Do I sound bitter? Maybe I am and that is because when you experience an episode of PTSD after many years of not having to deal with the symptoms, it is a slap in the face on just how human and flawed even the strongest of survivors are - a little wake up call.
One positive in all of this is I knew what was happening to me as it was happening, unlike how I spent most of my life when the flashbacks would immobilize me with fear.
I knew I needed to just let the memories play out and I would be back to myself again. They needed an outlet as the triggers were too many and everywhere I turned. Knowing this kept me from having a full-fledged panic/anxiety attack. Something I haven't experienced in a very long time now.
Yesterday the PTSD punched me in the gut. I cannot even remember what the specific trigger was, but I am sure it had to deal with the controversy over the sexual assault allegations taking up space everywhere you turn. The other day I was at a local restaurant with my son, and even there one was unable to escape the coverage - it played out on the television above the bar, directly in my line of sight. So, yes, I am sure it has to deal with all of that - the controversy, that and also in about a week I will be facing one of my fears through a project called "Believe in Yourself" - I will write about that in another post.
I was getting ready to go out with my son and hit up some of the local resale shops in our area. As I was putting on my make-up I felt my breath catch and in my mind I saw the long hallway of the apartment I grew up at in Evanston, IL. Midway down that hallway on one side was a door that opened to a walk-in closet. A closet where my mother kept linens and cleaning supplies, plus whatever else she could pile in there. It was the very closet I would crawl down the hallway to and hide from our neighbor next door when he would appear at our back door by the kitchen. He always knew when I was home alone. Considering back in those days I was often home alone because I was an ill child, in and out of hospitals, he would show up quite a bit.
|The apartment building I grew up in at the time this happened. Upper left apt. on the top floor.|
I was nine years old at the time and he was the neighbor I first met through his dog, Kelly - a beautiful German Shepherd. He also had a Great Dane named Duke. He lived with a friend, another male, they were roommates. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Looking back I can now see how skilled of a groomer he was of his victims. Many children lived in our building and I know others met the same fate as I, some of them with deeper scars.
I don't need to go into the details of the abuse brought upon us children. Those details are not important - it is the aftermath of the crime that is and why I had that flashback.
When the PTSD hit in my mind's eye all of a sudden I saw that hallway - that kitchen. My body tensed up with fear. I relived that trek to the closet, closing the door behind me..sitting in the dark and waiting until I felt safe to exit my prison. That scene played out over and over. I knew what was happening while it did. My son came into my room, rushing me to get ready - I snapped at him to leave me alone and give me privacy.
The next thing I knew I was searching out the pictures I found on the internet a while back. They were of the very apartment I had once lived. It is now a condominium and the current owner had it up for sale -the listing had pictures. For some reason, I needed to see those pictures once again.
"Yup, there's that hallway- just like I remember. There's that closet handle, I can see it. And that kitchen, that old galley style kitchen in the Victorian era apartment building. I remember that built in - and yes, that pantry but I can't see the pantry. It was just off where the sink is. Across from that closet was my bedroom. I remember. I've always remembered this - and it is still all there. I loved that old building. I hate some of the memories I have." - Those were the thoughts playing over and over in my head as I examined the pictures.
"PTSD. This is PTSD. Yes, this all happened to me and I am okay now. I am fine. The memories are just memories." - I told myself.
As I talked my way through the flashback and memories my body relaxed and I was no longer frozen in place. I could breathe again.
The incidents with this pedophile happened nearly 40 years ago. This is what PTSD does to sexual assault survivors, even those of us who have been on the path of healing for decades. The difference today from say even 20 years ago is I know what is happening should a flashback occur. I can work through it without beating myself up and walk away a bit stronger knowing that I no longer carry their guilt-their shame. But, unfortunately, the memories will always be in me. And while that is unfortunate, I have come to terms that this has been part of my path. I know my life has been filled with many experiences, some of them truly amazing - those amazing ones, and the ones yet to come take up more space in my mind than the ones I would rather not remember. At one time in my life, when I was much younger and hurting so terribly from multiple assaults, I was unable to see the good in my life -now I can.
I finished getting ready and met my son out by the van. He was waiting for me. "I am sorry for snapping at you," I said. "For some reason I had a flashback to my childhood - PTSD, and I needed to work through it."
"That's okay Mom, I understand - you good now? "
"Yeah, I am - let's go find some sales!" I replied.
And that my friends, was the truth! I was good- I was fine. Too bad we couldn't find any good sales.