Last night, I experienced an epiphany. one that shook my very core. I covered my mouth and the tears streamed down my face. After decades of trying to find reasons and explanations, surrounding my years of self harm, self hate and self abuse. I suddenly discovered the most profound and yet the most simplistic answer. An answer that even over years of research and counselling had not occurred to me.As a sufferer of complex PTSD, although I knew I had it, and had some understanding of it.( I had only really read about PTSD, which refers more to a one time traumatic event) not 'complex' PTSD ( chronic or long-term exposure) And this, I had always only considered as 'damage' My brain was broken. But now I see it more as a natural process, a mechanic by which the brain processes and organises a traumatic event. My brain is not broken, it is doing exactly what it is meant to do. It is healing itself.
I consider that during our evolutionary path, we must have at times needed a process like this in order to survive. If a mother lost her child to a lion say. Her brain was going to need to take time to process that event and learn from it. It may well have been beneficial for her to relive the event in her mind. and go over every detail to establish where she went wrong, and to prevent it from happening again.
But that process being natural, does not make it any less torturous. Just like childbirth is a natural process that one must go through to have a child, it is still extremely painful.
During my recovery, there was a constant underlying feeling of distress, shame, guilt and self blame. I relived the events I had experienced over and over again in my mind. Simple everyday events would trigger overwhelming negative emotions. Memories would resurface out of the blue.
During a traumatic event, the brain tends to shut off. Possibly as a self defence mechanism, or simply because there is too much emotion and feeling for the brain to process at one time. But the brain will begin to process it later, once the trauma has stopped. If I go back to the analogy of a prehistoric mother loosing her child, it would only be once she had escaped to safety, would her brain start to process the event.
In my experience, the symptoms of complex PTSD come on slowly. They start with feelings of dread and self loathing. Then over time develop into flashbacks.
'But if the trauma never stops, the pain wont start'
A child who touches a hot stove. will learn that touching the stove equals pain. And that experience will be hard coded into their brain. Someone who has experienced abuse for a long time, may well develop a subconscious bias towards self abuse as a method of delaying the symptoms of PTSD. Because when the abuse stops, the real pain begins. And in the short term, the trauma may be easier to deal with than the emotional ramifications of the event itself.
For many years after my experiences, I would self harm. Take medicinal and recreational drugs, get intoxicated and be promiscuous. I never wanted a relationship or children. From the age of thirteen, I would regularly go to weekend (or during school holidays) many parties, where older people would drink alcohol and take drugs. I would also drink alcohol and take drugs. During these parties, I would have sex with older men, one I recall was twenty six. I 'Allowed it' I froze and 'I let them'. During weekdays, I would cut myself or 'Erase' away parts of my skin with my school rubber until it weeped. At the time I didn’t understand why I needed to do these things. You could say that I 'chose' that lifestyle. I guess that I did, but in reality, it was a part of my mind that was trying to prevent the onset of PTSD. I was in effect, either numbing myself with drugs and alcohol and also re-enacting my past sexual abuse to ward off the overwhelming pain of actually 'feeling' it.During my twenties I attempted suicide twice. I hated my life. I hated myself. I never realised that I had been abused, I just thought that I was mentally ill.
At the age of twenty seven, I unexpectedly and shockingly became pregnant. I gave up my lifestyle, I even stopped smoking. I had to be healthy in order to look after this child.
The following year, I gave birth to my daughter. I was absolutely terrified, I didn't want a baby. How could I have a baby when I was so messed up. I never realised that I had been abused, I just thought that I was mentally ill. I didn't know what love meant, so how the hell could I love a baby?After a few years and many horrendous flashbacks, I reached out for help. I would never of sought any help if I had not had a child, who was now being affected by my behaviour.
Because, reliving all that had happened to me would be the worst thing. Worse than all the abuse that had taken place.
I knew that I would have to experience all of that terror, pain and incredible hurt.
I would have to tell a stranger about all of those disgusting and bad things that I had done.
It was so much easier to suppress it. So much easier to lock all those files into the back of my mind. Where no-one could ever access them.
I knew there could not be anything more painful than reliving all that had happened to me. It would mean that for the first time in my life, I would actually 'feel' everything.
But, I had to do it. Not for me, but for my daughter.
And that was when my most torturous of journeys began.
Although, from time to time I still experience flashbacks, I am now able to manage my complex PTSD in a way that no longer has a profound impact on my life.
It has been a long, painful and difficult path, but it has been worth it.
The open wounds became scars that healed and although I still get the occasional twinge.
I can live with that.
I really can...
This is an excellent and really in-depth video on Complex PTSD.