Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Answering questions - PTSD and therapy

I think it might be very helpful to some of your readers if you could talk about PTSD has impacted you, what therapies you have tried over the years, what you found to be successful and what challenges you still live with.

My journey has been so long, with so many stops and starts and twists and turns it is difficult to describe it neatly.  But this is the basic history as best I can remember and write it.

I don’t have much memory of  the first couple of years after the rapes.   I remember being terribly frightened of everything and everybody.  I became quite reclusive only going out to take care of a sick friend and to work,  where I locked myself in my office every day.  At that point I didn’t question my behavior.   I was in a very dark place which seemed like a reasonable response to circumstances.

When I was finally able to move away from that city, I met my therapist, Lauren.   She convinced me that she could help me be whole again.   At that time my PTSD was at its worst, although I didn’t yet know what it was.   I was still so hypervigilant, I was a borderline recluse.  Triggers, both obvious and unknown, would have me jumping out of my skin and then literally leave me rocking myself in a fetal position for days.   I believe Lauren’s main approach was cognitive behavioral therapy where we tried to separate my rational fear from my irrational fear, and to relearn that not everyone was out to hurt me.  Those first steps got me to a point where I could interact fairly well with people again.    Even though I did not understand how the change happened, I do remember thinking that is was like a miracle, it changed my life that dramatically.

Another problem I had was nightmares and flashbacks.  My nightmares were always anxiety based - always me trying to get away from men trying stalking me.  I would either become paralyzed in fear or I would be frantically trying to  run away.   I learned to live on very little rest since I was always afraid to fall asleep and have those nightmares.    I do remember doing a lot of therapy work around those dreams.   There was one particular recurrent nightmare where I was trapped on an island, being chased, but I could never find a safe place to hide.  It always ended with me waking, screaming, drenched in sweat and then triggering to the very real flashbacks.   My therapist gave me a simple suggestion that the island have a bridge and the nightmare went away.   I’m sure there was more to this “suggestion”  but that is all I remember.  

The other huge problem I had was having an intimate relationship with Martha.  Even after we got past the obvious issues, if she touched me in a “wrong” place, especially if we were sleeping, I would react by hysterically trying to beat the crap out of her.  (yes, it amazes me that we are still together)     It was around this time when Lauren diagnosed me with PTSD and that alone was a huge step toward healing.   Up until this point I knew I was reacting to life in bizarre ways, often to triggers I did not even know were triggers.   I now began to actually understand what was happening to me and why.  It was a huge relief.

After that, Martha and I started a family and my life became much more focused on my children.    I went in and out of therapy, usually to address a specific problem I was having.  I had learned to avoid what triggers I was aware of and had generally convinced myself that I was now okay.  See?   I have a successful home, family, friends, and profession.   I assured myself that I had totally healed.      

But I hadn’t.  All I had learned was avoidance.  I was a master of avoidance and denial.  But inevitably those triggers kept finding me and eventually I said “enough.”  

I then returned to hard core immersion therapy.   Two brutal years of examining every detail of the assault, over and over, until it lost it’s power to destroy me.   I have to say that while I was doing that therapy I did not see it’s value.  At all.  Raking through the ashes brought back the flashbacks and nightmares.  My anxiety increased tenfold.  And it took its toll on some of my relationships.   But I trusted my therapist and more than anything, I wanted to feel whole again.

Toward the end of therapy we also tried hypnosis.  My therapist explained that there was so much I could not talk about because I literally did not have the words.  Something about the way trauma changes your brain.  Anyway, we did hypnosis a couple of times - something I found incredibly relaxing and think would have gotten me over that last hump.  But as most of you know, my therapist died unexpectedly and that was the end of that.

It took awhile for me to experience the benefit of all that therapy.   It didn’t happen overnight but seems to have finally filtered through, slowly.    Today I am feeling better than I can remember feeling in a long, long time.   I truly feel that I am now in control.  Not trying to control everything - just able to handle whatever comes up calmly and rationally.  

I still have memory issues (I have a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between short and long memory.)   I am still hyper-vigilant, although I think at a much more appropriate level, and I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing.   I still experience odd anxiety, but I can deal with it much more efficiently.   The nightmares and flashbacks are rare.  They do still occur but I can quickly put them in their proper place.   I can see all the violence in my head but I no longer feel that the assault is happening again in real time.   And boundaries.   I apparently still have issues with boundaries.   It is what I’m dealing with now in therapy.   I still need people to respect my boundaries.

I had been very skeptical of the immersion therapy and very afraid to go through it.  And although I can’t say that it wasn’t horrific to relive it all, over and over, it seems to have worked.   Actually I don’t understand most of therapy, but today I think I could be it’s poster child.

I now believe that PTSD can be successfully managed.   I used to think of it as this huge, dark monolith inside me that forever cast a shadow over me, and I could not escape it.   Now I tend to think of it as a little jack-in-the-box.   I don’t always know when it is going to go off, or why.  And it startles me when it does.  But if my trip to the emergency room last week was any indication, I can now just step over it, say “leave me the f*ck alone”,  and continue with my life.   


I think I have now answered all the questions.  If I didn't answer yours, please refresh my memory.   And now I am off to enjoy the holiday weekend with (too many) friends and family coming up to the lake.   I shouldn't complain.  I love them all.  I just pray that the septic tank will cooperate.

I hope everyone has a happy, and safe, 4th of July.


  1. I have known you for this whole journey and words cannot describe the pride I feel when I see what you have done. Only you know how truly difficult it has been but, wow, did it really pay off.

    "I still need people to respect my boundaries."

    Everyone needs to have their boundaries respected. You should not feel guilty just because some asshat feels they're above respect. (Just my humble opinion)

    1. Thanks pal. I am allowing myself to feel alittle pride too.

  2. You are, indeed, a poster child for the healing power of therapy.

    I agree with Ren about respecting boundaries. Don't think that your need for boundary respect is a cause and effect result of being assaulted. We all need to have our boundaries respected and we all should feel comfortable in defining them. Whether or not we are survivors of trauma, we all have boundaries and if someone won't recognize that and keeps overriding them, well, they don't have your best interest in mind. Reduce contact with that person to a point where they don't impact you in such a negative way.

    I also love the fact that Lauren gave you the simple imagery of a bridge off the island. So simple! So effective! So brilliant! What a wonderful difference she made in your life.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Have fun with the gang... I'll hold the good thought for the septic system!

    1. Boundaries. Yes. I have been doing some work around that subject and will probably post about it. Thank you for this support.

      On Lauren - I'm pretty sure I would be sitting in a corner somewhere, sucking my thumb, if it weren't for her. What an angel she was in my life.

      Great weekend. And no septic problems. Life is good!

  3. Thank you for sharing your success story. It reminds me of celebrities who all of a sudden make it big, or so it seems, when the reality is that they worked their butts off for years.

    More than anything 8thday, you have given me hope. It may be a long, winding road, but it can be done.

    Have fun at the lake.

    1. It absolutely can be done Kim. Lots and lots of baby steps. Each one brings you closer, even though you might not recognize it. Just keep focusing on where you want to be.

  4. Thank you for sharing. Once again I am awed by human spirit and resilience. Trust a good time is being (was had) by all.

  5. Thank you for stopping by and for your very kind words.