Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Being held hostage by your memories. #Flashbacks.
Definition of Hostage
If you say you are hostage to something, you mean that your freedom to take action is restricted by things that you cannot control. Such is the force of PTSD.
Memories are something unique to each and every one of us. They are perhaps the only thing apart from our DNA that truly sets us apart from any other of our species.
They can be triggered by the sweet joyous sound of a baby’s laughter, the scent of a freshly baked cake, or a scene from a movie that we watch over-and-over again. All our senses take part in the remembering process.
The lingering refrain of church bells on Sunday morning and the butterfly touch of a spring breeze on our faces may all take us to places we once inhabited in real time.
But not all of our memory is sweet.
The darker times of loss, the time a love ended, the tragedy that life hands out … but never in equal measure, all those times remain there in that memory and at our weakest moments they will surface, to test our strength, or to force us to become aware, finally, that we are no longer in that place of weakness.
Our memories hand us our self-knowledge, and at times, those memories are the very things by which we judge our own self-worth.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has as a bi-product its own unique way of enabling our darkest memory to surface. These are the FLASHBACKS … I have experienced many. I will share with you one that it still shakes me to recall, in the hope that in some small way I can help shine a light into the darkest of places.
When it came, there was only a fleeting moment of recognition before I catapulted straight back to hell.
It was a crisp August morning, mid-winter here in Australia. I was beyond excited, anxious and happy that morning. I wore a new business suit, my hair was freshly cut and styled and I was ready to attend my second interview, at a firm of Merchant Bankers that were well known and respected, located in the Sydney CBD. I really wanted that job. Hell, I really needed that job. Blowing the funds on the new clothes and hairstyle was done in the belief that I had what it took to nail this position. I had worked in the field for a good many years and my reputation was solid. They had now compiled a short list of five possible candidates, including myself. I liked those odds.
I arrived at the tower of power that rose high above our beautiful harbor, and joined the throng of workers lined up for the elevators.
I have always hated elevators, but twenty-two floors up was my appointment location, and my lungs already knew that stairs weren’t an option.
My life long claustrophobia clung hand in hand to my inability to stand at the front of the elevator … my unease at having people behind me unseen won the argument. I entered the elevator and went to the middle against the back wall … my ass was covered. I smiled, remembering my dear Jamie’s favorite expression, “Always cover your ass, Sass!” The other occupants soon created a wall in front of me, which I escaped by keeping my eyes closed and only briefly glancing up as the lift stopped and disgorged people on each floor.
I believe I had a handle on the claustrophobia, and just breathed deeply.
We stopped again, someone else entered. I watched an older woman, well attired, and confident looking stand just in front of me. She loosened her colored scarf and her perfume was captured and sent in my direction by the movement.
I inhaled that scent. My guts clenched so tight I could scarcely breathe. The nausea was my second warning sign that something was wrong. I took a deep breath to quell the wave of it as it rocked me. That is when it truly began. That smell … the woman who gave birth to me always wore that perfume. I was shaking and attempting not to throw up; I couldn’t move my limbs, for they were weighed down by the concrete of fear.
The fight or flight reflex kicked in and I lunged forward and hit the next floor button. Those brief moments seemed endless, and I had wet myself as I had as a small child when that scent of her would linger long after a beating. That odor had me back in a hell I had long run from. A hell that held me hostage with the memories that even the smell of a perfume could bring back into being.
I was that broken child again, kneeling on the floor and then placing my mouth at the light coming from underneath the locked door in the darkened room. The forty-year-old woman that I now was simply ceased to exist. I was four-years-old again. My back so sticky with crusted blood that the singlet I had been wearing for days stuck fast to the surface. I could feel my control slipping away and could find no logical thought that would both stop it and me from spiraling deeper into that remembered nightmare of pain and darkness.
The lift door finally opened and I half fell out in my haste. I don’t know what floor I landed on, my only coherent thought was escape. I needed a bathroom but couldn’t open my mouth to ask for directions. I headed to a corridor that I hoped would contain public washrooms. I threw up all over the plush-pile carpet in the corridor, and all over myself, not knowing or caring if anyone bore witness to my humiliation.
I found a washroom and locked myself into a stall. I sat down on the closed lid of the toilet and searched for the ability to breathe. I sat with my head down and focused on the tiled pattern on the floor until I could at last see it clearly, that gave me a route back to the immediacy of the moment, the now time, the real time where she had no power over my life … except in my memories. I had no idea how much time had passed. It had for me, seemed like a lifetime. I didn’t think to check my watch. Such is the nature of Flashbacks.
I cleaned myself as best I could, using paper towel and soapy water. I had nobody I could call to come and pick me up from the city. At that time in my life, I was living alone. I inspected myself, grabbing reassurance from the adult face reflected in the mirror, surprised to discover not the child I’d once been, but my grown self. I looked at my reflection for a long time … until I had gathered as much of me together as I could hope for just then. I lightly sprayed on my own signature perfume, in the hope of hiding the stench of my clothing and my fear from the Taxi driver on the twenty-minutes it would take to him to drive me back home to safe haven. I tipped him well.
I recall unlocking the door and resetting the alarm system before sliding down and sitting with my back firmly in place against that door. Nothing and no one could come near me … for now.
I showered, dressed, and then rang the folks that had expected to interview me. I apologized of course. I’d simply told them that I had taken suddenly ill. They thanked me, but they didn’t suggest a reschedule. I was distantly grateful for that, for I knew with absolute certainty that I would never take the risk that that woman could possibly share any space whatsoever in my life. I rated the chance of her working there far too high.
It took me a couple of days to regroup. I thought about and then tried not to think about what had happened. I knew I didn’t want to take the option of isolating myself … not again.
The temptation to reach out for alcohol to numb me against everything was resisted, this time. Being under the influence of the large amounts of alcohol I knew I could consume would make me a loaded weapon placed in the hands of a terrified four-year-old child.
I didn’t sleep fearing the nightmares that experience had told me lay waiting. I needed to cry it out, but I could not.
Finally, after almost three days of constant vigilance, exhaustion claimed me, and I slept. I awoke on the morning of the fourth day and knew that, I had,at least for now, regained control.
I refocused my attention on finding a job.
And life went on.
For those who suffer from P.T.S.D, and for those loving, caring folks that have someone in their lives that are trying to deal with the challenging packages P.T.S.D hands out, please know this … there are people out there in the now of your world that can help you. They will help you go to battle … and they will cheer you on as you win.
Reach out. There will be many loving hands ready to take yours.
I have listed below sites that are available world-wide, it is by no means a complete list, but if anyone reading this needs to learn more, these sites will point you in the right direction.
ABeyond Blue Australia. Information and help
Anxiety and Depression Assistance America
Police Post Trauma Support Group | PPTSG | Post Traumatic Stress
Helplines – Mental Health Help
There are a number of helplines that provide support and counselling for people … perinatal depression and post–traumatic stress disorders), a broad range of …
Fully Accredited Allied TherapistsQualified Professionals · Cost of Treatment · First Class Accommodation · Therapeutic RetreatServices: Mental Health, Trauma Recovery, Addiction Recovery
Sometimes we need to talk to someone, to feel heard, in a supportive environmentBest Quality Service · Refresh your mind · A feeling of connection
Confidential online assessment. Free to Australian adults.Dedicated IT Team · Free & Effective ServiceSteps: Learn, Get Assessed, Treatment…
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) | Mind, the mental health charity …
It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but … The Combat Stress 24-Hour Helpline 0800 138 1619 is for the military … trauma in military and emergency service personnel and also complex PTSD and … Rivers offers treatment for the whole range of post traumatic disorders with the