Mental health, Relationships

Trauma Confession Series: Overcoming Avoidance

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)

Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Dear Readers,

Welcome! I have decided to invite my audience in a little deeper with this trauma series. My hope is that this platform will allow me to find the language on the topic of physical trauma and heal once and for all. I will be sharing with you things that have never been uttered from my lips before. The truth is, I haven’t the slightest inkling how to go about this, other than to first offer a trigger warning for those who may be sensitive to physical or sexual abuse, and then – to simply start.

This week, my partner brought to light that I was becoming intolerant to touch and therefore, our intimacy suffered. I trust this person, yet my body still becomes triggered. It is worth noting that this has happened in all of my relationships, and is largely responsible for why some of them ended. I realized then that I still had skeletons in my closet. When I don’t understand something, I turn to research.

In her article, Overcoming Sexual Assault: Symptoms and Recovery featured in Psychology Today, Elyssa Barbash Ph. D. writes,

It is not exactly known why some individuals recover more quickly than others, but one theory is that those individuals who recover do not “avoid” the trauma. That is, they do not avoid thinking about it, talking about it (which is suggested to do with a trained mental health professional), and expressing natural emotions related to the assault. Conversely, avoidance is known to be the most significant factor that creates, prolongs, and intensifies trauma-reaction or PTSD symptoms.

So here we have an Ah-ha! moment. Just simply reading this article triggered me into an episode of dissociation. I realized then that I do avoid this pain not only consciously, but unconsciously as well, and it has prolonged my suffering. I am guilty of locking up these secrets intensely with clinical-grade distraction for two reasons. One, I can not find the words, and two, when I try to verbalize my past abuse, my overactive mind leaps to protect me by dropping a concrete wall between the memories and my ability to process them. I often have physical symptoms such as muscle spasms, nausea, dropping of the head and/or the locking of joints when reliving trauma. My body remembers.

I care about my relationships, I value my health, and I want wellness for my family. So the challenge becomes ending avoidance by talking about it and staying grounded in the present moment long enough to face the pain, rather than suppress it further. Let’s just say it out loud then, and I’ll do my best to write through the trembling. Again, I offer a trigger warning for those of you who can’t digest the nitty and gritty. Turn away now.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Okay, well, what does that mean exactly? Who, what, where, when, why and how did these things happen? How do I resolve something that has become inaccessible by supression? These are the things we will be exploring.

What does it mean to be a survivor of sexual abuse and domestic violence?

Again Barbash writes,

The term “sexual violence” is an an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse. Sexual assault is defined by the United States Department of Justice as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This can mean inappropriate and unwanted touching, forced sexual acts including sexual intercourse, sodomy, oral sex, and rape or attempted rape.

Additionally, Google dictionary offers this definition of domestic violence:

“Violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.

For this to work, I have to strip away all the technicalities that comfort me, and tell you the truth.

Who, what, where, when, why, and how did these things happen?

My perpetrators have been family members, close family friends, partners, and strangers.

I am a child of teen parents. My mother is an abuse survivor herself, and went on to marry two men who grew to become abusive, neither of which were my biological father. Throughout my childhood I suffered from exposure to physical and verbal abuse, death threats, property destruction, violent conflict, police questioning, drug use, infidelity and witnessed the abuse of my mother. We fled the first relationship in the middle of the night. My mother woke me with whispers and bags at her hip to shuffle my sister and I out of the house, into the car, and three hours north. I was so proud of her. Her second marriage has since been forgiven and resolved. I can’t say the same about the first.

Meanwhile, I was molested by an older child between the ages of 6 and 8 in the neighborhood I grew up in. He wanted to play “doctor” in a storage closet. He sat me in a chair and told me “everything was okay.” Fortunately for you and I both, everything goes black after that and all I remember is the grimy lightbulb hanging above my head. I remember running home and crying beneath my blankets. I remember bumping into him months later at a tree farm. I told no one.

When I was 12 years old my father relocated from Minnesota to Texas. This abandonment was significant, visceral, and my first experience of deeply true emotional anguish. As a girl coming of age without her protector, this was the first experience that urged me to write.

When I was 15, I was invited by a close family friend in his 30’s to road trip from Minnesota to Texas to visit my father. I gleefully accepted, unaware of the damage that followed.

We began our trek south and it started with subtle touches. I recall the sunlight beaming in from overhead, music, and glistening sunglasses when suddenly I felt a hand on my inner left thigh. I was confused, uncomfortable, but generally unshaken. We drove this way for many miles before reaching a hotel in Kansas. I distinctly remember walking up to the hotel lobby window where they asked if we wanted one bed or two. He suggested one. I casually held up two fingers.

The evening hours were unremarkable. We smoked cigarettes, and fell asleep in separate beds. Upon waking, this man was in my bed spooning me in his underwear. I became alarmed then, but pretended to sleep until he moved away. I maintained a level head knowing I would see my father soon and surly, this was all a misunderstanding. Our visit was normal, I wanted to tell my father, but I was too frightened and confused. Unable to reconcile what was happening, I remained silent.

We traveled home a few days later and upon our arrival, went to sleep in separate beds in my grandparent’s basement. Again I woke in the middle of the night to him sneaking into my bed in his underwear. Things were escalating and I was terrified. His hands traveled across my body for a long while this time. I pretended to sleep, praying that it would end. When he finally fell asleep, I rolled out of bed and raced up the staircase as quickly and quietly as possible to the phone hanging on the wall. The house was dark, everyone was asleep. I knew I had to tell someone, but who?

I decided to call my then boyfriend, and he urged me to tell my father. I knew I couldn’t say the words. I couldn’t bear to hurt him. So, I turned on the computer and wrote him an e-mail instead. Soon after, morning came and the house phone rang. I could hear my father yelling at my Grandpa on the other end, demanding to talk to this man. Soon the whole family knew, and I was immediately removed from the situation by my Grandma.

He became excommunicated for a short time. Ultimately, I had to taper my visits with my family on the grounds that he was not in the house. My mother rushed to my side, no charges were pressed, and no one spoke of it again.

Shortly after, I had my first in-patient psychiatric stay spawned by self-injury, and the family dialogue changed. This violation was emboldened by my father’s lack of acknowledgment, which would go on to re-traumatize me for many years.

When I turned 16, I entered into a sexually exploitative relationship. Restraints, violence, drugs and documentation were used over the course of two years.

Ten years later, I was sexually assaulted by a partner.

How do I resolve something that has become inaccessible by suppression?

I resolve these memories by talking about it with those who are willing to listen, namely my mother. Many times she has negated or confirmed my recollections, and for that I am eternally grateful. Coping with repressed memories is extremely challenging, and a topic for another day.

You can see how anyone with these types of experiences can develop an unhealthy relationship toward sex and affection. The important thing is to talk about it, and not let avoidance or silence empower your anguish. In the coming weeks we will explore reconciling abuse with positive touch, confrontation, and resolution. If you have read this far, thank you for helping me start on my path toward healing.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

17 Ways to Cope with PTSD Nightmares

“Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer–both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.”
Bram Stoker, Dracula

Dear Readers,

Insofar as I can tell, daymares and nightmares are not all that dissimilar. Even if our consciousnesses of them changes, the method used to keep the wolf at the door is the same.

For as long as I can remember I have had nightmares. I believe this was a result of intense childhood stress. It wasn’t long before my nightmares would carry over into my days, and I would come to experience the early warning signs of psychosis as a child. In some ways, it is amazing how abuse and abandonment can bend and sway our minds to survive. However, often times those childhood survival skills, dissociation for example, become problematic as an adult.

It wasn’t until Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder manifested itself in me in early 2009, when I lost two family members to suicide in 48 hours that I began having nightmares on a truly horrific scale. I was 19. This was proceeded five years later by the experience of caregiving for a terminally ill family member where I was exposed to a constant state of stress, fear, surgical procedures, poverty, and the monstrous dysfunction that entered my young home.

In the beginning my nightmares consisted of highly detailed apocalyptic themes. I vivdly remember bleeding skies, firey seas, and the demise of loved ones in violent and catastrophic ways. I recall being chased, attacked, or trapped. I would wake up frightened, panicked, crying and trembling – unable to separate myself from the sensation of the dream I was so sure was real. When this happened, it was not unusual for me to drink vodka at 9am, chain smoke on the front steps, and call loved ones. I would journal feverishly in some attempt to connect the dots. I would flail, avoid, and investigate. It would take me hours, sometimes days, to shake it off.

In the following years, I started experiencing full blown flashbacks. Flashes of light, sensations of time travel, reliving of trauma, guilt, remorse, and grief. I cried more. I drank more. I made more 4am phone calls. While my insomnia worsened, I began to notice over a period of time that going outside and sitting in the sunlight offered some relief and perspective, and my need to self medicate lessened. By way of necessity, this is how I came to understand Grounding Techniques.

Grounding Techniques are skills put into practice that ground you in the present moment by exposing the five senses to sensation. These might include:

1. Holding ice in your hands

2. Enjoying a warm cup of tea

3. Going outside to take in nature

4. Listening to music

5. Identifying five things you see in your environment

6. Mindfulness meditation

7. Diaphragm breathing

8. Physical affection from a loved one

9. Taking a warm bath

10. Wearing or diffusing essential oils

11. Exercise

12. Drinking copious amounts of water

13. Tasting something sweet or salty

14. Touching something soft or soothing

15. Engaging with a pet

16. Watching or listening to comedy

17. Checking a clock or calendar

The purpose of using Grounding Techniques is to pluck you from the trauma of a nightmare or flashback, and place you back in the reality of the present moment while also teaching you to self soothe in an unharmful way.

It is ten years later and I still experience nightmares of the same intensity, but with less frequency. I have trained myself to de-escalate upon waking, making my recovery time much shorter. If this helps only one person find a millisecond of relief, then I have accomplished what I set out to.

What is your favorite Grounding Technique?

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

PTSD: How to Cope With Body Memories

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Dear Readers,

Someone reached out to me last Spring and asked if I knew anything on the topic of body memories. I didn’t, so I did some digging. What I found was an explanation for staggering bodily sensations that can result from trauma.

Put simply, most people associate memory with the brain. Even though science does not fully back this phenomena just yet, there remains a number of people who describe the debilitating weight of the physical anguish of an emotional or psychological condition. Perhaps most pervasive is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder typically manifests itself after an individual experiences any traumatic event where their fight-or-flight response is provoked such as war-related combat, abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, loss of a loved one, or being close to someone in a traumatic situation. PTSD is characterized by reliving the trauma through flashbacks or memories, avoidance of similar situations or stimuli that may trigger or mimic recollection of the event, nightmares, behavioral changes, mood swings, guilt, insomnia, memory loss and isolation.

In some cases, body memories can last despite cognitive memory loss of the traumatic event. Designed to protect us, our bodies can certainly grieve harmful circumstances while our mind simply exits, or dissociates from, the situation. As a result, our ability to be intimate or affectionate with others is highly altered from our typical reactions. Often lacking conscious awareness, our relationships suffer greatly due to the inability to acknowledge or explain what is happening.

PTSD is a condition that I personally live with. In my case, for example, body memories may explain why I have jump reactions to my environment, hyper-peripheral vision, or knee-jerk reflexes when someone is trying to be intimate with me. This has improved through therapeutic practice, trust and logic. However, at its pique, this inability to tolerate touch, louder than reasonable sounds (breaking glass specifically), or even leave the house really took a toll on my partner. It might also explain why we may feel the same way around a certain time each year.

Healthy Place offers more information regarding how to cope with this.

From the above referenced article by Jami Deloe:

“Dealing With Body Memories in PTSD Recovery

There are things that I can do to deal with what my body is feeling (Relieve Symptoms of PTSD: Allow Your Body To Shake). These are the things that help me get through the tough times with body memories in PTSD recovery:

Allow myself to feel the feeling. This isn’t easy. My first inclination when I am feeling a negative emotion is to shut it down, or stuff it away. I’ve learned that denying the emotion isn’t a healthy way to deal with unwanted feelings. Ignoring or avoiding the feelings is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb, it won’t work. The feelings will fester and bubble up until they are properly dealt with. 

Pay special attention to self-care. When I am dealing with any PTSD symptom, I have to remember to take care of myself. This means eating when I’m hungry, sleeping when I’m tired, and doing things that make me feel better. Sometimes just allowing myself to relax and do nothing is what is best for me — the laundry can wait.

Talk to someone about it. While my tendency is to isolate, I know that if I express how I am feeling to someone else, it lessens the power that the negative feelings have over me.

Tell myself the truth. Telling myself the truth is vital. Whether I am having a flashback, body memory, or just thinking about my traumas, I have to remind myself that I have survived and I’m no longer in that situation. It sounds simple, but it is profound in healing from PTSD to remember that no matter how devastating the trauma was, it’s over, and I survived.

Body memories, like every other PTSD symptom, can be healed. It takes a lot of self-awareness, a little bit of willingness and being honest with yourself, but it can be done.”

Do you experience body memories associated with PTSD? Please share your insights in the comment section below.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!