I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve written about it and spent countless hours in therapy to learn how to make peace with it as best I can — in other words, not living in a way that it controls me. I understand triggers and how to minimize the chance of setting off a panic attack or a flashback. I’ve made great strides and as the years distance me from the abuse of my former marriage, the episodes come less frequently and with less severity. Most times when something triggers, I feel a bit panicky, a little shaky, kind of flighty, but I work through it pretty quickly.
One of my biggest problems was being around strangers — not just talking to them, but being touched in any way. Atticus helped me work through some of those feelings on a more personal level and getting back into church several years ago helped with the social aspect of having to be touched by handshaking or hugging. I don’t think I’ll ever be a ‘hugger’ but I can allow myself to be hugged by a friend now without reacting out of fear.
Yesterday I was watching Scout and Jem ride their bikes up and down the driveway when the neighbor walked over to introduce himself. He wanted to shake hands. I did — with no negative reaction. I stood and talked with him for about 20 minutes and not once did I feel panicked, fearful, or intimidated. I actually enjoyed the conversation and the chance to socialize for a few minutes — and in my relaxed and non-panicked state I was able to learn a great deal about the neighbors, the community, and some family-friendly local activities. Later, I went into the house to make dinner and I felt triumphant! What a wonderful feeling to have interacted with a stranger in a positive way! I felt relief, joy, and even pride in this accomplishment. SCORE!
I woke up today intending to write about yesterday’s great experience. I felt invincible. Truly. I looked up a former blog post about PTSD and shared it on Facebook so that readers would be familiar with it before I wrote today about this great hurdle I’d overcome. I wanted them to understand what a HUGE thing this was in my life and on my path to healing.
As I readied myself to begin writing I received a text from Melody telling me someone from our past had contacted her through Facebook. It wasn’t the first time she’d tried communicating with my daughter, so I asked what this girl wanted. She was seeking forgiveness for something her mother had done and the opportunity to establish a new friendship. The Mommabear in me surfaced at once. This young woman hadn’t hurt my daughter, but her mother had. She had hurt all of us with judgement and betrayal we did not merit. Melody and I both believe that the daughter shouldn’t be punished for the behavior of the mother, but red flags were waving because I knew that an attempt at creating a new relationship meant having to deal with the mother on some level, since this girl still lives at home.
Now, I know it’s dangerous for me to stir up things in my past. It can’t often be done without repercussions…but I was still feeling invincible. So without even testing the water, so to speak, I jumped right in and looked up this young woman on Facebook. BAM! One photograph of her mother and I was trembling. That should have been the only warning I needed to close the page and refocus. Nope. Not today. My brain was still telling me I could handle it just fine and the Mommabear in me wanted to protect my daughter. So I pushed on and decided to watch a video of this family — they have formed a bluegrass band. A few moments into the music and I knew I’d pushed myself too far, but I can’t really tell you what happened for a time after that. My panic was so intense I only remember being back in a certain moment with that woman, then realizing I was clinging to Atticus and trying to catch my breath.
It took a long time to deescalate. When the worst of my panic was over I took a shower so I could be alone and collect myself. I prayed during that time because it’s what gives me the most comfort and strength — and usually God teaches me something in those times. I think it’s because I’m so open to Him.
First, let me say that I’ll never be invincible in this life — but you already knew that. The panic today does not negate or diminish my accomplishment yesterday. I definitely experienced a HUGE win with my neighbor, but I still need to listen to my gut when it’s telling me I’m not ready, or I’ve had enough. Those warning signs are there to protect me.
I did experience another win today. It took God to point it out. After this woman had hurt and betrayed me, I labeled her a psycho and declared in my heart and mind that she was evil. Then I made sure to have nothing whatsoever to do with her. Today I realized that she is filtering everything in life through her own set of experiences, just as I do, just as you do. Not understanding victimization or domestic violence did not make her evil. Not understanding her own emotions and having a low self-image did not make her a psycho. The dawning of this understanding helped bring me to a place of forgiveness today. Not just forgiveness, though. It also brought compassion. It’s a huge weight off my heart. I’m not even sure that she really even understands how deeply she hurt me or my family, so I need to let go of those resentments. Everyone needs grace and compassion — me most of all. And I’m glad God showed me where I need to give more of these to others.