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What PTSD Means for Me as Someone Who Experienced Childhood Abuse

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Editor’s note: If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Every day there’s that worry; that today, I’m going to see or hear something that will stick me in a dark corner of my memory — something that will have me trembling in fear for seemingly no good reason.

• What is PTSD?

It’s not normally something big; it’s the little things, a raised hand, a raised voice. Sometimes it’s just people with blonde hair or with visible symptoms of illicit drug use. Sometimes the look in a person’s eye makes me cross the street to avoid them because they look like “her” eyes and that terrifies me.

Today a raised voice brought tears to my eyes. I, who views my own crying in public as a great shame, fought back those tears with everything I had, only to fail and have my employer mention it later. This raised voice pointing out mistakes, failures — my mistakes and failures. Unacceptable things — things that make me furious at myself in place of the expected pain I would once receive both mentally and physically from “her.”

I message to my girlfriend, telling her about it, the feeling of shame then met by calming, caring responses. Every time something is hard, I am so glad I bring myself to reach out and there is a hand there for me to hold. I’m so glad I don’t have to sit there anymore, going over and over and over and over in my mind how things should have been so I could have avoided the problem — how I should have been in order to be “perfect.”

Some days I worry it’s a hassle for her, to have someone who has been shattered at a young age, trying to hold the pieces together with glue that gets weak when touched by tears. To have someone who tries to add new pieces and sometimes struggles, who sometimes needs help. She is so caring though, I don’t think she realizes how amazing she is.

I worry it could be viewed as “co-dependency,” or unhealthy, to require someone else to be OK sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be OK on my own. Sometimes I just trip and some of my pieces come out; they can be hard to fix alone, but I can do it. It just helps to have people around me to help stop me from tripping, to help me up when I do. Even the most well of people need others sometimes.

Just yesterday I asked if she could come with me to do something I should easily be able to do on my own: go into the vet with my cat. But see, I haven’t been back to a vet since I had to make a call I have questioned every single day since as to whether it was the right one. Because on that day, I couldn’t fix everyone else’s everything.

Not only is it important to me to fix myself when needed; I always try to fix other things, people’s problems, objects, things I feel I should just keep my nose out of. This is probably because I can’t fix the one thing I needed to in my life. If “she” weren’t so broken herself, maybe she wouldn’t have broken me, her own child.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for someone like me is having to live with those memories. Sometimes they come to me like a highlight reel: “Sam’s Crappiest Life Moments!”

But then sometimes it feels like I’m there again, stuck in the horrors of my childhood. I feel it all: the fear, the sadness, the cold air in most memories. The tears on my cheeks. I see it play out before me, looking through my own eyes. I hear everything: the yelling, the banging, my muffled sobs as I hide from the threats being screamed at me through the door.

For me, PTSD is shying away at a pet store when the attendant offers for me to hold the rabbit I had been admiring for a few minutes, because I’m scared of holding them now — because of what she forced me to do to the ones she didn’t want to keep.

For me, PTSD for me is being scared that a “no,” or “I don’t want to,” will be met with anger. These days I can manage it better. I can say I don’t like things; I can say no, but the second they are met with anything other than acceptance, I lose my will to fight for it. To me, a conflict avoided means another day I’m safe.

For me, PTSD is having annoying, irrational fears about upsetting others, and that they would then attack me even though those days are long gone.

For me, PTSD is being scared that all these little things I do are big problems or annoyances for other people, just as little things set me off.

For me, PTSD is crying when I get stuck in my own head, scared that if I’m not 100 percent, or I’m not “perfect,” everyone may leave me.

For me, PTSD is being scared of being judged for not being “normal.” Being treated differently, like I’m “less.” It’s being scared of telling people because then they’ll see me differently. I feel they won’t see me for me, and it will always be “Sam with PTSD.” It’s being scared of facing the reaction of “how dare you say you have PTSD, you haven’t suffered enough to deserve it” like it’s some great achievement. It’s not. I hate it. I wish it wasn’t a thing. But it is.

For me, PTSD is the fact I survived. The ordeal will never leave my mind, but I lived. I’m not some war hero, but my life was in danger at times. At other times I saw things no child should be forced to see. I met with a side of the world that made it hard to see the good in some parts.

For me, PTSD is the fact that I am scared to have this read. I’m scared it’s not good enough, that it might upset someone, that someone who has caused me a great deal of pain will see this and know they have left such a great mark upon me.

For me, PTSD is typing this regardless, through the tears, in hopes it helps someone else. Feeling useful and loved are the only two ways I can validate my worth as a person after I spent my entire childhood being shown by one of the people who should have encouraged and supported me most that I meant nothing to them. I was told by them, “I’m going to kill you.” They made me feel useless, weak and scared. Every time they contacted me, I was always torn down. Every time I would start to move forward, their voice in my ear made me freeze.

Once I was diagnosed, once I found out that everything that was done to me by my mother was wrong — once I cut her out of my life to start actually living my life — I stopped waking up in the middle of the night, adrenaline pumping through my veins with the thought “I’m going to die, I have to get away,” only to be confused as my vision begins to focus on my room, safe, miles away from her.

I still avoid many things that remind me of her; I still flinch sometimes when people raise a hand near me — a hand not raised in violence may I add. I still sit and question my self-worth sometimes. I know this all won’t just go away — that just because I’ve accepted it all for it was, it doesn’t fix anything. It just puts the pieces into perspective.

For me, PTSD is living my life knowing that sometimes, things are going to be scary and will put me back in a dark place. But I’m getting better at fighting my way out of there each time.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Thinkstock photo via mg7

Originally published: July 15, 2017
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