At almost sixty years of age, I thought I would be experiencing peace, joy, happiness, love and all the other exceptional things life has to offer. I have experienced these things in the past. However, over the past two years, terror has invaded my soul and my mind and has brought me many sleepless nights and thoughts of death. Trauma from early childhood abuse has resurfaced with a vengeance and is desperate to take over my mind and put my soul to rest for good.
The memories are so intrusive that they materialize at any moment; the pain is real, and the experiences are like fresh wounds. I can feel the emotional pain and the hits; my head jars and my body moves with motions of the torture. It was more than a hit to the head or gut and getting up off the floor just to be there again. Sometimes I would lay on the floor and act as if I couldn’t stand up; that would often come with a kick to the head or stomach, but it wasn’t worth it to be knocked down again. Seeing those legs and shoes turn in a different direction and walk away was a relief. I would tell myself, “It’s over for now.”
So, why am I sharing this with you? Writing about my past brings my memories to life and out in the open; they have been in hiding for so many years. I’ve referred to my past as an “invisible soul.” Trauma can drive you and kill you if you let it take over. I know it sounds a bit psychotic, but the reality is your memories can kill you. I know so many people who have let their past destroy them. I’ve been thinking a great deal about them lately.
I had a nightmare a few weeks ago that I sat on the end of the bed with a gun in my hand. I found it hard not to pull the trigger. It was so real; I was out of my body, watching the event unfold. I could see myself walking toward the gun and then holding the gun in my hand. I stared at it and wondered what it was. Was my life about to end? After waking up, I was asking myself, “Was that real?” I even looked for the gun to make sure I hadn’t moved it. Thankfully, I hadn’t. My sweet Lisa has since moved the gun.
As the flashbacks and thoughts of harming myself got worse, I sought help! I just happened to have a friend who is a wonderful therapist. She agreed to see me, and Lisa went along with me; after thirty-seven years of marriage, we are in this together! I had shared my struggles with Lisa before seeking help. She was in agreement that we needed to meet with a therapist.
The first session was not weird at all because I knew my therapist and had often joked with her that I was in need of a “session.” We sat down and her first question was, ”When was the last time you were in therapy?” She already knew some of my story but not to the depths that she would soon learn. I told her it had been more than forty years since my last session. At that point, I shared with her the trauma I had been facing lately. I told her, “It seems that I’m not getting through this, and I’m not sure if I will.” “Tell me more about what’s going on, George,” she said. These words echoed in my soul as I had not heard that question in more than forty years.
After a few sessions, I began to put things back into perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not there yet, and I’m not sure if I will get “there.” But what I do know is that I have to identify what triggers these memories/flashbacks and how they create specific emotions. It is not an easy task. It requires me to look at each memory, understand why it’s being presented to my mind at that time, and try and expose what caused it to surface.
The dreams were lifelike to give my mind the perspective of what that event would look like if it played out. It was quite a relief to know that my thoughts and dreams were not abnormal. My triggers could be a place, smell, person, certain walk, specific day, funeral, sound, song, or food. On a side note, the therapist did expose that I didn’t have a plan to carry out my suggestive murder, and that is a good thing!
For now, this is the plan of exposing and managing these memories. We have identified that my mental health is tied directly to my level of exhaustion. When I am tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or feel out of control, I start to regress back to an unhealthy state of mind. This knowledge has helped me tremendously. So, the plan right now is to keep identifying the trauma and not take on more than I can handle. Triggers are important, and I believe we all have them—some worse than others.
As of late, I have more joy and peace and have been enjoying my life. If you find yourself experiencing disturbing thoughts and dreams from past traumas, please seek help. Sometimes it takes a good friend, an experienced therapist, and a wonderful wife to help put things into perspective.