I first learned about the idea of traumatic memories being challenging to explain with words concerning young children. If we experience trauma at a young age (before we learn to talk), describing the experience with words is very difficult. I didn’t realize that no matter what age trauma occurs, it is difficult to describe with words because the memory is more of a feeling.
No wonder we struggle to explain how it feels. The words simply aren’t there.
I know for a fact that if I had a traditional “physical disease,” with outwardly visible symptoms, people in my life would be more understanding. For some reason, crippling depression, complex PTSD, and chronic migraine that not only offers blinding pain but impaired cognitive function are “all in my head,” and I should be able to “get over it.”
My family would not be embarrassed or disappointed in me because of my illnesses. My boss and co-workers may not have accused me of “faking it to get out of work,” and maybe I’d still have my job. But I don’t have a traditional “visible disease,” so I must work harder to heal and overcome the stigma others, with no concept of my ailments, place upon me.
For a long time, I honestly believed there was something wrong with me. In truth, I was hurting in silence and just needed an opportunity to heal. Instead, I beat myself up and let others abuse and take advantage of me until I was almost destroyed.
A good friend finally told me that I was not broken, and I should never let anybody make me believe otherwise. Of course, I thought this was just lip service, but there was much truth in that statement. Once I came to an understanding of my pain and its origin, I could start healing instead of trying to fix a part of me that was never broken in the first place. It is an entirely different concept.
Draining boiled pasta water into the sink is a trigger for me. Chopping onions, doing laundry, mopping the floor, planting a garden, and driving are just some of the mundane everyday activities that start a frightening movie playing in my head.
I hear every word and tone of voice, see each expression, smell the scents, and experience all the fear as if it were happening again right now. Even after all these years, the memories still stop me in my tracks, and I must consciously stop the horror movie playing in my head and add a narrative that explains these events are in the past.
Intrusive memories of past events are not my choice, but my reaction to them is something I can work towards controlling. I strive to see the ridiculous, petty, and manipulative behavior of the narcissists who hurt me. This rewriting of the movie makes them seem small, less threatening, and senseless, which helps me keep moving forward.
Numbness prevailed for many years before I was forced to confront what happened entirely. I had a desperate desire for a memory delete button to get rid of all the garbage in my brain.
Facing the reality of my past experiences is necessary for me to continue healing and move on. Sometimes a buried memory will reveal itself, shaking my damaged foundation, but I understand the trembling is essential.
Moving onward each day, not knowing how long the journey will take, which is itself, an incredible achievement.
The realization and acceptance of my role in past trauma is a driving force for the fear I struggle with daily. The belief that pure chance had brought the narcissist to me was blissfully ignorant. I figured that I had already met my quota of bad luck, and the future had to be brighter.
There may be a small nugget of truth to chance or fate, but the bulls-eye painted on my back is made highly visible to the narcissists seeking to harm me. I tolerate their bad behavior, have no boundaries, and lack of self-confidence.
The knowledge that I still healing amplifies the fear of repeating the past. In response, I reinforce my walls to rest in the safety of solitude, for now. Venturing out is too dangerous until I finish healing.
The damage from abuse is like a slow-acting poison requiring a painful antidote. Sometimes I find it hard to remember what it felt like to be trapped in an abusive relationship, and then a trigger brings a flashback encompassing every sensory detail. Numbing the pain and emotions allowed me to stumble through life for a few years, but eventually, my deteriorating condition forced me to confront the trauma.
Chronic, debilitating migraines were the primary physical manifestation of my unprocessed trauma. These migraines significantly interfered with my ability to work and care for my family, but if it was not for this physical ailment, I might have delayed my search for help even longer.
In working towards reducing the migraines, I met several wonderful and caring doctors, physical therapists, counselors, and everyday people who helped me get back on my feet. There are so many things I would do to keep from ever having another migraine, but I acknowledge they are the proverbial straw that broke the camels back and started my healing journey.
The healing process has been excruciatingly slow at times, but I am much stronger now and have a great deal more patience. The poison is still leaving me, bit by bit, and the antidote is unpleasant, but in the end, I will be free.
Secrets breed pain and misunderstanding. Seeing your story in writing or hearing it through spoken word denies the mystery of its power. Tell your story because pain must seek relief. The shadowy world of dark secrets loses strength by the light of day.
I love this diagram explaining the layers of healing. My knowledge of the healing process was almost non-existent when my journey began. Just getting to the first layer, Naming Abuse, was a marathon in itself.
I naively believed that removing myself and my children from the abusive situation with the narcissist and finding safety would fix everything. In reality, we were all in the beginning stages of healing, and all of us are in different layers now. I am happy to say we all understand and can name the abuse we endured. We are all safe now and have resources to help us continue our healing journey on our unique paths.
The final six layers are very personal to each of us. A handbook, instruction manual, and a map would have been beneficial in the beginning. We are here to support each other no matter how damaged we may still be. The collective knowledge we have of shared traumatic experiences with the narcissist, and our need for healing is invaluable as the journey continues.
How I long to forget all the painful and traumatic experiences. In truth, it really is all in my head, filed away in excruciating detail, waiting for the perfect trigger to bring it all flooding back. Getting over it is a beautiful dream I work towards every day. Do you honestly think I haven’t already told myself to get over it millions of times? If it were that simple, don’t you think I would have done it long before now? If only my brain came with a delete button, I could slip into blissful amnesia.