Flashbacks in the Rain

I almost died in a car wreck that happened in the rain. For the most part (and thanks to EMDR and a lot of therapy) I don’t really have problems anymore when I drive. When I do, I have coping skills that work well. So today was a pretty big surprise when I was driving in the rain on my way to a meeting and started having flashbacks, not about my car wreck, but about the day of my brother’s accident. Clear as anything were the memories of getting the call from my mom, picking up his truck, sitting in the ICU waiting room unable to pray and barely able to hold it together, leaning on the prayers and shoulders of friends.

I’ve rarely had flashbacks of my own trauma, much less that of someone else. And while that day was traumatic for me, it hasn’t had nearly the impact that my own trauma has.

As I began to write this post, I also began to ask why and to process what happened this afternoon. I’m dreaming again… I’m processing again… I’m resolving trauma again.

I am done being afraid of the hold the past has on me. I’ve survived this much this long, and I can deal with whatever else boils up. But this was interesting, because as much as the flashback experience while driving on slick roads was not pleasant, it didn’t shake me. I’m now more curious about it, about where it came from and why that day?

I dream when I’m relaxed or when I am processing. Emotions, events – they all get run through my dream cycles in full color and epic drama. I don’t dream the exact thing, I dream versions of it, or nothing at all related. I started dreaming again this week after a long time off. My resting heart rate is slowly dropping, I’m a little more calm during the day and now memories are emerging that probably haven’t been dealt with. The human brain is fascinating.

Am I excited by this? Nope. Am I afraid of it? Also nope. Gonna deal with it and move on…

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I Thought PTSD Was a Life Sentence

I finally broke down. I was pissed. Some days I still am.

I live with anxiety brain. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Here’s how that happened, and how I view it now.

Almost four years ago someone I loved and trusted betrayed me with absolute cruelty. Less than a week later I hydroplaned on an interstate and the hood of my car went under the trailer tires of a semi. I honestly thought I was going to die before the car came to a stop, but I came out of the blur and wreckage with a few bruises and already on the phone with 911. The witnesses to my wreck couldn’t believe I was alive. The wrecker driver couldn’t believe I was making jokes. I couldn’t believe an engine could be in pieces like that. I was in law class the next morning, and didn’t miss a beat until two years later, when I was down to my last shred of sanity and my choice was between leaving my life and starting again or getting help. I chose to get help.

The trauma broke my brain. I maybe could have made it through one event or the other, but I could not do both, and two years later I learned that I wasn’t crazy, I have a diagnosable injury that I can do a lot to heal. I am almost two years into the healing process, and I will have to work at it till I die. Lots of practice!

The trauma that I experienced in less than a week – all of it out of my control – handed me what I saw as a life sentence of frustration, self-blame and much-reduced mental capabilities. My intelligence, my focus and my stamina under stress were blown to pieces, and everything I knew to do to get ahead in life was taken from me when I finally broke down. I was pissed. Some days I still am.

A few months ago my younger brother was badly injured at work and my experience with PTSD suddenly had purpose. I was no longer the weak one, the only one in therapy in a tough family, I was the one with compassion, empathy and Grace. I was the one who could keep smiling, stay positive and support the family’s physical and emotional needs. My injury and healing suddenly set a clear path forward not only for what not to do and say, but what to do to help heal. I have my answer to the question “WHY?!?!?!”, and it’s enough. Even if it did pause my own recovery for nearly three months. It’s enough.

I’m still working through the anxiety and trauma I had before the worst week of my life. I had to learn that I even had anxiety and trauma before. I had to learn there are names and reasons and answers and tools and that yes, I can exercise a certain amount of control over my life. That was freeing. I haven’t forgotten the endless days of pain, the endless tears, the silent sobs, my soul screaming while I was pushed to my limits by something nameless residing in my brain that wouldn’t let me let go. I can’t forget that much pain. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to be so compassionate now.

Life sentence? Maybe. Life changing? Definitely. And good thing, because I am a much better human now than I was before.