I was walking in a downtown area when I saw him. First, just out of the corner of my eye, when a sense of dread started bubbling up. And then I saw him face to face. I immediately recognized this man as the man of my worst nightmares. The man who was the sadistic leader of the group who attacked me and Daphne. Of course, it wasn’t the same man. The person I saw was in his 20s and the attack was decades ago. Still, he looked just like him on the day.
I am documenting this event here for a number of reasons.
First, because I find it strange that after years of therapy and hours and hours of being drilled about the details of that day, I have never been able to remember what these men looked like. The sound of their voices have stayed with me always, as do their mocking and hateful words. I can describe the clothing of some of them. But I have never been able to describe, more than very generic hair color and weight, what they looked like. All my memories were faceless. Until I saw this man. And then those memories came flooding back.
Second, because even with those most painful and terrifying memories rocketing through my head, I was able to stay in control in that moment. In what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only seconds, I was able to go from heart racing sweatiness to a logical assessment of what was happening and stay in the present.
This is a major accomplishment for me. It wasn’t all that long ago that something like this would have put me in a high anxiety state, rocking in a fetal position, for days. For years Lauren, my therapist, put me through hours of anxiety reducing exercises and I practiced and practiced and practiced until I could indeed have some control over outside triggers.
This incident was however, a new and important milestone for me in that I did not conscientiously go to my exercises for control. My mind/body seemed to just do it automatically. Stressful trigger - recognize and understand the trigger - just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. I consider this a huge success.
Unfortunately, this has not quite carried over to my sleeping self and I am having a little difficulty with nightmares. But even the effects of these are significantly reduced. There was a time when the rape nightmare would have me waking, drenched in sweat and crazed with terror and often punching and kicking the crap out of Martha. Seeing this man has unleashed the nightmare again but the impact is much less and when it wakes me, it only takes a moment to realize where I am and that I was dreaming.
So today I am feeling accomplished and more confident than I ever have. Even after having some therapeutic success with PTSD I am still always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know there are still a lot of memories about that day that my mind has mercifully hidden from me. But it is definitely a confidence builder to have a shoe drop and be able to slap it away.
Someday I will have the courage to go back through this blog and read the story of my progress in processing trauma and living with PTSD. I know how I used to be and how far I have come. I don’t know if there is a finish line, but I am feeling stronger and more secure in my ability to handle whatever comes at me.
And I am so very thankful for all those people who stayed with me through the hard times, those who taught me there could be not only a tolerable life, but a joyful life after trauma, and everyone who has supported me on this path of healing.