I slept 9 hours last night at my friend’s quiet apartment near the mountains. I woke to a flash back, let my body move the feelings of raw and present fear, went out to the alley for a smoke under first light, made a cup of peppermint tea to soothe the tension in my belly, then spent an hour wrapped in a blanket watching an episode of Stranger Things to distract me for a while.
Now I’m sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, listening to the playlist my oldest kiddo made about ending a codependent relationship. I listened to it while walking around Edinburgh so part of me feels the dampness of that air and the wonder I felt when my feet traveled cobbled streets and my eyes were drawn over and over again to the centuries old buildings that were the first ‘skyscrapers’ in the European world. It felt easier to listen to songs about loss and moving towards independence when I was an ocean away from my ending marriage and the long list of tasks to be completed in order to fully transition to a new life. Sitting here now, only taking a brief vacation from what’s still home, the mournful chords and lyrics like: “Try your best to slowly withdraw. Your body is a blade that moves while your brain is writhing, knuckled under pain, you mourn but your blood is flowing”, I feel the sadness and know there can only be brief distractions from it. I have to hold it and gently, in small increments, mourn what has died so I can embrace what is growing from the ashes.
I meant to get away sooner, knew I had to administer serious self-care to my overworked and neglected Self, but I also had to honor the trigger that came up last week and find a new home. I found a place but it took all of my focus, energy and communication skills to secure it. It was one of those weeks where months of growth are achieved. I felt a bit uncertain about the choice to put off caring for myself but my therapist reflected that getting a place will insure long-term feelings of safety and provide a space in which I can access the tools of care all the time.
Now that I’m finally getting the space I need, I can feel my increased ability to gently apply what I think of as first aid for C-PSTD. First there’s rest; I know now that I can’t even attend to the triggers, feelings and distorted thinking until I’ve slept. Then I have to treat any severe symptoms, like flashbacks or dissociation. Next is often rest again. I’ve accomplished those today and now I’m beginning the work of getting my cognitive brain online so I can look back over the week, identify the distorted thoughts and begin to challenge them.
I’m fortunate to have a very skillful therapist. She was able to take me from the space I was in when I arrived (angry about how hard it is to live in my body and have so many feelings) to understanding how events throughout the week brought up feelings tied to my early childhood trauma. Now that my mind is clear, I can see how last week’s trigger of feeling trapped contributed to the challenges that arose this week.
It gets old but EVERYTHING goes back to trauma. From a hazy place in my brain, I can hear the litany my therapist repeats:
You were not safe as a child. You were physically abused. You were sexually violated. You lived in a state of uncertainty all the time. Your father was an alcoholic and unpredictable. The physical abuse and sexual assault you experienced as a young adult served to reinforce the feelings of unsafety and your distorted beliefs about yourself, others and the world.
I want to say, “I know all of this”, and I do because I walk around in a body that knows it and a mind that understands it, but I’ve also spent a lot of energy avoiding the feelings and thoughts that make up this truth. I know it but I haven’t fully accepted it.
The lack of full acceptance of my trauma history and all that goes with that, makes it more difficult to identify and accept the distorted beliefs that arise out of everyday situations. This last week, I felt incredibly helpless and frustrated because I found a house but the homeowner was hesitant to rent to me because of my voucher and her biases about people on government assistance. As someone with little income and a disability, I have very little control over my housing situation. Besides the homeowner, I’m also at the mercy of HUD because they set the maximum amount they’ll cover and have to approve the place for safety. Having a home for myself and children is only second to basic needs like sleep and food, and someone else having control over whether that need is met, triggers the trauma of having no control over my safety for the first 23 years of my life.