As I said in my last post, June is a great month in our home. Full of birthdays, Father’s Day, and of course the first day of summer. Bring on that beach weather, baby!
It’s also PTSD Awareness month. In 2010, the US Senate officially designated June 27 as National PTSD Awareness Day, and then in 2014, the Senate designated the whole month of June as PTSD Awareness Month.
PTSD is something that is near and dear to my heart. Someone very close to me has PTSD from the violence he witnessed while deployed in Afghanistan. He attempted suicide multiple times. I was able to support him through some of those tough times by attending a support group and sharing my own suicide attempt with him. I’m grateful to say that counseling and a therapy dog has helped him a great deal.
Many of you know that I had one hell of a time with a form of PTSD known as relational trauma. Also called betrayal trauma. This bad boy kicked my ass.
Was it because I was so blindsided by all that happened in my marriage as a result of my husband’s addiction? Or was it from living in a home where gas lighting had become the norm? Maybe it was from having lost a total sense of self. My theory: it was all of these things and if you’re someone living with this or any other trauma, you’re not alone.
What exactly is PTSD? It’s a mental health condition triggered by an event/series of events. The symptoms can include severe anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. I checked off all of those boxes. Especially hypervigilance.
I found it difficult to make it through a day without something setting off an hour of crying, feelings of rage, or wanting to hide under the covers. Not to mention the spying I did on my husband.
It led me to surround myself with people that encouraged me to do unhealthy things like shame my husband, create fake profiles in an effort to “trap” him instead of talk to him, and so many other things that were detrimental to my healing.
Trauma twisted my brain. It had my once rational mind stuck in a loop of irrational thoughts. I would look at myself in the mirror and say, “It’s okay, Elsie. He called to let you know he has to work late. He did what you asked him to do to help alleviate your fears.” Yet the trauma side of my mind screamed, “He’s not at work! He’s cheating on you!” Or, “He’s staying at work so he can look at porn! He’s nothing but a liar who can’t be trusted!”
It didn’t matter that what I saw made sense logically. My brain warped it into something else. Perhaps I could see with my own two eyes that he was playing solitaire on the computer. My brain insisted that behind that game were open screens of pornography waiting to be looked at the moment I wasn’t watching him like a hawk. My husband stood no chance no matter how well he was doing in his recovery because my trauma had cut so deep.
On the days when he was doing great; going to meetings, counseling, training online, and sharing his feelings with me, I still couldn’t get my brain to see it. I was locked in fear and I couldn’t give him the credit he deserved.
Why though? Why did the triggers still find a way to hit me out of nowhere? Because even though the nightmares had subsided, the screams caught in my throat in the middle of the night were gone, and I was no longer wishing I could spend my days laying in the bed watching television all day, those damn triggers still wormed their way into my thoughts. Even on the happiest of occasions, they were there. Reminding me what my husband had done.
For me, the answer was easy. I was doing absolutely nothing to heal myself. Zip. Zero. Nada. No treatment plan on the horizon for my symptoms of PTSD. Only focusing on him and what he was doing.
It was much easier for me to surround myself with like-minded people. People who said, “If he slips, he’s not even trying to recover!” and “Once a liar, always a liar!” and “He never respected or loved you anyway!” Surrounding myself with people who echoed my own doubts made it easier to justify my anger at him even when he was doing well.
That feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop seemed normal and then one day, as I was logging on to read people’s posts, my gut began to churn. My pulse began to race. My heart thudded in my chest. I felt anxious. Like a trigger was about to happen and it dawned on me. “Holy shit balls, Elsie, you’re triggering yourself.”
I began on my journey to healing. It wasn’t easy. I did so many things wrong. Many of you know that I was an all or nothing kinda gal. Being gentle with myself wasn’t on my radar back then so when I set out to heal, I went all in and tried to do everything. Every single thing all at once. I expected immediate results. It’s no surprise I didn’t get them.
What I did learn eventually though was:
1. I needed to surround myself with positive, healthy people.
2. I don’t heal well in isolation.
3. Counseling is the best gift I can give myself no matter how much it costs.
4. Support groups rocks! (Both 12-steps and non 12-steps)
5. How to communicate with my husband and others in a healthy way. (What? There’s something other than passive-aggressive and snarky?)
6. Boundaries! Boundary agreements!
7. Writing, journaling, and brainstorming are great ways to work through my emotions. (So is screaming into a pillow and writing letters that get shredded instead of sent).
8. Deep breathing and guided imagery doesn’t just work for migraines, it works for anxiety too.
9. Affirmation cards are a great reminder of how awesome I am!
10. Dancing and singing is fun no matter where you are! In the car, in your kitchen, in your living room! (Now I dance at my desk…yes, you can dance while seated at your desk, ask my office mates).
11. Prayer, mediation, and yoga are calming. While yoga is something I’ve had to put on the back burner because of my migraines - meditation and prayer are still a big part of day and I’m looking into stretching exercises now.
12. Finding what makes my heart smile and doing it. Going to the beach, playing in the dirt (inside and outside gardening), writing, volunteering, and of course spending time with my family and doggies.
13. It’s okay to be vulnerable and forgive. Let Go!
14. Take chances. I was scared but without risking everything, I’d have nothing.
15. I’m strong. I’m a rock star. I’m amazing. I’m worth only the best and because of that, I had to be gentle with myself and learn how to be patient with the process.
Do you know anyone with PTSD? What life lesson have you learned lately?