I went to the doctor the other day because I was hoping she would tell me I was suffering from some sort of vitamin deficiency or a thyroid problem. I made the appointment after some revelations I had in therapy the past few weeks. Not new memories, just a new awareness of how much I minimized, squashed down and refused to process some pretty epic feelings. In a vague attempt to sidestep working through this, and to find a comfortable state denial, I went to the doctor wanting to hear I would feel better with a regimen of vitamins.
My doctor is fabulous. I’m extremely lucky to have a medical doctor and a therapist who understand the nuances of PTSD. She listened calmly as I anxiously rattled off all the reasons I thought I was sick. She agreed that it’s better to come in and make sure everything is okay, but she really didn’t think anything was wrong. To be sure, she ran the blood tests anyway. Good news, everything came back normal. All my numbers were nicely in the middle range. That was actually a huge relief, although there was a tiny part of me, that wished that everything I was feeling could be resolved with a boost of vitamins each morning.
There is a common expression that explains what it’s like to live with PTSD. “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.”
One of the questions that people often ask is, “Are you sure you want to remember your past?” Or a common statement is, “Just let the past go.” Both of these are said and/or asked without malice. I understand both the question and the statement. Most trauma survivors understand the intention behind these statements. They are meant to protect the person from suffering and bad memories which can be re-traumatizing. Also to remind survivors that it is okay to live in the present moment.
Going through trauma therapy, we work very hard to understand our symptoms so we can live in the present. We often have safety plans, distress tolerance tools, and grounding techniques that bring us back to the here-and-now. We learn to hear the birds singing, children playing, feel our feet on the ground, and though we may not feel safe, we begin to understand that we are safe, and no one can hurt us (like that) again.
We are empowered by the fact that we are survivors and celebrate resilience. And yet, with all that knowledge, and practice, and bringing ourselves back to the present moment, PTSD has skeleton hands that grab you and pull you into the past. It is the nature of the illness.
When I’m asked, “Are you sure you want to remember your past?” I say to myself, and sometimes to the person (depending on my mood), “How would you feel if you had big swatches of your life missing?” I’m not talking about little memories of places, or people that come and go, I’m talking sometimes years and years, blacked out. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you are alive because you are here, but you have no real congruent memories to make sense of yourself, your wholeness as a person. And, often when you do have flashes of the past, your emotions, feelings, and a very protective mind stop you from remembering.
My mind wouldn’t let me repress my memories any longer. I knew intuitively that I needed to know my past. I needed a timeline of my life. I didn’t want darkness any longer. I wanted to live, not just survive. I understood the truth would be painful. Traumatic memories are painful. But for me, in order to get some control over some of my most severe symptoms I needed to uncover my past, my truth.
It was hard, excruciatingly painful at times, but worth it! I still have symptoms, but now I can name them. And it turns out that I also have some feelings that I wasn’t ready to process before now. I understand where they come from, and why they are happening. I feel confident in the tools I’ve acquired and know I will be able to move through the current waves.
But in all honesty, I took some time after I went to the doctor and asked myself, “Are You sure you want to delve into these feelings and emotions? To poke around healing the inner child? And I say back, to myself with love and affection (and a dash of denial), “Yes, I do want to do this work, and remember, because, Whether it Daisy’s or Weeds it’s still my life.”
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph