A few weeks ago, my husband and I were making love (not to be confused with the quick, I'm-so-exhausted type of sex we're used to). It was the kind of love-making I dreamt of when I was young. The magical, in-the-moment, take-your-breath-away type of sex. Until my husband wrapped his arms tightly around my neck and held me close.
I felt trapped. I couldn't breathe. In a split second my body went from passionate love-making to fight or flight mode. Since I was, essentially, trapped in the arms of a very strong man, I couldn't leave, so I fought. I ripped my husband's arms off of me, threw a few automatic punches and jumped backward.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry!" my husband yelled as he reached toward me, his eyes wide and filled with concern.
"It's okay — just give me a minute." I motioned his hands away and started rubbing my fingers nervously over the stitch lines on my comforter.
It had been a while since my post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was triggered like that; my husband knew right away what happened because my body's reaction to his touch used to bother him.
"Can't you just get over it already?"
"Don't you trust me?"
But years of personal and professional experience of living with, studying and treating PTSD from what we psychologists call a "big T" trauma has taught me that it isn't something you just get over, past, or through.
Some of the symptoms can be managed through medication, grounding techniques and intensive therapy, but trauma changes the way your brain functions. Most of the time, healing can only occur when a trauma survivor learns to live with the context of their brain's new pathways.
It's been almost 13 years since I was raped, and I can still smell the coconut-flavored rum on the assailant's breath as he threw my naked body up against a wooden dresser. I can still see the patches of blood on my sheets — liquid proof of what he had done. I was a virgin.
Thirteen years and my body won't forget. My body remembers anything my mind can't. I spent years in therapy trying to dig up those memories. I thought that if my mind remembered, maybe it would help my body to forget, but so far it hasn't worked like that.
I used to deal with my PTSD by pouring massive amounts of alcohol into my body. The drinking worked at first, but only for a short while. Within a few years I became a low-bottom alcoholic and aside from numerous legal, physical and emotional consequences, the alcohol — which once numbed me — stopped working altogether.
When I got sober, my therapist at the time recommended Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to help me process that trauma. That, coupled with intensive anger management, interventions and cognitive behavioral therapy, helped me to maintain sobriety, but they didn't really help the PTSD. I was still triggered every time someone touched me and I lived in a hyper-vigilant state.
It wasn't until I started graduate school for Marriage and Family Therapy that I began to really understand what was happening in my body and brain when my PTSD was triggered. When my husband touches certain areas of my body, my brain perceives his touch as a threat and the reptilian part of my brain (which controls survival instincts) shuts down the other two parts of my brain (where logic, sense of time and decision-making are held) and takes over.
In that moment, my brain can't differentiate the past from the present and mistakenly thinks that I am re-living the trauma. I have to give my brain stem time to reconnect with the rest of my brain before it can realize that 13 years have passed since the rape and I'm in a safe place with a safe person.
It used to take much longer for my brain to make the connection, but I've worked really hard at practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques so when those moments hit, I can bring myself back quicker and more easily.
Mindfulness has helped to reduce the majority of my anxiety symptoms that accompany my PTSD. If I'm continually bringing my mind into the present moment using my five senses, anxiety doesn't have time to fester and grab hold. If I do find myself in a hyper-vigilant state, I use grounding techniques such as deep breathing, running my hands through kinetic sand, stomping my feet on the ground and noticing the connection between my foot and the floor, and splashing my face with cold water.
My PTSD used to be the biggest wedge between my husband and I, but now it' something that brings us together. We have learned to integrate mindfulness and grounding techniques into our physical relationship and through effective communication, education and patience, we are now closer than ever before. What used to trigger fights and fuel anger and resentments now provides deep intimacy and emotional connection.
Not only have I learned to live with my PTSD — but because of my experience, I have found a passion in helping other trauma survivors on their journey toward heath and wellness. I don't look at PTSD as an illness, or something that needs to be cured, but instead as an opportunity to practice a variety of tools that aid in creating a well-rounded, meaningful life.
See the original post here: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/inspirational-stories/a38839/how-i-learned-to-live-with-my-ptsd/