All I knew was that I was scared to leave my back toward you at your old apartment. This was out of the ordinary. The last thing you’d ever do is hurt me.
It started out feeling worried that you would come up from behind and stab me. Because many moons ago I used to move kitchen knives from view, just in case. It was many moons ago that I felt worthless, spit on, trivial, emotionally damaged, torn down to feel lower than a worm, lower than gravel, lower than dirt.
Defining love after the fact was uncharted territory. I wasn’t used to love, not your type of love. Then it became about your laugh. Your beautiful, charming, infectious laugh because you thought something I said was brilliantly funny. I looked at you but didn’t see you. I saw him and his laughter, his bulging eyes as his hands wrapped around me. Squeezing.
It was then at work, hiding in the bathroom, my back arched against the cold, tiled wall, amusing my co-workers who thought what I was doing was funny. I went home and made an appointment with a therapist where I was diagnosed with PTSD and suddenly, all those flashbacks, those moments of paralyzing sensations fell into cohesive place.
I’ve had moments where I’ve rocked back and forth, knees angled up toward my chin, tears streaming down my face, seeing you physically, but my mind chasing after a long lost memory. I can’t catch my breath. My hands mimic the memory; they angle themselves around my neck, and sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m squeezing. Songs and smells would sometimes trigger me. A word, and event, a lack of protection – all of it could send me spiraling. And sometimes it would last for hours. And sometimes it would last for days. And sometimes I’d fear that it would never end.
It can feel sometimes, like all you’re doing is going through the motions. You’re justifiably angry at certain situations but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like you have reason to be angry because you’re angry with the wrong people, the wrong life, the wrong moments.
But you will get through it. PTSD will never be something you fully overcome, but with it, you’ll encounter spectacular moments when you realize you haven’t thought about your abuse, your abuser, for days or weeks or even months on end. You’ll feel blissfully proud on days when you can get out of the funk in thirty minutes. Take those moments in stride. Take those moments with excitement.
PTSD is an ailment, like a hidden disease that not everyone you encounter will understand. I remember my mom once saying to me, “it’s not that big of a deal” and even now, six years later, that statement bothers me even though it was before either of us knew of my diagnosis. What you consider not to be a big deal to you, could hold magnitudes of significance for someone whose encountered abuse of any kind. Sometimes I’ll be at work and someone will playfully and innocently make a joke about abuse (not that it’s a situation that should ever, ever be taken lightly). My initial reaction is to turn around to face them and state the facts: I was a battered woman.
But instead I smile, and I walk away because my abuse, my past no longer defines me. PTSD is a small blip in my regularly complex life. My diagnosis doesn’t outweigh my love, my romantic passions, my career goals, my compassion, or how I interact with the outside world. My internal scars aren’t meant to be seen by the world, by strangers who don’t understand and by friends who don’t know what to say. They are as much a part of me as my DNA. I do not love differently because of post-traumatic stress disorder. I do not live differently because of post-traumatic stress disorder either.
It was my choice to want to get better and I’m thankful for that in every second when I’m facing a trigger, because while I’m there, while I’m back to those horrid memories, feeling scared and vulnerable, I snap back, recognizing that those moments no longer exist. That person no longer exists. That life no longer exists, no longer holds me captive simply because I grew too tired of letting it.