I haven’t been blogging very much recently.
One reason is that I’m incredibly busy working full time and single parenting full time.
Another reason is that I have both so much to say and so little coherent to say. I have all these ideas, memories, flashbacks, feelings and thoughts floating and swirling in my head, but haven’t been able to conceptualize a theme for a single blog post.
I started writing a post on Tuesday, which was the three year anniversary of my separation. The day I told him I was leaving.
I never do well with anniversaries. My PTSD gets worse, my flashbacks get worse, I think a lot about the past, my progress, where I have been and where I am going. I am particularly impacted by holidays and anniversaries. This is common for many people with PTSD because we don’t just remember things, we relive them. Thus certain anniversaries of traumatic events are literally unforgettable. I navigate my year around the anniversaries of various traumas, the deaths of my friends and family members, their birthdays, times when I was abused, anniversaries of meeting and leaving my abusers…it’s all stored in there.
The post I started was going to focus on how far I have come and the things that I have gained since leaving my ex-husband. I was feeling particularly discouraged and demoralized after experiencing re-traumatization and further abuse from CAS and indirectly from my ex-husband. I was beginning to feel like my entire life would be controlled and navigated by his abuse, until either he dies or I die.
But this week I feel a bit more hopeful. Having a plan of action, even an imperfect plan helps ground me. I wanted to write a bit about what I have gained through this three year, ongoing leaving process. But even those thoughts weren’t properly formed and they were marred by intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.
I wasn’t sure if I should just write down a disjointed list of some of the flashbacks I’ve been having. Because a disjointed post might accurately represent the way I’m experiencing life right now. On the other hand, I really wanted to write something infused with gratitude.
In the middle, the blog post will meet here: a description of a flashback and why PTSD is so damn challenging, which will flow into some ways in which I am now better able to cope.
I want to describe the utter banality of some flashback triggers, because it illustrates how very unpredictable PTSD can be. We all think of the obvious triggers, seeing the perpetrator, seeing people who look like the perpetrator, someone smells like the perpetrator, events remind you of the abuse etc. But triggers can be literally anything.
Last week I was driving downtown and I saw a man walking down the street. The man was unremarkable. He was wearing a hospital bracelet on one arm and was gingerly holding his other arm which was wrapped in a clean, white gauze bandage. He didn’t look unhappy or upset, he didn’t look like my abuser. It was clear he was walking home from receiving treatment at the emergency room. Nothing unusual, strange or threatening about it.
But I had an incredibly intense flashback which engaged all my senses.
I was back in time, I was leaving the hospital myself after receiving stitches for self harm. I could feel the numbness in my arm from the local freezing. I could smell the gauze and the tape they use at the hospital to secure the bandage. I could feel the pain in my arm from where the stitches went in, as the freezing wears off and the swelling and bruising begins. And I was overcome by an extremely intense urge to cut myself. So intense that I felt dizzy.
Realize that all this took place in a matter of a few seconds. The only trigger was seeing the man with the bandage and I had a complete physical and emotional reaction. Body memories, emotional feelings from the past and a motivation in the present to harm myself.
It’s quite incredible to me that this happened. But this is what PTSD is.
And now the gratitude.
Living away from my ex-husband has given me the strength and motivation to resist those urges to destroy myself.
4-5 years ago if I had that strong an impulse to cut, I would have acted on it. I would have used the flashback as an excuse…I had to do it….I would have given my power away to the urges.
Now, in recovery I can rationalize with the urges and I can ground myself and make an empowered choice not to harm myself severely.
I never could have made these shifts living in an abusive home. I didn’t realize how unsafe I felt 24/7 until I moved to my new home and suddenly relaxed.
I have so much gratitude for being able to sleep at night without being assaulted. I have gratitude for being able to make choices based on what is good for me.
I am so thankful for my ability to work. Essentially, leaving my ex-husband allowed me to go from being psychiatrically disabled, to working full time in a demanding, challenging job, within a little over a year.
I love being employed. I love having the privilege to help other women survivors. I love being able to enter spaces where before I never would have been taken seriously, and be seen as a colleague and sometimes even an expert. I occupy this mysterious space. I am a psychiatric survivor and a service user while at the same time being a mental health service provider. This is a gift and a privilege that I never forget. Every single day that I work I am grateful for the opportunity to turn my negative experiences into a powerful way of finding meaning in the suffering I endured. I find meaning in knowing that what I have survived has allowed me to help others with empathy, compassion, wisdom and joy.
Most people who know me now would have a hard time believing that 5 years ago I was unable to work, dependent, depressed, self destructive, suicidal and being abused.
Sometimes people who know me now forget. They see me functioning and they forget that I struggle and constantly grapple with PTSD. I function well with a very high level of symptoms and for that I am also grateful.
Ultimately, the last few months have been extremely difficult for me. I’ve felt lost, depressed and hopeless at times. But I have gained so much since leaving. I have gained not just a career, but job that brings meaning to my life. I have a safe home. I am able to keep my children safe much of the time. I am able to raise them with the values of social justice, equality and openness that I believe is right.
And even if this post is disjointed and unfocused, it is written, and for that I am thankful.