April 13th, 2016
A few months back I got on with my local domestic violence shelter as a volunteer. My thought was that if I spent the weekends that I was sans my babies in the service of others, I’d be a whole lot less pouty and maybe incorporate even more perspective into my life experiences. Also, over the last few months I’ve been studying the Law of Attraction, The Power of Intention, The Secret – whatever your preference is – and I’m pretty desperate to get on a higher vibe or attract some better circumstances into my life, so there’s a bit of selfishness sprinkled in with my altruism.
Last night I attended our monthly training where the topic centered around Trauma Informed Care. As the presenter focused on identifying and responding to someone in trauma, so much of what she said touched at the core of my being. Symptoms of trauma fall into the categories of physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional. So many times over the last 8 years I have felt as if I have been suffering from PTSD. And as I’ve sat amongst my friends in Group, I could only think to assign that same diagnosis to this beautiful crowd. During this training, I felt something unexpected; a kinship with these women I’ve been serving.
Though I had not been the victim of a husband’s physical abuse, I had very much survived emotional and psychological abuse. Upon returning home last night, I began compiling a list of parallels so that just maybe, I could help others understand what goes on physically, mentally, and emotionally for those who have lived with addiction.
Physical symptoms of trauma:
- Excessive alertness, on the look-out for signs of danger – During my attempts at working through #2’s drug addiction and reconciling with #3 after D-Day (discovery of infidelity and sex addiction), I became hyper-aware (I refer to it as psychotic) of phrases or behaviors that implied danger. In my situation, that meant increased anger and agitation or deflecting – all behaviors consistent with lying. I was very attuned to overreaching attempts at kindness and affection. I no longer existed in a state where I was able to accept a situation, statement, or behavior at face value, I was always reading between the lines and feeling like I had to be psychic to properly read my partner.
- Easily startled – similar to the above symptom, I was on edge in every way. If #3 received a text, I was anxious as to who it might be from. If he were in the bathroom too long or didn’t come to bed quickly enough, I panicked. If I looked out the window to see him on the phone outside, I was instantly alarmed at why he took the call away from my presence.
- Fatigue/Exhaustion – I was a wreck. Both in body and mind, I felt complete exhaustion and unmotivated to put forth the effort needed to perform basic, daily tasks.
- Disturbed Sleep – Without the assistance of OTC meds, falling asleep and staying asleep has become a long, lost friend. Two years out of the greatest nightmare I’ve ever known, I still sleep with an oil diffuser in the hopes that the glorious natural oils being dispensed into the nightly air will induce a restful slumber. I use meditation in an attempt to calm my active mind. And yet, the cycle remains the same, after a few sleepless nights, I’ll fall asleep about every 3rd. This cannot be considered beauty sleep.
Cognitive Symptoms of Trauma
- Intrusive thoughts or memories of the event – I don’t spend my days recalling the atrocities of war, but I sure as hell can remember the pictures and texts that I’ve come upon. I can remember entire conversations held by #3 and his mistresses. And I fight to forget the unwelcome recollection of finding physical evidence of an affair when I was 3 months pregnant. I run the gamut of tools for dealing with this. From breathing, to distraction, to crying, to actually praying for and sending love to #3 and these women. I remember the horribly played lies that were thrown at me so regularly in an attempt to cover found evidence. Seriously, folks, I pray for the day that these thoughts fade from my memory.
- Visual images of the event – I feel like I adequately covered this in the above symptom. Suffice it to say, I am still painfully plagued by visual images of what went on during my marriage, both those things done to me and those that failed to remain hidden.
- Nightmares – I have this curse, or perhaps it’s a blessing, of very vivid, prophetic dreams. In each of my 3 marriages, I have had dreams that led me to the discovery of misdoings. However, the focus in this instance would be on the post discovery nightmares. I have often awoken from a fitful sleep by a dream detailing #3’s encounters with one of the mistresses or of him telling me why he is in love with her and not me. *Shiver*, little wonder that sleep is an elusive companion.
- Poor concentration or memory – In 2010, I was offered an incredible position at the phenomenal company with which I am still employed. There have been so many amazing opportunities and associates that have presented themselves to me because of this job. 6 months after the discovery of my sister wives, I took a much less enthralling position. My mind was gone. No longer could I be counted on to provide the focus to my projects or the attention to my clients that I had once been known for. As a single mother, I could no longer dedicate nights or weekends to guaranteeing that I was adequately completing my responsibilities. My job is much less fulfilling than it once was, however, I do feel immensely blessed having such an understanding, forgiving and accommodating employer.
- Disorientation and Confusion – In the training we learned that victims can often appear to be lying or impaired because of this. One’s mind becomes so focused on fight or flight during trauma, that the ability to keep your head about you, is nearly impossible. My inability to focus on anything but my “survival” seemed, at times, to wholly impair my ability to keep my thoughts and words clear. I’m sure I seemed like an even wordier, mess of a communicator to my friends.
Behavioral Symptoms of Trauma
- Avoidance of places or activities that are reminders of events – This becomes an especially complicated one when in reference to a traumatic relationship. I cannot begin to list the places and activities that were triggers for me. My old street, basketball, hunting, fishing, certain restaurants, or vacation destinations. This avoidance included places that were previously considered happy but had become tainted by the reality of an affair that occurred during a fun, family vaca. I am still trying to create new associations in my mind for former, beloved activities. Talk about soul crushing.
- Social withdrawal and isolation – I think if you were to poll any from the masses of women who are the victims of sex addiction, you’ll find that they have each had their stint or stints as a bed-ridden hermit. For me it was the result of a face that reflected countless nights without sleep and eyes that had shed 4 lifetimes of tears. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to risk running into anyone who might ask where #3 was. And sometimes, I wanted to stay home and bury my humiliation and rejection in the eating disorder cycle. Most recently, I spent Christmas weekend in bed for fear of seeing other happy families or mothers that were able to spend the holiday with their kids. I stayed in bed and devoted an entire weekend to fulfilling ED’s demands.
- Loss of interest in normal activities – I tried. I faked it for a long time. Or perhaps I hid my sorrow in activity, but the time surely came in which I couldn’t manage the emotions or physical skills needed to participate in my standard, scheduled activities.
Emotional Symptoms of Trauma
- Fear – Holy shit was I terrified. It was change and the unknown that had me fearing. And also, it was fear of losing all that defined me, loss of control as a mother, and the fear that maybe, it was in fact, my fault. That it was me that wasn’t good enough. That I would never be loved again. Fear that there was something so inherently wrong with me that 3 very different husbands had all desperately vacated a life with me. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to physically or financially support my family. Fear that my children would see me crumble and not choose a home and life with me. Fear that I would be rejected by family and friends and associates – some of which have been realized. Man oh man, have I known fear.
- Numbness or detachment – I have sat in meetings with coworkers, lunches with friends, or really thought provoking church meetings and have been completely unable to connect with the others or topics. I have looked upon these encounters with almost disdain because of how trivial or irrelevant things now seemed in my life. Conversations and objectives lost all importance to me as I became more and more detached to any semblance of my former life. I couldn’t get excited about my BFF’s pregnancy. I was indifferent to the struggles of those around me. I felt absolute indifference to anything outside of my very real trauma.
- Depression – I can honestly say that I have never been prone to depressive thoughts or emotions. But in the last year, I have found myself wondering if situational depression had finally taken up residence in my formerly optimistic self. And based on some of the thoughts that I have had, I wouldn’t hesitate to work with a doctor on this. There is no shame in modern advances, folks. If I’m ever at a point where providing for and taking care of my little family, in every possible, motherly way, becomes a burden, you can bet your ass I’ll seek help.
- Guilt – one of the strangest phenomena of Trauma is how a normally logical and intelligent victim can become a vessel for guilt. I have apologized to #3 a bazillion times for any minor thing that could have contributed to the dissolution of our marriage. And more than that are the ways in which I have taken accountability in my head. Perhaps if I wouldn’t have kicked him out so fast. Maybe if I wouldn’t have started dating right away. I should have loved him so unconditionally that I would have healed the narcissist right out of him. Maybe if I would have sent him dirty pics he wouldn’t have asked other women to do so. And surely if I would have treated my ED before meeting him, this wouldn’t have happened. Seriously, whuck!?! Don’t ever assign yourself the power to change another’s behavior. That shit doesn’t happen.
- Anger and irritability – Obviously I was angry and irritable with my offender. Sadly, I lashed out in some seriously un-classy ways. If #3 ever showed up dead in a gutter somewhere, one review of some of my texts would have landed me a spot on the number 1 suspect list. And that was definitely not ok. But also, I had become irritable with others as well. I had lost the patience to properly handle a whiny client. A coworker that didn’t perform in a timely manner was sure to induce a nasty dialogue in my head. I think it comes down to your mind being unable to cope normally in a completely abnormal situation.
- Anxiety and panic – In a previous entry, I detail the ways in which I had emotionally and physically began to manifest the signs of an anxiety or panic attack. When your life and future as you have known and planned is jeopardized or at risk, I assure you that the level of anxiety that will arise within a previously composed mind and body is enough to have a hippie reaching for a Xanax.
While these symptoms are supposedly all part of the natural healing process of adjusting to a very powerful event, attempting to make sense of a totally nonsensical situation, and putting it into perspective, it’s going to require support and understanding from a whole slew of people for these to dissipate with time. And occasionally, time doesn’t heal and we find ourselves developing depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug problems and, drum roll please, mother effing eating disorders.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a support, listening ear, or just a warm body for the multitudes of domestic violence victims. But sitting in that training, it is clear to me that there is a greater, unknown, and undiagnosed population of seemingly strong women out there that are walking around balancing on the brink of a break down. Who are stuck in such a confining corner of their own minds, that their body is barely reminding them to breath. How can we identify these victims and offer a warm body to someone who is so mentally exhausted? How many are there like me who walked around wearing a perfectly applied mask and a demeanor testifying of pseudo-strength? They aren’t in shelters. They may not even have a group of like-minded women. But I’m willing to bet with the astounding number of porn/sex addicts, that you already know some.
My hope with this blog is that by putting a face to Trauma, a face that doesn’t fit the stereotype, maybe they’ll find me.
If you know them, help them find me. Let’s be each other’s voices and sponsors and angels. I cannot promise that the burdened will find rest like Jesus did, but I can promise a companion in the craziness. And while only God can carry us through, I promise to walk by your side.