Healing – Day 8: F*ck the Flashbacks

Back to healing on a personal level, but not forgetting all that needs to be done in our violent and angry powder keg of a world.

*          *          *

I have had flashbacks for most of my life, even before I knew what they were. Some people have visual flashbacks, some aural. Mine are neither – they reside in my body, and attack when my resistance is down and my reserves on empty. amygdalaWhen my amygdala goes into battle mode. When it’s fight-or-flight time. I have learned to be on the lookout for triggers.

When I was working on working through my trauma, my flashbacks came on in – you guessed it – a flash. I became unable to speak. Unbearable pain. Double-me-over-can’t-stand-up-straight pain. Curl-into-a-fetal-ball pain. All I could manage was “owowowowowowowowowow…”

I remember my therapist walking me down the hallway in her office building one morning during a session. I couldn’t stand on my own. She basically picked me up from my doubled-over state on her couch, and supported me up and down the hall. I don’t know how many times we did the back-and-forth of that hallway. I wasn’t really present for a lot of it. For me, dissociation comes hand-in-hand with flashbacks. My pain was truly unspeakable. Literally, I guess. Finally, the pain began to ebb, and I remember coming back and being conscious of my path, and of my therapist’s arm around my waist, holding me up as I walked, zombie-like, my soul hovering somewhere safe in the distance. Bit by bit, my posture straightened, and I was able to walk on my own. My soul re-entered my body, and I could breathe again.

For years, I didn’t have control over the flashbacks. We were not in relation to each other. When my amygdala kicked in, my soul flew out. Without my present, my past re-entered my body with a vengeance. It happened so fast that I couldn’t recognize any warning signs. It was a brutal and terrifying time in my life. I was afraid to go out, apprehensive about being alone, dismayed about the possibility of my daughter witnessing my flight from reality. I felt crazy, alone, and spent much of the time wishing I were dead.

My salvation came in the form of EMDR, which is often used with trauma survivors. Its efficacy is controversial, I know. And I know it saved my life. After decades of talk therapy (which I still do, but from a very different and more centered place), I was spiraling through different circles of hell. Not knowing how or if I would ever land. My therapist and I worked gingerly together as we began the process. It was miraculous – in a matter of  weeks, my flashbacks began to ebb. They didn’t leave, but I started to understand their warning signs. sheast70I had my “safe place” in case things got bad, or threatened to. (My safe place: Shea Stadium during a day game, Tom Seaver pitching a brilliant game, breaking two records, me standing with my grandpa roaring with the crowd at every pitch, eating a hot dog and taking a sip of my grandpa’s beer. The sky a brilliant blue, matching the color of the seats in the mezzanine tier, section 14, row E I think. Best day of a kid’s life.)

WK-AT567_SP_FEA_F_20100415161225Over the years, I have learned skills that allow me to manage the few flashbacks that rear their heads. The triggers have lessened, or become more manageable. My amygdala no longer works overtime, sending me into the fight-or-flight pit of despair. I live my life knowing that I’m not going to die if I feel that pain. I know it will end, and my soul is with me at all times, even if it retreats to a quieter place inside me.

Shea Stadium isn’t around anymore, except in my heart. Where I can always visit my grandpa, cheer on the Mets, and find safety and peace.

Tomorrow, it’s all about “Parsing the Parts.” See you then, I hope.

About armsakimbobook

I'm a mother, a lawyer, a feminist, a writer, a potter, and an inveterate and unapologetic New Yorker. My book, Arms Akimbo: A Journey of Healing, tells of my journey of healing over a number of years, learning to live a full life after I was molested by my father at a very young age. I live in Maynard, MA, with my wife and and our two moose-cats, Samson and Hercules. My daughter used to live with me part-time, but she's all grown up now and in her junior year of college, which I can't quite fathom, since she was born about five minutes ago...
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