Trigger warning: PTSD / Rape / Abuse / Domestic Abuse / Child Abuse
for #MentalHealthAwarenessDay2019 I encourage those who find themselves blasted with memories from the past, ones where you were hurt or scared, to talk to someone about those memories. Sometimes those of us with PTSD don't recognize it because of horrible situations we lived through day to day, were normal for us. Or because we think PTSD is war only related.
Ignoring it because "it can't be" doesn't erase that it could be and giving it a name actually does help you figure it out.
I say this gently because it's really difficult with PTSD because it can mimic other illnesses. What we think is depression, anxiety, and bipolar has actually, in SOME cases, turned out to be PTSD. I say this because this has happened to my mom. She's never been diagnosed, but my dad did unspeakable things to her and forced me to watch. I've been diagnosed with it.
PTSD is like a hyper warning system. People with it develop a couple of things: disassociation and hyper vigilance.
DA is basically an out of body experience within your own mind. you build up these walls for protection against a very real threat or danger in your life. Unfortunately, you are still present and those memories are 100% of the time what come back to haunt you.
HV is when your mind is on ALL the time. It's like a spring loaded trap waiting to see a pattern. HV is even active at night, causing Night Terrors or Sleep Paralysis (Night Terrors are images you respond to while partially asleep, and you CAN and WILL run, or scream, or even punch at it. Sleep Paralysis is seeing something and not being able to move your body. The things people report seeing are demons, etc.) And this is why PTSD is so hard to see because it can even be small patterns, but if you see something that even REMOTELY reminds you of the traumatic event, that event is now attached to the original trauma memory.
Most of you know some stuff, but I’m going to invite you to sit down as I walk you through some of my journey.
I didn’t think it could be fixed. How do you fix memories? You don’t. They happened, they’re there and there’s no erasing them.
As a visual person, my memory records things visually. I’m dyslexic and that means I’m a visual thinker/learner. If I don’t see it, it’s hard for me to comprehend. I’m hands on and visual, just how it’s always been, but this means I have a bit of a photographic memory.
My first memory (confirmed by my mom) is me looking up through my bassinet and I could see the white frills around the edge. The image is like a polaroid, but like one of the magical pictures you see sometimes, parts of it move giving it a 3D effect.
My dad, his dark curly hair escaping his ball cap. A cigarette hangs from his mouth, eyes squinting and the other side of his mouth is partially open. He’s not holding the cigarette in his hands because it’s in his mouth, but because one fist is clenched and the other is pointing right at my mom. But her figure is a dark blur. All I can see is him, the kitchenette behind him from the motel they lived in. Dark and dingy orange light smothered in smoke.
But as I grew up, more and more events like this one occured, but in real time for me. I slowly began to understand what these instances met, and it was terrifying. My dad used to beat my mom in front of me to teach me lessons.
One night they took 3 year old me to a party. Dad thought mom was playing footsie under the table with some guy. He angrily tells her we’re going home.
I get plopped in the back seat, mom sits in the passenger seat, and my drunk dad gets in the driver seat. As soon as the doors closed he back-handed her. He beat her all the way home and when we got home he sat me on the couch and beat her some more.
As bad as that all was, the one memory from that time, that shaped me like no other, was him forcing me to watch the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When I was 3.
I was 3, sitting beside a man I watched be violent for pretty much every day i’d existed in this world, and right before the killing started, the chainsaw murderer at the door, my dad looked at me and said:
“This is what happens to little girls that don’t behave.”
Fast forward 30 years. I’ve been in therapy for 5 years before realizing PTSD needed more to it and EMDR could help. At first I thought it was some of the spiritual woo woo some people try to pass off as “helping”, but after talking to a really good friend about it, and how it changed their life, I decided to try.
Long story short, it worked for me. There’s different methods, but where I thought there was never going to be help before, I realized, in this, there was.
So, one session we decide to try and process some memories. I started with the one with my dad and the movie. But, as i’m working through it, I then start processing a memory where my grandma had a chainsaw and i didn’t know it, and he started it up. I was 6 and I was so scared because i’d been fucking with the bird nests grandma told me to leave alone, and then BOOM. I hid in the closet for almost 3 days (according to family legend). This memory then went into the one about my grandpa dying. How I thought that he’d be fine so I didn’t go and say goodbye (my mom survived her stay in the hospital from 4 different types of cancer, there’s no way HE’D be worse off than that! Is what my 10 year old self said) and my grandpa died while I was deathly ill, and they told me while I was fevered. I’d blamed myself, my whole life, for not going to visit him. My fevered, 10 year old mind said “you visited your mom and she lived. You didn’t visit him and he died.” Which then lead me to a recent event with my aunt. My alcoholic aunt who threw a shoe at my head for riding my bike in circles. My alcoholic aunt who got black out drunk while she was watching me and a guy took us home from that party and raped her. I was 7 and in the same bed. I was frozen in horror and i knew what my dad would have done if I screamed or tried to save her. So I froze. I blamed myself for that too.
But later on in life, recently actually, she wasn’t doing well but I couldn’t bring myself to face her, or the things she’d done to me. I ignored her FB request and that weekend my mom called and told me she’d died. She’d died in the worst way imaginable, and as my mom described it, my visual mind filled in the blanks. I wasn’t even there. I’ve never seen anything like it other than TV, but that was enough for my mind to take that scene, add her face and suddenly I was there.
The day I found out she died, I had a mental meltdown. The next day I spent 3 days in “bliss” because my mind completely disconnected. My brain forcefully convinced my consciousness that my WHOLE family was “gone” and i’d never have to speak to any of them ever again.
And that made me a kind of happy I feel ashamed of, but I sincerely felt free.
Then monday, I checked FB and my other aunt had made a passive aggressive post aimed at me, and it crashed down around my ears. Everything flooded back in and I was reminded, no matter where I run, I can’t escape. I had to face it. I had to face these memories and why I thought I deserved everything as punishment. And you know what I discovered? It was because I wasn't a boy (has been confirmed). I was my dad's first child, and I wasn't his Jr. He disowned me right out the gate cause I was born with blue eyes (like majority of kids are, eventually they changed to brown). He swore mom cheated on him with his dad. After she managed to escape him, at one point when I was 6 he wanted visitation that weekend. I remember thinking "Now's my chance to show him i'm lovable and not trash!" But that weekend my dad did what no dad should do. He did it not to hurt me, but to hurt my mom. It left me with Night Terrors for the rest of my life. Imagine screaming every night and then waking up to your family making jokes about it. Even convincing you that you're literally seeing ghosts. There's no way a man could be leaning over my bed! HAS TO BE A GHOST! yeah, the ghost of a memory of my dad hurting me.
NGL, there's a part of a person who wants their parents to be proud of them, cause, they brought me in to this world right? But the fact my dad tried so hard to kill us, and then the PTSD my mom had that went undiagnosed for so long and now she's afraid of going to get help cause she's scared she'll be abandoned there.
But this event and others lead me to EMDR and this has helped me build up a healthy support group that validates me, and teaches me how to communicate and validate others. I’m not just learning how to work with myself, i’m learning how to communicate and consider others, and it’s one of the most valuable tools I’ve learned in this lifetime, hands down.
If you have any questions, you’re welcome to ask, but if you come in here saying “you should do this” or “you should do that”, ask me first. I probably already have done/tried it and it didn’t work. While I appreciate people being helpful, if all you’re doing is telling me what to do instead of talking to me and finding out what all i’ve done, then you’re not actually interested in helping, you’re just wanting to speak to make yourself feel better about being helpful.