Trying to explain a flashback

The mind is a strange thing. I’ve been a journalist at war for two short periods in the Balkans. I saw demonstrations, shootings, crazy elections. Once I was smuggled into a hospital where shot victims were held. I’ve signed papers leaving the UN without any responsibility for my life, for the reason of getting from one part of the Bosnia to another. I’ve travelled incognito, crossing every border there are on buses. The soldiers came collecting passports and valuables at gunpoint, I was lucky they never found my camera. I walked in the mountains in Montenegro, over borders, carrying thousands of Deutsch mark (only going value) glued to my thighs and body. Friends of mine died. I wanted to help.

It was an insane thing to do. Risky, crazy, stupid… I had children at home…

Those are things that people normally get PTSD from. Post traumatic stress disorder was long a diagnoses closely connected with war trauma and only that. The reason I mention my Balkan experiences. is that those experiences  haven’t led to these reactions for me. So there doesn’t have to be any obvious connections. Still, I live with PTSD or Complex PTSD.

When I wake up at night, (not from a bad dream), I re-live experiences from my childhood. I was sexually abused, neglected, and to some extent grew up alone. Some of this I remember. but many details are just blurry. I already told about some of the things I do remember. The ones I don’t are the ones that bothers me most. Those happenings are the ones that still gives me flashbacks. The others are stories from my childhood.

Together with my psychologist, I’ve sort of come to terms with the facts that these things really happened. I was abused. No one looked after me. I did spend too much time alone. I did (do) drugs to get out of it all and to get some sleep when it’s too hard.

I am not sure where I go from here, but that again is another thing.

I can never tell the story, when I have a flashback. Like a chronological;  first this happened, then this, and that, and after that he went away. I usually remember pain. Something over my throat, sometime I think it is a hand, or maybe a knee. I have a feeling I can’t breathe, (but I never died so obviously…)  I remember smells, tobacco, sweat. It is always dark. I hear him breathing. My body turns numb, every time. I can’t move. It is like the pain IS me, it’s the only feeling existing in the universe, and if I should move only my little finger, the pain would be 100 times worse. I know I am being raped. Because of the pain. But also from what is not inside the flashback, the blood, the intense scrubbing and washing, the vomiting, running away, after. Things I did that I clearly remember (but hate to talk about).

When the flashback doesn’t involve all that pain, it starts with fear, and pain comes after. I don’t know, maybe that is because I grew older, and these are memories from later in my childhood. I have a feeling I learnt to handle the numbness and the pain, and that the way of not feeling, sort of turning off pain, helped me.

The first time I had sex, I wasn’t “in” it at all. Besides the fear that wasn’t there, there was nothing.

It happens at night, usually. Some years ago I had flashbacks even during the day. I had specific triggers, I ever I saw hand sown leather shoes, with a special pattern, I’d just loose track of everything. I would get out from where I was, and not remember doing it. I recall once I was shopping, in a big shopping centre. Next thing I remember is that I was sitting outside, under the emergency stairway, shaking and crying. I’d left my groceries. I couldn’t remember why I had come there, and I looked for half an hour to find my car.

It’s been some years since that happened.

I don’t know what to do with these bad night-time flashbacks. These bundles of pain, that happened so long ago, and happens far too often now. Writing it down makes me sick.

I’ll leave it at that for now. Thought I could somehow keep a distance while explaining. Didn’t work…

8 thoughts on “Trying to explain a flashback

  1. Its terrible what our minds can do to us,I hope you find a way to learn and accept and deal with what was done to you soon.Its a horrible way to live,trying to explain and deal with what your going through.Its one of those things that unless you have or are going through it,you wouldnt really understand.

    • Thanks for commenting. It’s the difference between “then” and “now” that can be tricky. I have accepted that these things happened, I think, and now I am learning and working on how I want my life to be! 🙂

      • Your welcome..its usually nice to have a voice answer you when you throw your thoughts to the wind 🙂
        Having something to work towards is always helpful,it makes things seem a little less futile (for me anyway).

  2. I have been thinking about your post all morning. Isn’t it strange, that as adults we can put ourselves in life threatening positions, but nothing compares to the loss of childhood innocence and safety. I wonder if we do this sometimes on purpose, daring the world, or putting ourselves back in risky situations because that is what we are familiar with. I felt fear as I read about your journalist experiences, and sadness for your stolen youth, and familiarity with your descriptions of frightening flashbacks. I hope your writing does help, that you know you are being heard, and you get some sound sleep soon. Take care, Nell

    • Thanks Nell:)
      These last day I’ve had the “Life is like a box of chocolate”-quote in my head (must have read it somewhere) and when I read in your comment on childhood innocence, I came to think about cake recipies, (sugar crush!!), those tricky fluffy ones, where you have to be absolutely accurate with all the ingredients. That’s like childhood. Too much baking powder and it’s f***ed… That was a really simple and quite stupid explanation. And I need to find a gum or something:)
      I can surely relate to risk behavior… The reasons why are however complex. When I ride my bicycle downhill at 80 km/h, I get an adrenalin rush similar to what I get when doing stupid drugs. When I do drugs (been a while since now) I am usually a bit depressed, but so familiar with the situation that I don’t connect it with risk behavior. Two sides of the same story really.
      Thanks for sharing your feelings with me, so good to know there is somebody out there:)

  3. I truly understand about ‘flashbacks’. They are in fact repressed memories that surface and no, they don’t come back as a chronological neatly wrapped package where you can say, “I understand now.” When mine occurred I truly thought I was going crazy and even when the memory finally did emerge it was of the event then fade to black. It took me an exceptionally long time to accept that it did in fact happen.

    Keep writing though. Dream journals can be very beneficial. It is most important to write down how the dream makes you feel. I kept one for 10 months and trust me, it is very hard to read the stuff written in the journal.

    I saw that you are trying meditation. Keep at that as well. It is a very powerful ally.

  4. Thanks for commenting Nancy:)
    I’ve been through many of the things you describe, it’s been a long way to go… Writing has always been on my list of something I MUST try, to heal. But I haven’t been able to get here before now. My fingers would stop at the keyboard, head felt like cotton, and the disappointment of not being able to do it, was devastating. Now it seems as if i can do it. A bit surprised at that:)
    Maybe it’s the Mindfulness approach that has loosened it up a bit?

  5. Thank you for your bravery in sharing these experiences. writing and knowing you are not alone is a big part of moving beyond…and allowing ourselves a healthy life. i have found over the years flashbacks have diminished. I never know when one might happen and that is perhaps the hardest thing.

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