TRIGGER WARNING : this blog post contains very sensitive information and may be difficult for some people to read. Please exercise self care.
They come like a sudden storm that catches you unaware, the impact of a flashback or body memory is huge. You’d think after all this time I would be used to them, somehow better able to cope and yet each time they hit I’m still left reeling. Ask any trauma survivor and they will say that they encounter flashbacks, it is a part I believe of the trauma impact. I have faced this nightmare for so long now and yet despite thinking I should be able to cope with them, sadly flashbacks still hurt.
It’s hard to explain to someone who has never encountered one the feelings that I have, or how I feel as a result and yet deep down I think it would help for others to understand. The other night was disrupted by my worst type of flashback one that contained a body memory, my body holding the feelings, senses and fears that it faced sometime in the past.
Imagine if you can the horror, I am recounting possibly for the very first time a memory, it seeps out from behind the amnesic barrier erected inside my mind. Suddenly the memory feels real, not only that, my body is remembering the physical parts of the memory, so physical touches, my bodies reactions, smells and odours. The best way to describe this is to say that at times it feels like we are being assaulted or raped all over again, except to me this maybe the very first time I have been aware of this memory locked deep within. So it feels like I’m being attacked right at that moment and I cannot stop the memory from spewing out it’s contents.
I feel real fear, I feel anguish and distress, the other night my body memory left me feeling like I was dirty and so desperately unclean, that’s not uncommon. Yet in reality I was safe in my own home in the middle of the night, the doors were locked and my son slept nearby in another room. But I felt like he (my abuser) was there, attacking me and yet I had no idea who he was. I could feel him in my bodies memory, I could feel his touch and his force and I couldn’t escape.
Afterwards I was left sitting in my darkened room shaking and desperately sad and I thought he (my abuser) was still able to come back and attack me again. I felt soiled and tarnished, my first thoughts were fearful ones followed by lots of what ifs? What if he is still here, what if he strikes again, what if it was my fault, could it be my fault? I thought about the physical parts of the memory, my body memory and how I reacted. Was it normal to react the way I had when I hated it so much, when I was fearful and yet my body reacted in the way it did. Was this right?
After the initial horror and shock had subsided slightly, I tried to logically tell myself this was a memory, that I was safe, it wasn’t happening now. I tried to tell my mind that I wasn’t being attacked at that very moment but that this was a memory seeping back into my consciousness. Shaking and agitated I sat on my sofa, telling myself and my alters; the other parts of me, that it was ok, we were ok.
Then I tried to tell myself it wasn’t my fault how could it be, this person who had attacked me was far stronger than me. Then I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t unclean, that all the feelings both emotionally and physical were from the past, I was just recounting something that happened to us in the past. It took a while for these thoughts to enter my head and start to resonate, it took a while for me to calm down after my body memory.
I tried to talk to my alters, well to the alter who has carried this memory for me and I tried hard to compassionately reassure them. I want them to know I’m glad to be finally unearthing the truth of my past, that I’m finally breaking down the amnesic barrier. That doesn’t mean it’s easy far from it, but it does mean I’m trying super hard to not freak out each time this happen.
In the beginning when I first began encountering flashbacks I use to freak out big style, I’d scream, I’d self harm and I hated, I hated me, I hated my alters. I can recall so many times when I have sat following a flashback and wondered how on earth I would cope, cope with the memory, I didn’t feel like I could survive. But over time though the flashbacks haven’t lessened or the feelings subside I have become stronger and better equipped to survive them. I’ve learnt to rationalise them and accept they are just memories and that it’s not really happening right now. I’ve learnt to find strength in the knowledge I have already coped with this incident, whatever it maybe, when it happened back in my past.
The horror, the shame and the impact of flashbacks may not have changed over the years, but I have and I’m slowly learning I’m a survivor and I can cope with such horrors. I’m learning it’s ok to feel and to cry, I’m learning that though I may have dissociated in the past when these events happened to us, I’m now ready to face them, slowly and with care.
The other night was difficult, each time I have a flashback or body memory it’s difficult and I doubt it will ever stop being so. I’m realising that these events which happened so long ago have a huge impact upon me today. One day I’ll be able to lessen that impact until then I will keep on trying to cope with them and to survive the repercussions that they contain. Through therapy and trauma work I will learn to lessen their grip on me, I will lessen the intensity of the emotions linked to each one. Well that’s my hope anyway, it’s what helps me to keep going to face another day.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014