For the longest time, I thought I was crazy. And yeah, I definitely am. But who wants to be normal anyway?
It’s just, back then, during my active addiction days, I kept doing the same thing over and over again, which as you know is the definition of insanity. I was expecting different results.
And I was totally out of control. I was lonely and sad and I was all of those things because that’s who I thought I was. I thought that’s all I’ll ever be.
I mean, I did some pretty bad things. And I kept doing those bad things as a way to escape from the bad things I kept doing. And because of those bad things, I found myself in some ugly situations I wouldn’t otherwise have been in.
Because I was addicted to pills. I was kidnapped, raped and sexually taunted. Assaulted. Harassed. You name it, it happened. And since I let all those bad things happen, I thought —how could it not be my fault? Because I felt unworthy even before I did those bad things. So with those bad things under my belt, I felt even worse; as if I was as awful as the bad things I was doing. And I know it sounds crazy but, it seemed that all the awful things I told myself about myself were, in fact, true.
Today, I know that’s not the case. All of that were lies my mental illnesses kept telling me. But I didn’t understand that for a very long time. As a result, I kept getting high as a way to escape. Unfortunately, even today as a recovering addict, I can’t erase the bad shit I did. Because it doesn’t just go away —it never will. That was me. It always will be. It’s like yeah, I’m a different me, but I still get triggered. And when I’m triggered, it feels like it’s happening all over again.
I feel unsafe. I feel sick. And everything hurts. I’m sweating and I have to sit down.
Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things. Because even though I’m recovered, I have these moments of total panic and disarray. And I can’t numb the pain away. I couldn’t even do that back then. No matter how many pills I snorted. No matter how many shots of heroin I did, this shit was never going away. So yeah, it’s pretty clear that I hate being trigged but it does, in fact, creep up.
All of this got me thinking —if it happens to me, chances are, it happens to you too. The thing is, if you’re aware of certain things like why you do the things you do —well, that can help you overcome them too. And we’re all different. Each person will experience different symptoms at different times. Making it of extreme importance to know all of them. Here are four.
1. Do you find yourself reliving the event? Does it play on a loop in your head over and over again?
This is called re-experiencing and, it sucks. I find myself stuck. I’m stuck in my head. Stuck in the past —just stuck. And it won’t stop. The worst part is, I don’t know when it’ll happen. But it happens more than I’d like to admit. During an episode, it’s the same thing every time. A few seconds in —the intrusive thoughts grow louder. And yeah, I know I’m safe. I’m not there anymore. It’s just, all of it still happened. I can’t erase that. I never could.
By definition, triggering occurs when any certain something (a “trigger”) causes a negative emotional response. The emotional response can be fear, sadness, panic, flashbacks, and pain —as well as physical symptoms associated with these emotions such as shaking, loss of appetite, fainting, fatigue, and so on. It’s a strange feeling when this takes place (actually, the whole thing is strange).
Like when I hear someone say a certain phrase or I hear a certain song —all of a sudden, I’m back there. I’m re-experiencing the event(s). I have nightmares and traumatic flashbacks. Insomnia too. And for some reason, I feel guilty. Shameful. And I can’t control it. I can’t control any of it. The only thing I can control is my reaction. So I try to put on a happy song and meditate. I leave the room. Sometimes, I step outside. But I’ll always speak positive words of affirmation —then I go back to whatever it is I was doing.
And it doesn’t always help but most of the time it does. Because eventually, I do calm down.
2. Do you find yourself feeling keyed up? Are you always on edge as if you’re never fully able to relax?
Yup. That’s me. It’s like I’m filled with this overwhelming sense of panic. Impending Doom. Flight or fight? I choose the ladder. I wish I didn’t have to choose either because like I said, I hate it. I hate all of it. For you, maybe you feel jittery. Perhaps you’re perpetually on high-alert; like you’re always on the lookout for danger? Now, I’ve learned this can be a good thing in times of crisis but you don’t want to live your life like this when there’s no actual emergency. Because that’s not healthy for anyone.
So it makes sense that maybe you too lock yourself in your room. Maybe you want to break down and cry but you don’t want anyone else to know. And because of these negative feelings toward yourself, perhaps you also feel weak. You’re not. But I understand that too. On the other hand, maybe there are times where you suddenly become angry. For me, I get irritable. I’m tense, cranky and short. I’m annoyed. Most of the time, I have no real reason to feel this way because everything is OK.
But that’s P.T.S.D. for you —what I’m describing here is known as hyperarousal. Here are a few other examples:
- You may have a ton of anxiety that may be affecting your quality of life.
- You may have a hard time sleeping.
- You may have trouble concentrating.
- You may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
- You may feel paranoid.
- You may prefer to have your back to a wall in a restaurant or waiting room.
- You may isolate yourself or go out of your way to stay inside.
3. Has your view on the world changed since your trauma? How about yourself? Do you feel more inadequate than before it happened?
Because the way you think about yourself and others certainly changes after experiencing trauma. This symptom of P.T.S.D. has many aspects. Because P.T.S.D. is complex on its own. Maybe you have negative feelings toward other people —loved ones and strangers alike. Maybe you stay away from relationships altogether. Partly out of fear, or a lot of people say it’s because they feel unworthy. You’re not. You’ve always been worthy —regardless of what you’ve been through.
Because your past doesn’t define you. What you do next does. I get it though. I didn’t think I was worthy for a very long time. I also felt like I couldn’t trust the world around me —people, places and things. Everything was dangerous and a potential trigger. No one could be trusted. I didn’t even trust myself. And I definitely couldn’t talk about it either. It was only after I took a good hard look inside, I realized that I didn’t need to feel this way. And I didn’t need to hide it either.
Because I also learned that trauma not only changes our outlook on shit but it also changes our brain.
Like the way they work, including memory loss as a survival skill and defense mechanism to protect ourselves from psychological damage. Brains are pretty amazing like that. And as much as I can fight with my brain about having P.T.S.D., it’s pretty remarkable that it knew to block all that shit out since it was too painful to process. My brain wanted to protect me from the abuse. It’s just when I finally started talking about it, I started remembering more and more, which is actually a good thing. Because as a result, I was able to heal.
And you can too. You can move past those feelings of anxiety. You can overcome depression. And I know mood swings suck but you can get through them too. And I’m not perfect. I’m not there yet. Because sometimes my blood feels like it’s boiling for no fucking reason. I try to calm down but the anger won’t stop. Like I said though, I always come around. So I’m trying to live outside of my comfort zone. Because I’ve also realized that’s how we grow.
4. Do you find yourself avoiding situations that remind you of your trauma?
OMG. I do. It’s weird because I’ve done this for a while now but I finally understand it’s not me. I mean, yeah it’s me but it’s mainly P.T.S.D. Like me, maybe you try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of your traumatic event. For example, if you were in a car accident, you may avoid driving. You may avoid talking or thinking about the event. I’ve done all that. Elaborating further, maybe you try to stay super busy or avoid seeking help as a way to not think or talk about it.
You may also avoid crowds because they feel dangerous. None of this is healthy. None of this is living. It’s never a good idea to avoid. Because you made it out alive for a reason. You survived and you deserve to thrive. Because we’re only as sick as our secrets and our secrets keep us sick. I know it hurts. It hurts talking about it. But trust me when I say, it hurts more when you don’t. Because when you get it out, I promise you, somewhere inside, you’ll feel better. Lighter.
You’ll feel a release. It’s like a physical weight lifts off your shoulders.
Because that’s what happened to me when I first got help (and when I first started blogging). At the same time, it’s still hard to be vulnerable; to open up about everything. Because it hits a fundamental fear that many survivors have —the fear that someone will think I’m crazy or simply won’t believe me. It strikes at the core of all the things I’m most afraid of —like being called a liar, an exaggerator, a drama queen. And, sometimes, the voice calling me those names is my own.
But when you talk about this shit or in my case, write it down, you’re taking away its power. Because you don’t have to live like this. And you certainly don’t have to go through this alone. Because there are a number of therapies that have been proven to be effective for treating trauma —to help you cope with P.T.S.D. and life after addiction. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) comes to mind first. CBT is a goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving.
CBT works by altering our attitude and correlated behavior by focusing on our thoughts and beliefs and how these processes relate to how we behave —like why we do the things we do and how we deal with it all. It’s thought to be a combination of psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. Because psychotherapy emphasizes the importance of the personal meaning we place on things and how thinking patterns effect just about everything.
Then we have behavioral therapy, which seeks to identify and change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors. It functions on the idea that all behaviors are learned and that unhealthy behavior can be changed. Most psychotherapists who practice CBT personalize and customize the therapy to the specific needs and personality of each patient. I can attest to the fact that this shit works. I went to therapy for a while.
I only recently stopped.
But I try to practice and incorporate the tools I learned into my everyday life today. Like owning my past, admitting my secrets and apologizing to the people I’ve wronged —like my family and friends. And once I did, guess what? They still loved me. Your people will still love you too. Because things are never so bad that they cannot be undone. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to make huge collision ones too.
Just look at me. I was literally the shittiest person ever. I did shitty things. Shitty things did me. And enjoying life seemed so far away. It felt like a fantasy. Because I’ve always wanted perfection. And when I couldn’t get it, I got high instead. Because I’d always come up short. So from one extreme to the next, my life was a string of never-ending awfulness. It’s just when I stopped waiting around for someone to save me, I saved myself.