Trigger warning: this post contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.
I am writing this post at the suggestion of my therapist because I have had a lot of success with writing helping me to drain the residual effects of flashbacks. This is my therapy. Do not feel you need to read or comment.
It has been a long time since I have experienced a strong trigger or flashback. The last one was when I took my daughter to the emergency room. Fortunately, I was able to catch it before it overcame me. I thought that was a sign that I had really tackled PTSD. For good. And yet, in typical PTSD fashion, I always wondered when the next shoe would drop. Then it happened
I do not remember everything about the sexual and violent assault on Daphne and myself. Years of immersion therapy helped remember a lot, and most importantly, to put those memories in their proper place (in the past) and to understand why some things were triggers for me. One such memory was the one that was the most devastating to my psyche. The one that pushed me into such panicked fear and flipped some internal switch that it took me decades to recover from it.
During the attack I struggled for a long time. I kicked. I screamed. I fought back savagely against impossible odds. Until a man took off his shirt and stuffed it in my mouth to keep me from screaming. And then someone kicked me in the left jaw. My next memory was gagging on blood and teeth. It was at that moment - that moment when I thought I would drown in my own blood, gagging furiously on my own teeth, unable to move - that something very visceral changed. My next memory is that of being very passive - surrendering to whatever else was going to happen. And beginning to pray. Something changed in me forever and these memories went to a deep, dark, unreachable place.
Thanks to all my therapy I was able to uncover these memories and learn why the taste of blood gave me flashbacks. Why the smell of a laundromat made me crumple. Why, if I saw a certain blue plaid shirt on someone, I had an anxiety attack. Understanding where all these mystery reactions were coming from was a huge step in my recovery. But understanding them does not necessarily mean they don’t impact me in still strange ways.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the dentist for a crown preparation. As the dentist worked, I began to taste the blood. I was still in control and knew exactly why I was getting anxious and began my anxiety reducing tricks. But apparently he was having trouble stemming the blood and stuck a huge piece of gauze in my mouth, the end of which hit the back of my throat and started to make me gag. Animal panic set in and I jumped out of the chair and ran into the bathroom.
There, in there teeny, tiny bathroom, I sat on the toilet rocking myself as flashbacks formed a conga line through my brain. I remember the sweat just pouring off me and my heart pounding through my chest. I remember someone coming to ask if I was all right and mumbling something back. I am not sure how long I was there but at some point I looked up and saw myself in the mirror over the sink. I looked like shit and still had my little dental bib on. And that was enough to shock me back to the present. Crap. A huge feeling of defeat came over me.
This story does have a good ending though. The impact of this episode did not incapacitate me for long. I asked if the dentist could take his next patient and I took a nice long walk. When I returned I was able to have him finish the work. I was jittery and tense for a few days after but able to go about my normal routine. I concentrated hard on remembering those associations were in the past and went through all the lessons that Lauren had taught me. (God, I do miss her.)
But I am bummed that after all this time relatively symptom free, PTSD apparently still has a hold over me. After a couple more therapy sessions, I was able to see this for what it was. Intellectually I get it. Emotionally, I am still a bit shaken, once again wondering when another shoe will drop. Will I ever be free of this? I don’t know. On some days the fact that I got past it quickly feels like a victory. On other days the fact that I am still dealing with this feels like a defeat.
Today I feel good. It feels good to be able to write this. It feels good to know that I am no longer living in a rabbit hole and when I do fall in, I am able to climb back out. And I suppose that does build confidence for whenever the next shoe drops.