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 (flashbacks, fear, anxiety, hypervigilance, helplessness, and hopelessness) 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. I understand where they come from, and why they are happening and I can use the tools I have to cope and move through the waves. Sometimes, it’s easier than other times.
What I have now is awareness. That awareness makes it easier for me to stay in the present. I don’t live in the past, but just like everyone else, I am partly who I am because of my past experiences. What I choose to do with that information is up to me.
I maintain that now, I live in the present because I know my truth. Before, I was too busy both consciously and unconsciously trying to bury, forget, and believe that I wasn’t worthy enough to have a lived life, whatever it looked like.
So when people care, and with love and affection innocently ask, “Are You sure you want to remember your past?” I can say back, with equal love and affection, “Yes, I do want to 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