Thinking of myself as someone with PTSD only occurs when my therapist, Healer Lady, gives me that look and says, “You have PTSD.”
Generally the labels have been a bit of a challenge to accept. In the beginning of therapy, I would cringe when she nonchalantly said, “child abuse” or “adult child of an alcoholic” or “co-dependent.” Obviously I can write these phrases now, but I’m not talking them up at a dinner party.
There are other words she uses that I hate so much, typing them, right now, in this moment, feels like a giant feat. In fact, PTSD is at the top of the list. It’s only because I’m cornered that I use it. It’s a desperate grasp for sanity when the flashbacks happen. Sometimes the name “PTSD” reminds me that I’m more sane than not. Sometimes.
I think that I’ve always had flashbacks. While visiting a crappy therapist in my twenties, I told her I had “painful thoughts.” She didn’t seem interested. I didn’t push.
I’m uncertain of whether I continued to have them throughout my twenties and early thirties, but I can say with confidence that they intensified almost immediately after Nugget came into our lives. Blaming them on baby hormones was impossible, because I didn’t carry her. It was just crazy me with crazy thoughts.
Telling Sweetie seemed too risky. How do I tell her that I feel like this:
It was one thing for me to know that I was crazy, but I didn’t want to clue her in, especially as we were in the honeymoon phase of parenting. (I think we’re still in that phase.) I was lonely.
The more I talk, talk, talk in therapy, the more frequently the flashes come. When I’m reading books to Nugget. When we’re having family dinner. When we’re walking K9. There’s not a moment when I’m not vulnerable to them, but the worst is at night.
Imagine a movie with one clip after another of violent scenes. There’s no plot line. Just gratuitous, frightening violence. They are scenes from my childhood. Things done to me. Things done to my brother. Things that I witnessed. Things I fear. Things happening to Nugget. Things happening to Sweetie.
The only thread that connects each scene to the next is the loss of control I experience when I’m living them. Attached is shame and self loathing.
On occasion, I have a real doozies.
It’s usually when begin to doze off that the flashes usually start and the other night they did. For nearly three hours I fought with them. This time something strange happened. I had the urge to wake Nugget, so that I could hold her and cry. I wanted to rock her and ball, ball, ball.
I didn’t do it. I was grounded just enough to know that it would have been material for her own therapy, which I’m trying my damnedest to limit.
The despair is difficult to describe, really. The yearning I felt to be close to her, to her innocence mixed with the fear that I would some day ruin it by failing to see trouble on the horizon. It all seems so absolute in the moment.
Interspersed with these scenarios are my own trauma memories. The violence. I find myself not breathing. Sometimes I make involuntary weeping noises that I recognize only because Sweetie touches me gently, which pulls me back a bit.
How did I get through the night? The mantra “It’s a symptom of PTSD.” When an image would pop into my head, I would say to myself “It’s a symptom of PTSD.”
Healer Lady said this to me during a recent session when we were discussing flashbacks. The clarity in her statement was a gift. It was the moment I began to accept PTSD.
Three hours of flashes may sound like a lot, but I’ve been up all night in the past spinning around in bed like a Whirling Dervish, so this represents progress. Beautiful, sweet progress.