Trying to Figure Out Why Local Election Results Tweaked My PTSD

Sometimes I wonder when I’m having a legitimate PTSD moment and when it’s just a combination of anxiety and borderline nausea. Last night, I think I had a PTSD episode looking at local election results.

I didn’t feel off because of any specific results. I, more than anyone, know how insignificant one person is in the vast machine known as our government. I’m not sure exactly why I had a physical and mental reaction, but I’m a writer, so I’ll work it out on the page.

In 2011, when I made the decision to run for the city council in Auburn, Maine, I thought that I could try to move the city in a more forward-thinking direction. Between my city and the one next door, we are the second-highest population density in Maine. The first, Portland, is a progressive city where things like art, culture and a view toward the future is a good thing. Here, not so much. I think most believe our best days are long behind us. The magazine I launched two years earlier was trying to change that mindset and I thought being on the City Council would also help.

I’m not going to deny that I knew being on the City Council would also raise my name recognition if I won. I really didn’t aspire to any higher office, but then again, I’d never made many plans in life, just going with the flow and seizing opportunity where I saw it. If nothing else, running would give me a good gauge of how popular I currently was.

I won, defeating the other four candidates with only one, a long-serving incumbent, coming close. It was needed validation that I was as awesome as I tried to convince myself.

The experience serving was not good. As you have probably surmised about me, I like to be the one in control. It’s why I started companies and didn’t work for other people. It’s why I now work from home. Being an equal part of a team, especially one as divided as that City Council, wasn’t fun. I had very little respect for a couple of the members as I was going into office and that number only grew during my tenure.

With my socially liberal, fiscally conservative bent, I usually ended up being the tie-breaker on a lot of 3-3 votes. Ironically, in the voting order, I came last, so everybody saw it as me making the decision, and since I was the only one there who knew how to give a good soundbite to the media, it was always me that was quoted. I liked that power at first, but grew to hate it.

Despite the fact I showed up to most of the meetings in the second half of my two-year term borderline drunk (or full-on drunk), I didn’t like making decisions that either way, hurt people. I didn’t like making decisions that would leave one group of people angry at me and the other feeling like I was on their side. My wife knew that I’d come back from most meetings angry and sad.

With about six months left in my term in early 2013, ironically just as I was seriously descending into the worst of my porn and alcohol addictions, I made the announcement I was not running again on my Facebook page.

I didn’t regret stepping away as I secretly knew just how much my life was spinning out of control. There hasn’t been a day that I wished I was back there and with the exception of seeing the results last night, I don’t follow a damn thing they do in the news.

I’m so thankful I left the City Council before my arrest. I don’t know if it would have been any bigger a deal if I was actively serving, but amidst the clouded judgment I was showing at that time in my life, walking away after only one term was probably the smartest thing I did.

Maybe reading those results was a flashback to the night I won and was so smugly full of myself. I didn’t like that guy. I don’t attribute the City Council to my downfall, but maybe subconsciously I do think those long Monday nights contributed to my trip toward rock bottom. Maybe it reminds me that despite winning the seat, I felt like the time I served was a failure or it could be that it just shows this community marches on without me, never missing a beat, as if I never mattered at all. And while the magazine, film festival, co-workers, award ceremonies, friends, etc., are all gone, the City Council always remains.

I’m still processing why I had such a visceral reaction, but at least I’ll have something to talk about at therapy this week.

Holding onto Hate, Grudges and Resentments Hurts You More Than The Other Guy

At what point is making the other person pay for their sins enough? When have they atoned for the wrongdoing they did to you or the wrongdoing they did to the world? Who decides? A judge? You? Them? When is it time to let somebody move on with their life…but more importantly, move on with yours?

Now, obviously, if you murder someone, you’re going to be paying for it the rest of your life behind bars. I’m not talking about extreme circumstances like this.

The judge in my case seemed to be very clearly weighing two options: nine months in county jail or three years in state prison. Since I attended two inpatient rehabilitation facilities and had been part of intense therapy for the 22 months between arrest and sentencing, not-to-mention that my support system was local, she opted for the county jail, followed by three years of probation.

This week, I’m finished my second year and the countdown to being off probation falls under 365 days. For anybody who thinks probation is easy, spend some real time on it. When I got to jail, I met people who opted to do extra jail time to NOT get probation. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It’s a cross to bear and a black cloud that follows you everywhere – or at least the places you’re allowed to go.

I have heard people say my sentence was too long and I never should have seen a day of jail time and I’ve heard people say they should put me in prison and throw away the key. From the moment I heard her verdict, I made the decision to accept the nine months I got (of which I served six months and six days) was appropriate. After all, isn’t the judge the person who was appointed by the Governor of Maine to make these kinds of decisions?

Dealing with injustice

Are you able to let things go? As I’ve mentioned on this site before, letting go of resentments has been a huge piece of my recovery. There is too much energy and thought wasted on resentment.

Sure, there were times that resentment felt good because I felt there was genuine injustice happening, but I now practice the concept of radical acceptance. It’s found in the Serenity Prayer in its purest form…know what you can fix, what you can’t and how to tell the difference.

Do I still think there is a lot of injustice in this world? Absolutely. Whether it’s a bunch of inept duck boat operators or a President who seems to get a pass on behavior that would have taken down any public leader before him, I see all kinds of injustice in this world. I just accept that my righteous indignation doesn’t change anything. And putting that righteous indignation on display says far more negative about me than about whatever I’m railing against.

If you want to see a bunch of resentful people, visit the comment section of any story on the Fox News website. Even when a story isn’t about politics, there are people who will twist whatever the topic is into a political debate where they are correct, you are wrong, end of story. And this comes from both the right and the left, politically speaking. It’s a place where people go to argue politics and when there are no immediate politics, they’ll argue about anything because they don’t know how to communicate any other way. It’s actually quite sad when you just stand back and watch.

Resenting other people takes time and energy and thought. Do you really have those things to spare and in looking back, how many positive results have developed out of your resentments?

Grudges are Resentments, too

Maybe you don’t think you carry resentments. Maybe you’re able to let the injustices of the world melt away. What about grudges? Carry any of them?

While it will probably be gone by the time you read this, somebody posted a vitriolic review of my book on Amazon recently. It wasn’t a review of the book at all, it was just a chance to call me a few horrible names. I don’t think the person did it to try and hurt sales. If they did, they don’t really understand how the process works. I think they did it to feel better about themselves. I hope it worked, but I know resentment doesn’t ultimately work that way.

Based on the content, they seem to be local and seem to still harbor a lot of anger toward me. It doesn’t seem like we were close based on what they said, but they knew me from afar, or maybe was an acquaintance. Six or seven years ago I would have been crazed to get their review off the page and making a federal case over the fact I was called a few names.

When I read this review, which is probably gone because it violated Amazon’s terms of services, I immediately felt bad for the person who wrote it. They seem very angry at me not just for the crime I committed, but for the fact I presented myself as someone I wasn’t prior to the arrest.

I still get the feeling that the populace where I’m from hasn’t let it go. The funny thing is, it’s not about any crime I committed, it’s about a deeper betrayal. I was a City Councilor and the “good guy” magazine maker who had the film festival that brought celebrities to town every year. I was eccentric, but in the best way possible. I was an interesting guy who was fun to have a conversation with.

Most of those things disappeared in many people’s eyes when I was arrested and convicted. Anything positive I did for the community was buried. I erased everything positive in one fell swoop.

There’s nothing I can do about that view of things. Once I figured it out a few years back I let it all go.

Let It Go

I will not be welcomed back into my community at any time because there are too many people who spend energy disliking me for poor choices I made five years ago when I was sick. I don’t use the illness as an excuse. I allowed myself to get there, but I also feel like I paid my dues and I’m done groveling. I’m sorry. I’ll always be sorry and I’ll always be vigilant to make sure nothing like my behavior ever happens again. But I have to move on. If you’re waiting for more groveling, you’re going to be waiting for a while.

I am a vastly different person today than I was prior to my arrest. Those who know me best can attest to that. Those who only knew me back then through Facebook postings couldn’t tell you anything about me, so they hang onto the anger and hate. I can explain for days I’m now a pornography addiction expert trying to do good with my situation. It won’t matter. They’ve frozen their opinion of me in time. I can’t unthaw it, so why try?

I paid my debt to society, or at least I’m in the last year of that process. I can get into the pathology of the people who yell the loudest about me not getting enough time, but it fascinates me far more than it bothers me. People don’t get as angry at gang members who knife somebody in the park. That person is expected to do that. I was never expected to commit my crime. I violated their trust.

I know there are plenty of people like that Amazon reviewer still out there and there probably always will be. It is what it is. I urge them, as I urge you, to let things go. Hate, resentments, grudges…they’re all a waste of time. Still hate the ex-husband or ex-wife? Let it go. Think Trump is the devil? Still want to prosecute Hillary Clinton? Let it go. Planning on being a bitch to the bitch who was a bitch to you in high school when you get to the reunion? Let it go.

When people get angry or indignant with me now, it just kind of goes through me. If they have a point, I’ll address it, but mostly it’s about needing to spew venom. That’s OK. I’ve got a permanent snake bite kit working 24/7 inside of me. That is one thing I will never let go of.

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