How other’s trauma affects my PTSD

I am terrified as I write this. Literally feeling sick to my stomach from stress. My spouse lays next to me having no idea of the meltdown going on in my head, and I don’t say a word because I don’t want to appear crazy.

The evening started out uneventful. After we got the kids to bed, my spouse asked again if we could finally watch the movie “Sully.” I had been nixing that idea for the past couple of weeks when we were deciding what to watch.

I learned during 9/11 I have an unusual experience with my PTSD. I found when I was watching the nonstop coverage of 9/11, my own PTSD became activated at such a level as if I were actually involved in the incidents. The lines became very blurry, and my PTSD symptoms were extremely high.

I can still remember driving through downtown Atlanta on my way home from work and sweating as I looked up at the high rises above me. I was absolutely certain one was going to come tumbling down on me from a terrorist attack.

Since 9/11, I became very attuned to the fact that if I had witnessed a car accident, which is not uncommon in Atlanta, I would replay the scene and the sounds and the stress of it over and over in my head as if it had happened to me.

I have learned to avoid a lot of things since I became aware of how these things were affecting me. I try not to even watch the news anymore. Thus, I knew I should avoid a movie replaying a traumatic event, but I didn’t want to look crazy to my spouse who really wanted to see this movie.

As we watched the movie, I had moments where I could barely breathe, and other moments where I felt panic and wanted to cry. I was crying on the inside. It didn’t seem to matter that I knew what was going to happen in the story. I seem to always over-relate to someone else’s experience of trauma.

Now, my brain is spinning and I am hearing what sounds like a passenger plane flying low around my home. The plane noise won’t go away. My spouse doesn’t hear anything, so I know it is me going crazy.

I know it isn’t real, but the noise won’t stop. I am filled with anxiety. I am telling myself the noise isn’t real, but the sound of the impending airplane is so loud and continuous I can’t ignore it.

I have medication that would help in this situation, but I have worked so hard to not take medication for the betterment of my health.

I am hoping somehow writing about this will calm my symptoms down.

Why doesn’t it help to know this is just my PTSD?

I am so angry at myself for having this twisted brain that reacts to other people’s trauma like this. The anger, fear, and shame now have me feeling suicidal.

You would think with the self-awareness I have about my PTSD, and how this continuous noise is not real, it would make me be ok. It doesn’t.

I am irrationally terrified over a stupid movie. My self-loathing is kicking in. My belief that I don’t want to live life with this kind of terror in my head is kicking in.

Make the noise stop.

It hasn’t.

Will I forever be this tortured soul who can’t seem to get rid of this trauma brain?

I still hold hope one day I will be free. Until then, I work to survive the imprint left on my brain.

It will never make sense

I often find myself in a place where I am trying to make sense why abuse has happened to me throughout my life.

It is common for abuse survivors to think about “the why.” I can get stuck in this place because I want to believe I had some control over what happened to me. In other words, if I can just figure out what I am doing to cause the abuse, I can change my behavior and it won’t happen anymore.

I struggle with the idea that there was nothing I could have done differently to stop the abuse from happening. Admitting that degree of powerlessness is extremely scary.

Instead, I struggle to accept there is no logical or spiritual reason these awful things have happened to me.

I have to accept as an adult the people who abused me were sick people, and it wasn’t my fault even as an adult. Power imbalances are still in a lot of places as an adult, and I certainly never learned as a child how to stop predators from hurting me.

You would think I would let myself off the hook for the severe abuse that happened to me as a child. Nope. I am always looking to make sense of it, wondering what I did to deserve such horrific things to happen to me.

It is especially hard to understand when I meet other adult woman around my age who haven’t suffered any abuse as a child or an adult. This knowledge does a number on my thinking, and my beliefs.

My “go to” belief about myself in trying to understand the abuse I have suffered is to believe there must have been something inherently bad about me when I was born.

My therapist often can help me pull out of that belief at least temporarily by asking me about my own children and whether they could have been born inherently bad. Knowing the innocence of a baby, I know it is not possible, except maybe in a Hollywood movie.

On a good day, I have to understand that I will probably never understand the cruelty and sickness of others, and this is probably a good thing.

Accepting that some people are just sick and twisted for their own reasons, and it isn’t going to be logical, is hard for me.

I know, on an especially good day, that both in adulthood and childhood, I did nothing to deserve the abuse from the many sick souls I encountered.

I know I am a good person. I am not perfect, but overall, I am a compassionate and loving person who carries around a lot of deep wounds underneath.

I have to stop trying to make sense of my life, and why so many people hurt me.

The logic will never explain the behavior of sadists, narcissists, and pedophiles.

I hope to one day be free of trying to take any ownership of “the why,” because no one deserves what happened to me.

No matter what.

Why was I born?

I never mattered. My family ensured I understand this. I figured this out early. My brain became dizzy and lost and alone. Early on I didn’t know suicide was an option. I thought I had to stay on this very horrific planet where life didn’t make any sense to me.

I was the 3rd child in my family, the first two being older brothers. My parents tell the story that they wanted a girl, which is why they had a 3rd child, and I naively thought for years they wanted a girl for the “normal” reasons families typically want a certain gender. I was wrong.

What I could never understand is why if my mom wanted a girl, then why did she hate me so much? And why did everyone in my life treat me so poorly, and it seemed to be ok, and my role in the family.

From as far back as I can remember, my mom was always upset with who I was and how I looked. She would yell at me in her bathroom making me look in the mirror and tell me all the things wrong with me. One thing that especially infuriated her was that I didn’t hold in my stomach all the time like a proper young lady. Otherwise, I was showing the world I was fat. The fact that I was malnourished and skin and bones didn’t enter into this repeated criticism.

I was born into this family, never to understand it. I never understood why my older brothers who were constantly in trouble were treated special and as if they were loved, but I hardly existed as a wanted child in my family. Well, at least not the right kind of wants.

I don’t ever remember being loved or cared for by this family as a child. No one cared where I was, what was happening to me, or whether I had appropriate food or medical care. I was always more of a burden expected to keep my mouth shut under every circumstance. No one wanted to hear or cared what I had to say.

Love in any kind of normal way did not exist for me. As close as I have to love in some kind of caring way was once in a while my middle brother would pull off my older brother for things he was doing to me.

I didn’t have any caring neighbors, relatives, people at school, or anywhere else. It was as if I was a ghost, and didn’t matter to anyone.

No matter how many times my therapist explains it to me, I can’t seem to comprehend that my parents would intentionally have a baby to harm it for their sick, personal gain. I know we all see stories of this kind of stuff on the news from time-to-time, but this can’t be my story, despite all the evidence that says it is.

I guess it seems incomprehensible to me partially because I am a mother of two, and I just can’t imagine harming them in any way. I would step in front of a train for either of my children, whereas my family of origin was the train coming right for me all the time.

I suppose I have to explain I was born to two active alcoholic parents , and my two brothers became alcoholics/drug addicts at a rather early age, and later drug dealers. This alone brought in lots of violence to our home, but it also brought in lots of other strange and sick people, amongst other things.

When I tell people this story, which I actually never do outside my therapist’s office, people assume I grew up in poverty. I guess to be correct, my family lived in an upper middle class neighborhood, but I did live in poverty in my own little world.

My mom was President of the Junior Women’s Club and pack leader for my brothers’ Cub Scout pack. She entertained lots of hot shot business men at fancy parties and over cocktails at our house. From time-to-time, she would be in the newspaper for her fancy parties and philanthropy work.

My brothers were in the newspaper twice as children, once for taking an overdose of my aunt’s “diet pills,” and the second time because they intentionally lit our house on fire in the middle of the night. The fire story leaves out that they left the family for dead, and many fire fighters endangered their lives looking for them in the fire. The story also leaves out that my drunk, passed-out parents were more annoyed with me than anything for waking them to tell them the house was on fire.

My father was missing a lot from the house. He just wasn’t there. I believe this was part of the dark life he was living. When he was home, he was drunk and my parents fought a lot after their drinking buddies left.

My mom grew up during the depression, and has several siblings who I would describe as all mentally unstable in a religious kind of way (like psychotic). All of my cousins on my mom’s side were drug addicts and some were mentally ill in scary ways, all except two, and those two cousins were adopted, but still describe their childhood as something they had to escape from.

My mom was by far a very attractive woman, and she used this to her advantage her entire life, and wasn’t afraid to tell you so. To this day she looks about 20 years younger than she is. She also says she was sexually abused as a child.

She is a classic narcissist. Everything is about her. No matter what is happening, she manages to turn the story back around to her. She requires constant attention, and has no respect for anyone’s wishes but her own. Just tonight my mom called and I told her I had neck surgery this week, and there were some complications with the anesthesia. Without a beat, her reply was to tell me she has red dots on her leg and wants me to come up with some type of solution for her problem, and my issues never exist unless she is blaming me for a problem.

But here’s the key, to everyone on the outside we were this upstanding family mostly respected in the community. No one would ever guess what went on behind closed doors unless they were participating in it.

My mom has been called a sadist, too. I grew up in a fairly large beach town, so there were always a lot of transient or seedy people around. I wandered among them and received my share of abuse from them. But my mom liked to do a special thing to me. When I was about 5-6 years old, she would drive me about 5-10 miles from my home and leave me there. At that age, I didn’t have the wherewithal to know what to do, so I would just sit and wait for many, many hours. Usually by nightfall my father would find me and bring me home. We never spoke of this, but I was always terrified to be left somewhere. My sick mother thought this little joke was funny. I don’t know what my father thought, but I know at the end of the day he always picked her over me.

My life growing up from a very young age was nonstop physically, sexually, and religiously abusive, neglectful, and psychologically torturing. As a result, my mind decided to survive by creating Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which was formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder. I developed “parts” or other inside people to break up my life and handle things I couldn’t. I didn’t do this consciously, it just happened. It is what allowed me to survive.

As an adult now, my mind is filled with “parts” or other people. Some have more expansive identities than others. Though it helped me survive my childhood, it is by no means an easy life, and many days I have thoughts of suicide. My memory is severely impaired due to the DID. It is something I try to hide everyday. I have to negotiate between the parts of me who will be “out” on any given day or moment. As a result, this body has no clear sense of who it is. Not having a cohesive sense of yourself is a depressing predicament to be in for your entire life.

Loneliness is the prevailing feeling when things are good. Because if you don’t have this disorder, it is not something the rest of the minions on this planet understand, or even believe in.

Ghost Child

 

Imagine growing up in an environment where you don’t really exist. Most of the time no one sees you, hears you, or even thinks of you and your basic needs. You don’t exist, but you do.

You know you exist because you can see them. Sometimes they sound muffled, sometimes you are drifting away, but you know you are there. You can feel some things like hunger, pain, and fear. You have to be real to feel those things. But most of the time the world acts as if you don’t exist, unless it is one of those times when the people want something from you.

As an adult, I am always fearful when someone asks me a basic question about my childhood. I am afraid my secret will be exposed. My secret that the things I could discuss with a regular inquiring human don’t exist for me. I don’t remember the normal happenings of any given day from my childhood, though I am sure I must have had some. I only have memories of the bad, or the quiet moments when it seemed like the world stopped and I was just walking around in it alone.

I don’t tell people that I can only remember 3 memories of Kindergarten, and have no memory of 1st through 6th grade, except for a few traumatic memories that involved school.

Now that I know I have DID, I suppose the logical explanation is that those memories are stored somewhere in my brain as experiences of another part of me. I try and try to remember, but I can’t. It is hard to make sense of things when you don’t have complete memories.

There is this really shitty group out there called the False Memory Foundation. They would dismiss all my memories because of the significant gaps in memory I do have. They like to say people with DID are faking it because they are trying to avoid responsibility for a crime, or perhaps the fake DID person just wants attention. We won’t go into their motives for saying that here.

I am not avoiding responsibility for a crime, and I certainly don’t need attention, especially of this nature. There were times when I denied it was real, but there is just too much that meets the criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder that I experience.

I have distinctly different parts who have distinct personalities, cognitive functioning, and beliefs about the world. They have different names, genders, sexual orientations, ages, bodies, and so much more. Though we experience ourselves as separate people, we do know there is only one body that we all share. We just don’t all agree on what the body looks like. Younger parts actually see small bodies when they look at our body.

Almost all of us experience terrible amnesia that affects us just about every day. We have learned techniques to hide it, but anyone who has any insight into this disorder would easily spot it with a few questions. I tried to write it off as dementia at one point, but then that doesn’t explain the parts who have very good memories and can recall all sorts of details I would never be able to recall.

My DID helped me survive horrific abuse, neglect, constant exposure to violence and alcohol/drugs, and mind control. By the time I reached 7th grade, my DID seemed to settle down some and I remembered more of my life from that point on, but definitely still experiencing periods of amnesia.

My parents decided for reasons I will probably never know to move to another state and start the family over in 7th grade. We became this new fake family that just tried to blend in with the rest. For the most part we did, considering so much was still going on.

I was still being raped by a family member during that period, but that seemed tolerable compared to my younger years.

Though I never mattered much to my family of origin, my life did become a little more normalized despite the ongoing abuse, violence, police interventions, drug dealing, suicide attempts and prostitution that still went on in our family.

Though I had friends my entire life, I have always felt alone because of the disconnect between my fake world and real world. I was taught early on that the real world I lived in was never to be discussed with anyone. And it wasn’t until recently.

So, I have always sort of felt like this ghost person, one who was there and at times interacting quite normally in the world, but one who had no real identity and no connection to anyone, except maybe my pets. It is hard to explain. Some of my friends would describe me as quite social, but that is because I have parts of me who can do that without being our authentic selves. When you can’t be authentic, it is like you are not really there, but just playing a part of what we think a “normal” person would do in those situations.

Sadly, I have been disconnected from other people my entire life. My children are probably my closest connections, but even then it doesn’t feel 100% connected or authentic.

I have always known I was abused and neglected, but I used all my energy to push that away from my everyday thinking. The memories stayed everyday, but the feelings and thoughts about them stayed far away until my Senior year of college.

And that began the official deconstruction of my life.