Before I go into a bit of detail, this following entry was written in my personal journal last week after a therapy session, and it was a bit of a breakthrough moment. I say that because as you’ll read, this scenario is a first for my therapist, and while it explains some things, it creates even more questions.
As you continue to read my new entries here on this site, you’ll see that I suffer from flashbacks of the sexual abuse I experienced as a kid. I get them on average about 4-5 times a week. It’s been this way for the last several months since the “epic therapy session” as I call it, occurred. (I’ll write about that soon but suffice it to say for now, that session brought a lot of feelings to the forefront of my mind and daily life.)
Anyways, that many flashbacks is an extremely high amount, especially for someone who was a victim over 3 decades ago. However given the fact that I suppressed these feelings for so long and now am starting to deal with them, I guess it’s understandable to have these now but again it’s a very high amount to experience and hopefully in time they will begin to subside with more sessions and more use of coping skills.
At my session tonight, we had a breakthrough, apparently I dissociate while I’m dissociating. Yeah, figure that one out, right! I need to see how that even works. My therapist even said she has to consult with a colleague because she’s never seen anyone deal with flashbacks and past traumatic experiences this way. I’m a first for her; that’s kinda cool and kinda scary at the same time. Although believe me, nothing about Dissociation is cool, so please take that as a bit of tongue and cheek.
She’s been wondering, with all these flashbacks, how I’m able to get through the day, especially since they happen in the mornings a lot. Having flashbacks for many survivors means that their entire day is affected, or their entire evening. The anxiety sticks with them for hours or days when one hits.
For me, though, it’s different. I told her that basically, when a flashback comes, I embrace it and try to feel it. I try to connect with it, and even though I can’t ever get that emotional connection, I don’t stop trying each time. (That’s a whole different story to write about, why I want to emotionally connect with them.)
They last for usually 1-3 minutes or so, and then it’s gone, and I just go about my business. Sure it takes me a minute to gain my composure after the event, but I am able to manage my day without too much trouble normally. I finish getting ready for work and head out the door to the office or to take my son to school.
This apparently is quite abnormal, and I honestly can’t explain it. I’ve searched on the internet for anything like this and so far I’ve come up empty.
She says she thinks it’s my mind protecting me while it’s remembering the events, not letting me get too emotionally attached or involved with the episode. Like at the time it happened back when I was a kid, I dissociated each time to deal with the pain so I never emotionally connected with it. So now when I try to connect with it, I can’t because my brain isn’t letting me connect with something that isn’t able to be connected too.
So that itself keeps me from being over affected for long periods of time.
Even after the abuse happened to me, I would go home and deal with it somehow, and move on with life. I can remember sitting on my bed, holding a my favorite white stuffed animal, a polar bear, and rocking back and forth on my bed for a few minutes to calm down before facing my parents. This way they never found out. As a kid, I still played with my friends, went to school, played my music, and whatever else I happened to do. So even back then, I was able to somehow function shortly after the trauma.
Most of my flashbacks when I was coming through that part of healing seemed to always hit at night. Of course, that still affected my day and sometime week. It would be in the middle of the night and felt so real as if it was happening right before my eyes. I would actually wake up with a swollen face or other physical things happening and have to put ice on my face to get the swelling and pain to go down. I woke up plenty of nights screaming at the top of my lungs.
When the memories are intense, our brain does protect us. It says, my main function is to keep your body functioning and operating. I think that is where dissociation comes in because its the way the mind says, I’m taking all this other stuff offline. Of course, when you take that offline, other things “like your daily activities” get taken as hostage.
I’m no therapist, but this is what makes sense in my mind from what I’ve been through. Some days, I just prefer looking at pretty pictures of chirping birds, ocean beaches and bright skies because some days, the flashbacks are too much.
I don’t get as many flashbacks as I once did, but every now and then they creep up and hit me hard. When they hit, they do a number on me.
I like your thought about how you try and feel and connect with them. That’s important because its your way of finding a balance in there and attempting to take the power back from things that are trying to steal the power from you.
It does get better – or at least it has for me. It did take some time though to get to the point where I can say t his.
Thank you for your thoughts brother. Man I tell ya if my mind wouldn’t have dissociated and taken me away during that abuse, and for all I know the bullying as well, I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing right now. It’s amazing how our brains know how and when to protect us and to know how much we are ready to remember, when we are ready to remember it.
Then you throw in the whole, dissociating during a flashback, and it’s like trying to remember and connect with something that you weren’t fully present for in the first place. Talk about mind blowing! The more I learn about trauma and our brains the more I am fascinated by how we are able to survive so much!
My flashbacks have really subsided in the last month, at least for the time being. The longer it goes though, the more I seem to worry about if I’ll ever get one again. I need to know more, I need to put these puzzle pieces together. I don’t like the feeling of a flashback, of course not, but damn I just to piece this all together.
You will enjoy reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book because he talks about so much of this. What he says, really makes sense to me in this area. I’ve also learned a tremendous amount through sessions with Dr. Canali in Miami.
It is mind blowing to think of how the brain deals with all of this. By working with the stuff that comes up and reaching out for help, I think it helps diffuse the “bombs” so to speak. Glad to hear you’re seeing some forward movement in your healing. That helps in so many ways.