Four letters that changed my outlook on myself, my past experiences, and my life as a whole. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a disorder in which a person struggles to recover following experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or terrifying event. This disorder is most often linked to war heroes, rape survivors, or anyone who has suffered anything considered “traumatic”. The funny thing is, trauma cannot be defined in one specific way. The way I explain the definition of trauma is going to be different than the way you describe it, and the way you describe it is going to be different than the way Joe Shmoe who sits next to you at work describes it, and so on and so forth.
A good rule of thumb to remember when trying to define trauma (and just a good rule to remember throughout life, really) is that what may seem is ordinary to you, can be defined as extraordinary to someone else. Let me repeat; what seems ordinary to you, could very well be considered extraordinary to others. This is why it is sometimes so easy to see things “from the outside” when it is happening to others, but we are often blinded when faced in the same situation ourselves.
Insert myself into the here and now. Sitting in my therapist’s office, when I tell her that although I know that some of the things I endured as a child may seem extremely scary and overwhelming to the average person…I don’t “feel” as if I have suffered a childhood trauma. If anyone else in the world explained the same situations I went through as a child to me as if they had endured them, I’d be like HOLY MOLY that’s definitely a traumatic experience. However, when it comes to thinking about it in terms of myself…it doesn’t seem as bad or extreme (do me a favor right here and google “minimization”).
This is where the BIG RED FLAG went up. That no matter how much I do or don’t talk about it, I, at 24 years of age, have still not been able to accept the experiences I went through as a child. And when I come even the slightest bit close to acceptance, I shut down. I shut down like a computer that needs 36 updates and hasn’t been restarted in over a year. This is also where my other main problem comes into play- avoidance. Acceptance and avoidance, I’ve learned, go hand in hand. You can’t accept something if you spend your entire life avoiding it, can you? But how will you ever have a chance to move forward from these experiences if you waste all of your energy avoiding the thoughts/memories/feelings that go along with accepting things as they are?
Spoiler Alert: you can’t.
I am so afraid of feeling some of my emotions, that instead I am using my entire being (and committing my entire life) to avoid them, which theoretically has worked for me… in the short term scheme of things. Long term? Not so much. By doing this for so long, by giving into avoidance and using it as my ‘go-to girl’ coping mechanism, I have become absolutely terrified to even acknowledge my actual feelings. But guess what? Whether I choose to acknowledge them or not doesn’t make them any less real. They are there whether I like it or not (and most of the times, it’s not). In my appointment today, we discussed doing a guided meditation for acknowledging a fearful event. Even just the mere THOUGHT of having to talk about/feel/re-experience a scary/sad moment in my life had me in tears. This whole time I thought that this reoccurring emotion I was feeling was the emotion of fear…but, I hadn’t even started talking about the event I was so afraid of. I was literally crying at the thought of having to feel the emotion of fear, not at the actual fearful feeling/event itself. This ‘thing’ I’ve been feeling? It hasn’t been fear or sadness or guilt or anything along those lines at all. This whole time, I have been feeling the feeling of avoidance. Every time I have felt “blah”, or “off”, or felt that something was wrong yet I just “couldn’t pinpoint what” …I was FEELING avoidance; I was feeling exactly what it feels like to avoid another emotion completely…without even being aware of it. Confusing, right? I think so, too.
But in turn, it makes all the sense. ALL THE SENSE. Feeling scared or sad? That stuff hurts. Who wants to feel those things? Not me! …. which is the thinking that got me into this predicament in the first place. Somewhere along the line, my brain was like, ‘hey! I don’t like feeling this…sooo I’m just gonna feel this (avoidance) instead! There we go!”.
To be continued.