I have been wrestling with control.
For years I had heard that the key to conquering PTSD was control. Control of my emotions, control of the triggers, control of the symptoms, control of my life.
And I learned that control. I have controlled my emotions and memories by putting them all into little boxes in my head, and then sealed them up, tight. I have learned to control my life by forcing people and events into predictable scenarios, and by avoiding everything and anything that reminds me of the trauma - words, people, places, smells - I have kept myself on a very, very narrow path. Never step outside the lines. I have kept an iron grip on myself and my world in order to feel safe. When Martha and I were having significant relationship problems we went to see a counselor. Her main complaint was that I am a control freak. No surprise there.
Yet I was still suffering flashbacks and nightmares, and crying jags and depression. I knew this was the PTSD - things having to be predictable and in my narrow range of safety. If they were not, then my world became overwhelming, flashbacks became unbearable, I would lose my footing not function.
At some point I realized that things were backwards, an awareness that instead of controlling it, I was being controlled by this illness. I watch very little TV for fear of triggers. Movies are heavily vetted for potential upsetting content before I trust myself to go. Places I cannot go. Music I cannot listen to. Things I can not talk about. Things my friends dare not mention. The trauma was controlling me. Which was sadly ironic since I was determined never, ever to let myself be controlled again.
Last year I have began the work of giving up control. Exposure therapy – the opposite of my self-imposed avoidance approach to life. While avoidance has provided temporary relief, it doesn’t last and has forced me into a very confined existence. Facing the triggers and trauma should reduce the frequency and severity of the PTSD symptoms. Or so I’ve been told.
I have cleared a few of those hurdles yet still have the biggest to conquer. And I am now also trying to change those small ingrained habits. All those little daily avoidance techniques I hardly recognize I’m doing, but have become my normal.
Giving up control after so much time is proving more difficult and more frightening than I had imagined. Stepping outside my comfort and safety zone, inch by inch. Now, facing the details of my past, and how it has affected me, I am getting up each day and trying. And every time I lose a little control, I find a little more of myself.