What Happened When I Realized I Had Dissociated From My Trauma
My husband and I were married in 2009, but we’ve known each other for over 20 years. We were friends, then more then friends and then back to friends. Then we were friends who lived on opposite ends of the country and only communicated a few times via computer and one letter (this was long before texting came along and we are not the “talk on the phone type” of people).
My friend, who would one day in May of 2009 become my husband, was serving our country in the U.S. Marine Corps. For eight years, I worried and prayed that he was OK and safe. I would watch the news and cringe when they showed where he was and what he was doing and witnessing. I wished for him to come home safely.
While he was fighting a war for our country, I was here in our hometown fighting my own war. My war was internal and intense and scary. I fought horrific memories and images in my mind and my mind took me to dark places I couldn’t get out of. It trapped me in a tunnel of sadness and fear with the demons inside my mind making it hard to pull myself out of debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety and extremely painful panic attacks that left me clenching my chest, praying it would pass as quickly as it came on. My demons are flashbacks and images that replay over and over in my mind, a slideshow of moments in time that haunt me day and night. A slideshow I can’t turn off, because if I could, I would in a heartbeat.
This slideshow of traumatic moments forever changed me as a person. It stays with me and it decides when and what it will show me. This is the demon of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some people have one traumatic event that takes place in their lifetime. I’m not like some people — I’m different. I’ve experienced multiple traumatic events throughout my lifetime starting at the young age of 2. I felt like the target of the darts of traumatic events and eventually I just gave up and waited for the darts to keep coming.
For a while, the darts stopped and I forgot about how bad the darts stung the “red center” of my heart. I tried to live my life as best I could, still knowing that at any moment, a dart could be thrown my way.
A few years went by without any darts, although the sting of the darts from years before were enough to keep me from wanting any more to hit my red center.
I, like many others who have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) adopted some unhealthy coping mechanisms. For me, substance abuse and depression were a kind of a package deal when I was trying to silence the demons in my mind. Each time the box of triggering memories even slightly opened up, the slideshow would start, and I would do anything to make it stop and slam the box shut.
That’s exactly what I did!
I kept the box closed by trying to forget it was there. So yes, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. It was at that point in my life where I would have my first suicidal thoughts and I would then seek professional help with a counselor and psychiatrist… I was 21 years old.
Through therapy and medication, I learned to abandon my unhealthy ways of coping and hurting. I forgot about the box and the darts and I was able to live my life. I had a career, goals and my friend came home from war. And as fate would have it, we found each other again.
We never spoke of our demons from our own personal wars. Instead we laughed, we lived and we loved.
The year before we got married, a big dart came at me and it hit straight on, piercing my red center and decimating my entire board. The box in my mind that I had held closed for years immediately broke open and the slideshow was loud and stuck on repeat. I couldn’t stop it, because the box was now destroyed and the slideshow was all I saw, day and night, every waking and non-waking moment.
Then something happened to me. I became physically sick — not like cough and cold sick. I lost the ability to walk, drive, hear. I couldn’t function and live independently.
I had no idea what was happening, I walked with a cane, my soon-to-be husband became my caregiver. He helped me shower, dress, walk, he made my meals and helped me live. He never complained and he never left. And even though people told him he should, he didn’t.
I was in the darkest depression I had ever been in and I was suicidal. My family urged me to get help and I complied. I was being treated for my symptoms of major depression, anxiety and panic… but I never spoke of that last dart, that last horrific traumatic event that had me in therapy every week, that had me on multiple medications. I thought I was in therapy because I was sad, sad and depressed for being physically ill. I had no idea why I was really in therapy and on so many medications. I had no idea that I wasn’t really physically ill at all. I had no idea I had a mental illness.
You see, I never spoke of the box or the slideshow or the darts to anyone. I did my best to conceal it and hide it from everyone — including myself. Apparently I had done a damn good job at it, and after that last dart that blew everything apart, my brain did what it needed to do to keep me safe, and for eight years, my brain told me I had a physical illness rather than a mental illness.
That last dart triggered me to dissociate myself from that trauma all together.
My friend, my husband — he never left and I’ve never thanked him for that. So here I am saying to you my friend, my husband, right here right now… Thank you for loving me and please always know how much I love you.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration.