On Thursday, September 22, 2016 a little boy asked his mom to quit smoking for his 5th birthday. And she did. But what very few people know is two days before, the mom was diagnosed with PTSD. Even fewer people know her son turning 5 was the trigger for the influx of anxiety attacks and constant flashbacks of EVERYTHING. She couldn’t stop crying. She couldn’t escape the nightmares replaying over and over in her mind ALL DAMN DAY AND NIGHT for weeks. She would sneak to the bathroom or her car during work so no one would see the tears. She would cry after preschool drop off and on her way for pickup. She would do her best to hide her tears at home. She was exhausted in all the ways. And she didn’t know WHY this was happening NOW. But then it happened. She understood why. Imagine you’re giving your almost 5 year old a bath after dinner. You get him out the tub and are putting on his footie pajamas … and it just HITS you. Your earliest memory of being abused is from when you were 5. And here you are putting FOOTIE PAJAMAS on your child the same age you were. Do you know who wears footie pajamas … toddlers. Toddlers wear footie pajamas. And you just start crying … again. But you also tell yourself, THIS ENDS RIGHT NOW. NO MORE. Nobody knew what was really going on because she was really good at hiding things, suppressing things. She would later learn suppression WAS her coping mechanism. The day she was diagnosed she told two people. The two people who knew her deepest secrets. The two people who carried her through the darkest moments of her life. The two best friends a girl could have.
That girl, that mom is me.
My initial diagnosis came from my PCP. It was a little bit of a relief to be honest. The diagnosis wasn’t too much a surprise but the stinging of hurt and anger still bubbled to the surface. I cried … again. And then we discussed what my next steps for a treatment plan should be. The nurse gave me a big, long, comforting hug. She cried with me and wiped my tears. My doctor, he cried too. Then I got my stuff together and returned to work. Life didn’t pause.
A friend had recommended a therapist to me. She did not know my diagnosis, only that I was looking. Her recommendation wound up being someone who specialized in PTSD (that’s what I call a God thing). And she was God personified as a therapist. This woman was a godsend. That first day I walked into her office, sat down on her sofa, and tears just started streaming down my face. But this time I wasn’t crying. It was sadness, anxiety, anger, hurt, exhaustion, depression, everything. Escaping my soul, leaving my mind. My body was calm. My words were clear. I was safe. I was ready to heal.
We spent our first several sessions together talking through the traumatic events I was victim to over a thirteen year period. We talked about life after the abuse stopped. We talked about life as a single mom. We talked about who I was in that moment and where I wanted to be. Our conversations were honest. I told her every single thing, every experience, every person who hurt me, every way I hurt myself. I was very committed to my relationship with therapy. I could feel the emotional affects of my unresolved trauma starting to shadow my relationship with my son. AND I HATED THAT. That was NOT ok with me and not something I was going to suppress or just figure out. He didn’t deserve that. And I didn’t deserve that. So I promised myself I would do the work.
Motherhood saved my life, but therapy gave me my life back.
We had several sessions before she introduced EMDR therapy. I was very honest sharing my experiences with her during our beginning sessions, so I trusted her expertise in this solution. I knew I was healing because I trusted her. Like REALLY trusted her. I stopped trusting people when I was 8, and like many things, I will never get that back. So this was huge.
It was a painful process. Buckets of deep tears were cried during these sessions. Years of pain exposed and forced to surrender hiding. Ugh, I hated it. I really hated it. But I pushed through. Even on the hardest days when I really didn’t want to. My therapist was so comforting and really helped me navigate feeling and expressing emotions the right way. The self love way. And always with a fresh box of Kleenex. I cried more during these sessions than I had cried the 30 years prior. I didn’t allow myself to feel before. I did every possible unhealthy thing to not feel which just made everything worse and introduced new dimensions of trauma to overcome. I never once thought about taking my own life. But there was a steady few years where I really didn’t care if I never woke up again.
I made sure to schedule appointments on Wednesday afternoons because my mom would have my son for the evening. I needed to give myself the space and time to process the work done. I was very structured with my healing during my time in therapy because I knew it was the only way I would really be successful. Distractions were bare minimum. I needed to let myself feel. I needed to let myself feel in an environment not only free of humans but vices too.
I just needed.
Therapy allowed me to spill it all out in a no boundary safe space. I was more honest than I really wanted to be. But I released myself of that place tentacled so deep in my core. A boulder built from years of suppressed emotions took residence on top of my gut, rent free. A blockage that prevented me from forgiveness and the energy to heal. I will never forget that afternoon therapy session in June 2017 when I took my first deep breath. I had never felt air like that before. It was like the boulder instantly crumbled to pebbles, and I could feel the oxygen moving through my body. It was overwhelming in the best kind of way. That’s what healing feels like. It took me 8 months of therapy sessions to achieve that moment. It’s the best thing I have ever done for myself.
Healing is hard.
Healing doesn’t have an end date. But the journey is worth pushing through because the reward is the life you give yourself back. Over and over and over again. Healing allows you to face conflicts and hiccups with a positive resolve rather than a defensive combat. Healing allows you to be more accepting of challenges and change because you learned how to get comfortable with flexibility. Healing helps you break the mentality of living in a constant state of survival. Healing gives your soul space to release negative energy. Healing allows you to love yourself. Healing allows you to forgive yourself. And you’ve earned that and you’re worth that. So please, don’t be afraid to fight for it.