I was first diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in my mid-twenties. I had been seeing my therapist regularly for about 4 months, one of many counselors over the years in punctuated efforts to better maintain my mental health since a suicide attempt at 18.
She was thin and gray and our relationship was born of convenience- her office was a floor and a door away from the office where I worked full time (+) in order to support my daughter as a divorced, single mom. And she accepted my insurance.
Her face was often pinched, and I remember watching her wear a disapproving look- eyeing me carefully through her glasses. She wrote me out a self-mantra that said, “I am very pretty and I like myself!” that I taped to my office computer screen and was instructed to read ten times a day. I’d catch those words from time to time, hollowly wondering what pretty had to do with anything.
Now knowing what I know about the power of affirmations, I think about this topical statement and wonder if Pat disliked me as much as I disliked her, or if she knew I wallowed so deeply in self-hate that to draft up an “I LOVE MYSELF BECAUSE…” statement might send me back into the compulsive eating, drinking, shopping, drugging, ugly relationship swan diving that landed me in her office for help in the first place.
I didn’t know, at the time, that women could wear trauma.
I viewed trauma through the lens of our discolored culture- belonging only to combat veterans and those exposed to war. Like Lieutenant Dan, or the occasional tragedy spilling into the news- “Veteran diagnosed with PTSD kills wife and children in suburban home.”
I didn’t know about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) changing our brains, changing our bodies and behaviors, changing our futures. I didn’t know what I was up against with an ACES score of 6.
But I’m grateful to Pat for asking enough questions, and listening to my background long enough to give me words and tools to begin a path to healing that would lay a foundation for my recovery.
She taught me about codependency.
She gave me a label- PTSD- with which to describe the sudden and overwhelming tail-spin that I so often fell into, battled with, ran from, fought with.
She gave me a starting point to which I could begin rebuilding my life.
And now I’ll tell you this.
Trauma is everywhere, especially in women.
Trauma occurs in our homes, behind closed doors, and dark bedrooms. Trauma hides silently in hidden compartments of our memory.
PTSD moves in, especially in childhood, when our little brains must cope with the things -too frightening, too painful, too awful- forced upon us because we are children and have no way out or nowhere else to look.
A favorite author, expert, and researcher on trauma, Bessel A. van der Kolk, (check out his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma )says:
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.
Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
“Childhood trauma is probably the single most important public health challenge in the United States. Each year, more than 3 million children are reported to authorities for abuse or neglect in the US; about 1 million of those cases are substantiated. “Bessel A van der Kolk, M.D.
And while I’m still on this journey of recovery, I’ve come a long way. Far enough that I can begin to share my experiences in the hopes that it may help someone, even if that only someone is me.
Pat was right. I DO like myself. I like myself very much.
What’s more, is that I have come to love myself- even the parts that are hard to look at- and tonight I am grateful for that journey.