People keep telling me to forget the past and move forward. So many people have said that to me lately. In all honesty it makes me feel a little angry.
These people have no idea about trauma and how it affects us. If they did, they certainly wouldn’t tell us to forget it and move on.
The absolute worst thing you can say to a victim and survivor of trauma is to forget it. That one sentence completely invalidates us. It invalidates what we have been through and the feelings that come with it.
Do these people really believe that we choose to be stuck in our trauma? That we choose a life of pain and sadness?
I wish I could forget my trauma and move on. Believe me! If it was that easy I would do so in an instant. But it isn’t. Trauma does not work that way.
One of the main reasons I cannot just forget my trauma is flashbacks. As a sufferer of PTSD, flashbacks are something that I experience frequently. Sometimes these flashbacks are short-lived and manageable. Just a glimmer of the trauma I experienced.
Other times these flashbacks are severe and so intense that I am back there. No longer in the here and now, but in-fact, in the past, experiencing the trauma once more.
And no, contrary to belief, flashbacks are not controllable. They can occur at any time. Day or night, at home or at work, when alone or when in public. There is no rhyme or reason when it comes to flashbacks.
They are not made up as many people seem to think. They are a hard thing to describe to someone who has never experienced a flashback.
Flashbacks make me lose all control. Triggered, I am in a vicious cycle, unable to escape. I feel hopeless, wondering if I will ever escape my past of Childhood Sexual Abuse at the hands of my stepfather.
I used to believe that flashbacks meant that I am never going to be able to recover from the trauma of my childhood. However, I am beginning to understand that they are in-fact my brain trying to process what happened to me.
Back then, in my childhood, when he was doing those things to me, I shut it out. I would lay there in a state of submissiveness, freezing out my emotions, freezing out the pain. It was the only way I could survive. I was a child. My small body and undeveloped brain unable to process what he was doing to me.
Now, finally, my mind is trying to process and overcome what he did to me and unfortunately that means that more flashbacks will happen.
Flashbacks are most likely to occur during my therapy sessions as this is the safe place where I am attempting to talk about, and recover from, the abuse.
One moment I am fine, I begin to tell my therapist about something he did to me. Then in an instant and with no warning, I am back there.
My rational brain is stuck, unable to see that I am in fact safe with my therapist. My emotional part of the brain takes over. It begins to fight for survival.
My heart begins to pound, sinking into my stomach as I begin to lose touch with reality, believing that my trauma is once again happening here and now.
My eyes glaze over and my breathing becomes heavy. Sometimes I forget to breathe and find myself only doing so when I can just about hear my therapists voice reminding me to take a breath.
My voice turns to a whisper. I am so afraid of drawing attention to myself. Sat on the floor, I draw my knees tighter to my chest. I must protect myself. I must protect my body. I can hear my therapists voice but it doesn’t register properly. The here and now blends into the there and then. Suddenly my therapist is with me in that dark place. I want her here but at the same time I don’t want her to be here. It is unsafe for her. She may get hurt. I whisper and tell her to leave but she won’t. Instead she stays with me, telling me I am safe, telling me she can look after me.
Time and space suddenly slow down. Everything is in slow motion. I am unable to tell the difference between then and now.
I am entirely out of control. My muscles tense as I prepare for fight or flight. My body ready to defend itself. I try to speak but terror overpowers me and no words come out.
My eyes begin to dart around the room, trying to find the danger, scanning for the threat, scanning for my abuser. I see my therapist but we are not in the safe room. She is with me in his bedroom. She will get hurt. I panic. I need to keep her safe. “Leave” I whisper, but she stays, trying to bring me back to the here and now.
Frozen, I am dissociative, watching myself from above. Nothing feels real. My heart rate slows, I feel faint, want to collapse, submissiveness always keeps me safe. I don’t want to be in the past.
My therapist fights hard to bring me back. Soothing, showing compassion, she brings me back to my body. But I am still afraid, part of me still in that dark, scary place. I don’t want to be in his bedroom. I want to leave now.
Slowly she talks to me. She grounds me, bringing me back to the safety of her room. I am disconnected, tired. I have no energy to speak. My eyes suddenly fill with tears. Shame and embarrassment creep in as I know I must look stupid to people on the outside. The only thing that stops me freaking out completely, is knowing that my therapist understands. She doesn’t judge me. She doesn’t think I am stupid. She knows how hard this is for me. She helps me gather my thoughts and feel safe again.
Flashbacks are not attention seeking and they are not controllable. They are terrifying and traumatizing. They are our minds trying to process something so horrendous that they know no other way. They are victims having to relive every moment all over again except this time they are more aware, feeling every emotion, every hurt as if in the here and now. Flashbacks are new memories and fresh pain. They are new tears and old all mixed into one.
Flashbacks are the lightning flashes of our past shining in our minds. They are the thunder of emotion built up from all the pain that finally needs to be felt. They are the storm trying to break so that we can finally be free from our pasts.
Flashbacks are horrible and scary, but they are a sign that our minds are desperately trying to heal.
So next time you think of telling a survivor of trauma to just forget and move on, remember the pain we are having to live through.
Remember how hard it was for us to survive the first time and how hard we are having to work to survive the trauma all over again.
You may not see it but we are fighting. We fight for survival every damn day.
And we are fighting one mighty big storm along the way!
Thanks for reading
** Image courtesy of Google Images **