The thing about trauma is it never goes away. You push it down, plow through it, ignore it or just completely shut down from it, but you never get over it. Learning to live with it and having better tools to cope with it are the keys to managing it, instead of it managing you.
I have long lived with PTSD, very long before ever learning it even was that. Soldiers get PTSD, victims of violent crimes or horrendous accidents, but not “normal people”. But what exactly is normal, even? My Aunt Helen always says “Stace, if I didn’t know you so well, I’d think you were making stuff up. You’ve lived through so many awful things”. Which is true-but then doesn’t everyone? Enter Amelia and counseling and I’ve learned a lot about living with trauma.
As I start this post, I need to once again mention my ever friendly reminder: I am NOT a Clinician and anything I talk about here is derived from my own experiences. Please do not take my experience as a substitute for appropriate care; either physical or mental.
I recently went through a spate of appointments, tests and health crises. It hadn’t been a good couple of months. And while we talk about trauma and PTSD in therapy, Amelia is never actually here, with me, when it hits. We prepare for it, we try to talk about effective coping mechanisms, it’s root causes and the effects it has on me and my life. We do all we can feasibly do, knowing it will hit again; inevitably, when it does, it’s always crazy unsettling. As we tried to prepare for what we knew would be triggering events, Amelia and I discussed multiple coping strategies and the importance of rest and self care. But this go round, I did something I’ve never done before: I went with it. I think I was just too overwhelmed to do anything else. And the outcome of that was pretty unexpectedly helpful.
For a second, though, let me digress and explain some of what I have come to understand about PTSD…..
- First of all, trauma is stored in your most primitive brain. The same parts responsible for the “fight or flight” response or the “less conscious” thinking parts, like say breathing and swallowing. You know, all the super crazy important functions that keep us alive, but the ones we never really think of. That’s how deep it goes.
- Experiencing childhood trauma can later cause one to revert to that same age when the same or any additional trauma manifests. Which means, if you experienced your first trauma, at age 6, like I did, you would revert to utilizing the same tools, social skills, life skills and experiences you did at age 6. Sometimes without even realizing you’re doing so.
- Trauma is sticky. So they stick and stack on one another. Like a thick, disgusting bologna and cheese sandwich. So any time you experience another trauma, it attaches itself to the original trauma or traumas. How convenient is that for our sanity? (I’m oozing sarcasm here).
So with those explanations, I’m going to revert back to my hell week. I knew I was going to have a really difficult time getting through it and in it’s lead up, I was wracked with fear and anxiety. So when the full onslaught of PTSD came, I think I was already mentally exhausted. Heeding Amelia’s advice, I took a step back and decided to take good care of myself; rest, relax and do what I needed to do to get through. Basically, I started to watch alot of tv and practice alot of Reiki. However, none of that stopped it. It still came in all it’s glory, playing like a long drawn out horror movie. I sat as endless painful scenes played out in my mind. I was 6, I was 8, I was 9, I was 16, I was pregnant, I was a single Mom, I got sick, I lost my career, we went broke, people didn’t believe me……… But this time, for once, as all the traumas played out, I surrendered myself to them and I sat and allowed those movies to play.
And something miraculous happened. As I watched this all play out, I knew what was happening. I was finally well aware of how PTSD works. I finally understood that the flashbacks would come. I knew the flood of emotions that would arise. But mostly, as I sat and got through one episode and then another, I slowly began to realize exactly that: I was doing just that: I was getting through them.
And with that increased understanding, for the first time ever, I watched all of these episodes and flashbacks through a different set of eyes. A set of eyes that was finally watching these horrible events from an objective point of view. (Okay, so maybe I was also disassociating, but that’s an entirely different post altogether).
This “one step removed” approach, whether intentional or not, taught me some really, really incredible things:
- The situations really were horrendous.
- I wasn’t exaggerating how awful each experience was.
- There was no “oh that’s just Stacey” or “you know Stace”. NO, it wasn’t just anything.
- How I felt about and during each of these things is valid.
- The repeated onslaught of traumatic events would crumble even the strongest of us.
- These events were NOT my fault, nor were they a result of my choices.
- I didn’t create ALL of this drama to garner attention or sympathy.
- How very, very alone I often was when fighting these battles.
- AND…….I got through them. ALL.
As I type these out, my eyes begin to fill. Because the enlightened awareness and finally objective view have brought me to have more acceptance and forgiveness towards myself. I can finally see through the pain, fear, anxiety and sometimes hysteria to see it all at face value: I have lived through and endured multiple super traumatic events. Real events that I didn’t choose or cause. Horrendous situations or events that warrant being permanently scarred.
And with that, I feel like I can finally start to heal from them all.
PTSD doesn’t make us weak, nor does it make us weak for developing it. It’s a direct response to experiencing traumatic events. It really comes down to being as simple as that. And with this new found simplicity, I’m ready to start the long healing process from all these events. A process that will be long, messy and ongoing. I would never recommend the approach I took to get here. But I am glad I am finally here.
Be kind to yourself. Believe in yourself. <3 Stace