Cortland Goffena

@cort-goffena | contributor
Cortland Goffena is a recent college graduate who has suffered from depression and anxiety. In his spare time he writes songs, reads books, and learns how to be a healthy human being.
Cortland Goffena

Finding Hope After a Complex PTSD Diagnosis

Rejection. It became a classic reenactment. I knew what was going to happen. I’d experienced it over and over again. I knew I’d feel intense emotions, and it was going to become hard to be around someone I cared about and wanted to keep in my life. It was unfair. It was unfair to the person and it was unfair to me. My past was about to fuck up my life again. I tried to explain it to them but couldn’t find an easy way. They didn’t understand so I dropped it. I knew I was going to have a hard time in the future, and was afraid I was going to hurt them and get hurt again. I had a lot of wounds, but trying to explain that to someone I barely knew was difficult. I could barely explain it to myself. “Maybe I’m just broken,” I thought to myself. I became frustrated and just like years before, I again looked for the answer I had been seeking. “Why don’t I just have a grip on my reality?” But this time, I was ready to find it. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). I read the words after searching for information regarding emotional flashbacks. I figured emotional flashbacks must be what I kept experiencing. What else could explain my almost random emotional responses? I had searched to find answers, frustrated and driven by the pain, but I never expected to actually find the medical answers to what I experienced. I started to read the symptoms: depression, anxiety, disassociation, suicidal tendencies, negative self-perception, loss of systems of meaning, emotional dysregulation, hypertension  and emotional flashbacks. I immediately felt like I had run into a brick wall. I stared at my phone, completely dumbstruck as I realized what the feeling inside me actually meant. I was reading about myself. “Oh my God.. I have PTSD. I was traumatized. I have relational trauma.” That was a year ago. Life is strange. I worked through codependency, low self-esteem and even started doing inner child work years before, but barely considered that maybe I’d experienced trauma. I still remember how I called my closest friends and told them. They’d heard my story before, but one of the final pieces of the puzzle was there. I had been working on emotional wounds for four years but I never imagined I was traumatized. I had a mixture of such excitement and sadness telling them I finally figured out why I am the way that I am. Sadness knowing that C-PTSD is a chronic, long-term diagnosis of PTSD resulting from repeated childhood trauma in inescapable situations. And excitement knowing recovery was possible and I was given a second chance. I had a chance to finally get my life back. I came to terms with the fact I had a rough childhood years ago, but this was on another level. I remember crying. A lot. It became clear I was suppressing a lot more than I realized. I was finally in a place of acceptance and so much emotional pain rushed through me that I felt like I was being torn apart. Every day for the next six months, I would randomly cry. “This is my life. This is serious,” I thought. Trauma survivors are at a high risk for suicide. Trauma does not just fade away and physically affects your brain and body, which can result in an unruly amount of hopelessness and frustration. I remember thinking, “This will kill me if I’m not careful.” It became a dark joke that I would tell myself, “I’m just trying not to kill myself.” The long-forgotten suicidal thoughts came back. When all you feel you’ve known is isolation and pain, even if people tell you there’s greener grass on the other side, it is very difficult to have faith. It is work to have faith. I didn’t learn that for a long time. With knowledge came responsibility. I read books upon books about trauma, PTSD, attachment disorders and what I could do to turn my life around. I made myself a priority and declared that I would take the entire year to focus on my recovery. That would just be the start. I started seeing a therapist I could trust. I stopped drinking. I re-evaluated my social life. I started doing yoga for the first time in my life. I started journaling more often. I focused on staying present in my body and feeling my emotional flashbacks. I opened up to the safe people within my life about my story. I started to notice things I hadn’t before. I started to try different things with different people I didn’t know. And I kept trying to give myself all the things I needed, despite how strange and “wrong” it felt. I tried to imagine a brand new life, something different. Deep down, I was terrified. I wish I could say it has been a smooth ride but it hasn’t. My world was flipped upside down and I realized every aspect of my life has changed. I was given a trial most people don’t even know exists. Sometimes I feel I am climbing a mountain while everyone around me is walking to where they want to go. But I’ve realized this is my own journey and I am the creator of my future, despite my previous experiences and their influences. I can’t say how long my recovery will be, but I know sometimes it is easy to get dragged down by it all. So I try to remind myself that these are some of the benefits I’ve seen: New Priorities : Most of the nuances of life seem so small when you’re faced with life-changing losses. I’d rather find fulfillment and be my true self than try to fit in at this point. I became my priority, and all the drama and other people became a play I would watch instead of try to change. I decided my world would change, starting with me. Deeper Relationships : There are some people I have never been closer to than now, and I’ve shared very personal thoughts and feelings with them. Feeling emotional pain from trauma eventually allows you to feel and share emotions more fully, such as joy and love. My recovery has allowed me to feel safe and connected, even after I’ve experienced so much disconnection and pain. Personal Strength : I knew as soon as I started working on recovery, this would be the hardest thing I ever had to do in my entire life. Not a whole lot scares me beyond that now, such as writing this article, which would have intimidated a younger me because anyone can read it. It already feels like I lost 20 years of my life. After you’ve been through that, what does life really have on you anymore? Heightened Spirituality : This can be a very debatable topic for trauma survivors for good reason, but personally, I know a higher power exists. I have experiential proof that I will never let go of. There is a reason I am here and my experiences brought me closer to that, no matter how painful they were. I hope every trauma survivor remembers that. Understanding : I have a very unique life-view after my experiences. Almost no one is intentionally hurting people. Hurt people hurt people. I know this firsthand. Understanding trauma allows you to understand underlying human complexities most people don’t take the time to understand. It opens the door to compassion. Life is complicated until it isn’t. Sometimes I realize this was the biggest blessing I’ve ever received in my life. It has been my hidden hope to understand why my life has been filled with suffering, despite everything in my current life being fine. Is it so I could rebuild and create something better? We are all searching for answers to questions we dread asking, but what will you do when you find them? It is so strange writing this with confidence, but I think I’ll be OK. And you can too.

Community Voices

Believing in People Again After Relational Trauma

Here I am again, lying on the ground, struggling for breath. I always end up getting up at some point, but a part of me has always wanted to give up, and many times before, I have.

I was having an emotional flashback, and this was the most powerful one I had felt before. I ended up crying on my floor, curled up in a ball with the emotional pain that was flowing through me. I have never lead a normal life. I was repeatedly traumatized when I was a child. I learned how to shut down my emotions and survive, but the dysfunctional cycle kept going and I ended up re-traumatizing myself until I turned 20, going through an abusive relationship and almost ending my life. I was lost, felt alone, and was constantly trying to run away from what was inside me. It never occurred to me, but deep down, I knew I was scared to feel and rightly so. And when I finally accepted the unimaginable truth beneath the waves, that I was deeply wounded as a child, I started crying while my insides erupted into a storm. A feeling of small relief was barely felt amongst the raging hurricane of fear, pain, anger, and sadness. I was hurt. I was hurt for a long time by the people that should take care of you. I cried every day for a month, and that was just the beginning. That was four years ago, and I was given a second chance to live my life.

I am recovering from Complex-PTSD. Layers upon layers of relational trauma and emotional abuse has impacted my life in ways I hope others will never be touched. I struggle with somatic and emotional flashbacks, self-care, depressive symptoms, suicidal tendencies, boundary issues, and #Anxiety. When I started to uncover the cause of what I had been experiencing, I asked myself why. So many times, over and over. Why was I hurt like this and how could people do so much damage? I lost my faith and my ignorance all at once. All of the times I thought were happy weren’t so happy. It turned out I didn’t really understand my life. I started to realize why life has been so hard for me, why relationships feel so terrifying, and how long of a journey I was really on. I felt so scared I could barely think straight. This was my life.

Most people don’t know. It is not something I like to open up about, and who can blame me? I could. I blamed myself for what happened for years. And that is why I am talking about it now. Because it is hard. Because I am a trauma survivor. Because for the longest time I thought so many things were my fault, but I have never deserved what happened to me. It is hard for me to ask for help and it is hard for me to open up. When I get hurt by people I trust, it hurts a thousand times more than it should, bringing up wounds that never healed. But I am finally in a place where I can take this risk and be open and trust myself that it is okay to say I love myself, this is who I am, and this is my experience.

I lost my faith in people a long time ago, but I can finally see a sliver of light. My life has never been easy and from everything I have experienced, I don’t have much reason to see good in this world. But one thing I realized is the difference between familiarity and the unknown. I have been so afraid to experience new feelings: safety and warmth and love. I associated safety with what I had always experienced, but I never realized that the most terrifying thing I can do is to face the unknown and try something brand new. I hoped beyond hope that maybe, just maybe, I could find something else.

I’ve felt like I am just barely looking into the window of what my life could be, but it is slowly becoming clearer. I am afraid of what I’ll see but I am finding that maybe I picked up a little faith on my way. It is hard coming to terms with what I’ve been through, but I can finally see that my journey is an incredible story. You can only feel love to the depths that you have felt other emotions and I know that by feeling my pain, I am climbing upward. I know that one day, I’ll reach the top just as I reached the bottom and I will see a beautiful piece of my life and look back, knowing that I did everything I could to be here.

Cortland Goffena

Why I Spoke Up About My Experience With Suicidal Thoughts

I looked around the room, eyes completely locked on my every move. I took a deep breath to steady myself before my words started to spill out of my mouth. I had known I would be here for weeks now. With every day moving towards this moment my stomach tightened into knots more and more, but now I was completely lost in my past. I was too far into my speech to even consider stopping. I was telling a room full of 60 plus college peers my story about my struggles with mental illness and suicide. Months before my speech, I had decided to join the Out of the Darkness club on campus. We promote suicide prevention and helped plan the Out of the Darkness walk in the area. As I started to become more involved with the Out of the Darkness club, I realized mental health advocates are a scarcity on my university’s campus. I had struggled with depression and suicide for three years before I finally dug my way out. I had cried myself to sleep again and again, afraid to even reach out for help. After some major thought, I decided to share my story to help promote the Out of the Darkness walk. This was my senior year of college and I finally felt I was doing something that was really worth it. I was battling stigma and talking about my mental illness. Weeks before my speech, I spoke with an estranged friend whom I had fought with in the past. Her words echoed in my head: “You acted like a victim.” The words still stung. I was in a place where I could realize the truth of my self-defeating actions toward the world and the pain accompanying those words hinted at some past truth to their statement. Here I was, remembering the labels put on me by others, still recovering from my dysfunctional habits and I was terrified by how people would perceive my story in the following weeks. I thought, What if that is what everyone thinks? What if everyone feels I am just being a victim? That I deserved this pain? It was a struggle to get out of bed the next day. After all, that same “friend” would be there. The days kept ticking down, but every time I tried to talk myself out of telling my story, I asked myself, “But who else will?” Days before my speech, I kept rehearsing, spitting out phrase after phrase until I found the right words. I was set on making sure the delivery was the best that it could be — weeding out the tears, the anger and the blame I felt towards the people involved in my story. A part of me wanted to attack some of my peers, try to blame them for my pain I had experienced, but I knew that strategy would not help. The best I could do was to be objective and honest about my life. I focused on how much I overcame to be standing there in front of them and hoped they would understand. I wanted to articulate that making the personal choice to reach out and seek help is the main reason I was still here. The day of my speech, I was terrified. I could barely think straight and was just going through the motions. The strange thing was that the room full of people did not even know how much I was going to open up to them. They did not even know I was a part of the Out of the Darkness club. If I really wanted to, I could have kept quiet and chose to completely forget about it. Maybe in an alternate timeline that is exactly what I did, but I would never want to live in a world where I did not speak up. As I rose to speak on the open floor, I felt more empowered and less terrified. I knew telling my story was something I needed to do for myself. Afterwards, I watched the effect of my story. Some people looked away and acted like nothing happened. Some cried, expressed respect and opened up about their own stories. Some treated me differently and some treated me the same. You cannot decide how the audience will react to your story, but one thing is for certain: you can decide to tell your story. Your story will liberate you and allow you to accept yourself through affirmation. You are a survivor and are lucky to be alive. I would tell my story to everyone I have ever met if I could without making them uncomfortable or crossing boundaries. My story freed me from my cage. The days after I opened up about my story I felt exposed, honest and authentic. It was uncomfortable to say the least, but it was truly healing. Wounds were brought to light after my speech, and it was an opportunity I could not pass up. I cried. I cried because things had finally changed. I cried for four reasons: 1. Instead of being angry and hurting people, I opened up about how much pain I was in. 2. Instead of being sad and pushing people away, I opened up about how sometimes I need help. 3. Instead of being hurt and blaming others, I opened up about how I took responsibility and changed my life. 4. Instead of feeling shame and hiding, I became proud of who I am and what I have been through. Opening up about my story became one of the proudest moments of my life. It helped me be honest with myself. No one wants to admit that they have been through hell, were hurt by someone they love or did not want to live anymore. That is why suicide and mental illness can be so hard to talk about. There is a stigma about expressing what makes us human, but so many gifts come from our experiences and sharing those experiences. After opening up about my story, I had multiple individuals reach out to me to express their appreciation and to even share their own stories. It was empowering and gave me hope. We are so afraid to express who we are for fear of what might happen, but ask yourself this question: If you don’t tell your story, who will? If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 o r text “START” to 741-741 . Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Kait Loggins