On re-starting this blog, I mentioned briefly in ‘About me’ about my recovery from the acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that crashed into my life nearly a year ago and a good 25 years after the actual source trauma, chronic long-term childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
I do and I don’t want to expand on this! I’m scared to be open about this kind of stuff whilst at the same time really want to be open and not be scared. Silence is no longer a safe option for me. Regardless, I figure I can’t very well airily refer to ‘my recovery’ occasionally without giving some overview of what that recovery is from. So, to try and appease both sides of my own internal argument I decided to give a succinct summary, enough to provide some context yet without extended detail. This is it…
All I knew about PTSD before my own experience was that it was common in returning war vets. I have since learnt that it can present, often with delayed onset, as a result of all sorts of trauma. It is particularly the case with regards sexual violence. In my own, systemic long-term sexual abuse during childhood (aged 8-15) caused some pretty deep emotional wounds, and resulted in blocked psychodynamic functioning and an eventual inability to process emotional triggers and associative memories which led, ultimately, to my first PTSD episode.
Some clarity around terminology: I now understand there is huge ambiguity in the terminology used to describe childhood, or any, sexual abuse. There are shades, or a scale if you like, and this umbrella term means different things to different people. I’ve learnt that most people like to reduce or sanitize it within this umbrella term. Perhaps as a coping mechanism for something they can’t, or don’t, want to comprehend? Anyhow, I can now say it clearly, the correct terminology for my experience of my ex-step-father includes: paedophile, rapist, bully and child abuser. My experiences were not at the groping / inappropriate touching end of the umbrella spectrum.
Most alarming to me was that I had thought I had dealt with the impact of this childhood sexual abuse. I prided myself on being strong, I had no truck with what I perceived as ‘victim-mentality’. I had done therapy in my early 20’s, I’d been open, (or rather I thought I had been open) with my family and friends and felt I was self-aware enough to try and counter any ‘issues’ I may have as a result of the ‘bad stuff’ through various therapies and self-care strategies.
Apparently, it’s not unusual for PTSD to rear up like it did at my age (I was 41). It doesn’t mean the therapy I did before was a complete waste of time, rather its efficacy had run out. I was sexually abused by my ex-step-father from the ages of 8-15 years, a formative stage in child cognitive development. Therefore, as an adult, despite my best efforts, there were many aspects of the repercussions that I simply wasn’t equipped to deal with.
One of which was how it was handled within my family. Over the years, in my determination to ‘be strong’ and not make a fuss I made huge efforts to minimize my experiences and keep the past in the past. Instead I barreled wholly into a supportive ‘fix-it’ role for that side of my family, all of whom were dealing with their own issues and damage from ever having had this person in our lives.
As I now know, suppressing my pain was only ever going to backfire. In fact, the perfect storm for PTSD was brewing! With hindsight there’s an easily plot-able graph of incidents, signs I didn’t see which now seem glaringly obvious, over a two year period that triggered PTSD for me.
PTSD is absolutely horrific and it’s also very individual. I experienced three terrifying episodes, had two further close calls, and I am extremely fortunate to still be here.
What’s an episode? Before I had PTSD I was very woolly in my understanding and I know from my family and friends that most people struggle to comprehend an episode if they have not experienced one. It’s very hard to explain without sounding overly dramatic or mad, but I tried, for my family and friends, as a part of my own recovery process. I’ve shared that description here. NB: It is only my personal description, and I am certainly not an expert, but then I don’t believe there is a generic one that aptly describes the true horror of an episode.
It has been a tough recovery process, now a year since it first struck, but I’m getting there, and there are, finally, now, many positives coming into view. I know despite times when I feel otherwise, I am stronger than the PTSD and I won’t live my life in its shadow.
Above all, I am incredibly grateful for the amazing professional care I have been lucky enough to find, and receive, and I am very, very conscious that many people are not that lucky.
To say that skims the surface of my illness and recovery process is an understatement but I think it’s enough for starters, a general context I hope.