Trauma, Flashbacks and Dissociative Disorders

I want to write. I want to express. I have so much I want to say.

I don’t know where to start.

It has been a while.

The heart is an interesting thing.

Not the heart – the muscle that keeps me alive.

The emotional heart.

Maybe, more correctly, the emotional body – how much emotion is stored in my body.

But, no… not that.

The rawness of emotions.

But more than that.

The pathways emotions take in my body.

The intensity of each emotional pathway varies depending on the strength of the memory creating the emotion.

A real-time situation in my present moment reminds me of something in my past that’s attached to a strong emotional response not matching the rational emotional response for the present situation – making the present situation feel very overwhelming and scary.

Along with this triggered past memory comes the age it happened in. I feel like a child, or a teenager or a scared young women in her twenties. These ages take over.

It’s not a mood swing or an inability to emotionally regulate. Well it is an inability to emotionally regulate – but at a much higher intensity that makes it very difficult to come out of. Some more than others when trauma response happens and I am in full blown terror or sadness; emotions that have been trapped in my body for decades.

I am coming to learn that when this happens, I am having a flashback and that I appear to be on the Dissociative Disorder continuum because I feel an age and can lose touch with reality.

The strong emotional response is always fear, or sometimes overwhelming sadness.

Fear someone is going to take something from me.

Sadness for what I lost.

Fear I am going to lose someone or something I love.

Sadness for the people, places and things I’ve lost in my life.

Fear that I am going to do the wrong thing, get in trouble and lose the love of the person I’ve upset.

Sadness that love feels conditional, on having to behave a certain way to keep love.

A horrible fear of authority figures that makes work very challenging.

Sadness that I cannot fully thrive in the work place because of this.

Fear in many forms. Many layers.

Sadness in many forms. Many layers.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy isn’t strong enough to make the fear go away.

The fear feels hardwired into my DNA.

Like it needs to be there. To show me something.

But, I don’t know what.

I’m back where I started, twenty-four years ago, to revisit the healing started.

I realize that I have actually learned to live with flashbacks. I always thought a flashback was something so extreme – like a war veteran feeling like he is back on the battlegrounds – forced to kill kids. Or a rape victim being in a mall and suddenly she’s right back in the rape again.

My flashbacks are different. My flashbacks are all about trust. That letting anyone close to me is opening me up to be hurt. And family. Family scares the hell out of me, because they are the people who can hurt you the most. You can’t run and you can’t hide. There is no escape.

No one is safe. I have no power when it comes to family.

This is trauma. This voice within me that tells me how scary family is, is very young and the adult me – who is sitting in this chair typing this can barely keep a line on the rational link to navigating family.

I will use the metaphor of a dendrite cell to try and explain what trauma feels like for me.

I am the centre of the dendrite cell – adult Stephanie in real-time. All of the offshoots are pathways that lead to different “parts” who hold a traumatic memory for me. Each memory has its own significant emotional weight as a result of the pain in the memory it is holding.

When I am in a real-time situation that triggers a “part” who holds trauma – this part (that is an offshoot) awakens and travels along the pathway, like in the below picture, to the centre – adult me – and takes over.

Human Dendrite Cell

Photo Credit – Pixels

This part that takes over wants to protect me because she thinks I am in the same situation now that happened to me in the past. So, I am flooded with the original fear-based emotion from the past, into flight, fright or freeze.

As mentioned, the emotion that floods me travels along an offshoot to my centre adult self – and takes over. This takeover manifests as an anxiety attack.

An anxiety attack – that is on a continuum. How strong the anxiety attack is depends on how strong the emotional response is that is attached to a trauma memory that the part is carrying. Some of the anxiety attacks are manageable. Others not so much and this is when I dissociate and/or go into trauma response or an abreaction.

Learning to identify all the situations in real-time that are possible triggers is quite daunting – but inherently – I know what my triggers are. I didn’t when I originally started this journey when I was 27 years old. Now, at 52 – and with the help of medically prescribed CBD and THC – I have the ability to be so very aware of what is happening to me. As well, I’ve cleaned my life up. I don’t drink alcohol or use recreational drugs. I exercise on a regular basis. I eat healthy foods. I practice mindfulness.

I am doing everything right to manage my anxiety but still I cannot escape it.

I am on the journey now towards receiving EMDR therapy. But, there are a few steps along the way before I can actually receive it.

I begin weekly therapy sessions to help me manage the parts that are just below the surface now – making life challenging right now, and I have an appointment with a psychiatrist to be assessed for a proper diagnosis.

When I was 27 years old – psychiatrists and psychologists could not agree on a diagnosis for me. Was I Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (so filled with fear and anxiety), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(couldn’t sit still or focus on or stay with one thing – unless I was hyper focused), or Borderline Personality Disorder (major attachment issues – fear of abandonment) or Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Stated (I had parts within me that felt very different from other parts that felt like imaginary friends).

Now at 52 – I feel a strong connection to the Dissociative Disorder diagnosis.

I can feel when an age takes over me and I lose touch with reality. I know my brain isn’t functioning properly. I’ve always known that.

Now, I can clearly articulate it.

Now, I can also identify when I am triggered and am in a flashback that typically results in an age taking over me.

And through this all, I am still out there in the arena (as author Brené Brown says) trying to do all the right things.

Life is messy.

Life is beautiful.

S, 🌼

Ps….. if there are typos or spelling mistakes – my apologies. This was a tough blog to write and I’m a bit dissociated writing it because a small part is scared to publish this. But adult me knows this isn’t about blame – it is about the truth of my existence.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. projectzachor says:

    Your ability to put words to complicated emotions is remarkable, Stephanie. You’re a warrior.

    You are a beautiful person and I appreciate your uncanny ability to describe the undesirable. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Wishing you love and peace.🙏🏻

    1. Thank you, CarolAnn… 💛🌼💛🌼

  2. Stay strong Stephanie. Maggie

    1. Thank you, Maggie…🌼💛🌼💛

      1. I was thinking of you this summer. We were kn Nova Scotia, but we kept moving each day without real plans so didn’t think I’d plan a meet up.

      2. Next time!!! It would be great to meet, go on a hike together and then publish a blog of our adventure! Be fun! A nice story of two WordPress bloggers, becoming friends and sharing an adventure! 🌼💛☀️🌼

  3. mama says:

    Stephanie , your journey towards receiving EMDR therapy is wonderful. Read a lot about it and it sure has helped a lot of people. You have worked so hard to get to this stage, I know you will continue and come out a winner. We all love you very much and so proud that you are looking after yourself. mama 👵🏻🙏🥰🤗💖👍

    1. Thank you, mama… 🌼💛🌼💛

  4. dtreez says:

    This is an amazing description. Me too, friend. Me too. You are doing hard work right now. Don’t give up. There is a light there. There is a peace.

    1. Thank you…. 🌼💛🌼💛 I am finding my way to the light and peace… ☀️🙏🏻

  5. MeganMarie says:

    Thank you for your thoughts I’ve started therapy as well 💕helps to see we’re not alone 💕🙏

    1. Agreed! Wishing you so much success with therapy…🙏🏻☀️🌼💛

  6. Kmrand says:

    I needed this today. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I truly appreciate your kind words, as putting my journey out there isn’t easy as I always have to be considerate of family – however, I need to tell mystery so I can understand my story – understand my life. 🌼🌼💛🌼

      1. Kmrand says:

        Sometimes writing it out can help with clarity, I understand. Peace with you!

      2. You said it! Writing takes my scrambled egg thought and make them clear. Peace with you, too! ☀️🌼☀️

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