This is absurd ! Ridiculous. I’m scared of my husband. He’s a sweet, gentle man, but sometimes when I see him, my body falls to the ground. I huddle in a ball on the floor protecting my neck.
Intellectually, I know — or at least part of my brain knows — he would never hurt me. But, my body doesn’t know that.
My body is stuck in a moment, over thirty years ago, when people I should have been able to trust, friends of my parents and Priests raped me as part of a paedophile ring. My parents organised the ring, my Mother beat me into submission from the age of four. She used to threaten to kill me if I did not acquiesce to the demands of the men then at the age of eighteen she threw me out onto the streets of Dublin.
Now, at times, my brain sees my husband as a threat — as a potential rapist. And I live with him. This means I live in fear.
Let me be very clear: my husband never raped me. But post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a strange thing. Because my husband is a man that I am in a relationship with — and someone I care about — someone I absolutely adore with all my heart, who has stood by through the past five years since my Complex PTSD surfaced and never wavered – my brain sees him as someone who might be potentially dangerous. He understands this and gently coaxes me to safety each time I have a flashback back from thirty years ago to being in the present with him and our four beautiful children. He sits in the Emergency Department with me with I self-harm and yet again I have to be stitched or have tried to commit suicide by overdosing and never once has blamed me. He blames the perpetrators. Those men of long ago and my parents and of course the disorder the Complex PTSD and the Dissociative Identity Disorder.
PTSD has created a disconnect between my brain and body that is maddening.
I want to get past my trauma. I really do. But Complex PTSD, which is as real as a towering brick wall, stands in my way. Here’s why I can’t just “get over” it:
1. My brain is injured.
When I broke my foot several years ago, no one thought that I would just “get over it.” I wore a pink cast and used crutches. I had a loud rolling knee scooter. Everyone knew I was struggling and offered to help out. PTSD is an invisible monster. No one can see it so they don’t know to help. But my brain is truly injured. Like my broken foot, my brain can heal, but it needs time.
2. My world is constantly ending.
My injured brain sees the world through “PTSD glasses.” As much as I want to, I can’t just take off the glasses, not until my brain heals. These glasses are constantly scanning for danger. All. The. Time. Again, no one can see it. To me, everyone and everything — every day, even in my dreams — is out to get me. What is most confusing is that, with the glasses on, I can’t tell fact from fiction. That, of course, adds fear on top of the fear.
3. I think I am a horrible person.
My injured brain tells myself negative messages this all day long. I know it’s the PTSD glasses talking. But it feels real. And it is so hard to move forward when you feel like you don’t deserve to take up space. I didn’t always feel this way. Because, when PTSD takes over, I don’t feel like someone who has a lived a life worth writing about. I feel like a monster.
4. I am enraged.
PTSD drives me to do things completely against my core values and beliefs. I worry that even my friends in my PTSD support group won’t understand my outbursts, as many don’t experience this type of anger at all. Worse yet, I am afraid that I will remind them of their abusers. In fits of rage, I become my biggest nightmare. Sometimes I think I’d rather be in a terrifying nightmare than constantly be living in a real one.
5. I am exhausted.
The PTSD glasses don’t even come off at night. Sleeping is quite a challenge when I’m always on alert towards impending danger. And, when sleep does happen, it is only to be interrupted by sweating and screaming. I wake up in a panic — exhausted from drowning (again), being chased by men, and being beaten by Mother or locked in that room she kept me in. This all makes me so, so tired.
6. I have flashbacks.
And then there are the flashbacks: how can I be re-living a part of my life that happened years ago — over and over again? Somehow my brain will not let it go. They are not memories. They are events that are really happening to me in the hear and now. A total re-experience of a rape or beating. You feel it in your body all over again and you can’t stop it happening. You totally dissociate from the present and are in the past all that time ago going through it all again. As if once wasn’t enough.
7. I am sad.
I have been hopeless before in my life, but this depth of hopelessness is new to even me. Sometimes, I cry like someone might cry after losing a child — a pain I have never even known.
8. I have no idea who I am right now.
The former me, who, knew how to navigate life, but that version of me seems all but gone. I am trying to pick up the pieces of myself and put them back together. With an injured brain and PTSD glasses, this is very difficult.
9. Sometimes I am not even in my body.
It is hard to explain what this is like. I can be yelling at my husband, but I’m not really there in the moment. It feels like I am watching myself do it. I am just above and to the right of my body, as if detached and floating. “Who is that person?” I question. I realise it is me, but I am so confused inside.
10. I am so ashamed.
Shame is heavy. It is hard to move even an inch sometimes when weighed down by shame. The reasons I feel shame stretch far and wide. I am ashamed of what PTSD drives me to say and do. I am also ashamed that I experienced this trauma. I feel guilty — like it was my fault — even though I have been told by plenty of people it wasn’t. Again, this is the PTSD glasses, the injured brain. I need time to heal.
Thankfully, I took the time that I needed to get better. With professional help and support from loved ones, I overcame all of the above. I overcame these horrible things that made me want to die — these horrible things that I thought might kill me.
I once thought being dead would be better than living with PTSD. But I refused to continue living like this — living a life ruled by fear. Thankfully, I made it.
My marriage was has been able to survive PTSD, though. My marriage has not been the casualty. I have not had to grieve that loss like I have seen so many PTSD suffers do. Their marriages just can’t survive the constant stress of flashbacks, re-experiencing, self-harm, suicidality (if it exists) and comorbid disorders.
Writing this1 today feels surreal. It took time (lots of it) but I was finally able to take the glasses off. I am now able to breathe. I sleep. I feel joy again. My brain healed and I found my body again. I found me. I now realise that the trauma wasn’t my fault. However, to heal, I needed to become accountable for my actions. My job was to take steps to break down that PTSD wall.