Note: this was written with someone else about their PTSD.
I am going to tell you a story. This will not be your ordinary tale; this is something different. This will be the story of my life. Ha! Boring, I hear you say, well perhaps, but this is the tale of my PTSD. I shall gloss over the early stuff because that is a cause, not the effects. This will be all about the effects. Think of the cause like the whitewash under a wall, or the underlay below a carpet, it is always there, but you can’t see it. I was abused, and that is where my troubles began.
I am alone in a pub come restaurant, the Boat and Anchor. You know the type, it used to be a pub, but it has recently expanded into the food business. It is a pretty ordinary free house, but I like it. It has a good varied selection of drinks, and the food is superb for the price. I find it increasingly difficult to visit some places, so having somewhere I like locally is nice. Even so, the memory of my abuser hangs over me like a ghostly shadow. I can’t see his shadow; I can’t feel or hear it, yet it is always there. To anyone watching me, they will think I am daydreaming, only it is not that. I feel I am watching myself. A sort of out-of-body experience. The spectre-like shadow of my abuser lurks above me; I am then in the middle, with my human presence, standing staring at nothing. I look quite a sight, but nobody will have any idea as to why.
I watch myself move and stand with my back to a wall. It took me a long time to realise I do this and an even longer to understand why! It is something I do; placing myself against a wall where I can see the exit and can’t be approached without seeing the person first. I do not like it when I am approached from behind. Then it happens. Like a coiled spring, I am snapped back into myself; it has taken me by surprise and fractured my waking watching dream. I am whole once more for just the briefest of moments.
A man has knocked his glass and then grabbed it before it fell to the floor; this is all it took, the silence between the tick and the tock is all it takes, and I am flooded with memory. That tiny fractional silence between a second, and I am cracking in much the same way the glass would have done had it fallen. It is a combination of the noise, the motion as he snatched at it, and the look in his eyes. The look that says the glass being there was someone else’s fault. His clumsiness was not the issue; the problem was caused by someone else.
The emotions overwhelm like a waterfall that has suddenly erupted into existence. It smashes like a car hitting another, and I have the flashback of abuse. The memory of the misery and mindless mistreatment I once suffered. The anticipation, rage, anger, hurt, and all the others clatter in my very being, and I am terrified. Every. Single. Emotion rattles me at once. I feel them colliding like rocks from the big bang inside my head. I am recreating that night, that night when… No, I am not giving him that. He does not deserve to be relived here, and I deserve better.
The blackness of remembrance engulfs my world, and I am alone with only the fear of that moment. Paralysing echoes of the past reverberate in the darkness. I’ve unconsciously closed my eyes, but even if I were to open them, I would be trapped in this nightmare. But I have no choice. I know what is coming, and I am powerless to stop it. I can only relive the recording of my abuse in ultra-clear one gazillion megapixel vision. I open my eyes and see the woman approaching.
Her hand touches my arm, and I am torn between what is real and what is an echo. Had I not been against the wall, or had she come from behind, I’d have jumped from my skin. “Are you okay?” the barmaid asks. I have so many things that can happen now and many different responses. I dislike being touched by those I do not know, but I must let that pass. She meant me no harm. I can overdo it; many times, I clam up. I can feel the rage burning inside me, not just because of what he did, but because I can’t help but let it control me sometimes. I get so angry with that. Why does this happen? “No, yes, yes, I am fine,” I reply. “I am waiting for someone, you see, and I just happen to have arrived before him, and now I am waiting. So I am fine, I am good,” I lie; it is easier than explaining the truth. “I am just early, I suppose, but I was sure we agreed on eight, and it has gone eight, hasn’t it?”
“Only just,” the barmaid says with a cheerful smile. I am not listening; my heart rate is hamming like a drumroll. Her hand on my arm, meant in the best possible way, I know that, has shaken me further. The touch on an innocent, the noise of a glass, the movement of a man, and the look in his eyes have all bought me here. I am trapped between nightmare and life; I know it was her hand, but I am waiting for that ghastly shadow to grab me. I have to remind myself that she was only trying to help. “I am good, thank you,” I say once again and fake a smile, “I’ll just have a coke and sit and wait.”
I do not want to wait, I want to go home, but I can’t. I do not want to let this beat me. She leaves, and I am again adrift, navigating like an extra from The Walking Dead to a table. I sit at the table with my back to the wall, once more ensuring the entrance is in view. I am trapped in an endless battle, a skirmish that I will win. I have fought this before and won; I will triumph again. I will win the war.
I feel I am lost on a boat at sea. There is no moonlight and no starlight. There is just me, the boat drifting aimlessly, and my memories. I could run, but how do you run from something that has happened to you? How do you run from your thoughts and experiences? I am trapped on this buoyant boat of memory, drifting aimlessly, with just my trauma and fears. I am sweating, panting, and spinning in this despairing, dispiriting darkness. It is sucking all the energy from me. It draws everything that I am and everything I ever was. I don’t want to be here in the Boat and Anchor, and I don’t want to be teetering in this sea of insanity, trapped in the ocean’s darkness. I want to curl up in the corner of the deck and cry. I want to scream, shout and cry all at the same time.
My night is ruined; I am bubbling with emotional rage as I return to the now. Through no fault of his own, the man who triggered my flashback has gone. Sitting with a coke, I can see my partner arrive. He will understand; he knows me. But the night is over. I need to shower and remove and scrub the sweat and memory from my very being. I must scrape the thoughts from every pore of my being and try to return to some kind of normality. I can’t go on like this, but I will. I won’t kill myself; I am stronger than him and won’t let him win. This can jump from anywhere, but I will not give up. I do not have to say much as we leave. I drift like the boat, autopiloting myself from the pub. My partner knows, and I do not have to explain, for that, I will forever be grateful.
I use EMDR techniques to try and calm my mind. I need to control that floating ship in the sea. I’ve tried visual stimulation to control myself, but I can’t keep my eyes open. When I have been in therapy, they use buzzers that alternate in my hands, but as I am out, I use tapping. I cross my arms, my left hand on my right shoulder and the right on the left. The car skips and ebbs along the road, and it feels like I am floating. I tap on my shoulders. One, two, three, four, and then change shoulder. Index, middle, ring, and little on the next. I sometimes start with a picture on my phone; it was something I drew, but I do not need it this time. I have sometimes tapped my legs; it is something I can do when I am out and need to be discrete. I can be myself here.
I am still floating as we drive home. My eyes are closed, and I am dissecting apart the flashes of my earlier life. I am funnelling between the car, the night, and the past. I realise that my breathing is paced; I can slow it as I relax into the desensitisation. My heart starts to normalise; gone is the drumroll, and we are now down to the steady tap of a ballad.
I think about my safest space. It is a place my therapist and I set up and built in my EMDR sessions. The place where I am at my happiest. It is a lake, and I am joined by people from my past, present, and family. The world is populated by those I trust; there aren’t many. The sky is the perfect shade of blue, and the breeze in the air seems to blow away my worries. I do not need to speak to the people that have joined me; I just need companionship. I need to know that I am not alone. I know that I am not alone, but sometimes I need reminding. I require that nudge to help bring me back down and into my body and mind.
After my shower, sleep eludes me. This happens; being mentally tortured can be as exhausting as any physical activity. I have tried, but I still have all the emotions of the evening’s events seeping from me. Now it is more anger at myself, but rage is rage. The ceiling starts to darken as I finally drift and sway into sleep, only it is not dreamless. Dreamless I could use; this is my boat, and I am back in the dark unlit sea. I need my lighthouse and guiding light, but he is sleeping beside me, unaware of where I am.