Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Losing Control

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.


  1. Stepping outside - I'm with you every inch.

  2. "And every time I lose a little control, I find a little more of myself."

    This is the heart of it. Getting yourself back. Letting yourself out of the prison of the trauma. I'm so happy that you see it. Control is an illusion anyway, right? I mean, it wasn't working for you. It wasn't preventing the PTSD or the flashbacks; it wasn't preventing your suffering.

    I know this journey has been harrowing, and continues to be. Was it Winston Churchill who said, "When you are going through hell, keep going!"? It's really the only way - through, not back.

    I'm not there with you physically, but I'm with you in spirit.

  3. This is a beautifully heart wrenching post.

    So many of us are walking with you in spirit.

  4. Baby steps. Every journey begins with the first step. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You'll get there. I have no doubt.

  5. Very Cool.

    And now I know we have the little boxes in common. I am a dragon control freak--not the ocd kind...

    but the candidacy committee told me they have a problem with me keeping everything in neat little boxes with bows one them. Need to unpack they said. Oh. I didn't know that was a problem. They have NO idea.

  6. Yes, wow, I hear so much of myself in this. The control freak, vetting things for content, being very cautious about where I go, what I expose myself to, etc etc etc and it's getting OLD. I don't know, I don't know if I'm ready for dealing with it the way you are, exposure therapy. I do feel like something has to give. I've been trying to figure out how to write about this and am stumbling. This post has me in tears, hoping there's a way I can find myself out of control too. Thank you for the hope. xo