One of the hardest things to deal with as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, or any type of abuse, are the flashbacks. They can be some of the most traumatic experiences in our lives; a random, tragic reminder of our past that we are trying so hard to deal with.
Trigger Warning – Even though I don’t go in depth about specific flashback examples too much, I just want to make sure to let you know I will talk about them in this piece, so please be kind to yourself.
A little background first…When I started seeing J in therapy sessions, I began having flashbacks right after we had what I affectionately (not really) refer to as the “two-hour epic session of doom”. This was the session that really started my recovery journey. I had been questioning why I can’t seem to get in touch with my feelings, my inner child, and why I can’t seem to feel the emotion I should. She said, “I can make you feel that if you think you are ready”. I replied, not knowing what I was getting myself into, “sure let’s do it”! Looking back I maybe should have waited longer to dive into this, but it’s water under the bridge now.
While that session didn’t exactly go as planned, in the sense of me being able to feel and connect with my emotions, and get angry so I could induce some kind of epic release, it did in fact have a delayed response that started the next morning which I’ll explain more about shortly.
When we first talked out loud about the abuse and what exactly happened in detail. I wrote a trauma narrative over multiple sessions explaining the events that transpired that first time and how they lead to many more experiences that have damaged me to my core. We used that narrative as a basis for the 2-hour session.
The first time I had a flashback, it scared the hell out of me. I remember writing it down in a journal I was keeping at the time, and I texted J and told her what happened. She advised it was indeed a flashback and we would discuss it in the next session. I was literally beside myself, not knowing how to deal with it. Those coming days were a nightmare of emotions.
After that the flashbacks started coming about 5 times a week, usually in the morning shortly after I woke up. That continued for months, relentlessly. My emotion tracker was filled with memories and new thoughts. Every session after that we talked about each one, what it meant, what my mind is doing by bring them to the forefront now, and how I can deal with them. That’s really when I started learning about DBT Skills and Coping Skills.
Fast Forward to about 3 months ago, where we decided it was time to talk to my family doctor about going on some anti-anxiety meds. I had never been on them before, but at this point we needed to try to do something else to curb the anxiety at least a little bit because it was getting out of control and running my life.
From the very first week I started on them, my flashbacks began to slowly decrease. Instead of having 5 or more a week, I was down to 4 , and then down to 3 within a month or so. After another month I was down to just two. Which is still a lot but at least it was headed in the right direction.
As of now I haven’t had a flashback in almost 3 weeks and I asked J what the real reason is for this change. I mean I’m still having anxiety, and some days it’s pretty intense. So obviously the meds are doing something but is it more than that?
Am I actually healing a bit, and could that helping keep these horrible memories at bay? I do spend a lot of time writing and sharing on this blog, I do podcasts now, and I interact in survivor chats every week. Am I actually doing enough to really see some progress?
It sounds odd to say that out loud as I write this. Healing is scary because I’m afraid I will suppress my trauma again and end up being stuck. For me, trying to realize that healing doesn’t mean that we forget our past is easier said than done. As J says though, “you’ve come too far now to ever suppress those feelings again. Besides, you keep coming to therapy and I’ll make sure we continue to work on this”. I love how she encourages me, or at least she tries too. I just need to be more receptive to it.
To sit here and be like, ‘Hey man, you’ve been putting in so much work to understand your trauma and heal from all aspects of it, and maybe now it’s finally starting to pay off some”, is hard to admit. I still have such a long way to go and so many memories to uncover that the task continues to be daunting. Minimizing yet again, did you catch that?
Maybe I should just shut up and give myself some credit and believe that healing is going to happen for me in time and I should build on this progress and embrace it. But…. nope, I’m not going to minimize that!
I choose that feature image for this post because to me a butterfly symbolizes a new beginning, a new start to a whole new life. When we start to conquer our past, we can have a new beginning too.
As always I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments.
Yes – maybe you should give yourself credit because you e come so far. Oh do I know about flashbacks. They lurk in shadows, it seems. Love your growth and being able to share in if!
You are always amazing Vennie. I have to admit I get a lot of inspiration, encouragement, and validation from your tweets, writing, and poetry. You are a true survivor. I’m always honored to interact with you. 🙂 Yah these damn flashbacks, I’m apprehensive to think it’s me that is healing that could have something to do with them lessening but maybe I’m time I’ll grasp onto that and run with it.
I had a very strong flashback yesterday at my new therapist’s office. I felt completely uncomfortable.
Aren’t flashbacks just the worst? I can’t stand them but yet I know it’s part of my healing. I haven’t had one in about 3 weeks now, which is a record by far since they first started last year. I hope you had a restful night Joy, I’m always here for ya!
Dear Matt, wow, your healing journey sounds very organized! My flashbacks are so diffuse I can rarely tell where they start or end, and that’s probably because I’m just used to them. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been living in a single flashback of varying intensity for twenty years. Lately I’m tasting a new kind of freedom…
Very cool to hear about how you gained your excellent insight on flashback management, symptoms, etc. Your vulnerable sharing here helps me understand trauma healing from a new angle.