we are all afraid.  I know we are all tired.  We have many months ahead of us – and that will only get us through the “official” and “legally-supervised” part of this.  It really does feel like we have to get through that before He (and so we) can begin to heal.  Until then, we will hang on.  One day.   And one day.  And one day. 

Thank you, all of you, who have so far walked this path with us.  Your presence is a great gift.



  1. Thanks for the post...for a bit of an "inside" look. One day at a time, one hour if need be. You all are in my thoughts, i cannot imagine how difficult a journey this is. One bright light...the strength and love of your family has shown through. Hugs, abby

  2. What wonderful advice, to keep pouring love on the flames.

    It seems to me that there are many times when it may be hard to have to share a partner with a third. It's certainly something I have struggled with, though you have never really seemed to here. But to share this time of trouble with someone else who also loves, perhaps shares the burden and the hope and the responsibility and the joy, where there is joy, between more people. And maybe makes it work a little better. At least I hope so.

    I do hope you keep working at it. It seems like you have so much love, so much history, I hope things are improving.

  3. You each speak often of how you relate to Tom, and your love for him. We don't hear as often, in a direct way, how you relate to each other, and care for each other, but I hear it between the lines, Sue & T. I can't imagine how difficult this is for all of you. You seem so strong individually, that I can't imagine that there is not anything the three of you together cannot come through. I will be praying for all of you.

  4. Some years ago, as I attempted to work my way through a dreadful situation, a friend told me this:

    The situation was an elephant that I had to eat. And it was mind-blowing to try to figure out how to eat that elephant, so very overwhelming and frightening. But my friend told me that I only had to eat just one bite. I could take as long as needed to chew and swallow, and I didn't have to take another bite until I was able.

    Perhaps reminding yourself that you can't (and don't have to) eat the whole elephant at one time, and to just take your time and deal with just that one bite - don't look at the rest of the elephant, don't worry about it. Just focus on the one bite right now. One bite at a time, just one bite.

    If that isn't a helpful reminder for you then just ignore - I wanted to share because for me it was very helpful, it became a constant mantra for many years.

    As always, I send support, encouragement, and COURAGE to you all.


  5. OH GREAT! Now I have to go to and find elephant recipes???? Geesh! I have been off work for 6 weeks and have been reading all of my favorite recipe sites every day....and NOW YOU TELL ME that I should have been looking for elephant recipes???? I don't have a deep freeze....can you buy elephants in parts??? Guess it is off to Jungle Jim's (go ahead and google that place for an experience!) to get elephant parts....sigh...

    but if it will work....giggle


  6. T, I will gladly send you the recipe, and don't worry about the deep freeze - this elephant just won't spoil, lol.

    At the end of the day, I hope you have the most gorgeous ivory "whatnots" imaginable to show for the effort!


  7. Impish15:32 PM

    This was a very kind thing to do: help us know how to help you. Given all you have on your plate, an incredibly generous thing. It is so hard to watch a wounded one strike out without feeling an almost overwhelming urge to protect both the striker and strikees (?), leap into the fray, and try to help. You are so right, not our job though, and so again I leave you again with my faith that you will come out whole on the other side.


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