Coping with Suppressed Memories and Triggers

So, as most of you know I am cranium-deep in processing repressed memories after some major triggers cracked open my grey thinker like a coconut, and for awhile I positively HAD to pause writing.

A repressed memory is what the brain perceives as an unsafe memory or trauma.  I’ve read that our brain literally partitions off that repressed memory apart from the usual memories.  It’s a safety mechanism and a survival instinct.  We never know when, where or how that partition will open and let us recall a suppressed memory, but the key to open that door is being triggered- or in a therapy setting (for example, hypnosis.)

A trigger can be anything that causes a victim to recall (and sometimes relive) a crisis or threatening situation that they went through.  It could be something as subtle as fabric texture against the fingertips, or something as obvious as  a threat brushing against your coat sleeve in a crowded room.  Sometimes it’s a smell or a sight.
It may be one thing or a combination of things put together that our subconscious recalls happening during the repressed trauma.  Everyone’s triggers are unique, and exclusive to them.

They say the best thing to do is avoid the triggers.  Some of us know what sets us off, but alot of us don’t, and it’s trial and error.  And for me, it is impossible to avoid my usual daily triggers but I do my best.

I have many triggers unrelated to each other.  Each trauma I have had in my life seems to carry its own signature response.   For example, somewhere in my early childhood years, something happened with a dark empty window at night.   We lived in the country and I remember getting in the bathtub and as I did, I saw a face in the window contrasted against the darkness.  As a child, I became terrified and it stuck with me.

So, I learned several years ago that there are certain combinations I must avoid.  I cannot linger near a dark empty window that has no coverings, especially at a certain time of year, at a certain time of evening, while doing a certain sequence of things.  It sets me into such an uncomfortable fear that feels so ridiculous.  I must have all the lights on, and I must check- repeatedly- the locks, and give the windows a wide berth.  And oddly enough, I love windows, and cannot stand dark smothering rooms without fresh air and light.  But at night, even now, I struggle with this.

Currently, what I have been coping with is a completely different set of triggers I had not anticipated.  A certain sequence opened up not just one memory.. but many.

Remembering was excruciating.   Reliving, and the flashbacks.. truly, it was as though it were happening all over again.  This is called abreaction.  It feels completely real and you re-experience what your mind’s decided was unsafe to remember.

Recovery writing did just what I’d hoped it would do, although honestly I was becoming afraid to leave the house, I began avoiding people, and then the memories flashed through me and in front of me like the worst horror flick.  That was when I realized I needed help.  The PTSD was consuming me.

I’m now enrolled in a TREM (Trauma Recovery Empowerment Model) support group for 6 months and I absolutely love it.  Strong supports systems are essential when you are ready to remember (or more so, when your brain is ready.)

I do firmly believe forcing yourself to remember before you are in a safe mindset to handle it could set you up for a living nightmare.

Note to self- set up your support before you set yourself up!

Flashbacks

For a little while, posts will be random. My apologies to those who check in regularly.

As I was writing a section of Recovery Writing 101, old memories awoke that I have suppressed and internalized for three years.

Acknowledging the trauma was a gigantic step for me; writing helped unlock the secrets I could not remember.

Now I am practicing what I preach, which is intensive support as I sort out memories to make sense of it. I have decisions to make and options to explore, and writing on my novels when I am not being triggered.. but for now, it is accurate to say that I am in active flashbacks and triggers, which are very strong and true, and honestly terrifying.

The first step is the hardest; acknowledging the trauma. But with acknowledgment comes the acceptance that it was real. We don’t have to accept the nature of the trauma, we don’t have to forgive those who caused it, but we do have to make peace within ourselves that it was real, we were there, and it happened, and that we survived.

I’ve outgrown my avoidant processing rock

Processing memories, even those you don’t remember clearly (just bits, pieces, feelings) is like standing on a pinnacle point.  Terrified off falling off, terrified to move.  Recovery writing has done so much good for me, although now I’ve hit the brick wall of processing the rape I endured around Christmas 2009.

PTSD comes with many uncomfortable bells and whistles.   Some of us get really sick, physically.  Repeated high levels of stress causes electrolyte disturbances in the body. What is written below is not meant for sympathy, but more so for awareness of the process of how abuse and fear harms our homeostasis.

During the height of the abuse in 2009, it seemed I was seeing my doctor weekly, for racing heart and thumps in my chest.  They diagnosed me with borderline high blood pressure, temporary blindness,  temporary nystagmus,  asthma, allergic rashes, ocular migraines, tachycardia and fatigue.   I weighed 93 lbs by then and was on blood pressure pills.

I escaped January 2010, but was threatened, stalked, and I found myself in fear of my life.  I still had no memory of the rape and it was not reported.  A temporary restraining order gave me some relief.

By the time I was able to see a true cardiologist in April 2011, I had ventricular and atrial ectopy,  mitral and atrial valve leaks, and a mysterious depletion of magnesium.  At first they chalked it up as a temporary thing and started treatment.   During that time, although I had physically escaped the person, I was still enduring the psychological and verbal harassment.

The cardiologist stated to me in our last phone call at the end of 2012 that he was at a loss.  Even with IVs of magnesium and high doses of supplements, the numbers were bottomed out, along with potassium, protein, and calcium.   My kidneys were “running on reserve” as he stated.  My hair began to fall out.

Magnesium loss doesn’t show up in the blood stream until you are nearly out.  The body draws off its reserves (bones, kidney reserve, etc) in an effort to balance the body.   Magnesium loss doesn’t happen overnight.  Magnesium loss is slow to present itself in a blood serum test.

“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is essential to good health. Approximately 50% of total body magnesium is found in bone. The other half is found predominantly inside cells of body tissues and organs. Only 1% of magnesium is found in blood, but the body works very hard to keep blood levels of magnesium constant.”

And if that’s not enough reading for you, go here  and  here.

In short, I was starving to death and he couldn’t fix it.  He didn’t know why I was depleted so badly.

For an in-depth explanation of how trauma with chronic exposure to fear and stress can potentially kill a person, read here.

I’ve been to the ER three times in the last two years.  I have many symptoms I keep to myself.  I eat like a horse, twice as much as some people, to get nutrition.  It’s very difficult for me to keep weight.  I cannot get life insurance.  Apparently, a magnesium deficiency is a hard-core red flag.

I’ll post more later, but right now, I’m on my way to the Women’s Resource Center for a support meeting.  I’ve been triggered.  My old way was avoidant coping skills, but I’ve outgrown my rock I’ve been hiding under.

It’s time to talk to someone.

 

*update* that was quite possibly the best thing I could have done.  I’m signed up for a 26 week support group, and had a very cleansing cry.  Tomorrow, paperwork.  As I told the lovely lady, I want to tell the world.  He shouldn’t get away with it, and it’s a t-shirt statement waiting to happen.  Perhaps nothing legal will happen, but my voice will still be heard, my truth will be revealed and that is more important to me than winning.

I feel very empty of harmful secrets (which is good).  I think I’m ready to finish “My Love Affair With Batteries.”

Rough illustrations for “Mitch & Mouse”

As part of my zany thinker (dys)function, of course if I don’t have a gazillion things going on then I don’t have enough to do. I took a mild break from Recovery Writing 101 and the two other books. When I draw and write for children, my emotional baggage takes a vacation.

It's Elementary, my dear...

“Mitch & Mouse”

I played around with some of the illustration concepts a few days ago.  The story is simplistic and supposed to be fun with (of course) a message.  A large firefighter with a severe shyness befriends a mouse, who becomes his best friend and helps him overcome the shyness.  Most of the objects in the illustrations tend to have a fluid, eccentric motion.  Straight lines drive me bonkers.  The original story is being adapted into a ditty format, which is one of my best strengths.

I took several shots as I drew the other evening.  The first illustrations were drawn a year ago in pencil.  I hemmed & hawed over digital illustration or hand-drawn.

Draft illustrations for "Mitch & Mouse" by C.L. Bolin

Here, the concept formed of an absurdly large firefighter crammed in a small fire truck.

Draft illustrations for "Mitch & Mouse" by C.L. Bolin

As I drew, more ideas formed.. where’s Mouse?

Draft illustrations for "Mitch & Mouse" by C.L. Bolin

Mouse is on the side mirror.  More details have been added…

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The Comfort of a Blank Page

Backup_of_RW 101 coverThey say the first step is always the hardest.  With trauma, I would have to agree.  Gaining emotional strength to acknowledge your trauma is a huge leap towards healing.

Admitting the trauma even occurred can be a struggle.  For many of us, it has been buried for so long.  Our mind has amazing safety mechanisms, one of which is blocking out painful memories.

In my “Finding Tina” series, there is reference to a blank grey fog that appears during times of crisis.  My mind experiences a similar safety mechanism.
Some days the smallest details could be recalled with agonizing clarity.  Other days- the same memory is as blank as a piece of lined school paper.  Faint traces of scribbles, barely discernible.   The harder I try to focus on them, the fainter they become, until the page is pure grey and I feel detached.  That is a strangely comforting page in my mind.

Trauma can be all kinds of things.  Seeing violence and death at war.  Losing a parent or loved one, being in an accident or natural disaster, and abuse (emotional, sexual or physical) are all traumas.  All across the world, trauma happens to good-hearted souls.
There is no good, healthy or sane reason for one person to have control over another, and abuse (in any form) is a destructive controlling tactic.  The victims who are lucky enough to escape tend to suffer emotionally long after the abuse ends.  It is a residual effect that none of us should have to endure.  And yet, we do, for its only when we are safe that we can relax enough to deal with the trauma.

We all deal with physical, sexual and emotional trauma in different ways.  Some of us repeat our patterns.   Some of us grey out.  Others self-abuse with drugs, alcohol and risky behaviors that may extinguish life altogether.

We might feel that we are not worthy of love, or respect, or happiness- because the abuser at the helm of our trauma convinced us we are not.

We are all born free individuals, we all have our eccentric ways, desires, and basic human rights.  No one has the right to restrain or hit us, no one has the right to force us to have sex, no one has the right to make us feel unworthy and undesirable with words, fists or manipulations.  No one has the right to destroy our childhood.  We are all beautiful, imperfect souls on the same path to experience life in a way that’s best for us.