themighty logo

How I'm Saving Myself After a Lifetime of Running From PTSD

“In order to save myself, I must destroy first the me I was told to be.”
– The Dreamer

I have always loved to run. No, not the kind of running you do on the treadmill. If only it was that simple. I have been a long time devotee of running from my pain, grief and the unpalatable truth of the world. I couldn’t take the selfishness, the cold-heartedness, the callousness of it all. To bear witness to my truth and the usually quiet and sometimes loud desperation of suffering humans and animals filled me with a burning inferno of rage and grief so hot I felt it would consume my very soul. It felt like hot, molten lava that would surely overtake me if I were to stand still and witness it, and so I ran, and I ran hard and fast.

I ran away in any way that I could. I physically ran by leaving anything that made me too uncomfortable — social events, spiritual retreats and relationships. I left anything and everything that became too uncomfortable. I started many things that I never completed. I didn’t start things at all that I wanted to do for fear of the pain of failure. If I couldn’t physically leave a situation, I would dissociate or emotionally collapse into victim mode and my inner 5-year-old would take over then and there, which was frequent.

I was an expert at dissociating, numbing and leaving, of course…after all, practice does make perfect, and it was my number one coping mechanism during my abusive and traumatic childhood. It had saved me many, many times. It had been wisdom to practice it then, as a helpless child, but I was no child now, at least not physically. The survival skill that I had honed for so many years had now run amok, completely taking over my life and it was running the show. I was masterful, though, I had so many ways of trying to get away from the pain of life. I tried to escape by leaving and checking out in every way you can think of — I drank too much, drugged too much, ate too much sugar, ate too many carbs, had too much sex with people who I didn’t even like…I did anything and everything I knew to do to keep from having to face it all. Most of all, I left myself…this important fact is something I figured out only after I was decades into adulthood and much water and wreckage under the bridge.

In my defense, I will say that I am a highly sensitive person…I came out of the womb as sensitive as a person without skin, and so for me, as for many like myself, life hurts…a lot. It hurt so much from the beginning that I felt I couldn’t take it, so I learned to run and hide and shrink inside of myself from a very young age. Now, I could say that this was a very bad thing indeed, except it wasn’t all bad. No, it was a coping mechanism that saved me…until it didn’t. Ultimately, it cost me, and it cost me big time. My tendency to run, hide and shrink myself created far more pain for me than even my childhood wounding did. It’s true, and for me, that is a tremendous thing to say. I didn’t want to face any of it, I didn’t want to face life on life’s terms, my grief, the truth or my responsibilities as a human or as an adult. I wanted to change the world instead. I wanted to somehow reach back into the past and save my mother from her impending gunshot to the head so desperately that I would sacrifice my well-being for nearly half a century.

I sought escape through other people, primarily through relationships with men. I had a Cinderella complex, that’s for sure, as I imagine many of us do. After all, as little girls, we all were conditioned to believe that one day our Prince Charming would come and save us from the imprisonment of our bleak existence where our wicked stepmothers tortured us mercilessly and daily. I had to believe that what I had learned in so many fairy tales was, in fact, true. I was desperate to be saved, and I didn’t care who saved me, I just knew, or so I thought, that there was no possible way I could save myself…that didn’t seem like an option until I was pretty far into adulthood. No, I needed saving. I felt weak, worthless and afraid, as a drowning person without a life raft. I needed a life raft to help me to keep from drowning, and for me, that would take the form of a Prince Charming.

Now, I don’t need to tell you that didn’t work out very well. It went sideways 10 ways to Sunday and caused a hell of a lot more destruction, for me as well as for other people, of course. Ironically, the very thing I was so desperate to escape was the very thing I was feeding into…my pain as well as the pain of human existence.

“Little girl, stop waiting for someone to come and rescue you. You are on your own.”
– Josephin August

Eventually, I figured out that I was, of course, an expert at helping other people. After all, I was raised by alcoholic crazy people. I practically came out of the womb trying to heal, save and fix others, and to that, I was more than dedicated. Once again, my very survival depended on it, for if I could save my sick parents, then maybe, just maybe, they would finally care about me and my needs, right? No, not quite, actually not at all, but in the mind of a child, it is kind of a brilliant plan.

When I failed to save my mother from her suicide when I was 8 years old, that truly set the stage. Now, none of this was conscious, mind you, but the plan was in place, nonetheless. I would turn myself inside out in any which way I needed to do to save you, the woman next door and everyone else. I would set myself on fire if it would save you…I was the ultimate victim, utterly desperate to “get it right” and somehow make up for not saving her, to prove my worth, to overcome and overpower the voices in my head that never stopped yelling at me that I was a piece of garbage and it was all my fault.

So I set out to become a healer…may as well get the training and the credentials, right, since I was already so adept? Now I cannot say this about much in my life, but this is one thing I did not doubt that I was good at. Funny that I knew that even though I was unable to save my mother, but I knew just the same. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I put your needs first, that I abandoned myself and my needs completely to be everything to you, that I held myself up to wait to see what you needed, that I turned myself inside out for you. I was filled with a desperation so deep and vast it canceled out any intuition or concern that I was destroying myself in the process. If I could just prove myself worthy and make up somehow for letting my mother down the way I did, then maybe, just maybe I would have escaped the bottomless pit of grief I carried.

Of course, over time things worsened exponentially in many ways, and in many ways, they improved. They still improved because, more than anything in my life, I was deeply dedicated to my spiritual and emotional growth, that much is true. Now, it’s a fact that I was so blindly dedicated because I felt if I somehow reached the pinnacle of perfection or enlightenment, and I arrived, I would at the same time have managed to jump over that chasm of fiery hot lava pain living inside of me. Ironically, this dedication to my spiritual path was both my destruction and my salvation. Little did I know I was spiritually bypassing so much grief around the loss of my mother. I even knew about spiritual bypassing, but, as with all of us who do it, we don’t recognize it in ourselves, we can only see it in others. Bypassing in this way truly is in its essence a form of denial, and that which we deny has great power over us, even the power to destroy our very lives.

I did so much healing work, spiritual work, energy work, therapy…I did so many things over the last 27 years of my life that I cannot even tell you what all of them were. I was my own favorite project, and in my mind, I needed a huge overhaul that would never be complete. How could it be, when I hated the very project itself? No matter how much stronger I became, and how much better my life got, I would never, ever give myself credit for work well done. I was blind to the spiritual bypassing I was doing, truly blind. Even so, any house built of straw will eventually be blown down by the big bad wolf, and my house was no different. No, I was headed for a breakdown of everything I thought I was, of everything I believed to be true.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Recovery Warriors group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Recovery Warriors is a safe space for anyone who's in the process of mental or physical healing. Lean on others for support and celebrate your recovery milestones here. Click to join.

“There is no breakthrough without a breakdown.”
– Tony Robbins

Did I feel it coming? In retrospect, yes. I can look back from here and tell you for sure that now I see how for years the facade was unraveling. It was a slow and steady process…a slow burn, but burn it did, and it was the best thing that has ever happened to me, I can see that now. It all came to a head finally, and when it did, I felt something in me break. It just broke, splintered, and all at once, and it hurt badly. It was terrifying. For the first time perhaps ever, I was extremely concerned that I was not OK, I had done some irreparable damage to myself somehow. I now could see very clearly the harm I had done to myself.

What happened? The facade fell away, the ramshackle house built of straw I had built of myself, my identity, who I thought myself to be, fell away all at once. In the space where once I believed in fairy tales and Prince Charmings and in my spiritual truths of being an ascended master (or so I had been told) all fell away. It shattered. Just like that.

Now, months later, I can tell you that I am done running…from myself, from life, and the pain of the world. I can tell you that I am not who I thought I was and I do not need to become who I thought I needed to become. It took me 40 years, but I see very clearly now that I, at 8 years old, was not in any way responsible for my mother’s demise any more than I am responsible for saving the world. No, now it’s my turn. Now I save myself.

Getty image by Sasha_astra